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« In Defence of Arinze's Candidacy | Main | Ngige and Uba stole our Mandate – George Moghalu »

April 12, 2005

Of Sleaze and the last Messiah

The widespread misgivings Nigerians have harboured for some time now regarding President Obasanjo's soi-disant anti-corruption war are bound to deepen further with his handling of the scandal at the Housing ministry. The manner of acquisition of public property by the dictator’s allies and relatives of which Ikoyigate is only but the latest example does also call into question the entire reform philosophy of his regime. The curious dismissal of the Housing and Urban Development minister should be seen as a vindication of sorts of the position of those who have all along suspected that less-than-honourable intentions form the basis of Obasanjo’s anti-sleaze crusade.

The obvious scape-goating of the minister does bear the hallmarks of a pre-emptive strike the purpose of which seems to be her gagging or, at the very least, the withdrawal of a viable platform from which she could have offered what is tantamount to a rebuttal of the president's dubious posture in this rotten affair. To have allowed Mrs. Osomo to talk posed a grave risk for the president and what is viewed as an agenda of personal political survival dressed in the garb of a moralizing rhetoric. Obasanjo and his henchmen want Nigerians to believe that the dictator is a kind of latter-day Messiah – something akin to the last Hope for our nation – who is committed to fighting corruption but alas, his actions so far point to a sad pattern of grandstanding on the issue. Moreover, the president seems to be thoroughly enjoying his thirty seconds of media glory, precariously perched as he is on a podium of inconsistencies and the minister’s spilling of the beans could have taken the shine off the gimmickry associated with his sham campaign.

Commenting on the bribery scandal at the Education ministry and the president’s attitude to some of the individuals allegedly involved in it, Femi Fani-Kayode, Obasanjo’s Special Assistant on Public Matters, had this to say: “…This is only the beginning. This is what I will describe as a messianic redemption of the country on the part of the president…You have to understand the mindset of Obasanjo. Corruption is an anathema to him. He has zero tolerance for it…”! And we are expected to tolerate this kind of fawning dishonesty from the regime’s mouthpieces by applauding, if not actually aping their inanities!

But beyond the louche familiarity of the tyrant’s messianic postulation, one is confronted with the fact that Obasanjo’s anti-corruption crusade is at once superficial, half-hearted, selective and mostly given to histrionics which betray a profound insincerity
by those who think that subterfuge and a lack of finesse are credible alternatives to transparent leadership.

Obasanjo's decision to sack Mrs. Osomo barely a day before the date she promised to reveal the documentary evidence pertaining to the sale of the federal government's landed property is quite troubling indeed. This blunder on the part of the president will no doubt reinforce public distrust toward a regime with a history of cover-ups, mischief-making and a facile resort to roguish tactics in dealing with sensitive national issues. One of the pertinent questions being raised in this latest scandal of the PDP-led kleptocracy is that names of other prominent figures have deliberately been dropped from the list of those alleged to have benefited from the sale of the government houses in question.

Several commentators in the national press have rightly drawn attention to the haphazard, non-systematic nature of the regime’s anti-corruption effort. Many observers have gone as far as suggesting a partisan political motive behind the clumsy and dubious tactics being employed by the president in his crusade. Some of the concerns about Obasanjo’s strange anti-corruption war need reiterating.

A critical factor of our national politics today is the obsession on the part of establishment figures to protect their interests irrespective of which regime is in power. And as we all know, the protection of those interests implies that national development priorities are either discarded altogether or relegated to the background. For Obasanjo and his allies, the single-minded determination to effect their political self-perpetuation or survival has meant subjecting the nation to all sorts of schemes like election rigging or the use of security agencies and other national institutions to intimidate and silence perceived enemies. The recent political brigandage that saw the imposition by President Obasanjo and his allies of one Col. Ahmadu Ali as National Chairman of the PDP should be understood in that light. It is apparent that a large segment of the Nigerian society believes that the president’s posture in this anti-sleaze war is all about the settling of political scores, with 2007 in mind.

As is usually the case in such matters, many people are paying the price for this curious anti-corruption crusade by an individual with messianic pretensions. One should hasten to hard that on the surface of it, it doesn’t hurt Obasanjo that some of the men and women named in recent scandals have actually been involved in corrupt activities. However, you need to come face to face with the sordid track record of the figure in charge of the crusade and especially his mischievous and remorseless mien to ascertain the magnitude of the deceptive enterprise behind his grandiose rhetoric.

In the scam involving the illegal disposing of government-owned property, for instance, the element of mischief and political calculation was apparently very much in attendance. Apart from the muzzling of the former Housing minister and the selective release of names of individuals allegedly involved in the scandal, it is noteworthy that one of the names on the list of buyers was that of the Vice-President, Atiku. Two days after the release by the presidency of the list, Obasanjo’s office reportedly issued a statement stating that Atiku was not involved in the scam. So, one may ask, why release his name in the first place? Could this be a deliberate attempt at character-assassination on the part of the president?

That President Obasanjo is said to be opposed to Atiku succeeding him does make this tactic of releasing names only to be followed by retractions very worrisome. This is political recklessness of the worst kind. It is also akin to the personalization of the anti-corruption crusade – an untenable proposition. It is remarkable that whereas the first phase of President Obasanjo’s anti-corruption crusade was reduced to what may be termed as vendetta against the late Abacha and his family, its second phase can be said to contain the same vindictiveness but with a much far-reaching impact. The element of personalization and vindictiveness which one has witnessed so far in Obasanjo’s anti-sleaze campaign is also very much evident in the president’s address on the N55 million scandal at the Education ministry, especially at the point where he admonishes two former National Assembly leaders.

"It is the responsibility of the National Assembly to cleanse itself, to show to Nigerians that it deserves their respect, to rebuild public confidence, and to flush out those members who continue to derogate and degrade its integrity and stature. Because this has never been part of the Assembly’s agenda, past leaders of the Senate and the House got away with near murder and are now living in obscene opulence. Such opulence is without foundation except abused privilege of being a leader in the National Assembly for a few years. Their honour, integrity and credibility will remain impaired and dented no matter how they live and where they live and certainly cannot meet acceptance in the eyes of their Creator. In the final analysis justice will catch up with them “.

It is one of those ironies that the president does not appear to realize that the words expressed in the last quote are like a mirror he is offering himself. When he expresses concern about National Assembly members “who continue to derogate and degrade” the “integrity and stature” of that august body, we are reminded of a far worse desecration of Nigeria’s pre-eminent national institutions – the continuing debasement, with impunity, of the presidency by Obasanjo and his allies. The president and his PDP continue to inflict a wholesale desecration on our national institutions and life in general. The examples of their unwholesome and corrupt ways are many and varied. The dictator’s current anti-sleaze campaign is yet another illustration of the corrupt identity of his regime. As for the pitch about justice catching up with corrupt former government officials “who got away with near murder and are now living in obscene opulence”, it is interesting that the president seems to limit his peculiar concern for justice to “past leaders of the Senate and the House” – meaning, conceivably, those who have crossed swords with the tyrant since 1999. This looks like vindictiveness to me. It smacks of partisan political manipulation.

The concern that political manipulation is informing the current anti-corruption war by the president has also led to the belief that the recent antics surrounding the campaign are part of an orchestrated bid at diversion. Irrespective of where one stands in this debate, one cannot ignore a palpable consequence of Obasanjo’s selective campaign, namely, the fact that it has already taken on the allure of a diversionary ploy.

It is increasingly becoming clear that Obasanjo's latest shenanigans regarding his so-called anti-corruption crusade are aimed at, amongst other things, drawing attention away from his regime's bad ways and especially its role in the recent atrocities in Anambra which culminated in the forced resignation of Chief Ogbeh as PDP National Chairman. It is noteworthy that so far, the anti-corruption war has been one big show with our imperial president playing God – casting an all-conquering, infallible shadow over a deeply flawed process even as he dispenses the moral equivalent of summary justice through the agency of state-sponsored outfits with a tenuous claim to transparency. The use and abuse by the president of nominally legitimate state structures in the furtherance of parochial political objectives is nothing new. In the supposed anti-sleaze war, the ICPC has become a potent weapon against Mr. President’s political enemies, real or imaginary. The fear a lot of Nigerians are expressing today is that Ribadu’s EFCC is also being used as an ego-massaging instrument for Obasanjo. That both Justice Akanbi’s ICPC and Ribadu’s EFCC are now part and parcel of the president’s self-serving schemes is amply demonstrated in the way and manner the anti-corruption crusade has been waged since 1999 and the handling of Ikoyigate is no exception.

Some Nigerians have argued that by naming members of his wife’s family in the Ikoyigate scandal, the president is demonstrating that he has no ulterior motives. This is a superficial reading of Obasanjo’s gesture in this scam. In his desperation, the dictator is probably naively hoping that the public will be so impressed as to consider his anti-corruption posture as even-handed and therefore deserving of support. While still in the manipulative cum self-serving mode, the president and his henchmen, one can fairly assume, expect to exploit the anticipated goodwill on the part of citizens in order to avoid having to deal with much more embarrassing allegations of corrupt conduct like the one involving the many foreign accounts of at least one of the dictator’s children and his curious business deals. It has been alleged that a son of the Aso Rock tyrant, Gbenga Obasanjo, is enriching himself at the people's expense.

Strangely, though, there are Nigerians out there who would rather harp on Obasanjo Jnr.'s standing as a businessman in his own right - as if that were in contention - than face up to the serious allegations that this guy is using and abusing his family connections by indecently cornering the nation's collective wealth, thanks to the regime’s much vaunted privatisation policy. Cancelling the sale of some government houses, even if in the process some members of Obasanjo's family - extended or not - are inconvenienced by the revelation, is arguably a lesser burden, politically, than having to 'expose' the dictator's son or transparently deal with the suspected massive corruption taking place at the NNPC, for instance. And, by the way, who says a future sale of the same government-owned buildings will not benefit other friends of the regime or their fronts? It is a double tragedy that the Housing and Urban Development ministry has now been placed under the supervision of one of the characters who benefited from the illegal sale of government buildings in Ikoyi. It will take a gullible public for the diversionary ploy of selective crusading to succeed as a convenient cover for the self-serving agenda of political survival and supremacy by a power-hungry president and his allies.

In his address on what is now referred to as Budgetgate, Obasanjo did invite Nigerians to join in the fight against corruption. A few days ago, in an admonition to the Police High Command, he reportedly reiterated his pledge that he would no longer tolerate corruption in public service. Nigerians have heard that before. What they expect this time around, is that Mr. President will stop playing games and earnestly fight corruption by beginning with himself and his immediate entourage. Largely after-thought gestures like the recent arrest of Tafa Balogun are bound to make people more cynical. The EFCC and ICPC should cease behaving like tools in the service of a tyrant and his friends as they jostle for 2007. '419' – as in the 2003 electoral charade - , Anenih, Anambra, Odi, Zaki-Biam, the NNPC, NEPA, BPE, NITEL, these are some of the potent metaphors for the profoundly compromised image of Obasanjo and the kleptocratic tyranny he is presiding over.

The dictator and his propagandists should realize that his regime has no legitimacy whatsoever and the more its contradictions and evil practices become entrenched, the harder it will be to convince the average Nigerian as to the sincerity of Mr. President in matters of public morality and governance. Nigerians must know that ultimately, it is their individual and collective responsibility to sanitize their society. If we find the selective and self-serving anti-corruption crusading of the regime unacceptable, it then follows that our advocacy as citizens and civil society groups against sleaze and other forms of bad conduct should not be lacking in both transparency and consistency. The true war against corruption will necessarily involve, amongst other things, a rediscovery of core values like hard work, honesty, the rule of law and a sense of community.

Aonduna Tondu

New York


Posted by Administrator at April 12, 2005 10:43 AM


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