Patience’s $20m Credit and Buhari’s £50,000 Bill

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Ring True

with Yemi Adebowale; yemi.adebowale@thisdaylive.com; 07013940521 (text only)

Many Nigerians still can’t fathom the kind of serious business the former first lady, Patience Jonathan has been doing since she was born to warrant a credit balance of over $20 million in four business accounts and one personal account linked to her. At the open market exchange rate of about N200/$ (while she was in power) that should be a whopping N4 billion. At current market rate of N436/$, this should be about N9 billion. Yes, Patience is not known to be a business mogul. The only business associated with her, was being the first lady of Bayelsa State and Nigeria. Of course, this is big business in this part of the world. First ladies make money from top politicians and businessmen, who are arm-twisted to donate to their pet projects. For 16 years, Patience was in the thick of the action, selling her influence and position; she made good money doing this. Many will still remember that she was the initiator/founder of the Aruera Women Foundation as well as the Women for Change Initiative. While her reign lasted, politicians and businessmen scamper to give her NGOs money in return for favours.

Aside the alarming Dollar credit, Patience is linked to a string of posh property and hotels in Abuja, Yenagoa, Port Harcourt and Lagos. No doubt, being a First Lady is big business in Nigeria. The situation is the same at the state levels. Nigerians will be shocked if the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, goes further to scan accounts linked to former Nigerian first ladies. Only on Tuesday, the Police in Katsina State arrested a 60-year-old housekeeper of Hajiya Turai Yar’adua, the wife of the late President Umaru Yar’Adua for her missing goods “worth N91 million”. We were not told the things belonging to Turai that amounted to N91 million. The police simply said: “The Police have arrested Alhaji Yusuf Sarkin-gida after a formal complaint by Hajiya Turai Yar’Adua to the police two weeks ago. The suspect is the custodian of all the keys and property of Hajiya Turai Yar’Adua. There were 37 boxes in the custody of the suspect, but only 27 boxes are in the store. Several items in the 27 boxes are completely missing and the suspect has failed to give a full explanation on the goods and items in the boxes.”

I am very sure that the value and content of the remaining 27 boxes of this former first lady will also be earth-shaking if revealed. This is the tragedy of the Nigerian nation. Governors, who owe traumatised civil servants and pensioners, scamper to donate billions of naira to dubious pet projects of first ladies. Our incredible businessmen also queue to make donations. This is how our first ladies make it big.
Back to Patience; she is already battling the EFCC to have her accounts unfrozen. In an affidavit on her behalf by one Sammie Somiari, she explained that the money was meant to settle her medical bills abroad and other personal expenses. Those expecting her to say anything about how she earned the money must have been disappointed.

I will only tackle my dear Patience on moral grounds. Legally, it looks difficult to hold her down. My plea to Mama Peace this morning is to peacefully relinquish ownership of the money to the federal government, under the condition (to be signed and sealed) that it would be transferred to UNICEF, Save the Children, Doctors without Borders and other international charities, to augment their battle against humanitarian crisis across our nation. The amount involved, purportedly for medical treatment is outrageous and indefensible. It is a big slap in the face of traumatised Nigerians; Nigerians who are struggling to have at least a meal a day are being told stories of how our former first lady set aside $15.5 million for medical treatment. Based on my explanations above, the source of the money, (though, she is yet to talk about this) is also atrocious. In the real sense of it, my lovely Mama Peace does not need this stupendous amount.
As for the EFCC, this idea of using mercenaries to plead guilty on behalf of the companies linked to Patience is absolutely unnecessary. Besides, in this case, proving money laundering in court looks Herculean, except the ‘Jankara’ tactic is employed. The anti-graft agency should put its house in order and hire good lawyers, to commence an out-of-court settlement with Mama Peace. The case looks good to drag on for years, and the government will turn around to tell us that it can’t touch the frozen money because it is still a subject of legal dispute. The EFCC should work with Mama Peace to relinquish and transfer this money to charities.

On the flip side, incumbent President Buhari also expended about £50,000 on the treatment of an ear infection in the United Kingdom in June. His media assistant, Garba Shehu, confirmed this figure. At current parallel market rate, this comes to about N27 million. Mallam Garba does not see anything wrong with this £50,000 bill. My good friend is not among the millions of Nigerians struggling for a meal a day. So, he would not understand the weight of this profligate expenditure. Even in the United Kingdom, £50,000 is awesome money. Prof. Farooq Kperogi of the Bayero University, who queried this improvident disbursement is insisting that Buhari spent £6 million on the treatment. One day, the actual expenditure on our president’s medical escapades will be blown open. For now, I will work on the figure supplied by Garba Shehu. A government that came to cut wasteful expenditure must not be seen indulging in this kind of charade. It is even more painful that the Aso Rock Clinic that gulps billions of Naira yearly is incapable of handling a petty case like this. £50,000 can free hundreds of Nigerians from the shackle of poverty. Our president, who has been teaching us to look inwards, in order to reduce pressure on our forex, should always lead by example. I have it on good authority that Ear and Nose (ENT) specialists in our teaching hospitals would have effectively tackled Buhari’s ear challenge and we would have saved a lot of forex in these hard times. I sincerely hope this kind of financial recklessness will not repeat itself.

Plans about Selling our National Assets Should Perish
Suddenly, plans have shifted to selling some of Nigeria’s assets in order to get us out of this biting recession. Perhaps, if they were talking about non-performing assets like refineries, I would not have been this angry. But, they were talking about the likes of Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas Limited. The labour of our heroes paste is about to be extinguished. All those behind this clamour should go and bury their heads in shame. If previous administrations had sold these assets during the global economic meltdown few years back, I wonder what they would be talking of selling today.

Some people got us out of the bigger global economic meltdown without selling our assets. Rather than bringing together people capable of helping us out of this economic mess, they are thinking about liquidating our assets. This is indeed, the real clueless administration. I am scandalised that some people could be talking about selling assets acquired by some leaders who had vision; assets that took these great leaders many years of hard work to acquire for our nation. Rather than building on this feat, they are thinking about liquidating our commonwealth. This is a tragedy. The position of the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) on this issue is instructive here. The Commission’s Acting Chairman, Shettima Abba Gana remarked:  “It will be unwise for the federal government to dispose of its crown jewels that generate revenue and keep the federation account healthy over the long-term.”

Professor Utomi’s Words of Wisdom
I have spent almost the last 16 months battling pro-Buhari activists, who have labeled me an enemy of his administration, simply because of my forthrightness. For these pro-Buhari activists, anybody harbouring a strong opinion about the president’s failings is automatically an enemy. I have remained undeterred, because I am convinced that my cause is just. The poverty, disease, hunger and unemployment ravaging our nation have proved me right. I received a big consolation this week when I read Professor Pat Utomi’s interview, where he talked about extremists opposed to civilised conversation on Buhari’s failings. He remarked: “The problem is that Nigeria doesn’t have a public sphere. You can’t even have a civilised conversation. If you dare suggest that things could be done in a different way, you become the enemy of all those who are doing it the wrong way, including your own party members. For them, partisanship is the blind following of a failing option. You find out that people suddenly become enemies of their best friends, especially, when your best friends are not cheerleading the failed options.”

On foreign companies leaving Nigeria, he remarked: If something that contributes 15 per cent of your GDP is down, what of the other 85 per cent? As you and I speak, there are many foreign companies that have pulled out of Nigeria or are getting ready to pull out of Nigeria. It has nothing to do with oil prices. It just has to do with how government officials are treating them- disrespect for foreign investors and all the rest of it. Foreign Diplomats are talking of how their companies are being disrespected; how they are treating them at EFCC. So, it’s a much more complex issue than talking about oil prices going down.” With these, I can conveniently rest my case. Let’s continue the discussion on Twitter and Facebook @yemiadebowale.

Fayose’s Government House Project
The Ekiti State Government has set aside N687 million for the construction of a new governors’ office in Ado-Ekiti. The government has even gone ahead to open bids for the project. The Commissioner for Works and Transportation, Mrs. Funmi Ogun, said it was conceived as part of plans to give the state a facelift in terms of infrastructure development. She said that when completed, it would add to the existing legacy projects of the present administration in the state. “Ekiti will clock 20 years on Oct.1, 2016 and we have to embark on projects that will make it a developing state that can compete with other capital cities in terms of infrastructure,” said the commissioner. Clearly, this is not the time to embark on such a grandeur project in this penurious state.

I really can’t understand what Governor Ayodele Fayose needs a new office for, amid so much suffering in Ekiti. This N687 million could have been used to settle huge outstanding salaries and pension. In this poverty-stricken state, civil servants and their families are struggling for a meal a day, yet, the governor is thinking about a new office. Fayose should perish this thought of investing N687 million in a new office and divert the money to projects that will directly impact on the lives of the people. Suddenly, he is behaving like the profligate ex-governor Kayode Fayemi who spent billions of Naira on a new Government House.

The Battle for Mallam Fatori
Good news came on Wednesday with the report that our gallant soldiers had captured Mallam Fatori town in Borno State from Boko Haram after a fierce battle. But come to think of it, is Mallam Fatori not a Nigerian territory? Yes, it is in Abadam Local Government Area of Borno State. Regrettably, we have been persistently told by our president that no Nigerian territory was under the control of Boko Haram. There is too much deceit associated with this war against Boko Haram. Clearly, many towns and villages are still under the control of the terrorists. May Allah lead us to the truth.