Nigeria: The Allen Onyema Debacle

(file photo)
27 November 2019

Was Allen Onyema aware that he was the subject of an FBI investigation in September when he carried out his altruistic act of airlifting stranded Nigerians from xenophobic South Africa? Did he do it in the hope of rallying support for an impending legal storm with American law? Did the federal government get hints from intelligence sharing that Onyema was under investigation? Was that the reason it kept the indicted CEO of Air Peace at arms length throughout the victim-evacuation process?

The answers to these questions would help us as a nation grapple with another potential national embarrassment of monumental proportions. Much as one hates to quote presidential aide, the loquacious and mostly uncouth Lauretta Onochie on any issue, her unwary tweets on the subject speaks volumes.

Over the weekend, Onochie advised Onyema to go to America and clear his name. She suggested the Air Peace CEO must have laundered some of the money meant for the rehabilitation of Niger-Delta militants into his business. She wrote: "American laws go after those who break them, so we must mind our business. QED!" Onyema, a lawyer by training was a consultant to the NDDC before 'hitting gold' in business. He faces money laundering, and bank fraud charges.

For us, the uninitiated, the phenomenon described by Professor Jibril Ibrahim as Booty Capitalism is news. He tweeted:" You take a fat loan for a legitimate business. You stash most of the money in secret private accounts. The core business fails. You are $20 million richer." Sad as it is, but not unusual in the world where wealth acquisition by any means is the norm.

The fact that we have citizens querying why America should be concerned that a smart Alec could subvert its financial regulations for pecuniary gains shows the level of our moral depravity. On social media, shameless people claim that 'every businessman does it'.

We are citizens of a country whose politicians promise heaven but deliver pure hell. We are always looking out for loopholes to subvert the law. We are so materialistic that a citizen could leave home in the morning with nothing but the clothes behind his back yet return in the evening in a convoy of exotic cars. We don't question anything. Some parents even berate their children for not hitting the jackpot like their counterparts. Wonder where all the kidnap ransom goes?

We eulogize scams, dubbing it reparation. We lost the key to propriety and sold our souls to the unrighteous mammon. We have bastardized our own system through graft, cronyism, nepotism and every other ism out there that rakes in unqualified wealth. Across the globe, we've become walking, talking, living and traveling suspects who have to prove their innocence.

While some were asking whose money Onyeama 'stole', international financial institutions have blocked us as a nation. They'll allow us the minimum carry on cash but no more. They won't honour a credit or debit card issued by Nigerian banks. Any financial transaction with a Nigerian sounding name is viewed with suspicion. Ditto with school transcripts.

Instead of getting help to pull us out of the bog, we are sinking deeper. We are described as the headquarters of 419. We have 12-year olds hoodwinking retirees to part with their hard-earned pensions and to travel for nothing. We are the unfaithful religious nation, whose prophets scam believers in the name of God!

For the love of the nation and whatever is left of its integrity, let us hope and pray that Onyema is not what the Americans believe he is. It's a wish at hopeful redemption. As those who know already insinuate, this is not political persecution or the case of one ethnic group refusing to help another. Any government tacitly supporting a citizen, no matter how altruistic, to break another country's financial laws has lost its last vestige of credibility. The best our government can do in this case is to persuade the fugitive to go and have his day in court. That is the only way to redemption.

We stand to lose by doing that, but doing the right thing always costs. It could cost the fall of Air Peace and the retrenchment of its workers. It could affect shareholders and clients. It could even shake our economy a little. But we cannot build legitimacy on a fraudulent foundation.

We already have high-profiled individuals on American wanted list. Abubakar Atiku Bagudu, the governor of Kebbi State is on a US warrant. Buruji Kashamu, is wanted on drug related charges in the US. Kashamu came short of becoming the Governor of Ogun State in the last elections. He was believed to have changed his name from Èso Jinadu in a bid to avoid recognition and prosecution. He has traversed the whole gamut of courts to prevent extradition.

Will Allen Onyema return to America to clear his name or take the Kashamu way? He would have to keep hiding in plain sight if he doesn't. He would have to watch his planes grounded for inability to obtain spare parts or carry out C-checks. He would have to watch liens put on everything he owns including his homes in Nigeria, in Atlanta and his array of exotic cars.

When American law wants you, life could become pretty miserable indeed. My eldest daughter always says - there's no pillow as soft as a clear conscience. Onyema should clear his conscience and save us the shame.

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