We Haven't Seen Nothing Yet

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We Haven't Seen Nothing Yet

 

By

 

Yusuph Olaniyonu

 

 

 

culled from THISDAY, March 29, 2005

 

 

My earlier plan was to leave the sleazy affair between some members of the National Assembly and the Federal Ministry of Education alone and devote this space to a celebration of the life of one of the greatest lawyers with black skin ever created by God.  As  somebody who really revere excellence and brilliance, I have always been marvelled by the achievements of Chief Fredrick Rotimi Alade Williams or Timi the law. He was one man I adore.


I can never be tired of eulogising and commending the ingenuity Timi the law demonstrated in the cases he handled such that many of the indigenous locus classicus cases that students in our law faculties studied were handled by him. And in many of the cases he had sought to break new grounds.


But there is nothing I can write again today which will not be a repetition of what I and others produced in an eight page pull-out in yesterday's edition of THISDAY. In that special package devoted to the life and times of the legal icon, we have dissected Timi the law and showcased him as one Nigerian who definitely left this world better than he met it in 1920 through his personal contributions.


The life of late Williams however represents one bright extreme of the present Nigerian situation. At the other dark end is the state of governance in Nigeria. As it is, there will likely be some  fireworks in Abuja, the nation's capital from today.
As an aftermath of a corruption scandal in which some legislators allegedly colluded with some members of the executive over the fixing of the appropriations for the current fiscal year, the two arms of government are getting set to do battle. President Olusegun Obasanjo who had responded to the public outcry against the continued high rating Nigeria enjoy in the comity of corrupt nations as stated by the Transparency International had blown the whistle on the education ministry bribery scandal. In a move some believe, and rightly so, as being prejudicial and likely to subvert the due process of free trial, Obasanjo made a nationwide broadcast in which he generally read the preliminary report of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) investigation of the bribery scandal.


There is a group of people who believe that the President should just have left the matter to the courts and the Attorney General of the Federation to handle.


Another leg of the debate, is the one by some members of Ohanaeze that the exposure of this corrupt practice is another anti-Igbo campaign. In giving it ethnic colloration, it was easy for this people to point to the fact that the key actors in this education bribery scandal are from one section of the country, particularly the minister involved and the Senate President.
Even, the sacked Education Minister, Prof. Fabian Osuji had hinted of political victimisation as the motivation for his travails. However, I believe that we should try and separate the wheat from the chaff to enable the country focus on the issues involved in the scam.


First, the minister's claim. I had thought Prof. Osuji will be smarter than the way he is handling this crisis.  I think he is right to have gone to court to pursue his right and to redeem his name if he believes he has enough grounds to do that. But to start insinuating that the bribery scandal came out or became a crisis because of some phoney phone calls made to him by some fraudsters whose trick and objectives he acknowledged is cheap blackmail. What has the information given him by the tricksters who wanted him to pay N400,000 for his name to be removed from a supposed pro-Atiku ministers list got to do with allegations that be offered bribe to some legislators to jerk up his ministry's budget? Is Osuji the only minister close to Vice President Atiku Abubakar?


The professor should know that his redemption lie in his ability to convince Nigerians and the courts that he never offered the N55 million bribe or that he never called the permanent secretary of his ministry, head of the National Universities Commission (NUC)  and others to a meeting on how to raise the bribe money and that the money returned to the EFCC could not be traced to him.
I expect Osuji to start disowning that statement credited to him in the EFCC report in which he was allegedly singing like a kenery on how the bribe money was demanded, raised and paid.


Let the minister leave this thing called politics or the Obasanjo - Atiku perceived feud alone. That will not be a shield in cases of corruption.


Also, for those who believe that the exposure of the ministry of education bribery scandal has some ethnic colouration, I will advise them to review their strategy if they want to gain the sympathy of Nigerians.  Corruption has no tribal mark.  It is an endemic disease with which the entire Nigerian landscape is infested.  The corrupt leaders who made sure that nothing works in this country and that millions of people suffer in the midst of plenty are from all the tribes and sections of the country.


I believe that the way to respond to this present scandal is to make it a catalyst which will trigger many other disclosures as to how governance has been bereft of the fear of God and the care for the welfare of the people.  In the present scandal, all the key actors are from different tribes.  An Osuji, a Wabara, an Adighije, an Okebukola, a Maccido and so on are being accused of wrong doing.  The right reaction is to pressurize President Obasanjo to equally revisit the abandoned corruption cases like that of Defence ministry's Makanjuola, the National ID Card bribery case, the Tafa Balogun investigation and others.


Obasanjo should ensure that the fight against corruption is not one in which one celebrated case will break and the president will pursue it for sometime, draw political capital out of it and then when public attention is diverted from the case, it is quickly abandoned.  The citizenry will then have to wait until another discovery of corruption is made and then there will be a whole lot of publicity on it.


Since President Obasanjo took over the reins of power with the promise to wage battle against corruption, none of the top cases has really been concluded.  There have been instances when some ministers are said to have been sacked because they were found to have sticky fingers and they were caught with their hands deep in the cookies jar.  Yet, they were only eased out to go and enjoy their loot.  Some of them later used the money to contest election and bounce back to public reckoning.


Again, there are some people who have noted that the presidency is an accomplice in the alleged pervasive corruption because of the role the executive arm of government played in the changes of National Assembly leadership.  Those who belong to this school of thought talked of the Ghana - must - go bags which they claimed flooded the National Assembly to influence the election of Chief Evans Enwerem as Senate President or to remove Dr. Chuba Okadigbo or in the unsuccessful attempts to remove  Umar Ghali Na'Abba as speaker of the House of Representatives.


With these antecedents, it is believed the Presidency lacks the moral ground to stand and pontificate about National Assembly members being corrupt.  It is also said that the much - talked about legislative corruption became festered because the executive was also a partner in the scams.


I sympathise with the legislators who believe the case is that of kettle calling the pot black.  But I want us to all admit that when there is a situation, a proof and a case to call the kettle black, we should not run away from that opportunity simply because the pot which is also black has not been so-called.  Let us then focus on the kettle which has been identified as being black and seek to clean it once and for all so that we don't start having too many dirty house utensils around.


I believe that this education ministry scandal should be pursued to a logical conclusion.  The identified culprits should be made to undergo full trial in the court.  Those who are guilty should be punished and those who are clean should be freed.  The latter group can then feel free to seek redress in court for any defamatory statement made against them by anybody.  Except that in view of section 308 of the constitution, Obasanjo cannot be sued till 2007 when he would have left office.


It is quite clear that from the trial of those involved in the education ministry bribery scandal, we will be able to look at all the other ministries and see what was done by the respective ministers before their budgets were  passed.  President Obasanjo should fully use the intelligence machinery under his control as well as other investigative agencies to beam the searchlights on his ministers and other aides.  Their activities should be checked to see that they are anti-corruption compliant.  The president should definitely not be the lone ranger shouting himself hoarse while those who should support him are busy subverting his efforts.


Good enough, finance minister, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has promised that the federal government accounts will soon be thoroughly audited by an international firm.  It will be good for president Obasanjo to fully subject his government to a transparent audit whose reports can be made available to the citizenry.  Tongues are wagging over the transactions in the oil sector since 1999.  Many believe that with that key ministry having no minister since 1999 and the president superintending over affairs there, some fishy things may have happened.  To convince those doubting Thomases, Okonjo-Iweala should hasten the commencement and conclusion of the audit process.


The federal government should submit itself to scrutiny so as to be on a high moral ground to point at others.
 

 

In all, it should be clear that this education ministry scandal will expose many other shady deals. Nobody knows who will be the next victim.  Many more revelations will come out and many more individuals will have to pay the price.

 

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