GUEST COLUMNIST BY MAGNUS ONYIBE
Following the emergence of Atiku Abubakar as the presidential flag bearer of the main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) at the party primaries conducted penultimate weekend under the chairmanship of Delta State Governor, Ifeanyi Okowa, a lot has popped in the media, alleging that the former Vice President of Nigeria (1999-2007) who is currently running for the office of president for the third time is corrupt.
The simple truth is that Atiku is like the United States President, Donald Trump, a wealthy business man determined to help turn around the present misfortune that has befallen our country, relying on his proven business acumen
And he has unequivocally stated repeatedly that no court of law has convicted him in Nigeria or in the US for corruption.
The label of corruption on Atiku is therefore borne out of mob mentality and purely character assassination by his adversaries. The universal rule of law and natural justice stipulates that an accused is innocent until proven guilty.
The record is there for all to see that Atiku was once investigated for movement of large sums of money into the USA through Intels, an oil service firm of which he owns 16% equity.
Intels is a legitimate business in Nigeria like Exxon Mobil, SHELL, TRAFIGURA or Halliburton.
The US is very sensitive to funds movement into the country, particularly as an aftermath of the 9/11 Al-Queida terrorist attack in New York which was funded with money from abroad.
Please note that Atiku moved funds from Intels, not from Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) or Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) to Jenifer his wife in the USA to purchase equipment and other stuff for the American University of Nigeria (AUN), his university in Yola which is noble.
Law enforcement agencies needed to do their work of identifying and authenticating the source of the money that Atiku has been spending to fund his university which is a mandatory action usually carried out by regulatory authorities in the financial services sector all over the world.
Besides, there is also the penchant for foreign countries to seize funds from developing countries on flimsy excuses expecting that it might have been acquired through sleaze and thus the owner may not speak out. In the case of Atiku, since his source of income is open, he went through the drill successfully. Thereafter, he had visited the US several times. As most of us can confirm, visa issuance is a private matter and only the consular officer can decide to issue based on discretion. People have been known to have been given visa but turned back at the border post indiscriminately.
We are all aware of the ordeal our country is currently going through in the bid to repatriate the infamous Abacha loot. They have mounted all sorts of hurdles to make the return of the money to the source of origin very difficult, if not impossible.
Little wonder, President Muhammadu Buhari made the issue of repatriation of Abacha loot by host countries, the fulcrum of his speech during the recently held United Nations General Assembly meeting , in New York, US.
ln my view, the West apply their standards to us in the so-called developing world when it suits them. Hence we are referred to as third world and dark continent when it comes to infrastructure and investments. But they hold us up to first world standards when it comes to financial/business standards which in my view is double standards.
During the industrial revolution (1760-1840), the atmosphere was polluted by the Western world resulting in the threat of climate change calamities to mankind. Today, it is the turn of China and India to under go industrial revolution and they are polluting the atmosphere as the Western countries did a century ago. The West is holding them to same standards of environmental pollution permitted in the West which is not fair, hence it is being resisted.
The depletion of the ozone layer and other consequences of degradation of the environment are dangerous and climate change arising from unmitigated abuse can be apocalyptic. But the West has to make more sacrifice to inspire compliance by the Asian world. Africa is yet to witness its own industrial quantum leap. If and when it does, and the environment is threatened, l would imagine that being a weak continent, the West may dispatch an army of occupation to police and enforce the associated atmospheric pollution.
Furthermore, if the anti-corruption rhetorics in the Western world is altruistic, why don’t they unveil the seal on all the ownership of choice properties in Chelsea area in London, UK and the Potomac neighbourhood in Washington, USA?
Global corruption tracking institutions have been making the case that the often referenced laundered funds from the developing world like India, Pakistan, former Soviet Union countries and Africa were used in purchasing the luxury real estates in the exclusive billionaire residential counties earlier highlighted. Exposing the ownership and the consequential filing of charges against owners by their home countries would disrupt the real estate sectors of those Western countries and by extension hurt their economies. That’s why they have been dithering in implementing the required policies that would unravel the ownership of the assets suspected to have been acquired with illicit funds.
Such attitude of partiality by the moralistic West is sheer hypocrisy, pure and simple.
In the western world, the maximum profit margin in contracts or business is 15%.
We all know that in Nigeria, mark up or profit margin can be as high as 100%.
That’s simply owed to extraneous factors such as country risk which denies Nigerian dealers in some foreign made and imported goods and services credit lines which are extended to their counter parts in the West; high interest rates charged by banks in Nigeria, complex logistics issues etc.
Even Royal Dutch/SHELL and other International Oil Companies (IOCs) s such existential challenges and offer 30% margin to contractors in Nigeria. That’s far more than the standard in the West. But they had to adjust to the dynamics of the local operating environment.
Some commentators have dared the PDP presidential candidate to visit the United States of America to prove that he is not a fugitive.
Atiku does not need to visit the USA now to prove any point when his lawyers have been given a mandate to sort the matter out.
Understandably, it takes a while to go through the rigours of complex legal entanglements anywhere in the world, more so in the USA where the rule of law is highly respected. In any case, l can attest to the fact that there is no active investigation currently ongoing in the USA with Atiku’s source of wealth as the subject. In these days of US Trump’s ‘America First’ ideology, aid funds to the world grim the USA has dried up. So if Atiku’s visit to the USA would be to facilitate aid, that door is foreclosed.
Meanwhile, we need progress and unity in Nigeria.
Such liberties have taken flight from our country in the past three and half years of governance under the current leadership.
The policy of fighting corruption by hook or crook which has rendered our economy puerile and citizens prostrate is a sort of Taliban mentality which promotes poverty as the ideal way of life.
Our country has become a laughing stock in the comity of nations because our president labels us generically as corrupt, which is ridiculous, outrageous and unprecedented.
And worse of all, it has become obvious that while corruption is tolerated when the people accused of corruption are members of the ruling party, but opposition party members accused of corruption are hunted down and slammed with the sledge hammer.
Such perfidy and contraditions are not lost on officials of foreign missions in our country who are filing reports to their home countries on whether the anti corruption posture of the govt in power is real or deceptive.
The countries with the fastest growing economies in the world, China and India are infamously known as headquarters of corruption. But despite the high levels of corruption, the economies of those countries are robust and growing in leaps and bounds.
The USA is not free of corruption as well, yet its economy is growing at a princely 5%.
That’s perhaps owing to the fact that those countries are not fixated on fighting corruption as we are doing in Nigeria, so anti graft policies are not on the top of their development agenda since the long arms of the law are there to fish out corrupt people.
How demoralised would the average Nigerian feel, if it is true that President Buhari’s daughter is a director in NNPC and how uninspiring would it be to Nigerian youths, if indeed Vice President Yemi Osinbajo’s daughter did her mandatory youth service (NYSC) in Aso Rock villa as alleged in the social media.
If the claims above are incorrect, it will do the regime a great world of good to debunk the allegations with proof.
It may be recalled that during President Buhari’s time in power as military head of state (1983-85) underage children were barred from embarking on Islamic Hajj.
But upon his ouster in August 1985 via a coup d’etat, it was discovered that an under age child of Tunde Idiagbon, then second-in-command in the Supreme Military Council, attended the Hajj with his father.
It was also discovered that Mustafa Jokolo, then Aide de Camp to then head of state, Buhari was caught with several suit cases of money being brought into Nigeria in breach of the laws of our country after Nigerian currency was changed.
Such contradictions during President Buhari’s first time as head of govt in Nigeria and the apparent repeat of application of Do-As-I-Say, Not-As-I-Do policy during his current reincarnation, make this govt’s anti-corruption mantra appear like a hoax.
There is an African country called Tanzania where real change is taking place. The president, John Magufuli, lives by example by doing what he says. He travels by public airline, and shuns the ostensible aspects governance and denies himself the paraphernalia of office. But in Nigeria, during the campaign running up to 2015 general election, promises were made that the sumptuous presidential fleet of aircrafts would be done away with as soon as President Buhari mounts the saddle. Three and half years after, it’s believed in some quarters that the number of aircrafts in the fleet has swollen.
At a point, it was alleged that the high number of private jets (PJs) in Nigeria was a reflection of the high level of corruption in the country. Now that there are far less PJs in Nigeria, are Nigerians better off in terms of standard of living today?
If any thing, the ownerships of private jets in an economy can be a reflection of business boom. If the jet-set are found to have acquired them with proceeds of crime, they should be brought to justice. Touting the fact that a dramatically reduced footfalls in the visitors waiting room of the presidential wing of Aso Rock villa is a sign of the incorruptibility of President Buhari as it is evident he is not cutting deals, as recently claimed by presidential image makers, is a gross reflection of how anti-business/entrepreneurship this govt is.
It underscores the reason our economy is mired in stagnation.
Nigeria should be striving to be a business focused and friendly nation, not a puritanical country that the country has descended into under President Buhari’s watch.
What we need do in Nigeria is to strengthen the legal and law enforcement systems so that those who breach the law are brought to book, no matter how high or lowly placed they may be.
Rather than do that, what we have witnessed are situations where law enforcement agencies such as the police, Directorate of State Services (DSS) and Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) are tending towards becoming the coercion arm of the ruling party as opposed to being defenders of Nigerian constitution and citizens which is such a bad omen for democracy.
In the late 1920s and early 1930s, during and after the Great Depression in the USA, bootlegging (smuggling) was very rife in the so-called God’s own country and it was controlled by the mob or MAFIA.
Some of the greatest industries and automobile brands in the USA are believed to have been built from proceeds of corruption.
Elon Musk of Tesla has recently been investigated, indicted and sanctioned for stock exchange infraction in the USA.
The US president, Donald Trump, has resisted disclosing his tax details to the authorities despite public pressure to do so.
He too has been investigated by tax authorities on several occasions. But the fact that he is currently under investigation by tax authorities does not make him guilty of tax fraud.
So being investigated by the tax authorities in the USA is not such a big deal.
We need to enlighten Nigerians on the fact that there is a difference between being investigated and being guilty. As Nigerians, we should wean ourselves of the notion that once a politician or businessman is invited by the EFCC, police force or DSS the fellow is guilty.
Having a vice president some 15 years ago, Atiku is one of the most investigated public figures in Nigeria.
Some traducers have alluded to the fact that Atiku is past 70 years of age which may hinder his ability to lead effectively and efficiently.
Being a young ruler is great but the newly elected prime minister of Malaysia Mahathir Bin Mohamed is 93 and he has just revved up the economy of the Asian country which like Nigeria was on a slippery slope of socioeconomic decay.
The president of the US, Donald Trump, is in his 70s and the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel as wells British prime minister, Theresa May are not spring chickens and they’ve been steering the ship of their countries successfully on the right course.
The PDP candidate pulled himself up by his boot straps by rising from being an orphan to a successful businessman and Vice President of Nigeria 15 years ago.
He obviously knows how to make positive things happen by turning jeopardized situations around.
Having been able to triumph over the vicissitudes of life after being orphaned at infancy to become one of the wealthiest people in Nigeria and also a successful politician without being a royalty, l have no doubt that he can turn around the dire socioeconomic situation in Nigeria into prosperity.
That’s the Atiku advantage and unique selling point.