By Louis Odion
The following, an abridgement of a two-part series entitled “Michael Ishola Adenuga” and “Of War, Stray Bullets & P.O.Ws” first carried 11 years ago (2006) by Sunday Sun, is rerun today with a view to offering readers some illumination to better dissect the epistolary grenade hurled Wednesday by former President Olusegun Obasanjo against Oba Sikuri Adetona of Ijebuland over the latter’s claims in an autobiography, “Awujale”
Though isolated by space, a correlation of irony is easy to decipher at two events in Brussels and Lagos in July 2006. In a landmark pronouncement, the European Union fined Microsoft a whopping $357 million for its refusal to obey an anti-trust ruling, thus opening yet another epic chapter in international jurisprudence.
The computer software giant, it is alleged, would not avail rivals of technical information pertaining to its Windows operations.
Earlier in 2004, the EU had levied a record 497 million euro fine on Microsoft and ordered it to hand over communication code to rivals that complained that they were being crippled by its vice-like hold on the market.
Naturally, Microsoft objected to both rulings.
As the world awaits the outcome of Microsoft’s objection, the political undertone of this potentially explosive international legal slugfest will certainly become audible soon. Microsoft, owned by American Bill Gates, is being challenged by competitors on European soil.
True, America may be signatory to relevant international info tech protocols which owns make its corporate citizen, Microsoft, liable. But notwithstanding, it would be entirely surprising if the dominant mood back in the States would be that of a lynch mob, due primarily to the spirit of nationalism.
Now, contrast that with the spectacle witnessed in Lagos on the night of July 8, 2006 when business mogul, Otunba Mike Adenuga, was seized from his residence by a team of gunmen who practically broke down walls in a mafia-like operation.
When the news broke Monday, many feared the worst had happened. Until the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) issued a statement claiming responsibility, followed with another disclosure Thursday that the Globacom boss is still innocent after all; that no felony had been established against him yet.
From the latest seven-point release, perhaps the only fresh angle the anti-graft body gave is that the investigation of the business mogul has “international dimension”.
To be sure, this writer is one of those who subscribe to EFFC’s puritan philosophy to reclaim the nation’s lost moral territory, setting a new creed in corporate conduct. But as one had observed on this platform countless times in the past, for EFCC, the big challenge remains the ability to enforce moral order without creating an atmosphere that, in turn, stifles or weakens the very basis of society itself: loss of human dignity by individuals.
True, conflicts are inevitable in the dog-eat-dog world of business, much less in an under-developed political economy such as ours. What counts really is the degree of the benefit of doubt a state is indeed willing to concede to a defendant, especially if he/she happens to be its own national. National interest – much more, pride – is certainly not served if operatives of a national agency begin to conduct themselves in a way that suggests that its own nationals, against whom a protest is purportedly lodged by a foreigner, is treated ab initio as guilty even before trial.
No self-respecting nation acts that way. That perhaps explains why a Bill Gates would readily enjoy the sympathy and solidarity of the American establishment in the times ahead in case the EU monitors seek instrument to shut the cyber space against Microsoft.
In its statement, EFFC stated that the investigation of the Globacom boss has “international dimension”. In the absence of further clarification, perhaps it is safe to assume a conflict of international dimension has ensued. In the circumstance, what could then be considered a bigger tragedy is if it’s proved that Adenuga’s detention was indeed prodded externally, as the EFCC statement seems to suggest.
Given his role in many jobs-creating enterprises in Nigeria, the least Adenuga deserves is some respect. With a business empire straddling banking, oil and gas, and lately, telecoms, the magnate singularly provides a source of livelihood for tens of thousand of Nigerians, and much more indirectly. Who, in turn, pay taxes to the state and tithes to the temple.
At a personal level, with the deeply contemplative eyes, avuncular agility and folksy sense of humor, the merchant from Ijebu could, in fact, be described as the personification of that daring instinct, optimism against adversity, the can-do spirit that readily set the average Nigerian apart from the rest of the human race. Really, nothing could be more iconic of the very new liberal economic order the Obasanjo reforms seem to envisage. In terms of scale, perhaps the only other Nigerian entrepreneur in his category is he whiz-kid of the sugar/salt/cement market, Aliko Dangote.
For instance, in the telecoms sector, it is doubtful if the GSM line would have become so readily accessible to the Nigerian poor today without Adenuga’s Globacom. After the first GSM line buzzed in 2001, we were told thereafter by South African-owned MTN that per second billing (PSB) was not feasible in the nearest future. Of course, the GSM landscape was still monopolized then by foreign players. When we made a second call then, we were billed by the minute, giving glamour to a new form of corporate heist. But not after Adenuga stormed the arena. Globacom started PSB from the outset. Suddenly, PSB became possible for others. By that gesture alone, Adenuga no doubt gave one thing to long-suffering Nigerian consumers: victory.
Of course, given what is now known to the public, there is surely more to the Adenuga/EFCC romance. This becomes even more evident if we put the theory of “international dimension” to some scrutiny.
So far, we were told that the detention of the tycoon extra-ordinaire was in connection with “international crime”. Isn’t ironic that the same man, apparently no longer sure of his own safety, has since taken the “NADECO route” to London, a supposedly now hostile territory for financial criminals from Nigeria? Of course, the phrase “NADECO route” is euphemistic of the somewhat ingenuous self-preservation tactic adopted by “dissidents” when Sani Abacha began to limit the political space beginning from 1994. Since the hunter had resolved to police all official gateways, the hunted too soon learnt to plot their gateway through border bush-paths.
There have been conflicting accounts on how Adenuga was seized on the night of July 8. Whereas EFCC claimed that “minimal force” was applied when the Globacom boss repeatedly rebuffed invitation to its office, the Adenuga people insisted that the operation was cruel and humiliating, typical of Hitler’s Gestapo.
Apparently, it took public uproar before the business mogul was released from detention. In letting him off, the anti-graft commission made us believe that investigations of the alleged “international crime” was ongoing, hinting that the matter was not over yet.
Indeed, from the constellation of information now put in the public domain, Adenuga’s “sins” can be reduced to a four-count charge: that the PTDF placed deposits in Equitorial Trust Bank owned by Adenuga; that public fund was converted to augment payment for GSM license of Globacom in 2002; that he donated a building to ABTI University owned by the Vice President (Atiku Abubakar) apparently as “gratification” for his influencing the lodgement of PTDF money in ETB; that the Vice President owned a stake in Globacom.
The last charge would seem to have been informed by the fact that the Vice President presided over the FEC meeting that approved the GSM license for Globacom while the president was on official trip abroad. The inference to be drawn here, therefore, is that, left to the president, Globacom would not have secured the license.
But truth be told, these facts can hardly be said to correlate today when subjected to the rigour of simple logic or even common sense. If Adenuga must be nailed, then it is better to start digging elsewhere for skeletons. For instance, it is well documented that Globacom paid for the license in 2002 with a loan facility from BNP Paribas while the PTDF money was lodged in 2003. Again, it is hardly a secret too that in the pre-consolidation era, banks in Nigeria mostly specialized in jostling for public sector funds to bolster their liquidity. So, how could it now amount to a crime for ETB to have been favored to bank PTDF money? Again, on the issue being made out of donation to ABTI University, it is also well documented that Adenuga had donated generously to causes involving the president (including the Presidential Library in Ota).
Against this backcloth, argument by the Adenuga people that the man is only being witch-hunted would, therefore, now seem strengthened. What is invariably left unsaid is that perhaps authorities are just unhappy that Adenuga, known to be very close to the Vice President, refused to squeal information to nail him on his alleged “shady deals” in Obasanjo’s desperation to nail his deputy since they fell out.
Of course, it is now also public knowledge that Adenuga had famously committed a grave verbal indiscretion early in 2006 in the heat of the desperate manouvre by Obasanjo’s strategists to wangle tenure elongation.
At one of the nocturnal conclaves to which he was invited to fine-tune the strategy, the guileless business mogul had reportedly proposed the idea of a “Plan B” in the event that the Third Term bid refused to fly. Just as he feared, not only did Third Term fail like a pack of cards even after billions of naira was given to federal lawmakers as bribes, Obasanjo’s political humiliation was compounded by the lack of any dignifying “Plan B” immediately.
There is, therefore, some sense in the argument of those interpreting the new frenzy of clampdown by EFFC on perceived “opposition elements” and anyone related to them upon the collapse of the tenure elongation agenda at the National Assembly gallery in May 2006 as OBJ’s vicious fight-back.
Like the NADECO exiles of old, Adenuga can only pray that the Abuja warriors (OBJ and Atiku) bury the hatchet – a remote possibility now – to enable him return home and continue his normal life. God save the P.O.Ws (prisoners of war).