Cleared Ministers with Unsettled Questions 

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Ring true

By Yemi Adebowale; yemi.adebowale@thisdaylive.com; 07013940521

People with corruption questions hanging on their necks should not be part of any genuine “change” government. That has always been my position. Unfortunately, the Buhari “Change” government has persistently been romancing these people. Many of them are on the ministerial list endorsed by the Senate last week. Yes, some may argue that these questionable folks have not been convicted by any law court; but that is being satirical. I have not said that they had been convicted. I am talking about assembling fairly clean people for the rebirth of Nigeria. A “Change” government should appoint fairly clean people as public officers. Such government must be glaringly seen operating on a clean slate. This is the global standard.

The large number of people with unsettled corruption questions on Buhari’s list of 43 ministers left me disconsolate. For me, the likes of Timipre Sylva, George Akume, Uchechukwu Ogah, Godswill Akpabio, Goddy Jedy Agba, Festus Keyamo, Adamu Adamu, Hadi Sirika, Abubakar Malami and Rauf Aregbesola ought not to be on this “Change” ministerial list. Regrettably, most of these people, who will become ministers in a couple of days, evidently have nothing to offer this country. 

Let’s take the case of Ogah, the boss of Master Energy. At a point, this businessman and his firm were queried for suspected fuel subsidy fraud by the EFCC. Suddenly, something dubious happened and the case developed k-leg. He is on the list of cleared ministerial candidates but with questions on his alleged involvement in the subsidy fraud yet to be cleared.

Many will never forget the big corruption question hanging on the neck of the cleared former education minister, Adamu. Last year, the sacked Executive Secretary of the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TeTFund), Abdullahi Baffa, had alleged that he was forced out of office owing to his refusal to provide monetary kickbacks to Adamu. Baffa told BBC Hausa Service that the minister had sent a contractor to him demanding his share of N200 billion disbursed by the agency to tertiary institutions in Nigeria.

Bafa alleged:  “If they bring any evidence indicting me, I’m ready to accept death punishment. I do not regret my refusal to obey the minister’s directives because I cannot sabotage my country. Go and ask the minister. Eight months ago, Mallam Adamu Adamu sent one of his biggest contractors to tell me that the minister was angry with me for three reasons. The third issue was that TeTFund disbursed over N200 billion to universities without remitting the per cent kickback, amounting to at least N20 billion at 10 per cent rate.” Well, Adamu has been cleared for a second term as minister, without clearing this mess.

Akpabio had a huge war chest when he was governor but Akwa Ibom had very little to show for this. He squandered the riches of this state, while his people wallowed in poverty. When Akpabio had an accident, he could not run to any of the state’s health facilities he claimed to have built. He ran abroad for treatment. This chap is being scrutinised for alleged corruption by the EFCC, yet, Buhari, who claims to be fighting corruption, went ahead to nominate him and the Senate told him to “bow and go.” 

Akpabio first came under inquiry in 2015, following allegations that he diverted over N100 billion from the state’s purse. According to an ostensible interim report, the former governor purportedly transferred N1.4 billion to a bank for unknown reasons. A school in Uyo, supposedly belonging to Akpabio’s wife, was initially seized by the EFCC in 2017. The ex-governor is also under probe for allegedly acquiring some assets through surrogates, including a multi-billion naira mansion at Plot 5, Ikogosi Spring Close, off Katsina-Ala Crescent, Maitama-Abuja; a multi-billion naira mansion at Plot 28 Colorado Close, Maitama, Abuja; 22 Probyn Road, Ikoyi, Lagos; Plot 23 Olusegun Aina Street, Parkview, Lagos and a multi-billion naira 25-storey building at Akin Adesola Street, Victoria Island, Lagos. Immediately Akpabio joined the ruling party, EFCC suddenly stopped working on his cases. 

Sylva was arraigned by the EFCC in 2014 for alleged N19 billion fraud. Scores of buildings were seized from him. Soon after the Buhari government took over, the EFCC developed cold feet and the case was rested. Sylva is now one of the cleared ministers. What a lucky chap.

Aregbesola’s tenure was all about “half salary and half pension.” His eight years as governor brought unprecedented pain on the people of Osun State. This is a man that could not pay salaries to civil servants while basic infrastructures also degenerated. Under him, Osun people wallowed in hunger, poverty and disease, while public schools, hospital and roads deteriorated greatly.

A judge of the Osun State High Court, Justice Folahanmi Oloyede, wrote a petition against Aregbesola in 2015, detailing the failure of the government in many areas, including non-payment of workers’ salaries and pensions. Oloyede said: “The primary duties of any responsible government are welfare of the citizens and their security. Any government that fails in the two areas has failed woefully in the discharge of its primary duties. Labourers deserve their wages and it is covetousness to spend what belongs to other people. It is a crime to spend pensions and gratuities of the people and deny them their rights. We are not beggars, we worked for the entitlements.” Today Aregbesola is smiling, having been cleared to work as a minister. This is a reward for his glaring ineptitude. What a country!

I will always remember Hadi Sirika, for the huge money embarrassingly spent on the imaginary national airline to be called Air Nigeria. Huge public fund was spent at an air show in London to announce the dubious birth of Air Nigeria. He ended up assaulting Nigerians with all sorts of preposterous funding plans. We were first told that the airline would be private sector-led. Later, Sirika said public funds would be used to start it, and later bring private investors into the company.

The birth of Air Nigeria was just on paper. It was a hype to score cheap political point. No single foreign investor made any concrete commitment to Air Nigeria during the London show of shame by Sirika. No foreign investor participated at the fraudulent launch in London. This airline exists only in Sirika’s imagination. Where will the investors come from after the failed Virgin Nigeria experience?

Former minister/former Vice President of World Bank, Dr. Oby Ezekwesili, aptly notes: “If the government sincerely wanted to have a private sector-driven national carrier, it would have designed it differently. The design of the project would have been made in a way that investors would have provided start-up fund for the airline. Money spent on the national airline in terms of opportunity cost would deny government the funds for other priority programmes in education, healthcare and other essential sectors of the economy.” Sirika is getting set to be sworn in for a second term.

Abubakar Malami also has huge questions to answer. I often laugh when I remember how Enrico Monfrini, the Swiss lawyer hired by Nigeria to recover the Abacha loot, alleged that Malami, during his first term as attorney-general of the federation (AGF), was trying to change the facts on the $321 million recovered from Luxembourg. Malami had engaged two Nigerian lawyers for a fee of $17 million (about N7 billion) to do a job strongly believed to have been completed by Monfrini.

The Swiss lawyer added: “I also have to repeat that the payment of my fees happened in December 2014 upon receipt by the Geneva Attorney General of $321,000,000 paid by the government of Luxembourg thanks to my intervention. It’s equivalently false to state, as Mr. Malami does, that at the time this government came in, the $321,000,000 was not paid by the Swiss Government as it was the subject of judicial pending before a court and to write that this situation was ‘the crux of the matter’ is so untrue that it becomes laughable.

“The truth is that the money was available to the government of Nigeria as early as December 2014 and as I said before, the matter for which Mr. Malami chose to appoint two new Nigerian lawyers for fees exceeding $ 17,000,000, could have been done by writing a letter to the Geneva Attorney General or to the government of Switzerland requesting the money to be paid back to Nigeria. Again, such an activity is not to be developed by lawyers but only through diplomatic consultations between States.”

What about Festus Keyamo who celebrates his 10 years services to EFCC as its counsel with fanfare? He should continue deceiving himself. Some of us know how well Keyamo has been doing this EFCC job from a different perspective. Let’s just leave it at that. Very soon, I will go into the details.

Jedy Agba, who represents Cross River State on the cleared ministerial list, was once General Manager (crude oil sales) at NNPC during the tenure of Diezani Alison Madueke as petroleum minister. There are so many unanswered questions around Agba’s purported escapades during this period.

Well, these folks have all been cleared to become ministers without properly clearing these unsettled questions in an era of “Change.” Many of them enjoyed the “bow and go” psychosis. We are indeed in for the Next Level.

 

Malami

Femi Gbajabiamila and His 32 Aides 

The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, has appointed 32 personal aides to help him run his show in the House. Yes, 32 aides; with five of them managing the media and six others handling political matters. This is a record. I don’t think any Speaker had appointed such a large number of aides in Nigeria’s history. An official statement released listed all sorts of humorous areas to be handled by the aides.  They include Special Assistant, IDPs; Special Assistant, Employment and Job Creation; Special Assistant – Former Members Affairs; Special Assistant – Executive Relations; Special Assistant – Anti-Corruption; Special Assistant, Members’ Affairs. So, Gbajabiamila alone will have salaries and allowances for 32 aides paid for by the government? What a country? We should be talking more about cutting the cost of governance and deploying such savings into critical areas like health and education. My dear Gbajabiamila, you must drastically reduce the number of your aides.

The Epistle of Reverend Adewale Martins to Buhari 

The Catholic Archbishop of Lagos, Most Rev. Adewale Martins, hardly comes out smoking. When he does, it is usually thought-provoking. That was what he did with his Epistle to the federal government on #RevolutionNow, urging this regime to see the protest as a wake-up call to address the untold hardship and security challenges Nigerians are undergoing.

For Martins, the Buhari-led administration should see the agitations as an opportunity to directly hear the complaints of Nigerians, to enable government redouble its efforts toward fulfilling its constitutional role of securing the lives and property of the people.

My takeaway from Martins’ Epistle: “Except urgent and concrete measures are taken to reassure Nigerians of the safety of their lives and property across the country, things may soon get out of hand. People may be forced to resort to self-help, if the government and security agencies continue to fail them. The ongoing protests by some groups are a reflection of the growing decay in the land. Clamping down on the protesters will not make the problems to disappear. Rather, I urge him (Buhari) as the father of the nation, to pay attention to the issues that bother the citizens.

“The fears being expressed about the state of the nation are genuine and they deserve to be looked into urgently so as to save this nation from further distress. President Buhari needs to address the nation on these issues and give people the much-needed reassurance and hope. If this is not forthcoming, people may feel free to interpret events as they wish. The proper and real dividend of democracy includes freedom of expression and assembly, and the freedom to protest.”

This is a fair Epistle. As usual, Most Rev. Martins has shown great courage in telling the Buhari government truth. So many clergies are incapable of doing this because they have soiled their fingers. This is why my beloved Nigeria continues to degenerate.

Martins