By Owei Lakemfa
THIS, in Nigeria, is the season of denials and other market stories. There is hardly any main event or issue that has not become controversial or denied. One of the latest occurred in the Office of the Senate Deputy President, Ike Ekweremadu. It was a ceremony to confer on him the toga of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) Anti- Corruption Ambassador. It seemed a richly deserved award as Ekweremadu has been a decorated Chairman of the Aninri Local Government, Secretary to the Enugu State Government, Senator since 2003, Speaker of the ECOWAS Parliament and of course, Deputy Senate President of Africa’s most populous country.
At the conferment ceremony, the EFCC Liason Officer to the National Assembly, Suleiman Bakari reportedly pronounced: “On behalf of my acting chairman, Mr. Ibrahim Mustafa Magu and the entire management and staff of the EFCC, I decorate you as an Anti-Corruption Ambassador and formally present this frame, as a token of our appreciation to your person and office, and as a symbol of the institutional partnership between the EFCC and the National Assembly.”
The ceremony was austere; Ekweremadu had only bottled water and small plates of sweet to offer his distinguished guests. But I am sure many groups especially from the South East must have perfected plans to send delegations to felicitate with the new brand ambassador. Then came a spoiler; the EFCC denied the award! Its perceptive spokesperson, Wilson Uwujaren, declared that “The statutory mandate of the EFCC is the investigation and prosecution of all economic and financial crimes cases, which does not include the decoration of individuals as anti-corruption ambassadors. The Commission is not in the habit of awarding titles to individuals.”
Ekweremadu’s office, rather than waving this off and advising the EFFC to put its house in order, took offence, joining issues with the EFCC. It referred the body “to December 7, 2007, when the Nuhu Ribadu-led EFCC conferred the Role Model Award in the Fight Against Corruption, on certain persons, including a former President of the Senate, a taxi driver, and a former Justice of the Federal High Court at the Musa Yar’Adua Centre, Abuja.”
Is it possible that a senior officer of the EFCC will concoct an award and deliver a speech on behalf of the Chief Executive aware that he was not doing so in secret? Or was there a change of mind by the agency? What was more baffling is the angry response of Ekweremadu; was the purported EFCC award, a chieftaincy title that would require the feather of the Niger Delta eagle jotting out of his red cap? He might have missed the opportunity of adding the title EFCC Anti-Corruption Ambassador (EACA) after his name, but was it not suspicious to him that such a major national award was conferred by a Liaison Officer? I am not sure what it means to be an Anti-Corruption Ambassador; perhaps it is a certificate of cleanliness and immunity.
Another denial is the National Grazing Reserve Commission Bill which was widely reported to have passed Second Reading in the Senate. It had elicited debates in the country; how can such a potentially controversial bill be on its way to becoming a law without a Public Hearing? Then a shocked nation saw Senator Eyinnaya Abaribe stand up in the hallowed Chambers to complain that although he was regular in attending sessions, he had never witnessed the bill being presented or discussed. The Senate officially reacted; that no such bill was ever presented to it. So is there a ghost Senate deliberating on the bill? Well, since in Nigeria, we have ‘ghost workers’ who go to work and collect salaries, it is not impossible to have a ghost bill pass Second Reading.
Yet another denial. The phoenix Petroleum Industry Bill is being debated in the National Assembly. There are reports that the legislators in their wisdom, expunged the 10 percent Host Communities Fund from the bill. This has been denied, but the National Leaders of the Host Communities of Nigeria Oil and Gas meeting at the NNPC Towers in Abuja, said there was indeed, such a move, and that it viewed this as “a process to truncate the prevailing peace existing in the region”
Dr. Temitope Aluko, Ekiti State Scribe of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) went on air claiming that his party used the Electoral Commission, Armed Forces, Police and other paramilitary forces to rig the June 2014 state gubernatorial elections. He claimed that then President Goodluck Jonathan provided $37 million to ensure that Governor Ayodele Fayose was elected. Then on April 3, 2016, Aluko and Fayose appeared at the Eko Hotel, Lagos to jointly address the press with Aluko claiming that his accusations were based on “misunderstanding” and that the meeting was “about family coming” together.
This was after Fayose had told the press “If I leave him (Aluko) to the whole world, who will be there for him? I am his father, his brother…Aluko remains my boy, my son.” It was to me, a humiliating press briefing for Aluko; how can a human being stoop so low; is it not better to starve than lose all dignity? The following day, Aluko went back to the press to make another U-turn and renew his accusations. I think he needs a medical examination.
The trophy for most denials go to the 2016 Appropriation Bill. There must have been dozens. It started with the Senate claiming that the Bill presented by the President had been stolen! Then that it had been substituted and replaced with a fake. Latter, that it was padded; the public was regaled with long tales of the padding. I asked myself, why can’t the NASS simply remove the paddings and give us a clean bill? After more drama, the bill was passed for signing without details. When the details came, the Executive discovered the NASS had done its own padding. On this I ask, since it is the Executive that releases funds, why not sign the bill and simply refuse to release the funds for the padded items? The market stories continue; meanwhile, I am searching for the Calabar-Lagos railway.