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Probe Obasanjo too

By Obi Nwakanma
The federal Attorney-General and minister for justice finally acknowledged receipt of the signed copy of the 1994 Pius Okigbo reports on the use or misuse of the so-called oil windfall accruing to Nigeria from the sale of crude during the first Gulf war.

Mr. Bello Adoke had challenged a pressure group of transparency and anti-corruption advocates who are pushing for the prosecution of former military president, Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida over allegations of corrupt handling of the said $12.4 oil windfall. Last week, the Attorney-General pledged, in a letter to the group that he would set up a committee to ascertain the veracity of the report, review the allegation, and if there’s any meat in it possibly commence a criminal charge of the former military dictator.

This is of course cheering news to all those who wish to see Ibrahim Babangida forced to account for what many see as his corrupt leadership and mismanagement of Nigeria’s public resources. In the qualified words of the Okigbo reports, the excess oil revenue which amounted to a windfall was paid into a “dedicated account” which in clear disregard to the accounting rules of the federation became some sort of “parallel budget” for the presidency under Babanginda.

In drawing down the account, the presidency also acted in clear disregard to best practice for the revenue was not put to any “regenerative investment.” Among some of the curious spending from the account included $18. 30 million spent in the purchase of TVs and Videos for the presidency, $23.98 for what was called “staff welfare,” $.9 million was spent as traveling expense for the late wife of the military president, and $59.72 for “security.”

The Okigbo report has been the subject of much anger among the Nigerian public who have felt that Nigeria was gyped of its resource in a crucial moment when it could have made investments that would have benefited a wider segment of the society and in infrastructure that would have possibly put it in good stead.

That anger is justified. The breakdown of public infrastructure as well as the clear moral anchors of public governance, and the disrespect of the rules of public finance was said to have plateaued in the Babangida era, ushering in the massive level of corruption that continues to haunt Nigeria. It was an era that perfected a method of pay-off or bribery euphemistically called “settlement.”

Things got rather progressively unsettled. But we must not forget that Babangida was not the first to leave office with this unsettled cloud of scandal that continues to hang around him. On October 1 1979, the military government of Olusegun Obasanjo handed power to Shehu Shagari. But no sooner did Mr. Obasanjo leave than the scandal of a missing N2.8 billion from the nation’s account break.

The government under Obasanjo was under serious indictment in the senate of Nigeria. Indeed, the then senate leader, Olusola Saraki had clearly and eloquently marshaled evidentiary argument, supported with documents which clearly accused Obasanjo’s government of complicity in the alleged missing N2.8 billion. But suddenly, in the next senate session, Dr. Saraki withdrew his comments and as soon as the news broke in the Nigerian press denied ever making such a claim.

All records of Saraki’s statement were struck off the Hansard and the broadcast video tapes were removed and cleaned. He had apparently come under unnerving pressure. But his continued denial of his comments on the floor of the senate was soon challenged by that resourceful journalist and NTA newscaster of those years, Vera Ifudu, who said, “wait a minute, but I have back-up tapes of the senate proceedings!”

Well, the short part to this story is that Vera Ifudu suffered for her honesty and diligence: in societies where diligence and honesty mattered, Vera Ifudu would have won the highest journalistic honours for her “scoop,” but instead she was accused of “stealing” or being in unlawful possession of government property, and she was relieved of her job in the NTA.

They did not stop there, for Vera Ifudu had to escape overseas for her life. The Nigerian press also went clam. In the end, the Shagari government was forced to set up a very weak probe panel under Justice Ayo Irikefe, who staged a great theatre, and in the end ruled that Obasanjo, who of course refused to appear before the panel to defend himself, was within his rights not to appear because he was covered by immunity.

In the end it was ruled that no such money was missing, and Obasanjo was allowed to keep his “squeaky clean” image and wear it profusely among his friends in the “international community.” This incident excited the bardic rage of Fela Anikulapo Kuti. N2.8 billion in today’s value is close to $30 billion.

So, we must all see, that part of the great tragedy of Nigeria is that we have allowed official impunity to thrive because there seem not many courageous and willing people in Justice willing to prosecute and bring the so-called Nigerian “big men” to book. It does seem that this attempt to threaten Babangida with an indictment does not even come from a deep moral conviction.

It is a political threat calculated to check his ambition to contest elections against Dr. Goodluck Jonathan. It should not be so. Ibrahim Babangida must be probed because Nigerians deserve an accounting, and if Babangida is liable to criminal prosecution must be made to pay for his crimes against the state where such a crime is proved. So, indeed, must Olusegun Obasanjo too be probed.

I find it insulting, and so must many Nigerians, who read the new authorities in the Oil ministry saying that they are suspending the probe initiated by Umar Yar Ardua over oil bloc contracts and bids made in 2007 during Obasanjo’s tenure as president. They would rather have a fresh start. That is, they are willing to cover up. That in itself is liable and unconscionable.

There are enough grounds it seems to probe Obasanjo’s handling of the oil ministry of which he was in charge for eight years of his tenure, in an era when Nigeria made its highest revenue, but with nothing to show for it. The Petroleum ministry under Obasanjo ought to be probed and if there are grounds for criminal prosecution, Mr. Bello Adoke must equally prosecute this former head of state.

Meanwhile, there are enough grounds in the Okiro reports of the Halliburton affair to begin criminal prosecution of the former Head of state I believe. The report is public and incontrovertible, and requires no ballyhoo. There is urgent need for both the Ministry of Justice and the EFCC to arraign Obasanjo to have his day in court for bribery.

But it seems in Nigeria, we live by Aesop’s axiom: we hang the petty thieves and appoint the great ones to great offices.


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