The frenzy in the land since a report by an online medium, Premium Times, mentioned Peter Obi, the 2019 vice-presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), among those listed in the recently leaked Pandora Papers, is effusive. It could only have come close to the heat among the plebians in William Shakespeare’s literary work, “Julius Caesar”, for which a certain poet, Gaius Helvius Cinna was lynched at the funeral of Julius Caesar, a Roman statesman, killed by members of his political class.
Cinna the poet was mistaken by an enraged Roman mob for an unrelated Cornelius Cinna who had spoken out in support of Caesar’s assassins. Because he bore the same name as Cinna the conspirator and being in the way of the protesters, he was killed by the rampaging plebians, despite his vigorous profession of innocence. His cries of, “I am not Cinna the conspirator, I am Cinna the poet”, were disregarded. The mob rather chanted, “Kill him for his poor verses”. That is the danger of misplaced aggression.
Obi is in similar situation, presently. Since Premium Times dramatized his mention in the report, the political circle has been abuzz. For his opponents, it is a moment of celebration. He has eventually been brought down, many have enthused.
Even for the online paper that broke the story, it was a big deal; perhaps, rightly so, or not! For eight years after leaving office, Obi remains one of the most investigated former and current office holders in the country. And at each turn, the search lights on him have drawn blank. His case is like that of the former Vice-President, late Dr. Alex Ekwueme. A brief recall of the Ekwueme phenomenon will illustrate the story better.
On account of the sordid public opinion that portrayed the politicians of the Second Republic as being highly corrupt and insensitive to the plight of the masses, a group of military officers, led by the then Major General Muhammadu, staged a coup that toppled the administration.
Riding on the mood of the moment, the military regime handed the key officers and chieftains of the civilian administration various terms of imprisonment in line with the pronouncement of a military tribunal set up against them.
Ekwueme was imprisoned as others that served in the government, even as he insisted on his innocence on the charges against him. Twenty months later, when the Buhari administration was overthrown by another group of soldiers, led by General Ibrahim Babangida, Ekwueme was exonerated of all allegations by an appeal panel set up by the government to review the cases against the politicians. In a judgement that remains unprecedented in the country’s history, the late statesman was shown to have raised a standard in government that could only be attained by angels.
In a system characterized by departing governors leaving their successors with debts and the treasury in red, Obi did the extraordinary in maintaining a clean record, not owing the workers, contactors or any person or group with financial dealings with the state. Instead, he bequeathed to the in-coming government money to pay three months’ salaries, run schools for a year and start more projects. To cap it, he left in savings, N75 billion ($156 million, and the rest in naira) with documents to prove same.
He has also been staying around rather than hibernating abroad, moving from one community to another, preaching good governance, moral rectitude and critical reappraisal of the country’s leadership recruitment process, if we are to get it right. For his colleagues in politics, what he is doing amounts to class suicide; a serious offence for which he should pay dearly. The Pandora Paper report is, therefore, an opportunity to cut him to size.
Now, this is not an attempt to burnish Obi’s image or defend him in the event of his being found wanting in the Pandora affair. My colleague, Ikechukwu Amaechi, has brilliantly argued that “being Igbo makes it a double jeopardy because the immediate conclusion is that you have jumped to the defence of your kinsman.”
But it will take something more than indifference for one not to notice that what is playing out in the Pandora expose and the undue emphasis on Obi has to do with an agenda other than mere investigation of a former office holder.
Even the head line of the Premium Times report said it all, “Pandora Papers: Inside Peter Obi’s secret businesses – and how he broke the law.”
The medium added; “Peter Obi, the ex-governor of Anambra State in Southeastern Nigeria, is widely regarded in Nigeria as an advocate of good governance, openness…
“In addition to speeches on his governance records and statistics-laden prescriptions for Nigeria’s development, he likes to talk about how hugely successful he became in business before diving into politics.
“But beyond the facade of priggish speeches and appearances, an investigation by Premium Times has now shown that Mr. Obi is not entirely transparent in his affairs as he likes Nigerians to believe.”
It then listed instances of infraction by the former governor. Apparently not done, the paper went ahead to suggest areas he may have fallen foul of the law. But as carefully observed by veteran journalist and public affairs commentator, Bob Anikwe, even with the desperate efforts on display, the report fell short on data and facts on whether Obi’s companies are paying appropriate taxes where they are supposed to pay them or not. It also failed to show whether and how the former governor funneled state government funds to any of his elaborately concealed offshore companies.
In journalism, facts are sacred, opinions are free. An investigation is usually left for readers to make their deductions. The moment a medium takes a position in its report, it departs the horizon of objectivity.
What is required here is a thorough investigation into the sources of the wealth behind Obi’s offshore companies. Beyond that is to find out if any money was paid into them by the former governor or any person on his behalf in his days in office. Good enough, Obi has thrown that challenge. It takes one with conviction of a transparent past to do so.
Pronouncements of guilt are not matters of media hype or partisan conjectures. There are established institutions in the land charged with the responsibilities of doing so. They should be allowed to do their job, if necessary and not subjecting the former governor to the Cinna the poet status in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.