Wow, N54 Million Bribery Scandal!
While we were yet to forget the Anambra crisis in which an attempt was made by some political thugs to forcefully impeach a governor, another entertainment came our way. We gladly received it last Tuesday. For me it was a week full of anxiety. The same day El-Rufai was making his revelations, I decided, for the first time in forty-two years, to watch football in the stadium. And it paid. Before my very eyes, in my state capital – Bauchi – the national team defeated their South African counterparts, 3-0; they have broken the Obasanjo jinx, which has put sports in the decline since 1999.
Then we were expecting a shutdown on Thursday when “President Oshiomole” would call workers to drop their tools. I was waiting for it because the treasury, at least, will have some respite from the ravage of looters as long as the strike lasts. Unfortunately for the treasury, it did not last a second. We, together with the treasury, will continue to watch and wait.
Then the Minister of FCT was expected to fulfill his promise to burst the names of the senators who tried to extort him of N54 million during the last ministerial screening exercise. The burst is a week late, because the minister went fully prepared the Tuesday before only to be told, “Sorry, the sitting of the senate committee has been postponed in respect for the departure of our former leader, Dr. Chuba Okadigbo.” The week in the interim, I reliably learnt, was used to persuade the young minister to sheath his sword, but to no avail.
So Nasiru, as I would chose to call him here, fulfilled his promise to make public the name of the extorting senators. Nasiru, who is given more to professional excellence than to the frivolity of political intrigue, stormed the venue of the hearing with a copy of the Quran and swore by it. He has thus traveled the longest distance any Muslim can go to prove his veracity.
Mantu, a Muslim also, did not go that far. He took the normal oath to say “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.” The “truth” that he said was that Nasiru is a “pathological liar” who likes “picking on people of great intellect and tries to rubbish them.”
You see, in cases like this, it is difficult to arrive at the exact meaning of some words. Pathology and a lie are difficult to connect; I really wonder how the English came to connect the two. The same thing with “people of great intellect”: Who are they? How do we recognize them? What is great about their intellect? Is Tilde among them? In this case, actually, whose intellect is greater: that of the “pathological liar” or that of “people of great intellect” that he tries to rubbish?
Senator Zwingina, Mantu’s colleague in the senate and collaborator in the extortion of the N54 million, according to Nasiru, did not say that the minister is a pathological liar. His only problem with Nasiru is that he – Nasiru – is “famous for assassinating peoples character” and that the allegations were a “brilliant figment of the minister’s imagination.” Sorry, I forgot to say that throughout I have been quoting the Wednesday’s issue of the New Nigerian. It is important that I say so before I am accused of plagiarism.
Now, I cannot remember how many characters has Nasiru assassinated. I know he had problems with the former Minister of Aviation to the extent that he was banned by the presidency from speaking to the press, for speaking too much, too sincere, and too plain. Did he assassinate her character then, enough to bring him any fame that would qualify him as “famous for assassinating people’s character”? Unfortunately, neither Mantu nor Zwingina could give us examples of their people of “great intellect” or the multitude of people whose characters were assassinated by the “famous” Nasiru, perhaps, because they are left without any character after the assassination!
Beyond the rhetoric of ministerial allegation and senatorial defense, we have to look deeper into the real issue, the bone of contention. Nasiru cannot say whether or not the N54 million was not given to the senators. All he said was that he did not give them, that at the time they were demanding it he was in fact indebted to some banks. Well, his testimony did not rule out someone paying the amount on his behalf, with or without his consent or knowledge …
Given or not given, the N54 million gives us a fair estimate of the amount that changed hands during the screening, and upon whose approval. If in spite of his plead of being broke, the senators would insist on a ‘derivation’ of N54 million from Nasiru, I wonder how much they received from ex-ministers and other nominees whose accounts were in blue. It is public knowledge that there was an attempt to milk Yuguda and Jimoke of N120 million – with or without success, we may never know. With over forty ministers, the distinguished senators must be, or expected to be, richer by at least N2 billion.
One senator from the South, reported by Sunday Sun, was honest to tell the truth on ground of anonymity. He said: “Oh a lot of shameful things did take place, the whole thing was turned to a money making affair even by people who should ordinarily be leaders.” He also confirmed that the “three-man gang” were commissioned by other senators to “move around on their behalf.” Regarding El-Rufai, the senator said, “I think it was the delay that annoyed the young man. It is not that he did not give, but what happened is that, after giving them N54 million, they went back to ask for more. I am aware that he refused to part with more money through the three-man gang.”
Suffice it to say that what Nasiru underwent was harrowing: that the President himself would advice him to “see” as many senators as possible. Hmm. How do we see politicians in Nigeria, after all, if we may ask Mr. President? Let him recall from his experience at the party primaries and many other scenes. In spite of “seeing” them, or perhaps for not seeing them with the correct eye, Nasiru had to resort to seeking the assistance of the Vice-President who, as a master, instructed Zwingina to “assist el-Rufai because he was having difficult1y at the senate…”
Did Zwingina dispute collecting any money from Nasiru, which is most likely to be correct, or is he disputing demanding the money, which according to Nasiru – at least – is a lie, or is he disputing that someone, not necessarily Nasiru, might have given him the money, or still, is he only disputing the amount, i.e. something was given but it was not exactly N54 million?
Let us take the worst scenario. That both parties in the dispute are liars: that the senators demanded the N54 million from Nasiru and he gave them the amount. Who is surprised, in fact? I am not. Do we expect that the senators to be angels? How could each of them pay millions for the nomination tickets of their party and spend more to “win” the elections without making any effort now to defray such expenses?
Or was it the first time we heard about money exchanging hands in the senate for purpose of screening nominees and passing bills? In a similar exercise in 1999, Senator Aluko made similar revelations. The President knew it and so did Mantu and Nasiru, at least as much as little we knew then before knowing a lot later when Jagaba and Co. were bold enough to show us, right before the full glare of the House and the national television, the millions, in cash, which someone attempted to “see” them with.
Now, as ever, the reasons why the senate, like the presidency, is incapable of meeting our aspirations are clear. No government can perform if it continues to turn a blind eye on corruption. Even Nasiru knows the depth to which corruption has eaten into the flesh and mind of the administration he offered to serve. And mind you, I praise him for the courageous decision to do so. I just did have enough courage to send him a congratulatory message! Mantu and others may be old timers in the senate; they know their game very well. Finally, Nigerians and the international community know both the senate and the presidency very well too when it comes to prudence and transparency.
I am not worried about the corruption itself as much as I am worried about the intention to make it public. I am deeply worried why Nasiru decided to reveal it. In his effort to expose the senators, was he driven by patriotism or by vendetta, as the two senators alleged? Or is he unconsciously reading the script of somebody who wants to tarnish the image of the two distinguished senators? And true, Nasiru should consider going to the ICPC. If as a minister, he does not, who would? He must have evidence; otherwise, we will henceforth have cause to doubt his acumen and question his patriotism. Mantu and Zwingina, on their part, should sue Nasiru for defamation, or move a motion, supported by other “people of great intellect” in the senate, sacking Nasiru as minister since, according to the two, he is a “pathological liar” and “famous for assassinating people’s character.” How can we afford a minister who is a pathological liar?
We have only succeeded in raising many questions today regarding this matter. The situation is still vague. The most reliable answer will come from Nasiru, since presumably, as a professional, he is exposing the senators for patriotic reasons. He should therefore help us dig more into the matter himself and furnish us with his findings using the same public channel. I will be most grateful to him if he chooses to make his revelation coincide with another football match featuring Nigeria and another team at the stadium in Bauchi, just as this week featured on the same day, El-Rufai vs. the Senate and Nigeria vs. South Africa. For the latter we know the score was 3-0, while the former is in half time, yet to be concluded. Should Nasiru win, I will be ready to propose him as our goalkeeper for 2007, after Obasanjo. And you know what goalkeepers have done in the history of Nigeria.