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JETS, KILLED BILLS AND OTHER PLEASURES OF GOVERNMENT

By NBF News

The major reason political races in Nigeria are marked by high voltage violence is that occupants of political offices see themselves, and are seen, as lottery winners. In the public imagination, public office is simply an occasion to quaff, gorge and luxuriate at public expense. It's an all-expenses paid pleasure trip with few, if any, duties, tasks or responsibilities.

A friend of mine jokes that he'd start taking Nigerian politicians seriously only when they stop scheming to grab power by all means. 'The day it becomes difficult to persuade people to run for various political offices in Nigeria - from local government councilor to president - is the day I'd start respecting those who present themselves as candidates,' this friend - a medical doctor - often says.

It's difficult to refute his point. Does anybody imagine for a minute that Nigerian politicians hire thugs to intimidate, maim or kill their opponents just to win an opportunity to serve, to improve the lot of people, or to better their environment? Do politicians rig themselves into office out of a desire to transform their society for the better?

Only a fool would believe that this is the case.
Our politicians bring a desperate pitch and deranged tactics to their angling for 'elective' offices precisely because political posts offer stupendous material rewards while offering few, if any, challenges. To be a Nigerian president, governor or legislator is to bask in huge perks of office. It is to eat and drink until your belly sags and your neck disappears. If you happen to be a man, it is to poach women on a daily basis, from underage Egyptian teenagers to other people's wives. It is to live above the law - in fact, to thumb your nose at the law and to mock the misery of fellow citizens.

Last week, Nigerian politicians, from the National Assembly all the way to the Presidency, put on display their patented trite sense of what it means to be called a 'leader.'

Nigerians were scandalized to learn that Goodluck Jonathan and his cabinet had approved the purchase of three new jets for the presidential fleet. The Reuters report conveyed a sense of how blasé, disconnected and arrogant these politicians have become. Reuters reported: 'The cabinet approved the purchase of two Falcon 7X aircraft from France's Dassault Aviation and one Gulfstream G550 from the U.S. plane maker for the presidential fleet at a cost of $150 million.' Then the news agency quoted Information Minister Dora Akunyili as telling reporters, 'After consideration, council approved the purchase.'

If Akunyili ever took care to explain why the presidential fleet needed new aircraft to begin with, it was not reflected in the report. As far as the Jonathan administration is concerned, the presidential appetite for new jets should suffice as justification.

Talk about the relentless pursuit of pleasure for its own sake, and by people who do little or no work to begin with.

It's sad that Jonathan has chosen to adopt former President Olusegun Obasanjo's obsession with adding new jets to the presidential fleet. In a nation as wretched as Nigeria, with decrepit infrastructure and festering poverty, how did Jonathan and his acolytes conclude that the purchase of three new jets must be a priority?

For answer, all we have is that nonchalant statement by Akunyili: 'After consideration, council approved the purchase.'

Pray, what does consideration mean exactly in this context? Did nobody in that chamber have the presence of mind and decency to remind the rest of them that there were eminently more sensible ways to spend $150 million? Did nobody have the insight, and courage, to tell Jonathan that he and other office holders were already overpaid, over-pampered, over-indulged - and that it was time to spend less on themselves and more on alleviating the grim condition of Nigerians?

Perhaps, Nigerians should insist that anybody who aspires to 'rule' must first spend some nights in the slummy quarters of Agege and Ajegunle. Yes, let our would-be presidents experience first-hand where most Nigerians sleep, eat, pee and shit. Let them come face to face with the squalid, mosquito-infested, septic life that is the reality for most of their fellow citizens. Perhaps - just perhaps - this brutal form of familiarization would give the cabinet pause when next its members sit to 'consider' the fatuous idea of squandering $150 million on three luxury jets for the exclusive use of a few men and women.

If the cabinet's approval of three jets was vulgar and thoughtless, the National Assembly's 'action' on a money laundering bill was an instance of political irresponsibility.

Last week, the House of Representatives, as reported by NEXT, 'indefinitely suspended consideration' of an anti-money laundering bill. Two days earlier, the Senate had also indefinitely postponed debate on the bill.

It's not as if the members of the National Assembly are unaware that Nigeria is plagued by money laundering. They know that British police had picked up several former governors and their cache of cash. They know that, in 2004, American authorities tried Andy Uba, an aide to Obasanjo, for smuggling $170,000 on a presidential jet that landed in New York City. They know that former Governor James Onanefe Ibori was arrested in Dubai, and faces extradition to the UK to answer to money laundering charges.

No, it's not the case at all that the 'honorable' members of the House of Representatives and their 'distinguished' colleagues in the Senate just arrived from Jupiter and are blissfully ignorant of Nigeria's money laundering peril. Why, many of their number are longstanding and dexterous practitioners of that game that transfers cash looted from the public treasury into private accounts, domestic or foreign. In fact, certified money launderers are so well represented in the legislative chambers that some ingenious Nigerians have taken to addressing the lawmakers as legislooters.

Make no mistake: the assembly's decision to file away the anti-money laundering bill was dictated by an instinct for self-preservation. It is similar to the instinct that moved these so-called lawmakers to frustrate the freedom of information bill that would have served greater transparency and accountability. The majority of the men and women in the National Assembly can't stand the idea of anybody snooping into their affairs, or peeping into the 'business' of other public office holders. They prefer to conduct the business of governance in the dark, away from the prying eyes of the people whose resources they waste.

The anti-money laundering bill jettisoned by the Senate and House of Representatives has international implications. According to NEXT, the bill was shaped to meet an 'international framework against corruption.' By passing it, the legislators would have served notice to the world that Nigeria was serious about combating private and public sector looters. In pushing it aside, the legislators sent a loud message that they relish the culture of looting and want to see it fertilized and perpetuated.

You'd never see these legislators postpone any discussion about increasing their already over-bloated perks. Hell, no! But when it comes to passing any bill that would have a salutary impact on the polity, they invent all manner of technical ruses and dodges to put the matter on snooze.

That's why Nigerians must approach the coming elections as a make-or-mar event. Those who seek public office in order to spend their waking (and even sleeping) hours dreaming up schemes of jollification at the expense of the rest of us should be opposed at every turn. Voters should look to men and women who come with sound, practical ideas, and reject those who view public office as pleasure trips.

Akingbola's smoking gun
'My immediate conclusion was that Dr. Saraki and Mallam Sanusi wanted to take-over IB Plc by fraudulent means, and that if I went into their custody, it could result in my death, in order to silence any opposition to their plans.'

Akingbola claimed that the aggressive and loud demonisation of the banks was to sufficiently weaken and reduce them to a knock-down price for acquisition by the predators. His evidence? He stated that when the CBN injected N100 billion a year ago, they stated in writing that it was to be a loan repayable in seven years. Shortly after, the CBN governor was aggressively shopping for buyers of the bank.

For a mere N100 billion fund which he said was less than 10 percent of the value of the bank, Sanusi now assumes 100 percent ownership of the bank—a bank with a balance sheet of N1.6 trillion; 330 branches; two foreign subsidiaries; ten subsidiaries; 12,000 workers and paid share capital of N230 billion. Meanwhile, the bank's CBN examination of May this year, he said, noted that the bank made a N90 billion over-provision in its books, implying that the bank's situation was just deliberately made so bad.

He alleged that the CBN-appointed managing director of the bank, Mr. Mahmoud Lai Alabi is an employee of Dr. Saraki as chairman of Songa Farms and several development funds in (Kwara) state. He accused Alabi of writing off Dr. Saraki's loans of N7 billion; he also allegedly wrote off loans totaling N32 billion to 'friends of Dr. Saraki and Mallam Sanusi.'

Sanusi was also accused of recruiting former Societe Generale staff as executive directors and loan managers. In turn, Alabi was accused of sacking the entire senior management of IB Plc and replacing them with Societe Generale staff. 'It is clear, from these actions, that I was removed to smooth the take-over of IB Plc for Dr. Saraki,' Akingbola surmised.

Can all these be true? These are very hard and serious allegations deserving serious attention, first from the accused and secondly, from the government. Already, Saraki had issued a statement debunking the claim that Mr. Alabi is his staff, saying Alabi's chairmanship of Songai Farms, a government initiative, was a service to the state, not to Saraki; that his companies enjoyed no loan write offs as alleged and had in fact paid off their loans; that Saraki resigned his directorship in the companies when he became governor and that Akingbola was seeking to politicize his trial rather than squarely confront his managerial incompetence at IB Plc.

Thus far, Sanusi has not responded to Akingbola's allegations. It is possible that he feels that he should ride above the allegations and allow the court to do their work. But, I fear that may be playing the ostrich in a serious case that if established, is very damaging to his position as the governor of the Central Bank. Court trial in Nigeria is normally a long case. Nothing says that Akingbola's case can be concluded in a year or two. If even only a fraction of Akingbola's allegations are true, they are sufficient to undermine public confidence in Sanusi's integrity and the sincerity of his reforms. That perhaps, is why not just Saraki and Sanusi, but the government ought to deeply look into the allegations. If the allegations turn out to be frivolous, they would only serve to compound Akingbola's case in court. But, if there are merits in the allegations? May God have mercy on us all.