Nigeria: This CHANGE We Got Is Long On Sleaze

By Osmund Agbo

Even though this current news cycle is already saturated with the whirlwind of corruption allegations against Buhari administration officials, it has continued to deliver on its promise to be stranger than fiction. Every passing day, Nigerians wake up to yet another shameless specter that smacks of a crime plot hatched in the make-believe world of Hollywood. Concerned citizens shudder as scores upon scores of President’s men are caught in a web of unbriddled graft that could make even the rank and file of a Sicilian mafia look like players in a JV team. An oft-described austere man sold twice to the Nigerian public as the poster child for upstanding leadership is today superintending a sleaze-fest with the stench of a rotten fish.

Not too long ago, a pan-Nigeria group under the auspices of the Nigerian Young Professionals Forum (NYPF), had petitioned the US Congress over alleged multiple scams at the Central Bank of Nigeria under the Buhari administration. The group led by a US-based media practitioner, Mr.Jackson Ude and affiliated with the global anti-corruption networks alleged that the Aso Rock power brokers led by Abba Kyari and Isa Funtua, both of whom are now deceased were running a black-market forex cartel worth $800 million every week since 2015.

This continued until late 2017 when Vice President Yemi Osinbajo scaled it down to $500 million while President Buhari was out of the country on medical leave. In that highly privileged arrangement, millions of dollars were made available to them at the much cheaper official exchange rate which they then turned around to sell in the black market, pocketing the difference, worth billions of naira. You would recall that the deposed Emir of Kano and former Central Bank governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, had at one point complained that CBN was creating billionaires through “forex subsidies”.

When Ismaila Isa Funtua appeared on The Morning Show segment of Arise TV on Saturday, December 4th, 2019, one could tell he was not one of your run-of-the-mill politicians given to rigmarole and political correctness. With a smirk on his face, he was very categorical in debunking the long-held myth that somehow, he was just a member of the Aso Rock “cabal”. Isa wanted his audience to know that he was in fact himself, the cabal. Of course, many talakawas were quick to dismiss his statement as vintage Mallam Isa, quite beside himself and speaking in uncanny hyperbole. With the news coming out since these past few weeks, however, Nigerians have all come to appreciate both the uncommon candor and braggadocio of the man who many remember as the President’s close friend and confidant.

You knew Mallam Isa and his people were up to their usual shenanigans when in an unprecedented move that took no prisoners, he allegedly executed chain of subterranean moves that saw to the acquisitions of Keystone bank and Etisalat. It has been described by some as the most dubious and shameless effort in modern times that involved Alhaji Funtua’s family, the CEO of AMCON, Ahmed Kuru who is also his son-in-law and reportedly facilitated by the governor of Nigeria’s Apex bank, Chief Godwin Emefiele.

It’s important to note that there has been some other publications challenging the veracity of this report. Some even went as far as calling it fake news. Be that as it may, we are living in a country where even a retraction doesn’t necessarily mean a news item is fake. It could sometimes mean that a deal has been brokered between parties or that cash had exchanged hands. The fact still remains that going by the antecedents, the named parties were not incapable of pulling off such a stunt.

As I pen this piece, a forensic audit is ongoing in the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) after the body squandered N81.5bn within a space of 6-7months. Going by the available evidence thus far, all were used in what was described as sundry expenses with zero capital expenditure.

Per report, N85.6 Million out of the total sum was spent in outside travel that included attending a private wedding in UK. The Interim Management Committee(IMC) chairman, Prof Keme Pondei was also attempting to explain how another N3.14 billion was spent on COVID-19 palliatives for NDDC staffers and N1.3 billion on community relations when all of a sudden he passed out during the senate committee hearing.

As these select few individuals continue to line their bottomless pockets and squander the commonwealth, helpless men and women of the Niger Delta on whose behalf the commission was set up are being condemned to a life of perpetual penury.

In its March 2019 publication, Bloomberg news reported that as part of Covid-19 economic stimulus package, Central Bank of Nigeria would bolster its support to manufacturing and other key sectors of the economy by 1 trillion naira ($2.7 billion). As of today, no one could give any good account of where we are in that process. We also have no idea what became of the billions of naira donated by some wealthy Nigerians and corporate bodies to provide relief to our indigent population most impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

For Nigerians living in the northeast, the outbreak of covid-19 compounded an already existing monumental security challenges and turned it into a double whammy. The virus did not stop Boko Haram insurgents in their murderous track and a humanitarian crisis rapidly escalated to the level of a disaster. Yet, stories abound of how billion of naira earmarked for providing relief and rebuilding the area got frittered away. A senate investigation on the spending of the Presidential Initiative for the North East (PINE) uncovered troubling findings. In its final report, the senate concluded “so much money has been made available by government with very little to show for it.” In the end, a whopping $7.9 million was unaccounted for per that report.

It’s important to note that the real victims of this perfidy remain the large number of people living in internally displaced persons (IDP) camps and dying every day from lack of food, basic shelter and ill health. On 7 July 2020, Ibrahim Magu, the acting chairman of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) was suspended following a slew of corruption allegations leveled against him. In Nigeria’s endless game of whack-a-mole, an agency established to fight crime is itself immersed neck dip in unbelievable graft.

Just as we were reeling from the effect of Magu’s saga, there is a new allegation that Nigeria’s Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Mallami (SAN), had ordered security agencies to cover up an ongoing multi-billion naira fraud in Nigeria’s Incentive-based Risk Sharing System for Agricultural Lending. When our judiciary fails where else should we now seek recourse? It’s hard to imagine how far those in power think they could stretch the enduring power of everyday Nigerians before they snap.

In early 2010, series of anti-government protests started to rock Tunisia’s capital city of Tunis but in a very short space of time, quickly spread and engulfed five other countries of the Arab world including Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain and Syria. Though the final trigger was the self-immolation by a young Tunisian named Mohamed Buoazizi, the whole event was a culmination of years of very high rate of unemployment, Poverty, Sectarian violence, Political corruption and Kleptocracy. The whole movement later christened the Arab Spring, was the narrative of young people rising up against oppressive and undemocratic forces to secure a more representative political system and a brighter economic future for themselves and their generation. There is no doubt that Nigeria checks off on all the items that precipitated the Arab Spring.

Of course history had shown us that the average African is not as revolutionary-minded as our Arab brothers, but in the words of the great writer and philosopher George Santayana, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”.

Each time I think about my country with all the political gladiators, impotent rage causes through me. In response, one then wrings his hands and hyperventilate in utter helplessness and resigned indignation. The worse of it all is that those at home don’t even seem to care much and even when they do, they just don’t act like it. Even a peaceful demonstration to openly show displeasure with the system is a rarity.

But let’s face it, it’s not entirely the fault of this current generation of Nigerian youths. Many of them who today are in the age range of early 20’s to late 30’s grew up in a pretty adversarial socio-political and economic environment. The Nigerian state reneged on that part of social contract that guarantees that young people within that demographics have abundance of positive role models as well as the opportunity to follow their passions and pursue their dreams on a level playing field.

The late Pius Adesamni called them the Impala generation. Soon following parturition, the baby impala is deserted by its mum and abandoned to its fate. It literally has seconds to get its act together and learn quickly how to fend for itself or be ferociously consumed by the insatiable carnivores in the wild. Life is not particularly friendly to them and so is the fate of Nigeria’s young generation.

Nigeria operates today like one giant criminal enterprise. The routine checks and balances between the three branches of government that are the hallmark of a functional democracy is virtually non-existent. Every hand in the mix is deeply soiled and irredeemably stained. Regrettably, many Nigeria whose future is sacrificed on this alter of greed seem not to understand the full ramifications of this problem. Majority are either busy owning their own thieves or are unable to grasp the most basic concept of who is actually working for or against their interest. It was devastating to watch a group of young people recently trying to mount a spirited defence on behalf of the beleaguered Minister of Niger Delta, Senator Godswil Akpabio.

Whether it is Boko Haram unleashing dare-devil savagery on the innocent people of the Northeast, the herdsmen turning Southern Kaduna into a killing field, the escalating banditry in the Northwest state of Zamfara or a free for all graft, the story leads to the same final common pathway. With each passing day, It becomes clearer that the Nigerian ship is rudderless and adrift because the captain in Aso Rock is hiding in plain sight. It remains to be seen if Nigeria is still home to enough courageous men who for the love of country will rise up in there various positions of influence to fill in the void. Those patriotic and brave souls who aren’t afraid to tell that the Emperor has no cloth.

At the core of the incidence of poverty is the issue of equity, and the core of the issues of equity is the issue of corruption”. -James D. Wolfensohn (9th President of the world bank).

Let our current state of affairs sound as a clarion call to action. Let the good ones come out to lead among men. Let those caterpillars of our commonwealth know that the days of reckoning is here. Let Nigerians openly voice their opposition to the status quo and without equivocation, strongly demand to restructure Nigeria without further delay. It is super imperative that the present generation of Nigerians rise up to the challenge and salvage their country. Anything short of that, then we might as well sit around the campfire, hold hands and sing Kumbaya. Till the cows walk home.

Dr. Agbo is the President and CEO of African Center for Transparency and writes from the United States. Email: eagleosmund@yahoo.com

Please note that the opinion expressed by the writer in this article does not reflect the position of the publishers of www.newsbitsng.com

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