18 May 2008

Nigeria: The Jigsaw Finally Falls in Place


Lagos — The late THISDAY columnist and chairman of Editorial Board, Mr. Godwin Agbroko, used to tell me this proverb: "Na since when snake get belle you know say him pikin go long." How do I translate that into Queen's English? I'll give it a try: "No surprises - the snake's offspring will be long too". The appointment of Mrs Farida Waziri as the chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) last Thursday by President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua has finally confirmed what most of us knew long ago - that Yar'Adua was only working to the answer.

Of course, I am very much aware that some people are dancing and drinking all night long now that Mallam Nuhu Ribadu has finally been shown the way out of EFCC. I congratulate them. They certainly deserve their victory. To be honest, I am in awe of "the group" which has effectively taken over control of this government. I don't know how large this group is, but I know at least three prominent members. One is a sitting governor whom I will simply refer to as "Alhaji". The second is a former governor whom I choose to call "Big Chief". The third is a former presidential aide whom you may call "Ogbuefi". I am particularly fascinated with how they have gone about their business. It shows that with a good master plan and sure-fire determination, the sky is the limit.

When Yar'Adua was handpicked by former president Olusegun Obasanjo as his successor, it was with the full participation of the "group". They mobilised a massive war chest and provided the vital logistics. The campaign organisation boasted of key personnel appointed by the "group". Without being told, anyone should know now that they were only preparing for the future - their future. They were only out to protect their own interests.

"Alhaji", for instance, still has questions to answer concerning how a whole bank was looted to fund his ascendancy into political power. Ribadu was very much on this case and all documentation for trial had been completed. "Big Chief", on his own part, has a universal case of money laundering and a couple of ex-convict ropes hanging around his neck. "Ogbuefi" knows very well that when certain transactions under the Obasanjo government are being probed, his name will come up on every sheet of paper. Their heavy investment in Yar'Adua's campaign was not for God's sake - they knew what they were doing and what they were driving at.

They correctly identified Ribadu as the major obstacle. He would simply not play ball, even when it appeared he had "compromised" on certain individuals who were very close to Obasanjo. When the infamous indictment list was made public before the 2007 general election, the names of very known looters were missing, something that indicated that Ribadu was at least showing some "understanding".

However, it would appear Ribadu had committed a major mistake by thinking that Yar'Adua and the "group" would work with him thereafter. What gave him this impression is still very unclear. Perhaps, he did not know, or he ignored, the dynamics of power. The moment Obasanjo - from whom Ribadu derived protection and audacity - was out of the palace, the equation was always going to change, but Ribadu carried on as if it did not matter. As soon as Yar'Adua stepped in, it was very clear he did not wish to work with Ribadu who had, reportedly, initially told Yar'Adua face-to-face that he (Ribadu) would not support his presidential ambition.

The "group" moved in swiftly and very intelligently. They made two key appointments - Chief Mike "I Don't Care" as the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, and Sir Mike Okiro as the Inspector-General of Police, ahead of Mr. Ogbonna Onovo who was reportedly "seriously ill" but is still in service almost one year after! The "group" made two other key appointments (NNPC GMD and BPE DG) which the president eventually overruled. But with the AG and IGP positions secured, the group went to work.

"I Don't Care", amazingly a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), did not hide his intentions from day one. He said he was out to "clip the wings" of EFCC and install "rule of law". His first act in office was to seek to bring all prosecutorial powers under his own wings. That would mean all cases being prosecuted by the EFCC should be handed over to him. This was probably "Plan A". With the benefit of hindsight, it was a better option for Ribadu. At least, the EFCC would go on with investigations. If "I Don't Care" refused to prosecute, that would not be blamed on the EFCC.

The "I Don't Care" SAN continued to hammer on the "rule of law" - even if he meant it the other way round, to protect his benefactors. It was very easy to demonise Ribadu with the "rule of law" chorus. The former EFCC chairman had run foul of the rule of law several times in the days of Obasanjo and had won many enemies for himself. So it was a well-paved grave for him. Soon opinion was divided on how good or how bad Ribadu was. It was too late for him to do away with the Obasanjo baggage, so the "group" won a lot of anti-Ribadu converts in the process. After a lot of hitches last December, the "group" got the IGP and Yar'Adua - two dependable allies - to sideline Ribadu.

That done, the defunct Societe General Bank of Nigeria (SGBN) issue, which was of major concern to the "group", had to be resolved quickly. In no time, an Abuja High Court issued an order asking the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to return the bank's licence. The CBN governor, Prof. Chukwuma Soludo, stupidly decided to appeal the judgement. He was ordered from "above" to withdraw the appeal immediately.

Soludo had unknowingly stepped into landmines. Before he realised it, "I Don't Care", the "group's" errand runner in Yar'Adua's government, had set up a committee to probe CBN's investment in African Finance Corporation (AFC). Suddenly, the complainant had become the accused! It is instructive that "I Don't Care" chose to set up a "police committee" on a matter that could have been addressed administratively. A simple memo from the AG or Secretary to the Government of the Federation to Soludo asking for explanations on the procedures adopted for the investment would have been enough. But the "group" does not take prisoners.

And it came to pass, that while the debate on Ribadu was still on, the "group" had quietly identified Mrs Waziri, from Benue State, as his replacement. She is quite close to "I Don't Care" (who is also from Benue). She's also close to the former governor of Benue State, Chief George Akume, whom EFCC, under the now sidelined Ibrahim Lamorde, was planning to charge to court next week. Waziri had reportedly been pleading with EFCC to "take things easy" with Akume. Now, she's in a good position to take things easy with him. Her name had been presented to the president twice for the EFCC appointment but he had told the "group" to wait for sometime. Finally, the hour has come.

Farida is described as a "no nonsense" woman, which is very comforting. However, those who know her very well say she is not as "no nonsense" as she is being portrayed. But that is beside the point. The "group" wants her to focus on prosecuting those indicted in the National Assembly probes and relegate the cases against ex-governors to the background. Many Nigerians would love this since they want the head of Obasanjo on a platter of probes, but Waziri will need to pursue the ex-governors too. For her to shame the critics and the cynics, she has to pursue the cases in London to a logical conclusion. She must also not bury the SGBN issue. This is in her own interest, because Nigerians will continue to ask questions. She has to be truly "no nonsense".

I wish her all the best. I also, once more, congratulate the "group" for an excellently executed job. Brilliant. I doff my hat! The jigsaw has finally fallen into place.

In Love with Man-Made Disasters:

You switch on your TV, flip to CNN and you are greeted with news and images of disasters around the world: earthquake, tsunami, cyclone, hurricane, landslide, anything. You express pity momentarily and then look up and say: "Thank God for Nigeria o! We don't have natural disasters here!" But you're wrong. In the absence of natural disasters, we create some for ourselves. Remember Ikeja Cantonment explosions of January 2002? Remember several pipeline explosions? Remember Ogunpa flood?

Last Thursday's pipeline disaster at Ijegun, Lagos State, was a case of another needless loss of lives. There is something called town planning. Are there no maps for the underground and surface installations? Who's in possession of the maps? I agree I am a layman and an engineering illiterate, but I should know that if a significant construction work is going to be carried out anywhere, there is something called environmental impact assessment (EIA) and general survey that should be carried out. Were these done?

While I am naturally sad about the Ijegun tragedy, I am sadder that this may not be the end of pipeline disasters. It seems that we are just tied to man-made disasters.

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