Friday, 31 July 2020 07:18

[OPINION] From Akpabio to Akpabio - Akin Osuntokun

In discussing the theory and practice of corruption in Nigeria, Godswill Akpabio is a compelling subject. He has enjoyed this dubious distinction since his days as the Governor of Akwa Ibom State. Per capita, Akwa Ibom is about the richest state in Nigeria and the tendency in Nigeria is that the bigger the state treasury, the bigger the theft of those resources by those in whose care the riches are entrusted. To give the Nigerian public an idea of his husbandry of the resources of the state, Akpabio, at the expiration of his two terms tenure as Governor, committed the state to paying him N100million annual medical allowance in perpetuity as part of his retirement benefits.

Responding to the public outrage provoked by this astonishing corrupt appropriation, Akpabio said he deemed it laughable that the public would consider N100million annual medical allowance cause for outrage. I belonged in the category of those who deemed his misconduct outrageous as testified by my column on this page six years ago titled ‘The Akpabio Syndrome’. His conduct, before and after my publication, has been a continuity and personification of this syndrome.

 

I wrote: “t is within the pathology of this syndrome that we may begin to understand Governor Akpabio when he dismissed as laughable public outrage at the scandalous news of committing Akwa Ibom to the penance of expending over N100 million annual medical allowance (and God knows what other creature opulence) on him till death does them apart. Pray what is laughable or inconsequential about paying any Nigerian public official over a N100 million medical grant a year?. This degree of personal emolument can only be laughable to anyone whose unfathomable riches (acquired by means fair or foul) rival that of Croesus.The tragedy here is the opportunity cost of this hefty surcharge to the people of Akwa Ibom State which can be measured in the proportions of feeding 100 households of that state in a year. Beyond the inevitable public outrage that greeted the impunity of Akpabio, there is perhaps the need to acknowledge its typicality and situate it within a wider understanding of the dilemma. On the penchant of Nigerian public officials for this typical abnormal corruption, I endorse the recommendation of subjecting them to psychiatric evaluation as condition precedent to assuming public office”.

Contemporaneously, there is the comparable case of the former Governor of Zamfara State (who doubled as the Chairman of Nigerian Governors’ Forum) who is being investigated to the tune of N150billion embezzlement charge by the EFCC. At his departure, Premium Times reported that official documents revealed that Mr. Yari was paid N350 million two days before he left office. Aside from the monthly pay out of about N11 million, the law also provided for a house in Abuja for the former governor and his deputy. In repudiating the fleece, his successor fumed “there is no reason whatsoever the state could afford to pay the past leaders (Yari and his deputy) a whopping sum of N702 million annually to the detriment of dying pensioners in the state”.

Underscoring the widespread nature of this abuse, another report claimed that 21 of Nigeria’s 36 states spent over N37 billion in such luxury retirement packages for former governors. It is this kind of abnormality that prompted the soundbite by then presidential candidate Muhammadu Buhari that Nigeria needs to kill corruption before corruption kills Nigeria. Ironically and given the intensification and escalation of corruption on his watch, the Presidency of Buhari has come to prove the validity of this quip in a way no other government could have done.

In order to fathom the deepening syndrome of corruption in Nigeria today, we need not look further than the evolution and sustenance of the mentor-protege relationship between General Buhari and Akpabio. In a unique demonstration of the Oshiomole doctrine, it was at the peak of the corruption controversy swirling over Akpabio that he sought and secured the godfather refuge of Buhari. He was not only granted a Trumpian Presidential pat on the back, he became the travelling companion of Buhari to the bargain.

 

Yet, this romance was consummated at, precisely, the moment he was under investigation for the “withdrawal of N18bn fraudulently from the state’s Federal Accounts Allocation Committee in tranches of N10m and above in a surreptitious manner to conceal his dishonest intention; spending over N50bn state funds during the last general election; withdrawal of N18bn from the state’s coffers under the guise of special services, reception of very important guests and sundry items; acquisition of some assets through surrogates, including a multi-billion naira mansion at Plot 5, Ikogosi Spring Close, off Katsina-Ala Crescent, Maitama-Abuja; a multi-billion naira mansion at Plot 28 Colorado Close, Maitama, Abuja; 22 Probyn Road, Ikoyi, Lagos; Plot 23 Olusegun Aina Street, Parkview, Lagos and a multi-billion naira 25-storey building at Akin Adesola Street, Victoria Island, Lagos”.

The question we should ask ourselves is whether, by any stretch of the imagination, it is conceivable that Akpabio is somehow innocent of all these allegations. Apparently, such questions are of little or no concern to a president who desires canonisation as the avenging angel of corruption in Nigeria. So that Nigerians are not in any doubt as regards his disposition towards Akpabio, the President subsequently singled him out as his anointed representative of Akwa ibom state in the federal executive council. As a matter of fact, the secondary layer of his portfolio as Minister of Niger Delta Affairs confers on him the additional representation of the whole Niger Delta region. If, regardless of his questionable background, the President still went ahead to appoint Akpabio to the supervision of such an overflowing corruption sewage like the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), what are we to make of it? Would it be amiss to speculate that the ulterior purpose of his appointment is to appropriate rather than curb corruption- with a view to servicing mutual interests. We can put it another way, if the president is desirous of cleaning up the NDDC, would Akpabio be his choice for such mission?

It gets worse for the Niger Delta. As it is with Akpabio, so it is with the appointment of Mr Timipre Sylva as the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources. Prior to his appointment as minister, the heavily laden corruption credentials of Sylva instructively include an alleged mind boggling ownership of 48 choice properties in Abuja alone (not to talk of the ones we don’t know).

Again, the question arises, were the President seeking the best choice to manage and sanitize this Nigerian corruption prototype, would Mr Sylva have featured in his long not to talk of shortlist? So the problem with these appointments is not so much the scandalous antecedence as the sad story it tells of the Buhari administration.

It is in this respect that the Buhari presidency is liable to the illustration of the social reproduction theory. Simply put, the theory speaks to the tendency of entities to significantly reproduce the qualities they personify.

It suggests that an incorruptible President would appoint people of integrity as Ministers and a corrupt one would otherwise reproduce himself in the appointment of corrupt individuals as public officials.The more this trend and culture is emblematic of Buhari’s public conduct and the general philosophy of his administration, the greater the validity of the theory. With some exaggeration, the behaviour is akin to the borrowed constitutional verbiage of corruption as the “fundamental objective and directive principle of state policy” of this government.

The coincidence of the criminalisation of Ibrahim Magu (by his employers) and the prevailing anti-corruption crisis tell the same story. The extent of the criminalisation of the supposed chief operational instrument of fighting corruption (by the Attorney General) is the degree to which the anti-corruption policy of this government is a sham. It is a contradiction in terms to have a ‘crooked’ anti corruption fighter.

On the evidence of another principal officer of the anti-corruption campaign, Professor Femi Odekunle and publicly tendered evidence of his life of opulence, Malami tantamounts to a case of the kettle calling the pot black. Further reinforcement of this trademark is provided by the chairman of the Presidential advisory committee on anti-corruption, Professor Itse Sagay-the philosopher in chief of Buhari’s anti corruption campaign. As marshalled on this page a fortnight ago, rather than affect a tough anti corruption posture and rhetoric, Sagay has repeatedly chosen to rationalise corruption. In conformity with the favourable disposition of the President towards one of the most egregious instance of corruption in Nigerian public life, Sagay found himself acting the shadow defence counsel to Governor Ganduje of kano state. Recall that, in full knowledge of the raging Ganduje scandal, President Buhari went to kano to go and raise his hands in undiluted commendation of the Governor for a second term in office. And there is no way of minimizing the damage Buhari and Sagay had done on this occasion. Rather than hold the feet of Ganduje to fire with bristling moral indignation and the determination to exploit all legal avenues to go after the Governor, Sagay was providing extenuating points of contrived helplessness for the federal government inclusive of tying the hands of the Kano state house (of) assembly. His encounter with the media on this issue bears repetition :

You reportedly said the Kano House of Assembly cannot investigate Governor Ganduje. Why can’t they?

“They cannot because by the provision of the Constitution, their powers of investigation are limited. They can only investigate funds that have been disbursed by any administrative or other body which was appropriated by the House. In other words, it must be funds which were appropriated under the budget of the House, which are now being operated by other functionaries. In those circumstances they can probe such functionaries for their administration of those funds. Outside that, they cannot. So, the case at hand for example, I hear is that of a private contractor who supposedly bribed the governor. In that situation, the Kano State House has no jurisdiction at all”.

Now, let me repeat Sagay, “So, the case at hand for example, I hear is that of a private contractor who supposedly bribed the Governor”. Does this confessed disinterestedness and emphasis on the impossibility of bringing Ganduje to justice, sound like someone interested in grappling with corruption?

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