The Problem With Obasanjo's Anti-Graft War
Text of Chief Awoniyi's address delivered at the Northern
Conference held at Zaranda Hotels, Bauchi,
April 9, 2005
Nearly a year ago, at your retreat in Sokoto, I considered that the state of our
nation was bad, and very bad indeed, in the case of our Northern portion of it.
I was as hard on you as I possibly could for
what I considered your share in the conditions of our country. I pleaded with
you that irrespective of how you found yourself in the Senate, if you, our
northern senators, with your majority in the
Senate, did not repent of your ways and perform your duties better, as Senators
of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, much worse was bound to follow. Painfully,
my prediction has come to pass. The state of
the nation has never been as bad as it is today. The Senate is laid low in
corruption, and all those who wish you and the country well, are left gasping in
It may be surprising, when I say that today I cannot be hard on you, our
Senators. This is not to say that I condone, in the slightest, the despicable
occurrences of the last one year. They are totally
condemnable and unacceptable. But when a man is down I cannot kick him, and keep
him down. I can only help him, if he is willing, to make the effort to get back
on his feet. I always bear in mind the
words of Oscar Wilde: "There but for the grace of God, go I." Any of us here, in
our past public life, could have found himself in positions similar to those of
our senators today. We could have been
pronounced guilty by association and not because of any actions of commission or
omissions on our part.
Distinguished senators, what has happened to you inside and outside your Senate
is merely the tip of the iceberg. I strongly believe that Mr. President has his
bagful of more revelations, which he is keeping close to his chest and gloating
over. He would release them, when it best suits his self-promotion as an
Corruption of Spirit
Every Nigerian community has a proverb which states in effect that "a rotten
fish starts to rot from the head." Similarly, according to the Economist
Magazine of London, most of our corruption are traceable to the Presidency. The
corruption you are accused of, are merely outward manifestations of deeper
corruption. The fountain head of our corruption is traceable to the Spiritual
Corruption flowing out from Aso Rock.
When a man is afflicted with spiritual corruption, he corrupts everyone around
him. He prefers to bring near himself, men who are tainted; men who are filthy
and morally depraved, and easily blackmailed or manipulated. Spiritual
corruption makes a leader keep away from himself, the clean, the bold, the
unsoiled, the prudent, the fair-minded and the truthful. A spiritually corrupt
man is instinctively attracted towards impropriety rather than correct conduct.
One of the ugliest attributes of the spiritually corrupt is greed. Greed for
power, greed for worldwide adulation, greed for wealth, greed to be chairman of
everything that is "chairmanable", greed to be seen to be scuttled if he sees
that the glory for them can be shared with anybody else. When a man is
spiritually corrupt, you cannot put anything beyond him.
Therefore, what I feel for you today Senators is sorrow and pity. Not hatred,
not anger or rebuke. You are merely the distinguished victims of the flow of
spiritual corruption fed into you, individually and collectively, and into our
institutions of governance by Aso Rock.
It will always bear repetition to remind ourselves that Obasanjo was a man
thoroughly rejected by his Yoruba ethnic group in every way, and particularly
electorally. But the rest of Nigeria decided that they wanted him to lead them.
They voted massively for him, regardless of religion and ethnicity. Today he has
fanned the embers
of religion and ethnicity into a blazing inferno that have consumed peace and
harmony and trust nationwide. Only the kind of spiritual corruption to which I
have referred can make a leader of a complex country like Nigeria choose the
exploitation of religion and ethnicity as a viable option for governing the
He used two strategies to land us in the mess we find ourselves today. The first
was the blatant way the party that brought him to power was corrupted and
rendered irrelevant. The second was the equally crude and undisguised way the
Legislature was corrupted, destabilized and rendered impotent. The huge stock of
mutual trust and harmony, knowledge and expertise available in these two
potentially great democratic institutions were wantonly squandered.
Destruction of the Peoples Democratic Party
Right from the swearing-in of President Obasanjo in May 1999, he gradually
started to unfold a grand plan, which had been hatched soon after the PDP
Presidential election victory, to take over the various organs of the party.
The party manifesto, which the party presented to Nigerians as the broad action
plan for future governance, was abandoned. Indeed, so thoroughly did they bury
the party manifesto that some political
analysts assert that the party had no manifesto and no ideology.
The purity of intention with which the PDP was founded as a party that would
work for the internal cohesion of all our peoples and for good governance,
regardless of religion, ethnicity or gender, was jettisoned.
With its co-conspirators, Aso Rock factionalised the party, and in a most
cynical and patently corrupt way, imposed a party leadership that they could
manipulate and blackmail to do their bidding. The founding fathers of the party
looked on helplessly as the "Aso Rock Candidates List" became the norm for
producing the leadership of the party.
Even though this undemocratic practice had never worked smoothly, spiritual
corruption, up till today, does not allow them to see why. What Aso Rock has
never learnt is that even a minion, when put in office, gets to a point when his
conscience pricks him; ultimately, he revolts when he can no longer endure wrong
doing. The latest
topical case in point was Chief Audu Ogbeh. When Chief Ogbeh could no longer
endure corruption and political immorality, he tried to initiate a change of
approach to the disgraceful events in Anambra
State. As you will all recall, he complained, and was forced out of office.
Today, little wonder that the PDP designed to be an all inclusive party of
brotherhood and friendship, has become what I once described as "a basket of
scorpions stinging themselves to death".
Considering the quality of the founding fathers of the party, it could be argued
that it should not have been possible to destabilize the party so early and so
thoroughly. It should not have happened.
The founding fathers were ambushed and absolutely dumbfounded by the corruption
of the spirit which made the kind of division and of manipulation they suffered
The moment Obasanjo said in 1999 that all those who had invested in his
electoral victory should consider their investment lost, that was the moment the
party leadership should have taken him on. The leaders did not. Some of the
leaders confessed later, that they thought a
softly, softly approach was better than rocking the boat. Some thought that
silence and coasting home with Aso Rock was political wisdom, in a climate in
which any form of criticism was seen as disloyalty for which you could be denied
political appointment, or patronage. It was this naïve, lackadaisical attitude
which made the founding fathers unable to put up a fight for the entrenchment of
the basic democratic processes to save their party. This failure enabled Aso
Rock to move from one undemocratic outrage to the next. Today, the party has no
influence, whatsoever, on any acts of the executive.
Assault on the Senate
Simultaneously, with the factionalisation and ultimate destruction of the party,
there was the assault on the Legislature and the Senate in particular. The
powers of the legislature, particularly the investigative powers of the Senate,
were deliberately designed by the framers of the Constitution to check any
executive leader with
dictatorial tendencies. Aso Rock knows even today that if the Senate really got
its acts together, it would be the most potent arm of government for the
protection of our freedom and for checking executive misrule and all forms of
improper actions and conducts. This explains the past and continuing assault to
corrupt and destabilise the Senate.
My dear senators, your investigatory powers are enormous. Do not let anybody
frighten or embarrass you to hesitate to use them judiciously even in these
Investigatory powers of the legislature
The late Chief Rotimi Williams (SAN) defined clearly your enormous powers to
check the Executive and the Judicature. In this address to the Constituent
Assembly in December 1977 while presenting the Draft Bill for what become the
1979 Constitution, he said:
"Human nature being what it is, most people tend to act capriciously or
oppressively when they have the assurance that their conduct can never be
reviewed by any other person or authority."
The safeguard against abuse of power is the separation of powers
mong the Executive, the Judicature and the Legislature. Chief Rotimi Willaims
went on to state as follows:
"The Legislative Houses are given the investigatory powers over all executive
and administrative actions by any department of the government. These… include
all actions of the President as well as the administrative decisions or
executive actions of the Judiciary. These are vital powers and are calculated to
have important effects
on executive and administrative actions by public authorities" and public
It is the free and unfettered exercise of these vital powers and influence, for
the civilized governance of this country, that President Obasanjo was determined
to deny the Legislature at all cost, right from the inception of this
administration in 1999.
Change of Senate President
installation of Senator Evans Enwerem as the first Senate President of the Third
Republic was planned and executed like a military campaign. It was a most
pathetic experience for the party leaders at the time. Right under their noses,
bribe money in `Ghana Must Go' bags were ferried from flour to flour in NICON
to corruptly influence the election of the Senate President. Even Senators of
the two opposition parties were bought to ensure the defeat of the late Dr.
Chuba Okadigbo, the favoured candidate of the majority of PDP senators. Since
that disgraceful episode, the Senate has known no peace, till today. It has
become the culture to deploy executive corruption to determine the Senate
leadership. Today, within a period of only six years, there have been five
Senators, your credit with the Nigerian populace is abysmally low today. Make no
mistake about it, Aso Rock will endeavour to keep your credit perpetually low
with Nigerians. It will use its many powerful resources of money and propaganda
to make you continue to look very bad in the eyes of your fellow Nigerians. My
plea to you today is
that you must pick yourselves up.
Accept the painful truth that you are down, and that you therefore need fear no
fall. Repent of your errors. Boldly come forward, collectively and penitently,
to apologise to Nigeria for your mistakes.
Renew your oath and resolve to serve our dear country.
Henceforth, I plead with you to stand firm together and give Nigerians the
pleasant surprise, henceforth, of always doing that which is correct.
Purge yourselves and work to save this beloved country from absolutism of the
executive. As you go to the Senate every morning, let your motto be "This Nation
Must Be Saved, No Matter What".
Just reflect on the glee with which your crises in the Senate were announced at
prime TV time. The body language displayed that night was that of a man gloating
over the collective fall of those he regards as mere minions with whom he worked
harmoniously. Now he had got them precisely where he wanted them. The broadcast
for him was a
joyous occasion because it was good for his anti-corruption image at home, but
better still abroad.
Distinguished Senators, if you are prepared to fight collectively to restore
your good names, and free yourselves and your legislature from the kind of
executive shenanigan to which your two legislative houses have been subjected in
the last six years, you will be amazed by the number of responsible Nigerians
who will support you. You can redeem rapidly, your image and self-esteem if you
can put your hearts to it.
First and foremost, you must level with the Nigerian people. Come out boldly and
open up about what has happened and what went wrong, singly and collectively.
Tell the world about the influences, the blackmail and the manipulations you
underwent to do or not do certain things. Each of you must have some personal
story to tell. Don't keep it to yourself. Tell it out.
What we have seen is just the beginning. Much worse is to come, and unless you
the legislators protect and defend yourselves and restore the people's
confidence in you, you will not be able to protect our country from tyranny and
spiritual corruption. Let none of you think that because he is not under attack
now, he is safe and can save
himself by continued cooperation with executive sins. Your turn will come singly
Selective inaction against corrupt practices
Aso Rock is now riding high at your expense. You had better tell the world of
the selective nature of the pursuit of corruption by Aso Rock that you know
about. For instance, you were all alive when some bribe money paid to members of
the Na'aba House of Representatives by the executive was dumped as evidence of
corruption upon a table in the House by some of its members. What was the action
taken by our anti-corruption President till today?
What is the explanation for the failure to pursue and prosecute those involved
in the embezzlement of huge sums of money in the Ministry of Defence? The
President said he was angry that a nolle prosequi was issued in respect of the
case. What was the result of his anger? It is significant that those who issued
the nolle prosequi are still in his system.
Corruption is not only about stealing public fund or receiving gratifications.
It is corruption and a crime to deny those who won elections their victory, and
to award victory to those who lost. It is corruption to misuse the apparatus of
government, particularly the security agents, to rig elections as was widely
done in the General and Presidential Elections of April 2003. It is corruption
to claim the results of such elections as mandate from the people! Corruption
includes the deceit of trusting Nigerians whom you promise one thing, and do
something else. Corruption includes creating situations of uncertainty and
stress, for the entire populace to gain selfish
advantage. Corruption includes playing one religion against the other and one
ethnic group against another for whatever gains.
Corruption includes the betrayal and the squandering of the trust and hope
reposed in you by the people for a better and democratic deal in governance to
better their lot and protect their lives and property.
Presidential responsibility for the actions of those appointed to public
The total mess, nationwide, in every facet of our lives derives from the
President, because he appoints men to office to help him. The fourth President
of the United States of America, James Madison, said quite correctly:
"The President is responsible to the public for the conduct of
persons he has nominated and appointed."
Willy nilly, Obasanjo has to bear personal responsibility for the corrupt
individuals he has appointed to office. Why does he attract to himself such
dishonest men and women just like a magnet attracting iron filing to itself?
Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the USA, said that for the appointment
of a person to public office, there are three questions you must answer: "Is he
honest? Is he capable? Is he faithful to the Constitution?"
May be President Obasanjo should apply the words of these two great democrats
when next he makes appointments.
Obasanjo and Nigeria
Please pray for Nigeria as I often do. I am still doing penance for my little
contribution in helping to bring Obasanjo to power. Only God will forgive
Obasanjo and repair for us the great harm he has inflicted on this nation. Every
thread, every fibre, in the Nigerian tapestry, has been corrupted by this man. I
pray God to make him see the errors of his ways and repent. As I said some four
years ago, unless he changes his ways and repent, he will continue to crash from
one mistake to another throughout his administration. Unfortunately, we all
suffer for his mistakes.
Finally, my fervent prayer is that my well known cynicism about our President
and his ways may be proved wrong, for once, in respect of his latest assault on
Even though it may sound like the triumph of hope over bitter experience, I pray
that Mr. President will prove me totally wrong and that, for once, his frenetic
activities against corruption are for real. If he proves me wrong and they are
indeed for real, I will seek a pass to Aso Rock to go and pay my respects and