By Dele Sobowale
“Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without press or press without a government, I should not hesitate to prefer the latter.”
Thomas Jefferson, 1743-1826 VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS p 200.
Jefferson realised too well the role which a free press plays in protecting the people in any nation against the excesses of governments and the few powerful elements in every society. That is why in every democracy, the media is the first recipient of important news affecting the people’s interests. Two weeks ago, Buhari, after his usual procrastination, finally signed into law one of the most significant bills of the current National Assembly. The bill gave AMCON the power it needed to function well. Buhari really deserves credit for this measure. It would have done more good if it was done earlier.
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Unfortunately, the agency of government charged with implementing the law has taken the first wrong step in the process. That wrong step raises fears of deliberate sabotage of the process. Here is the good and bad news rolled into one.
“AMCON reports 1,000 chronic debtors owing N3.96tn to N’Assembly.” Report.
The news report went on to state that: “The Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria said on Friday (November 19, 2021) that it had submitted a list of its top 1,000 debtors to the National Assembly as part of its strategy to intensify its debt recovery drive.”
To be candid, this is one “part of its strategy” which AMCON does not need. In actual fact, that step will sabotage the efforts aimed at speedy recovery of the debts. Once the President signed the bill, which removed the obstacles towards recovery, AMCON had no business returning to the NASS for anything. The reason the NASS should be avoided is simple. There are, at least, five members of the NASS, known to me, including a flambouyant Senator from the Niger Delta, who are neck deep in debt on account of grandiose projects which have failed woefully. People like fast-talking “Fine Boy”, whose false lives are about to come crashing about them might start raising frivolous motions in the chambers to retard progress.
What AMCON did can only be attributed to an attempt to derail the effort. It is akin to taking a list of bandits, approved for execution to a committee harbouring Sheik Gumi and some camp followers. Some lawmakers probably collected part of their campaign funds from high profile debtors.
WHY THE LIST MUST BE RELEASED TO MEDIA IMMEDIATELY
“Public opinion is stronger than the legislature, and nearly as strong as the Ten Commandments.” Charles Dudley Warner, 1829-1900.
To begin with, the custodians and publishers of public opinion remain the media – not the legislature. The people who are charged with monitoring the vigorous and effective enforcement of a powerful bill such as this are the media organisations. And, as said earlier, some of those who sat on close to N4tn of public funds, forcing the Federal and State governments to go and borrow, are in those chambers. Many of them probably have very close friends among the incorrigible dead-beats.
There can be very little incentive for them to want their friends and associates exposed for what they really are – economic and social parasites of the worst kind. Only, the media can faithfully discharge its responsibilities to the public by obtaining a copy of the list for publication in the public interest.
WE WANT TO KNOW WHO IS RUINING NIGERIA
At any rate, the N3.96tn is public money; not NASS money. Ultimately, AMCON owes a duty to the owners of the funds. They need to know who are those who had been sitting on funds needed for development since AMCON was created in 2010. Because this is an uncommon economic destruction, even in a country no longer shocked by scandals, Nigerians need to know who ruined them – especially as we are warming up for the 2023 General Elections. Opponents of habitual and shameless debtors must have a weapon to use against such people.
I will not be surprised if the list includes many highly-respected businessmen and women who perfected the art of dodging from one bank to the next after scamming the former bank. We will see on the list the names of some National Honours Award winners; the Media might suffer some embarrassment as some of our former award winners end up on the list. It is possible that a sitting Governor will also be named among the saboteurs. Most likely, the recipients of Chieftaincy titles, Universities’ Honorary D Litt titles will be revealed to be robbing Peter (Nigeria) to pay for their awards. We might all eventually get smeared. But, that is a small price to pay for the exposure – if it will help to recover a substantial percentage of the debts.
Nigerians should however be very careful and steadfast in this endeavour. Trust Nigerians caught with their hands in the till. They will pay hacks to write to the media claiming it was the handwork of their enemies. In that regard I have a story to repeat.
LET US BE WARY OF ETHNIC WARRIORS AND MERCENARIES.
“Abacha was not a looter.” Maj-General Buhari, Kano, 2008.
Take Abacha loot for instance. On June 8, 2008, the tenth anniversary of Abacha’s death, Buhari, not President then, paid Mrs Abacha a courtesy visit; and after the prayers, came out and announced to reporters that “Abacha was not a looter.” It was a startling statement coming from a man who hitherto had been advertised as having zero tolerance for corruption. The declaration was all the more incredible given that Obasanjo’s government already had collected millions of dollars looted by Abacha.The details were in the media as well.
Furthermore, Buhari went in the company of General Abdulsalami Abubakar, whose last Decree signed on May 28, 1999, listed all the assets forfeited by Abacha to the Federal Government – including shares in a West African Refinery. Buhari was paying the regional card at the expense of Nigeria. Interestingly enough, Buhari’s government has also collected millions of dollars of Abacha loot. Talk of bearing false witness and carrying fake news.
The publication of the list will again draw our ethnic warriors, especially columnists, into battle. A lot of erudition will be on display in order to exonerate
“our brothers” whose names appear on the list. We all remember what happened when some of the contents of the Pandora Box were first revealed this year. World leaders from Russia to Latin America were named. So were African leaders.
The first Nigerian name to drop was Peter Obi. All the ethnic warriors – Igbos and non-Igbos went into battle immediately. For non-Igbos it was a clear demonstration that Igbos are not fit for the Presidency. For Igbo warriors in all media, it was a deliberate smear campaign against Igbos in general and Obi in particular. When more names dropped, including “my brother” Governor Oyetola, it was the turn of Yoruba jingoists to exonerate their man. Each group exonerating its brother has not allowed evidence to guide them. And, to be quite candid, they don’t care. The rest of us should care. We just want our money back.
There is a clear danger that when the list of 1,000 chronic debtors is released, ethnic warriors and mercenaries in all media will sacrifice national interest for dubious ethnic reasons. That, notwithstanding, the media is still the right recipient of this list. We know the ethnic champions. We can handle them.