Congratulations, Mr. Obasanjo

by Banjo Odutola

As Heads of Commonwealth Governments have now returned home; ministers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria together with those who are now regarded as important personalities in the Nigerian space return to matters of the State – it is time to look at one man, by whose fame and purpose, many were assembled to dine and wine amidst the seriousness of debating how the world could be better governed and the Commonwealth could be more relevant. The purpose of this treatise is only to present in writing, what many people are murmuring in the background.

Mr. Olusegun Obasanjo, the current Nigerian president has come a long way. His sojourn as a soldier in the Nigerian Army, when his compeers from Abeokuta, Ogun State went off to university to start their careers in Medicine and other professions seems a very long time ago. The Egbas, who are his people, are like Jewish mothers as narrated recently by the Jewish Funny man Jackie Mason, who said Jewish mothers at the birth of newly born babies often look at the fingers of the new babes and predict lofty careers. The Egbas never predict the Army for their children. Mr. Obasanjo has singularly changed all such lofty predictions. He is a symbol of success without the white coat in a hospital corridor or a wig at an imperial law court. He has been instrumental in assisting the careers of many of his fellow Egbas, who achieved the trainings their mothers wished on them. This may be the reason for displaying that he wished his parents were still alive to witness how their Soja child has fared. Though dead the parents are – Olusegun like they would have said is indeed an Okunrin Meta. Good for him. But for the rest of us, the story may be different.

Where there is a need to grant Kudos to Mr. Obasanjo; where it is appropriate to accept that he has grown in stature greater than any Nigerian living or dead, let us grant it to him. The just concluded Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Nigeria took place in the country because of him. To deny that, is to be insincere and I wish not to be dishonest. It is apt that I congratulate Mr. President; and I do so with ambivalence.

Many of those invited to the larger Abuja shindig or smaller Lagos State one are now advising the rest of us to be glad that from a pariah nation in 1999, Nigeria has moved to a country that hosted CHOGM. An appropriate response to such garbage is a two-word parlance: Big Deal.

When a State Minister or Governor, whose existence is funded by the Nigerian Treasury, encourages gratitude for dissipation of tax-payers’ money on this type of meeting to spruce the image of the country, we need to look further at such reckless exhortation. Where is the evidence that our image is so damaged, to warrant the spending on this extravagance? Or, could it be the forgiveness of debt for which the Canadian Prime Minister reminded us of a lack of seriousness that makes the waste sensible? Or, is it corruption that other heads of state come to our territory to remind of, that warrants throwing money away needlessly?

Now that the meeting is over, is the national image repaired? It is an illusion to consider our image is now enhanced. The only advantages that are precipitous of the meeting are no more personal than another photo album for some officials. Being seen with the British Queen or the most powerful of the leaders, Mr. Blair. A picture to grace the mantle-piece. That is all. Anyway, we shall soon be inundated by the achievements of the meeting, as it pertains to Nigeria. We should not be too surprised, if the government advises that the world now sees the present administration as serious about Corruption. Though the British monarch advocated the success of the anti-graft crusade and the Secretary General of the Commonwealth prayed its success. But do most Nigerians desire its failure? So, why were these leaders pushing at an open door?

The anti-graft crusade is descending into a farce. And, its watchdog is proving a toothless one that makes so much noise barking and bites not. Why would the world not be impressed with the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC)? Its powers must be reconstituted because its operation is becoming an embarrassment. The recent announcement investigating SEGAM N.A, the company contracted for identity cards provides the evidence. If we are not careful ICPC may lose credibility and become irrelevant. Pius Anyim, the former Senate Leader vilification may soon be proven right.

The timing of the investigation of SEGAM is open to suspect. It is though convenient to send a message to CHOGM. But justice plays no part in such underhand gambit. If what was intended was the contrary, it failed grossly. Would it not have been more convincing for the ICPC to charge the culprits into a court of law and leave the matter to the courts? When an announcement of investigation is levied in a society like ours, guilt is sooner attached and characters are maligned. Innocent people are destroyed. Even in the courts guilt has to be established.

In order that the ICPC is taken seriously, the administration of justice has to be tinkered. It is time a fast track court hears the prosecutions by ICPC. When such a court is established, the Chief Justice of the Federation must stipulate an agreed procedure, which both prosecutor and defence must abide. It is also wise that in cases as complex as what can be expected, the State must be prepared to fund the defence and permit, the accused to engage the services of Independent Counsels. And whilst, the accused is being prosecuted, an order must be in place freezing his assets. What use is there in announcing that the ICPC is investigating a government officer, who, if well advised would ensure his assets are beyond reach before accepting public office? As the assets corruptibly acquired are the targets of seizure, the time lapse from public announcement of investigation to prosecution means that nothing might be found.

The ICPC is perhaps as important as another legacy that Mr. Obasanjo needs to be mindful of. Recall, the Oputa Panel that he set up to investigate abuses of Human rights. What has become of it in the face of renewed human rights abuses in the nation? In order to pre-empt a future government investigating present abuses, this president must check abuses of overzealous law enforcers. Counting on the police to monitor such injustice is like making a gamekeeper out of a poacher. The ease by which important citizens with friends in the top echelon of the police procure assistance to arrest a bad debtor or fellow citizens in neighbourly disagreements must be checked. In both of the cases, for as long as there are no crimes, what is the business of the police in them? After all these are civil matters. Yet, in our country, an important citizen gets another locked up with careless disregard for the law. Senior police officers that effect these arrests should be punished and the so-called important citizens should be penalized. It is not until these measures are in place, rough justice would also be levied against this president.

Lastly, and returning to the benefits of CHOGM meeting in Nigeria. We ought to reconsider the deal from BMW cars for COJA. Is it not disheartening to read that the Nigeria Air Force is at the benevolence of a foreign country for spare parts for its jet, while we import BMW cars? So, what sense is in grandiose jamborees, when our nation goes about cap in hand to foreign ones either seeking debt forgiveness or financial aids? Now, that Mr. Blair and the British Monarch have witnessed that our national wealth is not well managed, is it hoped that they would rush back home and for the benefits derived from watching cultural dancers; downing a few canapés with good wines, all our indebtedness to the Paris Club are set to be forgiven. If that is the expectation, many of our leaders need to learn that it is certainly not in the gift of Monarch to intervene in matters of that kind; and neither could Mr. Blair provide such gift without intense negotiations with his Chancellor of the Exchequer and various Financial Institutions, whose share prices would be affected by such forgiveness.

When Mr. Obasanjo plays host to the next set of foreigners, it is perhaps timely to paraphrase Mr. Ian Duncan Smith, former British Conservative party leader, who once asked Mr. Blair: “Having travelled the world paying attention to the problems of others, when would the Prime Minister start paying attention to the problems of this country?” Regrettably, I cannot ask a lesser question of Mr. Obasanjo.

The writer is a solicitor of the Supreme Court, England and Wales and a Lawyer at a Firm of Solicitors in London, England.

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