By Sufuyan Ojeifo
Our nation is now a big theatre where farcical actions and events take place at a pulsating pace. And, keeping up with the tempo of the outlandish dramas that have grotesquely assailed our sensibilities has not been easy. The totality of the bizarre storyline centres on the recoveries by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) of monies believed to be part of our looted commonwealth by some former and, possibly, serving government officials.
The EFCC has, in dramatic fashions, been recovering huge sums of monies from unusual places, far away from the strong rooms or vaults of banking institutions, purportedly on the prompting of some whistle blowers. So dramatic have the locations- airport, market isolated air-conditioned bungalow- and the magnitudes of the discoveries been that they have elicited equally dramatic reactions from different quarters.
The latest discovery of $43.4 million, N23.3 million and 27,800 pounds in a flat at the Osborne Towers in Ikoyi, Lagos, has unarguably been the biggest of such discoveries by the EFCC. How so much money could be kept outside the banking system and in a flat whose ownership has generated controversy speaks to the extreme degeneracy that has afflicted us as a nation.
One had thought that, by now, having had the grace to recover from the shock find and to realise that we were not dreaming after all, the federal government should have quickly cleared the mystery surrounding the ownership of the money through the instrumentality and superintendence of the superior intelligence of its security and investigative agencies.
Indeed, it was enough that the sheer magnitude of the discovery almost benumbed our sense of sanity and questioned our humanism; but to now attempt to throw mindless shenanigans into the mix in order to shield the real owner(s) of the monies in question is to portray Nigerians as fools. Even if we do not know how our commonwealth is being managed, at least, we should be fully briefed about this glaring and unconscionable diversion of huge public fund hidden in the Osborne Towers flat.
The undisguised attempts by the federal government and its agencies, particularly the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) to befuddle the Nigerian people over the ownership of the money should be condemned and rejected by well-meaning Nigerians and the international community. NIA has claimed ownership of the money. But Nigerians have justifiably doubted the agency’s claim.
It is just not enough to put up such claim. There must be incontrovertible evidence to prove it; otherwise, the NIA would be deemed to be playing a fast one, in the circumstance, for reasons best known to it. Some people have even insinuated that the NIA might have resorted to this fatal gambit in order to shield the real owner(s) of the monies.
And Nigerians are reasonably anguished. They are aware that, more than ever, they are being taken for granted by a government which is a custodian of their sacred mandate. Governance is no longer about the people, but about the few privileged elite who have taken advantage of public office to plunder our commonwealth. The owner(s) of the monies is (are) believed to enjoy the sympathy and, possibly, the protection of government.
The NIA claim of ownership is finding it difficult to fly. Or, is the NIA trying to appropriate the monies in the hope that nobody would be courageous enough to come forward to claim ownership? Or, is it acting to protect the real owner(s) for some pecuniary interests? Sincerely, I am not taken in by the NIA claim. The agency has a well-fortified office in Abuja to warehouse its funds for covert operations.
It thus beggars belief that the agency would choose to use an unguarded flat as a safe house for such a humongous amount. Nigerians have asked good questions since the bizarre discovery was made: who is or are the owner(s) of the flat? That can be ascertained. If the owner(s) of the flat leased it out, then to whom did the owner(s) lease it? That also can be verified. The relevant investigative agencies can follow the trail. In between the leaser(s) and the lessee(s), the mystery over ownership can be unraveled.
Dramatically, the governor of Rivers state, Nyesom Wike, has come out to say that the money belongs to Rivers state. The plank on which he has grounded his claim is understandable. Amid the controversy over the ownership of the flat where the monies were found, a series of speculative claims have been made, which linked some individuals with the flat. Former governor of Rivers state, Rotimi Amaechi, who is the incumbent minister of transportation, was one of those who have suffered the misfortune of being mentioned. He has denied ownership of the flat.
The latest media reports, as of press time, were tending in the direction of the existence of some documents -deed of assignment, et al – that point in the direction of NIA ownership. Still speculative as the reports might be, I just hope it is not an attempt to perfect the agency’s gambit to appropriate the monies, the existence of which it did not deem fit, before the discovery, to brief either President Muhammadu Buhari or the National Security Adviser (NSA) about. Why was it after the EFCC discovery that the NIA DG was moving round to brief those he should have briefed before the bust?
Indeed, the entire development has been deliberately made convoluted; and, an otherwise simple matter of pointing a finger of guilt to the culprit of the flat 7b Osborne Towers humongous cashgate, has been made much more complicated by the insincerity of government and some of its agencies. This is very depressing. President Buhari should feel very embarrassed that this is happening under his watch. Instead of seizing the big stage to flog the issue expeditiously, his government is dancing round the issue, perhaps, to protect some person(s).
If the government is thus indicted, then its chicanery will not only blow up in its face, it will also make nonsense of its much-trumpeted anti-corruption crusade. Nigerians who voted for the administration on the platform of its potential capacity to fight corruption to the finish can as well begin to sing the administration’s Nunc Dimittis. Sadly, Nigeria’s international image will suffer a further collateral damage on account of this shocking infamy.
However, I must commend the EFCC – whether it is seeking to impress the president or Nigerians – for the bust and its decision to go to a Federal High Court in Lagos to secure an order for temporary forfeiture of the monies to the federal government. This is salutary in that the court had given enough time for the owner(s) of the money to file an affidavit or a counter affidavit as the case maybe to prove claim of ownership.
The federal government must suspend any other action(s) that may be prejudicial to the court action. Whoever is claiming ownership of the monies should go to court to join issues with the EFCC on May 5; otherwise, the court should proceed to give an order for permanent forfeiture of the monies to the federal government.
And, once that is done, it should settle the matter conclusively. Our angst as a nation would be assuaged if the monies are judiciously and transparently used for programmes, projects and polices that will promote the welfare of the citizenry; otherwise, it will turn out a much monumental tragedy if the monies are re-diverted into the pockets of some smarter public officials, who will, eventually, scornfully laugh at us. That is the real concern.