The open admission by theformer FCT Minister, Malam Nasir El-Rufa’i that he had no concrete proof that former Vice President Atiku Abubakar was involved in corruption at the Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF) is a very interesting revelation of how private vengeance became the official policy of the former President Olusegun Obasanjo administration.
In what seems to be his frankest interview, the former FCT Minister told a national newspaper that it was also not true that Atiku Abubakar benefited in any way in the privatization of public enterprises while he served as the chairman of the National Council on Privatization. These revelations by El-Rufa’i who was a former Director General of the Bureau of Public Enterprise may go a long way to open the eyes of many Nigerians on the issue of corruption in PTDF.
Atiku’s only offence was that he openly told Obasanjo that he wouldn’t endorse the third term ambition of his former boss against his constitutional term limit. Although the third term project was widely unpopular, Obasanjo made Atiku the scapegoat for the uncontrollable contagion against tenure elongation, which was spreading across the country.
Members of the National Assembly clearly read the mood of the nation and wouldn’t want to take the political risk of going against the wishes of Nigerians by amending the constitution for the specific benefit of Obasanjo’s ambition to rule for life.
The third term project died resoundingly on 6th May 2006 when the Senate rejected the constitutional amendment to grant Obasanjo’s incurable ambition to rule perpetually. Like a wounded lion, Obasanjo vowed to use all the powers of his office to teach his former vice president the bitterest lesson of his life.
He deployed the EFCC, in collaboration with the so-called administrative panel headed by his Attorney General, Bayo Ojo to look into Atiku’s alleged corrupt activities at the PTDF. Predictably, the panel, which was packed with Obasanjo’s boys, found Atiku guilty as charged. Then Obasanjo declared Atiku’s office vacant, believing wrongly he had the power to fire his deputy like any other ordinary civil servant. But the Supreme Court under the leadership of Justice Belgore and the Court of Appeal had both told him that he had no such power because both of them were elected on a common ticket and that the Vice President owes his allegiance to the constitution and not personal fealty to the President.
Obasanjo then turned to the party leadership to expel Atiku from the party, thereby making it impossible for him to succeed him in 2007. As expected, the party did and Atiku had to move to Action Congress (AC) to fight for his presidential ambition. But even while he was in AC, INEC was used to create technical obstacles that could make Atiku’s presidential bid a futile effort. But rather than nailing Atiku to the pillory of corruption, the PTDF investigation ended up exposing how the agency became a cash cow in the hands of the former president’s cronies. In fact, the efforts to vilify Atiku on the basis of corruption lack the veneer of credibility. As he was pointing a finger of corruption allegation at Atiku, another was pointing in his direction. While Obasanjo used the EFCC to invade the Bank PHB in search of Atiku’s “stolen billions”, the agency didn’t have the courage to investigate how a man with N20,000 in 1999, could have become a multi-billionaire today. Does Obasanjo have the midas touch? Could his salary and allowances alone in eight years have made him billionaire today? That is why Obasanjo is desperate to install his stooges to protect himself from scrutiny. He wants permanent immunity by holding his stooges by the balls!
El-Rufa’i’s open admission that he had no proofs about Atiku’s alleged corruption by Obasanjo is a revelation to many credulous Nigerians who had wrongly assumed that the former President was motivated by public interest in the pursuit of his former deputy. Obasanjo simply exploited the loyalty of his boys and unleashed them against perceived enemies. In fact, the entire effort, including the William Jefferson case in the U.S., was politically motivated. Throughout the Jefferson trial, no proof was presented that Atiku demanded or received gratification in return for influencing contracts in the favour of any foreign company.
It is ironic that, while former President Obasanjo was accusing the late Yar’Adua and President Jonathan of lacking the will or capacity to fight corruption, he ignored his own double standard in the war against graft. He undermined the effort by using the crusade for personal political objective.
Even if you don’t like El-Rufa’i guts, you must extol his sincerity to acknowledge that he didn’t have the facts to defend the allegations of corruption against Atiku when his former boss was out to tear his entire reputation apart.
Mohammed Zagga is a public affairs analyst based in Abuja