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Our Penchant for Complicating Simple Things

SATURDAY POLSCOPE

with Eddy Odivwri

eddy.odivwri@thisdaylive.com   08053069356

I remember the theories of the late Dr Chuba Okadigbo, the fiery former senate president. In those days, as a reporter, we used to have lengthy discussions largely on the state of the nation at his Ogedengbe Street, Apapa GRA, in Lagos. It was the heyday of the military government. And Okadigbo would say the hoarding of information gives room to conspiratorial conclusions and moves. He was (and still) right. In the absence of official information, the rumour mill gets active and fills the void.

That exactly is what is happening on the Ikoyigate saga where N13 billion (in various hard currencies} was recovered from the private home of a yet-to-be-known person in a residential (Osborne) tower. More than one week after the news broke that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) recovered the money, there is still so much fog around who owns either the apartment where the money was found or the money itself.

That should ordinarily not be a complex thing to establish. The said tower surely belongs to somebody. He/She can be identified and located. The tower might be under the management of an estate agent who in turn knows all the tenants in the building, including their profiles and pictorial identities.  So why is it looking like a mystery that can be unraveled only by a Jewish astrologer?

No doubt, the EFCC’s silence on their findings is fuelling the rumour mill. It feeds the theory that some wuru-wuru is taking place.

I worry about the curious quiet of the EFCC who lit the fire in the first place by announcing the recovery of the cash without establishing investigative fundamentals. And so not many people believe the National  Intelligence Agency (NIA) which has claimed that the money belongs to it. The claim had left too many questions spilling out of lips. Is it the practice for an agency of government, for instance, to warehouse its funds in a private residence? Does it mean it is the NIA that rented the apartment? If yes, for what? Storage of hard currency! What happened to the CBN and the TSA policy of the government? And pray, does the NIA not have an internal vault where it can keep such huge fund?

Worse still, the NIA claimed that the money was approved for it by the Jonathan administration. That government ceased to be, almost two years ago. Is NIA saying that money has been sequestered in that apartment for almost two years? In any case, what was the money ever meant for? Are these questions difficult to answer or answers found for them by the EFCC?

Interestingly, the controversial anti-graft agency last Tuesday submitted a report on the recovery to Mr President. It is not certain what the content of the report is. But it may have led to the suspension of the DG of the NIA, Ambassador Ayo Oke. The prima facie interpretation of that action is that the presidency is not enamoured by the NIA claim to the money. From all indications, there is certainly more to all the drama we are watching.

Thankfully a presidential committee headed by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, a SAN and professor of Law, is expected to investigate and submit its findings in two weeks (as at last Wednesday). Nigerians cannot wait to see the end of this queer drama.

Indeed, it is the curious silence of the EFCC as to the authentic details of the recovered cash that led the governor of Rivers State, Mr Nyesom Wike to claim, in most unabashed manner, that the recovered cash belongs to his state, alleging that it is the proceed of the sale of the state’s IPP by the former Rivers State governor, Mr Rotimi Amaechi, the present Minister of Transportation. It was such an unguarded talk! Was the Rivers IPP sold for N13 billion?  Wike has become so garrulous that he seldom thinks before talking. Or else he would have realised that Rivers IPP was not sold for the sum of the recovered cash. It betrays a desperation to undo his arch-rival, Amaechi by hook or crook. Desperate people are dangerous people!  And when he speaks, both in content and in style, he speaks un-gubernatorially. His actions and utterances are bereft of the honour and grace associated with the office.

Already, he has threatened some unstated action if the Federal Government does not hand over the recovered cash to him within seven days. Nigerians are waiting to see his next line of action, as it would be seven days in a short while. This is the same governor whose allegedly recorded phone call in the last rerun election in the state, captured his threat to kill an INEC official if his bidding was not done. It is a function of complicating otherwise simple things that has made that matter to appear dead despite the promise of the Nigerian Police to probe the threat. Many Nigerians have not forgotten how Wike’s wonky gubernatorial election caused the death of many innocent persons in the state. It was a bloody election, like no other in the state.

Back to the matter in hand, perceptive Nigerians are not exactly surprised about the complication of this present issue. When on March 14 the same EFCC said it recovered some N49 million packed in five abandoned bags at the Kaduna International Airport, Nigerians have been left in the dark, more than one month after, about the identities of those who abandoned the said cash there. Not even the CCTV device in the airport could pick the images of the carriers of those bags? It has remained yet foggy. No probe panel was set up.

Earlier this month, the EFCC also recovered some N450 million abandoned in a shop at Legico Shopping Complex, Lagos. Till date, no information on it. Again, no probe panel was set up.

Few days after, the EFCC again, announced that it recovered the sum of N250million from a Bureau De Change in Balogun Market, in Lagos. Yet again, no clue on the owner of the money.

Then last week, there was this great haul of cash from the Osborne Towers. Two sets of entities (NIA and Rivers State Government) have laid claim to the money, just as the ownership of the tower has remained shrouded in worrisome secrecy.

But unlike the previous cases, the EFCC had to do a special report on this recovery and submitted same to the president. Nigerians are curious as to why this recovery is being specially treated.

Tracing and tracking the owners of these recovered cash has suddenly become more mysterious than how water got into coconut.

Nigerians want to know who dun it, as the American would say.

Finally, Babachir Lawal Stumbles Out

In my writings and private conversations, I had hinged my continuous faith in the Buhari anti-corruption war on what eventually becomes of Mr David Babachir Lawal, the suspended Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF).

Two weeks ago, I had asked in this column: “Why is Babachir Lawal Still in Office?”

For too long, it seemed President Muhammadu Buhari was unduly protecting Lawal from the kleiglight of the anti-corruption war. Matters were not helped when last January 17, the presidency wrote a curious letter to the Senate seeming to defend Lawal from the accusation of compromise in the grass-cutting saga.

Indeed, the facts of the case weighed heavily against Lawal on all fronts.

Not only did he retain his office in his private company long after he had been appointed as SGF, he awarded contract to a company (Jasmon Technologies) where he had visible interest. His own company—Rholavision, soon served as a consultant to Jasmon Technologies. Pray, what is so technical about grass-cutting as to require hiring a consultant? So what work did the consultant (Rholavision Engineering—Lawal’s company) do?

Worse still, the company he awarded the curious N270 million grass-cutting contract remitted N200 million back to Lawal’s company, apparently as a kickback.  What kind of grass requires N270 million to be cut in an IDP camp? These are people dying of hunger and poor medication, but Lawal believes their greatest need is grass cutting, not food and medicaments.

The senate committee that investigated the matter showed all the transactions in clear manner. The N200 million was paid ten times (N20 million each time).

Lawal, believing that he is a core member of the Buhari kitchen cabinet, had rebuffed the senate’s invitation to clear the air on the matter. He had believed that “if the president be for me, who can be against me?”

But last Wednesday, President Buhari demonstrated, to the relief of many that he cannot be with him, if his hands are not clean. He ordered his suspension from office in a move that shocked Lawal himself, prompting him to ask rhetorically, “who is presidency?” when told that the presidency had just issued a statement suspending him from office.

Before now, Lawal is believed to have mobilised certain persons including one dubious Civil Society Organisation called Citizen Action to Take Back Nigeria (CATBAN) to mount a defence of his putrid acts. On its own, CATBAN had cleared Lawal of any blame, just as the MD of Jasmon Technologies (which paid the N200million to Lawal’s company) claimed that the money was a repayment of a loan advanced it by Rholavision to enable it—Jasmon Technologies, to complete the contract within schedule. It was a lousy afterthought! Since N200million couldn’t have been given to him as raw cash, I dare Jasmon Technologies to show evidence of bank transaction where/when Rholavision lent it that money.

Without pre-empting the findings of the 3-man panel investigating the grass-cutting deal, it is clear that this David is one of the Judases among the twelve.

Dealing decisively with the likes of Lawal, if found guilty, will be a perfect way for President Buhari to prove that in this fight against corruption, there is no deference to friend or foe.

The PENCOM Storm 

Last week, I had published the Right of Reply of one Aliyu Dankade, who was responding to an earlier column I wrote on what I believed was the over-reach of the then Director General of the Pension Commission (PENCOM), Ms Chinelo Anohu-Amazu, in some of her actions and inactions in the running of PENCOM, which had worsened the travails of the nation’s pensioners.

Dankade had lashed out at me with an unchecked tongue, calling me names and regaled us with the great deeds of the Anohu-Amazu-led PENCOM.

But before the end of last week, a presidential storm blew across the land, pulling down every husky structure not founded on justice and discipline.  PENCOM, amongst 22 other federal organisations, was hit by the storm. Its DG was sacked!

It is remarkable that of all those pulled down by the storm, Anohu-Amazu alone, had a tenured term in office. She had scarcely gone halfway in her tenure.

Although no reasons were given for the sack, it cannot be unconnected with her arbitrariness and cocky attitude in running the PENCOM where she had served as Legal Adviser, before being appointed as DG.

She had tried to fight back by sponsoring some fire-free kicks that played up mundane cards of gender and tribe. They are surely no convincing reasons to deserve a review of the effect of the presidential storm.

The young lady was head over heels landing such a plum job and could hardly manage her cool. It is suspected that because she had some “backbone” at the time, the PENCOM Act was curiously amended to reduce the length of post-qualification (industry) experience of its DG, from 20 years to 15 years, so she can fit in. That explains why she had to serve in acting capacity from December 2012 to October 2014, so she can attain 15 years industry experience. She was shortly after, made a substantive DG!

She flexed her feeble muscles lionised by the appurtenances of office to “do and undo” by engaging in undue arbitrariness in the application of the law guiding the operations of the commission. This has led to a litany of avoidable litigations plaguing the commission with the heavy concomitant financial burden.

The way she swore to deal with the original owners of First Guaranty Pensions Ltd, which board she sacked and used unfair means to suppress, stands out as one such whimsical flaunt of power.

Worse still, the provision in the 2004 Act which allows pensioners and contributors to transfer from one Pension Funds Administrator (PFA) to another has remained deactivated. This does not engender competition among the PFAs. It ultimately gives the pensioners the shorter end of the stick.

All said, the new kid on the bloc, Mr Aliyu Dikko must be wise to avoid the pitfalls of his predecessor and be all time guided by the overall interest of pensioners across the land. Too many pensioners are living and dying in frustration, as if the PENCOM Act is a nullity. Everything should be done to bring succour and relief to our senior citizens. That is the only story that can promote the essence of the commission.

 

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