On a cold December morning in 1986, US forces invaded Panama, a small city in the Pacific. The reason for that invasion was that Panamanian president Manuel Noriega, was a drug lord involved in money laundering. He was also accused of being a double agent working for both the CIA and Cuban Intelligence. After he was captured, he was flown to the US in an iron cage, tried in 1991 and sentenced to 30 years. During his trial, his lawyers insisted that much of the monies that he was accused of laundering actually came from his CIA work. Noriega is now an old man of 70 doomed to serve another time in France.
The arrowhead of that invasion was Dick Cheney a two-term vice president in the George W. Bush administration. Prior to his vice-presidentship, Cheney held key government positions. He was deputy assistant to the president, White House Chief of Staff, elected to the United States Congress and became George Bush’s secretary of Defense in 1989. It was while he was George H.W. Bush’s secretary of Defense that he spearheaded the US military campaigns in Panama. He was also a key player in the military action that toppled Saddam Hussein, together with US-led multinational campaign that liberated Kuwait from Iraqi occupation. There are unconfirmed allegations too, that he had a hand in the fall of Charles Taylor of Liberia, not because he had any interest in liberating Liberia but because Taylor opposed his ownership of diamond mines in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Cheney was actually the ventriloquist using his boss George Bush as a marionette to tell the world that Saddam Hussein had amassed chemical and nuclear weapons. For his roles in these expeditions to bring presidents and heads of states to justice, President Bush awarded Cheney the presidential Medal of Freedom in 1991.
Before his tenure as vice president to George W. Bush, Cheney became chairman of the board and chief executive officer of Halliburton, a Texas-based oil prospecting firm. He continued to hold this position even as vice president. Perhaps that is why he is being criticized that he used his position to secure the first set of juicy contracts to rebuild post-Saddam Iraq in favour of Halliburton. According to Encarta, Cheney traveled to Kazakhstan in May 2006 to campaign to construct a pipeline to give the US direct access to oil and natural gas from Central Asia. The plan was to bypass Russia. Environmentalists also complain about Cheney’s vigorous campaign to have the US Congress pass a set of sweeping laws to energize policy on oil to increase drilling, mining and the use of nuclear power. If these laws were actually passed, they contributed in no small measure to the environmental problems of the Niger Delta, and the escalating tensions that have resulted from government connivance with oil companies like Halliburton, Shell and Exxon Mobil. The most damning of these allegations against Dick Cheney is that as chairman and chief executive officer of Halliburton and US vice president, he allegedly bribed Nigerian heads of State and government officials with $180million to secure a $6billion liquefied natural gas plant contract here in Nigeria.
These allegations are grave. That they were leveled against a former US vice president unequivocally diminishes the value and respect accorded that institution. They look like the kind of allegations that can only be leveled against our own leaders. In fact, if we do not point it out here and now that these accusations do not look any different from the ones Cheney used as justification to oust Manuel Noriega, Samuel Doe and Saddam Hussein, this story will not be complete. And the curious thing about this whole thing is that the United States government, the supposed bastion of democracy, is allegedly shielding him from answering to these allegations. Recent press reports said that the EFCC, an investigating body akin to the FBI, invited Cheney to Nigeria to answer to 16 counts of bribing Nigeria’s government officials but the US is nervous in letting him come. Why? Are they trying to say that the EFCC is not competent to ask their former vice president questions concerning the bribes he allegedly gave Nigerian government officials? Are they trying to say that Cheney’s position as vice president was a holy and sacrosanct position? Is he any different now in status from one of our own vice president slapped with similar charges in the US? Like the way Martin Luther King put it in his Letter from Birmingham jail, corruption anywhere is injustice to people anywhere, and if there is any moment that the US can show commitment to the global fight against corruption, it has to be now or never. The message that Cheney’s presence in Nigeria, to answer to allegations of bribery will send to Nigerians and the world, will by far be greater than that that Barack Obama would be sending around the world if he fails to let him come. If Cheney fails to come here, nobody should feign ignorance that they don’t know that it is the US that recruits high-ranking Nigerian officials to be involved in cash-for-development scams like the one that recently rocked FIFA.
Cheney or the US government has nothing to fear of the EFCC. The EFCC is not a virus, neither is it a contagious disease. It is a Nigerian FBI saddled with the responsibility to handle cases of financial crimes against individuals and the Nigerian state. Cheney coming to Nigeria, among others, should do two things – restore respect to the US system of zero system to corruption and add zest to the Nigerian fight against corruption. If the man is too sick to come here, let Obama tell us so rather than forming a human shield to protect him. It was a case like this that made the duo of Muhammadu Buhari and Tunde Idiagbon resort to crating Umaru Dikko to Nigeria.
PS: Somebody has looked over my shoulder and seen what I have been writing. ‘They will not give you visa to their country o! They will say you are an unfriendly, critical journalist o’, the person has said. Well, I will not be surprised at that. In 2005, a journalist, Joseph Wilson wrote an article criticizing Bush’s haste to go to war with Iraq. He also questioned the administration’s claim that Iraq had sought to purchase uranium from Africa. In no time, his wife’s identity as a CIA agent was leaked and put her life in danger. Reactions on the pages of Daily Independent newspaper of Tuesday December 14 already expose this kind of acrimony. Hear one Edwin Etim, who I presume is an employee of the US EMBASSY : ‘ The EFCC, the FBI of Nigeria is yet to arrest one of those top Nigeria officials involved in this Halliburton bribery scandal. They include 3 former Presidents and a vice-President. Is this low quality tirade against America an explanation for that? This is a trash of journalism of a sort. [emphasis mine]