By Johnson Ikharo
Viewpoint IN BRIEF
The trial of a former minister for alleged bribe
From within and outside the country, President Muhammadu Buhari has been celebrated as a man who is capable of restoring sanity in the Nigerian system. On assumption of office, he demonstrated that he was ready to tackle corruption head on.
However, some of the corruption cases before the courts are raising concerns as to whether they are real or brought up to settle political scores. One of such cases is the one involving a former Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Elder Godsday Peter Orubebe. He is to be arraigned before the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) on November 9, over alleged false declaration of assets and acceptance of about N70million bribe. Many people fear the former minister may have courted trouble over his role at the International Conference Centre in Abuja while the result of the March 28 presidential election, won by Buhari, was being declared. Orubebe had resisted the declaration of the final result, blaming the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for taking sides with the All Progressives Congress (APC).
But as the allegations against Orubebe go to the CCT, the concern is that he is being witch-hunted for being a die-hard supporter of former President Goodluck Jonathan. At a news conference in Abuja, Orubebe hinted as much, when he said that although he supports the anti-corruption drive of the Buhari administration, government should not attempt to intimidate its opponents under the guise of fighting graft. The former minister is afraid that the issues raised against him reel of vendetta. He believes the charge could be a move to blackmail him and rubbish his image and contributions to the nation.
The former minister made the point that the allegations are not only frivolous but also empty considering that none of the issues is capable of justifying his prosecution at the CCT.
As he explained, it would not have been possible for him to have demanded and collected a bribe of N70 million from the same contractor, whose job he had summarily terminated for alleged non-performance. Of course, it is not logical that a man, who wants to collect a bribe from a contractor, would first terminate his job before asking for a bribe. Bribe for what, if one may ask? To restore the job or inflict further loss on the contractor? These are the issues those accusing him of taking bribe should examine carefully and decide if, indeed, the former minister, who has had a brilliant career as a celebrated public servant, could have collected the alleged bribe.
The so-called contractor was said to have taken offence because his job worth N1.7 billion was terminated by Orubebe. He was alleged to have therefore approached one of the former minister’s aides and told him that he wanted to ‘sow a seed’ into a church Orubebe built in his community in Delta State. The aide allegedly gave him the bank account number of the church to enable the contractors pay N20 million.
But as a man of integrity, Orubebe promptly ordered the return of the said amount to the owner once he sighted the money in the church account. He did not stop there. He drew the attention of the EFCC to the case and also caused the Permanent Secretary in the MNDA to initiate disciplinary action against the aide who was instrumental to the collection of the N20 million donation to the church.
The former minister’s actions, from the foregoing, did not appear like those of a person disposed to taking bribe.
- Ikharo, a public affairs analyst, is based in Lagos