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Ghost Dollars, Grotesque State

By Louis Odion

Like a typical Shakespearean comedy, the great dollar find in Lagos penultimate Thursday following a whistleblower’s tip-off seems to have inadvertently bequeathed to the public space a slew of memorable jokes – some quite libelous.
In the ensuing orgy of finger-pointing, someone would ask that his quarry be made to excrete more of the alleged loot so that the latter’s now recognisable bulging pot-belly – very much like advanced pregnancy – could return to normal.
In response, the addressee would declare that such allegation could only emanate from the erratic imagination of a psychiatric patient unable to adhere strictly to his medication regimen – clearly a poignant innuendo at his accuser, well known to have survived some mental health challenge in the past.
As if that was not hilarious enough, a photograph – obviously captured with a zoom len – of Ayo Oke, the embattled Director General of the Nigerian Intelligence Agency (NIA), surfaced online Wednesday depicting the bespectacled spook shedding tears in the forecourt of Aso Rock in what should shock custodians of the cloak-and-dagger tradition of the spy world.
(However, this could not be independently verified at this writing.)
Oke’s emotional meltdown, presumably over the sorry turn of events, reportedly followed his inability to secure audience with the Vice President after the news of his suspension.
If true, it would be a different kettle of fish altogether. Just when did it become permissible for a top service brass to shed tears so cheaply in public? A lion heart, stern visage and grace under extreme duress are supposed to be the minimum pre-qualifications to be admitted into the secret service.
Also implicated is Oke’s own spouse. Earlier, one account alleged she was the courier who, in various guises and disguises, had smuggled in over the time the mountain of dollars in bits with “Ghana Must Go” bags. She was said to have gone to great lengths to conceal the air of prosperity around her in shabby clothes.
Since every thing was hush hush, even the usually nosy resident security guards never quite succeeded in unraveling the name or identity of the mystery tenant on the seventh floor of the Osborne Towers. For that reason, the flat was reportedly referred to conveniently as “Apartment – – – (pronounced as dash, dash, dash).”
Well, beneath the foregoing comic barbs and pathetic imageries surely lay a bigger tragedy. What is invariably laid bare is an increasingly dysfunctional state. Truth be told, the suspension on Wednesday of Oke does very little to wash the Buhari presidency clean of reproach arising from a curious failure to act promptly.
Given the gravity of the issues involved, it is very scandalous that no one has spoken directly to the Nigerian people thus far on the multi-billion cash haul at Ikoyi. Why is it always a difficult task for an increasingly distressed Presidency to seize a defining moment to reconnect with the people, thus owning its little victory?The press release announcing the suspension of Oke and Lawal can never be a substitute. Any suggestion that since NIA was involved, information be hoarded “for national security” is most laughable indeed. Note, what is involved here is taxpayers’ money.
As a mark of accountability to the Nigerian public, one would have thought the Information Minister would issue a statement within 24 hours after the matter hit the airwaves. That should have preceded the duo’s suspension and helped to deflect the assortment of salacious conspiracy theories, rumours and wild speculations that have filled the airwaves in the last one week. The most outlandish of the rumours being that President Buhari’s perceived procrastination was only trying to shield someone in his camp.
Again, one account claimed that apart from the cash uncovered at the “safe house”, some Jonathan/Sambo 2015 election campaign paraphernalia were also recovered. How true is this?
Indeed, the snippets in the public domain in the past one week were gleaned from “sources” by the media. From experience, not everything published or aired is true. Such channels are prone to abuse. Sometimes, some mischief-makers would give false leads to reporters hungry for exclusives simply to settle scores with enemies at the expense of truth. It is therefore no coincidence that the airwaves have since been filled with all manner of conspiracy theories.
In Rivers, Governor Nyesom Wike would have the nation believe that the money is part of the proceeds from the hurried sale of the state’s turbine assets by his predecessor in 2014. He further alleged that a substantial part of the money was diverted to fund Buhari’s presidential campaigns in 2015. An accusation stoutly denied by Rotimi Amaechi, now the Transport minister.
Overall, the initial spin put out by Oke’s friends and enablers that the cash warehoused in the “safe house” was from funds approved by former President Goodluck Jonathan came off its wonky hinge after a vigorous disclaimer by the Central Bank.
According to the apex bank, at no time did it truck any cash to NIA as far as it could remember.
The veil would seem completely yanked off the masquerade two days later following an unconfirmed report that the so-called “safe house” is owned by a company controlled by Oke’s wife. If true, then this should inspire the next blockbuster Nollywood flick that could tentatively be entitled, “The Making of a Billionaire Whistleblower”.
So, where did Oke get his cash? By magic? Could it be part of the $15b devoured like a buffet in Dasukigate?
These are some of the big puzzles expected to be resolved in the times ahead.
Also sent on suspension on Wednesday is the Secretary to the Federal Government, Lawal Babachir, trailed in the past six months by staggering allegations of helping himself to hundreds of millions of naira through incestuous contract awards to cut grass at the camps of internally displaced persons in the North-east.
According to the Presidency statement, both Oke and Lawal are to stay off work pending the report of a top-level panel headed by the Vice President. The fact-finding committee is given two weeks to complete its work.
In the final analysis, unlike the seeming sleep-walking Presidency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) deserves kudos for busting the Osborne Towers scam. Some commentators, obviously with antipathy for the agency, have, as usual, been pouring invectives on its chairman, Ibrahim Magu, for being “so excitable” and preferring “high media drama” to “inter-agency cooperation/collaboration” even after being told that NIA owned the cash upon the arrival of EFCC agents at the location. Predictably, the cash was explained away as meant for “covert operations” to keep the country safe.
But had Magu acquiesced and told his men to vacate the place, how would the rest of us have known that it is possible, even at a time of severe recession, for an institution of state to sit idly over N13b cash for two consecutive years, unknown apparently also to the commander-in-chief himself?We are talking of a figure that represents what four or five states in Nigeria get as federal allocation in a month being at the disposal of one federal DG!
Please, Nigerians can do with even more drama, if that is all the price required of them price to know the truth.

General Electric On the Spot

About a decade ago, it was Halliburton, an American oil service company, which got indicted for nefarious activities in Nigeria. Whereas it was made to pay huge fine at home for the infractions in Nigeria, not only did it escape any charge here, all Nigerian Big Men implicated the documents through which it was penalized in the United States are still walking the streets freely in Nigeria today.
Lately, another oil major, Shell, was exposed in the United Kingdom for shelling out hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes to senior Nigerian officials for contracts. Whereas its top executives are currently running from pillar to post back home to evade the long arms of the law, mum has been the word back in Nigeria.
Even while the dust stirred by Shell’s corporate misdemeanor in Nigeria is yet to settle, General Electric entered the radar few days ago following allegation that it has chosen to flout an agreement brokered by Nigeria’s Labour Ministry last year to resolve a dispute with a Nigerian oil service company, Arco.
The scandal blew open last week when irate workers under the umbrella of PENGASSAN picketed the Lagos office of GE. Their grouse: they are experiencing untold hardship since they were laid off by Arco last year without their entitlements being paid. Arco, on the other hand, says it is unable to meet the workers’ demand because of GE’s refusal to pay up $5m debt owed it.
Arco was earlier engaged by GE to maintain its oil installation in the Niger Delta. Along the line, GE unilaterally terminated the contract. All the terms listed were said to have been fulfilled by Arco to qualify for the pay off.
Thereafter, GE reportedly chose to stall. It was at this point that the Labour Minister, Dr. Chris Ngige, stepped in to protect not necessarily Arco but the hundreds of workers laid-off without compensation.
Given GE’s international stature, it is really shameful that it can be involved in this sort of dispute with a local vendor over a little amount.
Even more condemnable is that it remains intransigent after the intervention of the Labour minister. Well, the joke is actually on Nigeria. This is consistent with the growing culture of impunity – whether in the public or the private sector.
But GE will never try this sort of nonsense back home because it knows there will be serious consequences.
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