Was Churchill Okonkwo Paid To Blackmail Atiku? By Odilim Enwegbara

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Whenever I pick my pen to write, the first question that comes to mind is: What is the good intellectual message I am going to send to the reader? And this simple question has always formed the very basis of every piece I have authored since 1979. Yes, there are cases you can’t help but allow your emotions to conflict with your intellectual mind. But, in most cases I try to be guided by irrefutable facts and figures. This way, I try to make it difficult for anyone to see my emotional immaturity.

That’s why, after reading a piece that caught my attention, recently, I concluded that the writer actually wrote for the wrong audience. “Sorry Atiku, you can’t buy integrity, what is rotten, is rotten” is the title of an opinion piece written by one Churchill Okonkwo. It was an unbelievable blackmail. And I couldn’t imagine that someone who calls himself an intellectual could go ahead to fabricate and publish such an unfounded story. After reading Mr Okonkwo’s piece, the question that immediately came to my mind was: What exactly did this writer want to achieve, and how did he want the reader to react?

Nigerians have since come to the conclusion that these are over-flogged stories which have been flying since 2007 and no one — I mean no one — has been able to go beyond stating an unfounded personal opinion on Atiku. I wonder why we should continue to misrepresent the fact! Is it because Atiku ignores this barrage of lies?

Inasmuch as we are all entitled to our personal opinions, can we also go to the extent of personalising facts? Or are facts notoriously independent to the extent of always completely refusing manipulation? That explains it. Even though Mr Okonkwo has had no difficulty enjoying his personal opinion, he quickly has to encounter immense challenges to prove his allegations beyond mere speculations — speculations that have been flying for more than a decade now.

Why would the writer believe that this cheap blackmail can stop Nigerians to vote for Atiku come February 16, 2019? “The political rascal Atiku has been attempting to convince Nigerians that if elected President, he will feed us from the nose while we relax at the foot of Adamawa Mountain.” I couldn’t understand what really was the message Okonkwo wanted to send to the reader. It only throws up the writer’s adolescence and inexperience in the art of public communication.

First, Okonkwo’s poor choice of words easily confirms his disrespect for readers most of whom are used to carefully worded write-ups with a high sense of diplomacy. At least a good and mature writer always tries to give the reader that indisputable sense of fair presentation. That’s why, laughter apart, I could not come to terms with the writer’s real objective. Even if someone paid him to blackmail Atiku, there should have been a more civilised way to do it. Churchill Okonkwo should have been mannered enough to avoid using embarrassing and violent words that only ended up embarrassing most of his readers.

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Okonkwo’s rage and frustration came lacking in touch with the now settled agreement amongst members of the country’s elite class. The elite class, unknown to him, has recently decided that an Atiku administration is needed to unite the fragmented nationalities and bring some level of peace in the country. They are not doing this out of sheer love for Atiku Abubakar. The simple reason is their fear of soon becoming the victims of an internally disintegrated Nigeria, where they could easily become mob targets. In other words, the elite class does not need to be told that since 1960 it has successfully kept the masses on social hostage and bondage — in a kind of pre-enlightenment medieval European savagery and barbarism.

It is because he is actually out of touch with this new reality that Okonkwo could have allotted a lot of his time to such a pointless corruption accusation without pinpointing one court ruling indicting Atiku. Understandably he goes on to write: “Atiku Abubakar’s campaign strategy is to conjure up images of a man who after corruptly enriching himself invested the embezzled public resources to create jobs. Take, for example, Atiku recently claimed that unlike Buhari, he is ‘an expert job creator’ who has founded many successful and thriving businesses including the American University of Nigeria, Yola.”

While reading Okonkwo’s comparison of Atiku and Buhari, I expected to see where he has shown those great achievements of President Buhari. And why they are enough justifications for his re-election. At least, he should have explained to us why someone like Buhari shouldn’t show us that he has met the minimal educational qualification as required for contesting for the country’s highest office.

Comparing cosmopolitan and nationalist Atiku with provincial Buhari is an unpardonable insult. Here is Atiku the very successful businessman, Atiku the philanthropist, Atiku whose American University of Nigeria is one of the country’s best universities, Atiku whose numerous mega-farms, whose food processing plants and numerous manufacturing factories and service businesses across the country employ hundreds of thousands of Nigerians. And there is Buhari who claims to be a herdsman but with fewer than 150 cows, Buhari the bigot. Why should someone who could hardly manage 150 cows since he left office in 1985 because of gross incompetence be expected to be able to manage the affairs of 200 million citizens?

Buhari’s appointments – it took him close to six months to name ministers — certainly showed him as someone not appointing people on the basis of competence but rather on the basis of who they know. President Atiku will make his appointments on the basis of what you know, not who you know. Buhari, having all his life benefited from a system built and sustained by who you know rather than what you know, cannot dismantle the same system at this age of his life. Were it not because of the “who you know” system, could someone without a proof of even a secondary school certificate have risen to the position of a general in the Nigerian Army, let alone head a military dictatorship and later become a civilian president of Nigeria?

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Is it not as a result of his visionless leadership that Nigeria is today the world’s poverty capital with more Nigerians suffering from kwashiorkor than ever before, with as many as 115 million Nigerians now unemployed, with Nigeria now having for the first time in its history a debt-service-to-revenue ratio reaching dangerously to 70% by 2019, with insecurity worse than in civil war-torn countries, with the highest out-of-school boys and girls, and drug abuses worse than any other country in Africa?

Being a successful employer of labour, Atiku knows that employing the right people is the beginning of the success of every business. One thing I am certain about is that Atiku, unlike Buhari who relinquished his presidential powers to Abba Kyari and Daura Mamman, will be fully in charge of running his presidency. As a very successful businessman, Atiku knows that micromanaging is an invitation to failure. So, after carefully screening his appointees, Atiku will allow them to be in charge without allowing any group within his government to form a cabal.

A cabal is possible when, out of his inability to be fully in charge, the leader abdicates his critical responsibilities to some people he trusts, without appreciating that a good leader cannot over-trust people to the extent of allowing them to go ahead to do things without his full approval. Great leaders are so aware of the sudden conspiracy of close allies that even Franklin D. Roosevelt had to prevent his wife Lady Anna Eleanor Roosevelt from advising him or getting involved in critical issues of governance.  And to ensure there was no specially favoured group in his government, Roosevelt made sure he created two warring factions in his government so that they continuously competed against his attention regarding important policies.

Okonkwo goes on to ask: “What Atiku intentionally left out was that the reason he cannot go to America is the millions of dollars he laundered to America…” Mr Okonkwo, you know what? If Atiku had any serious problem with the US criminal system, I, as someone who schooled and lived in the US for 12 years and who understands how the US judicial system works, would assure you that the US law enforcement system would have stopped at nothing to ensure that he is brought to justice — no matter where in the world he lives. Of course, an order of arrest or extradition should have been issued by the justice department, and the state department and the CIA would have done everything to pick him up anywhere in the world as they did to Panamanian military strongman Manuel Antonio Noriega.

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If as close as Noriega was to the CIA he could be picked up from Panama and flown to the US where, having been convicted, he is serving multiyear prison sentence, why should the same America become selective in enforcing its laws? Therefore, since no one is above the law in America, are you insinuating that Atiku could have been above the law in America to the extent of committing a crime and being allowed to get away with it? Is that not enough to demonstrate that Atiku not going to America has nothing to do with violating America’s laws? After all, since I returned from the US in 2010, does my not having set foot on America mean that I have a case to answer there? Even though immigration problem can deny someone entry into the US, it is never a criminal case.

If you know that visiting America has zero importance to most Nigerian voters, why should Atiku be concerned with visiting America instead of campaigning here to tell Nigerians how his government is going to address their problem of bread and butter? In fact, rather than visiting America, Atiku should be visiting poor Nigerians to assure them of his readiness to bring them out of the present Buhari poverty.

Your piece only reminded me about the kind of mud President Herbert C. Hoover’s hired mud throwers threw at Franklin D. Roosevelt during the 1932 presidential campaign. But rather than make the angry American electorate vote for Hoover, it made them go out in the large numbers to humiliatingly vote out Hoover while giving Roosevelt a historic landslide for promising the suffering Americans a New Deal that marked the beginning of America’s first Welfare State. Okonkwo’s unapologetic stand on the horrific “Buhari Effect” most Nigerians have been subjected to since 2015 only reminds me about William Allen White, President Hoover’s publicist, who rather than sympathise with the suffering American masses was busy rolling out fake and defamatory stories about Roosevelt; as a result it caused more damage to Hoover’s chances.

This is why heaping unprintable insults on Atiku while avoiding telling Nigerian voters what is good to be associated with Buhari during four years in office only reinforced this government’s insensitivity to the sufferings of millions of Nigerians, including those families whose loved ones and harmless farmers were massacred by herdsmen. That you also go as far as branding Bishop David Oyedepo as a corrupt clergyman — your only proof being that he was seen around Atiku during a meeting that led to reconciling him and former President Obasanjo — means that you urgently need to check into a spiritual rehab home.

*Enwegbara, a development economist, writes from Abuja. He can be reach by email at [email protected]

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