Pat Utomi’s Advice to President Yar’Adua is Flawed

by Sabella Ogbobode Abidde

Karl Kraus it was who said “corruption is worse than prostitution. The latter might endanger the morals of an individual; the former invariably endangers the morals of the entire country.” Political prostitution and corrupt practices are two of the evils that have been nudging at Nigeria’s moral fiber the last three decades. There are Nigerians — irrespective of their level of education and their socio-economic background — who are immersed in both: they are political prostitutes, and are corrupt in every which way. Some are wise enough to know who and what they are and have kept quiet; others are not so smart, they are like the kettle, calling the pot black. This manner of hypocrisy is very rampant within the Nigerian socio-political and economic space, accounting for why it is difficult to separate the saints from sinners.

A lot of Nigerians think highly of Professor Pat Utomi. They love and respect him. They believe he is a new breed of politician: smart, forward-looking, with refined ideas and refined intellect. During the last presidential election, there were Nigerians who swore on their ancestors’ grave — vouching for the integrity of a man they believe is beyond reproach, beyond suspect. At home and abroad, his utterances and countenance were of a man with no skeletons in his cupboards. He spoke and walked around like a Saint. His every word and pronouncements were, for the most part, digested without being dissected. After all, he was and still is, Patrick Okedinachi Utomi. When he speaks, people listen. And rightly so, but his last utterances were uncalled for: they were vexing and corruption-encouraging. Not only was he wrong, he was exceedingly wrong!

According to The Punch (Online Friday, 9 May 2008), Chief Utomi “criticized President Umaru Yar’Adua’s decision to probe the Central Bank of Nigeria’s $462m investment in the African Finance Corporation… He said that there were limits to looking backwards, stressing that the probe of the AFC was capable of embarrassing the country… even if due process was not followed, it is not enough to embarrass the whole country.” Damn! The whole interview was nauseating, vexing, dubious and nonsensical. Utomi sounded like a man who was in the know or knows something about what really went down. He sounded improbable when he said “friends abroad were calling ‘what’s this about AFC and CBN? Why are hatchets been drawn all over the place? Can’t you people focus on nation building?” What is Pat Utomi talking about, and what is nation-building, anyway?

What is nation-building when you cannot hold people accountable for their bad actions? What is nation-building in the absence of transparency and accountability? What is nation-building without good governance? If you mismanage $462 million today (without penalty), you may be emboldened to misappropriate $642 million the next time — which is exactly what has been happening to the nation’s economy in the last three decades: people failing to be responsible and governments refusing to sanction irresponsible actions. If President Yar’Adua listens to Utomi and the likes of Utomi, others will be encouraged in their reckless and criminal behavior. Four hundred and sixty two million dollars is not chicken-change. And even if it were, there is the need to follow laid out accounting procedures; there is the need to follow the law. Those who knowingly abbreviate and violate the law must be held accountable. Now, if Pat Utomi is publicly asking the President to look away, one wonders what type of advice he gave previous presidents vis-à-vis the economy and on issue relating to corrupt practices. By the way, what would a President Utomi do when confronted with such financial recklessness?

Pat Utomi must have been kidding when he said such a probe would embarrass the country. How, how in heaven’s name could a bank, any bank misappropriate that much money. It is the negligence and or criminality of those involved in the shady deal that is embarrassing to the country. And in fact it would be more embarrassing and disgraceful if the President of Nigeria or the Nigerian National Assembly fails to act. It would be a grave injustice, a dereliction of duty not to act, not to probe. Pat Utomi’s advice is flawed; and it is embarrassing not only to the country, but to all men and women clamoring for good governance. The Central Bank is not an ordinary bank. It is the bank to all banks. It is the institution responsible for the financial wellbeing of the nation. It is the institution other financial institutions and vested groups around the world reference in gauging the health of the nation’s economy. A string of the blunder in question is capable of casting suspicion on the nation’s economy. And that will be the real embarrassment.

In all of these, here is the irony (if not outright duplicity): two weeks earlier, Utomi had called on “Nigerians to play active roles in the fight against official corruption and injustice in the country.” (See Rise up against corruption, Utomi urges Nigerians, Punch Online Thursday, 24 April 2008). He was quoted as saying corruption thrived in Nigeria because “most of us have failed to challenge perpetrators. Everyday in this country, we are being robbed of our property, and most of us keep docile about it.” In a related mater, Utomi said: “When some people argued that Ribadu was going after only the enemies of the then President (Olusegun Obasanjo), my response was: ‘Let us first catch the enemies of the (then) president. After he has finished with the enemies, then, the (then) President‘s friends will be available to be caught.” What a sad and unfortunate commentary on the part of the venerable Chief.

One of the reasons we (as a country and as a continent) have not been able to achieve real development — development that is human-centered and which gives preference to basic human needs — is the pervasiveness and institutionalization of corruption: embezzlement, bribery, and other forms of shady practices. When you can not entrust the national treasury to the president or his appointed agents, who then can you trust? When you can not entrust the constitution to the attorney general and minister of justice, who else can you trust to obey the laws? When parliamentarians are busy lootings and cavorting with midnight-girls, who is there to write appropriate laws and keep an eye on the presidency? When men like Pat Utomi are not being consistent in their condemnation of corruption, then, almost all hope is lost in the effort to salvage our battered and decaying nation.

Wasn’t there a time in the history Nigeria when people were afraid of being branded thieves, when people guarded their reputation and family name with all their might, a time when rogues and street urchins were easily identifiable, a time when to be considered a thief meant being a social outcast? In modern Nigeria, I know of no more than five adults who are afraid of going to jail for stealing the people’s money. Most are not afraid to be associated with scatology. Why should they be, after all communities across the county now welcome and coronate known thieves; churches and mosques now have special prayers for pen and armed robbers. We have a country where a president and the vice president, along with all the state governors, parliamentarians and high-ranking officials were known or suspected thieves. That is the real embarrassment. Professor Utomi should have known better — to never excuse corruption or give succor to the corrupt.

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