Dedicated to Nigeria's socio-political issues
October 3, 2007 - December 2, 2007
These “BoldFace” Committees’ Explanations…!
Mobolaji E. Aluko, Ph.D.
Monday, April 29, 2002
I am beginning to get a little bit ticked off about official “committees” reaction to corruption in Nigeria, just a little bit. I don’t mean President Obasanjo’s reaction to corruption – he seems to be making the right noises, with all those 16 anonymous people dragged before Akanbi’s Anti-Corruption tribunal, even though I can’t even name more than 5 people. I mean lesser beings than himself in this civilian administration.
JERRY GANA’S BROWN ENVELOPES
Take first the issue of brown envelopes, about which I wrote recently, in a piece in which I asked several yet-to-be-answered questions. Information Minister Jerry Gana, on February 8, 2002, tucked in some crisp N50,000-laden “brown envelopes” into the lunch box of about 20 foreign journalists - to cover their travel expenses to a “beration” session in Abuja - only for a few of them to return the money and a few others yet to say what they did with the money. We would not have known about it – except for “tell-tale” Time magazine reporter Stephen Faris.
Well, I just can’t imagine AFP and CNN and Time Magazine and Newsweek Magazine, etc. – whose annual budgets are more than that of Nigeria – not being able to pay the way of their journalists from Lagos to Abuja. Yet our country – with our president running all over the place for debt relief – is able to shell out a cool N1-million-plus to invite 24 journalists to a beration session at N50,000 each?
Something does not compute.
However, to make matters worse, following a quick investigation, Justice Minister Kanu Agabi came out fuming, accusing Stephen Faris of lies and blackmail, and promising jail-time for the next journalist who does what Faris did: tell “the whole truth” about those brown envelopes!
Agabi’s alibi? That all major organizations – he even mentioned some of them: UN, USIS, etc. - give money to journalists all the time to be covered! Everyone does it – so we do it too!
Bribery Allegation: Government to Prosecute Time Magazine Reporter
Daily Trust (Abuja)
April 25, 2002
The Federal Government yesterday announced that The Nigeria Police has been directed to commence prosecution of the Time (International) magazine reporter, Stephen Faris, for publishing "false" report alleging bribery scandal in Nigeria.
The magazine had in its April 15 edition carried a story entitled "The whole truth" alleging that foreign journalists who met with the Minister of Information and National Orientation, Professor Jerry Gana, on February 8, 2002 were offered bribe of $400 each so that they could oblige the country
with less negative reports.
The report prompted President Olusegun Obasanjo to set up an investigation panel, whose report was submitted to the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting yesterday.
Announcing the committee's findings, Justice Minister, Mr. Kanu Agabi (SAN), said the entire magazine report was false, and targeted at damaging the nation's image at the global level.
"What Stephen Faris (Time magazine reporter) described as the "whole truth" should more appropriately have been described as the whole lie," he declared, adding that the panel also discovered that Mr. Faris was not at the meeting held with foreign journalists, and neither was he in the
Mr. Kanu Agabi said government has decided to prosecute the reporter, adding that henceforth any foreign journalist that reported falsehood about Nigeria would not be allowed to escape justice.
The justice minister explained that it was clearly stated in the letters of invitation for the interactive session with Prof. Gana that their travel hotel accommodation and other incidental expenses would be fully refunded and that all, but two of the 24 journalists invited, took the refunds.
"This was announced severally at the session and during lunch. If the intention was to bribe journalists it is inconceivable that it would be made so open," he asserted.
The minister, who was flanked by Prof. Gana, said the aim of the session was not to influence foreign journalists but to reprimand them about misrepresenting events happening in Nigeria sequel to the CNN report that Nigerians are itching for military rule.
He disclosed that out of the 24 foreign journalists that attended the interactive session and given the N50,000 only one person returned the money, while two declined the money on the grounds that they were in Abuja for another assignment.
"The implication is that the majority of the journalists accepted the propriety of the reimbursement of their expenses by the ministry," he said.
He expressed concern that some people are earning their living through offering false information about Nigeria, and warned that government can no longer take such situation kindly.
The report presented by the Special Committee set up by President Obasanjo on the bribery allegation absolved Prof. Gana from any blame, stressing that, "it is usual for most international organizations to provide honorarium for invited journalists to cover expenses. This is the practice of the USIS,
UN Agencies and international media organisations."
Ehn, is that so? We learnt – gleefully, courtesy Agabi/Gana - that that Jeff Koinage of CNN – one of the culprits that caused the beration session to be called - took the money and has not returned it. Any comments, CNN.com?
Anyway, inquiring minds wanted to know, so I went asking some foreign journalists that I knew during the Abacha days. Actually, one of them (name with-held, in imitation of Nigerian journalists! -) ) gave pretty damning information via email to my AOL address:
Dear Dr Aluko
[About your inquiry whether international organizations do indeed pay journalists’ fare…] it's an interesting point. The ministers are talking rubbish. At least as far as the international media goes, the UN, EU etc would never reimburse journalists' expenses of any kind. At [the foreign media organizations that I have worked for], it was made pretty clear to me to accept no gifts/payments in kind/honorariums or any such kind from governments, companies or individuals, be it Africa or elsewhere. The most a UN agency or government might have offered would be a facility trip: for example, the UN inviting journalists to travel with an aid convoy or on aid flight to a remote part of, say, Angola. Journalists who travel with, say, Bill Clinton or Tony Blair on a tour of Africa might be offered a seat on a plane and help with making hotel bookings, but would pay for the privilege.
I have reported from two dozen countries in Africa and from Nigeria under four governments; I was frequently summoned to dull and pointless meetings with officials and was never once offered a brown envelope of any description - even Abacha's people (and I know the honourable minister then was one of them) would never have bothered. If any journalist did not return the minister's envelope, I would expect them now to be under severe sanction, or possibly dismissal, by their employers.
As I say, I was not there, so quite what Mr Gana was up to I do not know. I cannot really believe it was a serious inducement - journalism is not the most lucrative profession, but equally, I would be surprised if there were many hacks working for international news outfits so hard up for cash that they would need to take $400. Gana has been at best foolish; but then, he should never have had a job in government anyway.
Wow! There you have it: from a foreign journalist! I discovered his note to me in my mail-box, and I am sharing it with the world – that the world may know!
THE GOVERNOR’S POTOMAC HOME
The other thing that is getting me steaming is “L’affaire Kogi” – by which I mean Governor Abubakar Audu’s purchase of a house not too far from me here in Maryland, USA: 12301 Glen Road, Potomac, MD, 20854-1022, USA to be exact.
I have been following the news now and again, sometimes saying “What is the big deal? So many of these Nigerian officials have houses here anyway!”
Should I start naming names? Nah! Jealousy and envy are too common fare among us Nigerians, ojare!
However, I have been an advocate of asset declaration as a way of checking corruption in our blessed country. Then I heard recently that some people, at the beginning of their office, declared assets that they did not have so that they could acquire in office those same assets – some kind of forward planning of corruption – and my heart sank.
Only in Nigeria would they think of such “crookery”, as Prof. Wole Soyinka once described it!
So imagine how pricked my ears were when the Kogi Governor was quoted as saying that he had DECLARED the Potomac asset on his form in 1999.
So I went checking. Here is what I found:
INFORMATION – Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation
Real Property Data Search
12301 Glen Road, Potomac (Rockville), MD, 20854-1022
[you may have to copy the entire URL to read it}
First sale of land: 02/22/1993 Price: $167,500
Second sale of land: 08/12/1999 Price: $310,000
Seller: Philip Topor
Primary structure built: 2000
Third transfer of house: 03/15/2001 Price: $1,719,954 Seller: Par
Present owner : Audu Abubakar
That simple. If you want, you can check on my information too: absolutely nothing to hide. Montgomery. Perrywood. Voila!
Apparently not! Read with me
What? This is getting rather annoying: Which kind of "clean bill of unhealthiness" is this? It certainly
looks as if some dirty Naira bills changed hands here!
Or his dog ate it?
PUBLIC ACCESS TO ASSETS DECLARATION FORMS NEEDED
Finally, president Obasanjo’s official corruption crusade is a (cruel) joke if there is no public access to asset declaration forms of public officials UPON assumption of office AND annually! Let us demand that clear legislation NOW!
The Federal Government has asked the American Cable News Network (CNN) to withdraw its correspondent from the country over perceived bias in his reportage on Nigeria.
The federal government yesterday protested against foreign media coverage of recent unrest in Nigeria, describing it as "unbalanced, sensational and inciting."
MONDAY QUARTERBACKING: Jerry's Testament and the Case of Brown Envelopes
Mobolaji E. Aluko
Monday, April 22, 2002
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