Akin Oshuntokun and Nigeria’s History of Corruption

by Sabella Ogbobode Abidde

In the history of governance in Nigeria, General Yakubu Gowon was an aberration. He was never accused of enriching himself and his family. Nonetheless, the majority of his governors and ministers and other high-ranking officials were accused of unprofessional conducts. These indictments were part of the reasons why he was eased out of power.

In the many years since, there have been several phenomenons: first, most of the men and women who were so accused later became part of subsequent governments; second, the Murtala-Obasanjo government that succeeded Gowon loosened the rope on embezzlers — making high crimes tempting and profitable.

If Gowon’s government was corrupt, the Shagari’s government was unquestionably rotten. Its rottenness made the Buhari coup possible. This was followed by the Babangida government which made sure that no inner member of the Shagari government had rough sleepless nights. Analysts have posited that the Babangida government institutionalized criminal behaviors. Babangida himself was a poster boy for jibiti and wuruwuru.

And just as Babangida never went after the Shagari-crooks, Abacha never went after the Babangida vagabonds. But Obasanjo was in a special class. He made criminality trendy. He was good. He was so damn good at stealing and duplicity he even recruited his kids and in-laws. Today, the Obasanjos are the first family of high crimes and misdemeanors.

In Today’s Nigeria, the biggest fools are the street urchins and the armed robbers. Why they waste valuable time, talent and energy robbing people of one hundred dollars or less is what I don’t bloody understand. Don’t these fools know that there are no penalties for dispossessing the government of millions and millions of dollars? Heck, the government won’t even notice if you stole billions. Oyenusi and Anini must be turning in their graves.

In Nigeria, crime pays. If you are accused of stealing, there are four rules you must observe: (1) don’t incriminate your allies; (2) don’t confess to anything; (3) accuse your political opponents of Pull-Him-Down syndrome; and (4) stay out of the media glare for a while. The accusations will quickly vanish. Otherwise, proclaim yourself a born-again.

While you are stealing and taking the people for a ride, remember to have four sets of insurance: the backing of your traditional ruler; the backing of your pastor or imam and those of marabouts or babalawos; payments to timbers and calibers; and also, look for a pool of journalists to either write in your favor or have enough clout to kill the story.

Sometimes, you didn’t even have to pay to kill a story. The Nigerian journalists and the Nigerian public will do it for you since both have a short memory bank. Most people are so bored they don’t have time to follow stories that are routine. And most media houses worry more about their own survival than some smart fool stealing from government.

Recently, Fani Kayode and Babalola Aborishade were both accused of misusing billion of public money. On the dock, both looked cheerful and unfazed. They know what most of us already know: “this too shall come to pass.” Truly, give it four more weeks; their travails may be supplanted by another drama. In eight weeks, most will not remember it.

This brings me to a comment made by Dr. Okey Ndibe (Monday, 12 May 2008): “…Oshuntokun used to write a column before he morphed into a presidential adviser to former President Olusegun Obasanjo. As a columnist, he made it his business to pry into the affairs of public officials. Now it is time he made a public statement explaining how he got the guesthouse and how he was able to put together the money to buy it…Over to you, Mr. Oshuntokun.”

Well, it’s been more than ten weeks since this matter surfaced, and the nation is still waiting to hear from Mr. Oshuntokun himself. To my knowledge, he has kept quiet; he has refused to give his side of the story. To be clear, no one knows for sure if Oshuntokun is guilty of anything. He just might be a saint, blameless; a man with clean hands.

What is apparent is that he has taken the path taken by so many Nigerians who have been accused of misconducts. A good student of the Nigerian politics he must be. So far, he hasn’t pointed accusatory fingers at anyone; he hasn’t confessed to anything and has stayed out of the media glare knowing this matter will die a natural death.

I wonder, just as a lot of his friends and critics are wondering: what is Akin Oshuntokun afraid of? Who is he hiding from? Questions: did he really buy the house he was alleged to have bought; if he did, how much did he pay and how was he able to afford such a house considering his previous profession. And finally, as journalists, why is he now reluctant to talk to his colleagues in the media — some of whom now thinks of him as a blot on the profession.

I repeat: Oshuntokun may not have done anything wrong. As I was cautioned by one of Nigerian preeminent journalists, “he could easily have got the money from an investment, an inheritance, a bank…Therefore; this could be much ado about nothing.” I personally have tried talking to him, but he is not confessing or denying anything. Given that he is a journalist, I thought he would welcome my efforts. But apparently not! He has my number. I await his call.

Bayelsa State and Its Sleeping Governor:

Since the election of Timipre Sylva as the Governor of Bayelsa State, things have come to a standstill. The irony here is that when his government was illegitimate, there were some motion and some semblance of governance — even if corrupted and at a snail speed. Since the Court-ordered election however, the Governor have fallen into a groove, into a rut — manifested in his inactivity, lack of focus and lack of direction.

Although every now and then Governor Sylva is seen around Yenagoa, he is mostly seen in Abuja and at the nation’s international airports — dashing from one end of the world to another, making speeches, promising this and that and that and this to foreign audiences in places like Spain. When he is not on the other side of the Atlantic, he is seen parleying and partying in Abuja. Governance is today left to the imagination of the people.

While Sylva is offering his own rendition of Ajala-travel, what is he doing about (1) teacher’s late payment in terms of their salaries; (2) what is his doing about the state of personal security; (3) what is he doing about the vacancies that are holding the government back in terms of performance; (4) what is he doing about the harrowing conditions overseas-Bayelsa State students are facing; (5) when is he going to officially appoint and swear in his commissioners and advisers; and (6) what is he doing about the relationship between the three branches of government and the public sector?

Or perhaps the Governor is looking to govern the state by executive orders from his Creek Haven bedroom. The silence and inactivity of Timipre Sylva is deafening and disturbing. Someone should please give him a gentle nudge…whisper into his ears…tell him to “move it!” It is one thing to be incompetent, but quite another to be lazy and devoid of grand aspirations and the ability to implement those objectives.

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