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ANXIETY IN SNG OVER ALLEGED IMPROPRIETY

By NBF News

The Genesis. On January 12 this year, a socio-political organization, Save Nigeria Group (SNG), stormed Abuja for a rally. The convener of the group, who is also the founder and leader of the Latter Rain Assembly (church), Lagos, Pastor Tunde Bakare, did not put anybody in doubt about the mission of his group.

He spelt the mission out thus: 'De-freezing social mobility in our nation, returning the voice to the voiceless, unblocking the minds of our people and restoring sovereignty to the people of our land.'

Scepticism
But because of the bastardisation of the system that has given birth to mutual suspicion, some political observers were sceptical about Bakare's real intention on his new project of activism, especially when it came at a time the country was preparing for 2011 elections.

There was apprehension that, might be, the fiery preacher wanted to diversify his God-given talents to make extra money from the system through patronage from political office seekers. A social commentator in Shagamu, Ogun State, Azeez 'Tunde Afolabi, told Daily Sun on phone that 'that is the reason a lot of self- styled activists stormed Abuja to be part of the January 12 rally.' Afolabi predicted that 'if the money refuses to come, the crowd would not only thin out, there would be suspicion that somebody somewhere must have been using his position to sit on their money.'

Truly, the subsequent rallies were also well-attended and things were beginning to change for better in the system and within Nigeria. Bakare attested to this when he said that 'today, seven months after our first march and subsequent marches, rallies and summits, our people have embraced the Save Nigeria Group agenda.'

Suspicion
Interestingly, cynics did not need to wait for long to notice the crack on the wall of the supposedly cohesive group as a leader of one of the components that claimed to be part of the group cried foul that the leadership of the SNG had been feeding fat on the money being generated through its activities. Mallam Shettima Usman Yerima, the President of the Arewa Youth Consultative Forum (AYCF), was the first person to complain and alleged that some people at the leadership level were using the group's name to enrich themselves.

The activist alleged that somebody within the group travelled to Dubai, United Arab Emirate (UAE) to collect money from the former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Mallam Nasir el-Rufai as well as the former Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, among others.

The ink with which the story was written hardly dried up when tongues started wagging that 'they have expectedly jumped on the bandwagon of those who organize false show to make money.' But the spokesperson of the SNG, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, dismissed the allegation with the wave of the hand, saying it was wicked imagination of a misguided mind. Speaking with Daily Sun, Odumakin said, 'as you are talking to me, I don't have contact addresses and telephone numbers of the gentlemen mentioned in the story.'

Odumakin, who is also the National Publicity Secretary of the Afenifere Renewal Group (ARG), surprisingly, appeared unruffled as he said 'such things are expected and we are used to blackmail.' He, however, promised that the group would not be detracted from its objective of ensuring good governance for the citizenry.

Crisis
What initially appeared like a child's play took a frightening dimension last week when two members of the group expressed displeasure over the running of the SNG. The duo, Mr. Benedict Ezeagu, a lawyer and Co-ordinator of Lawyers of Conscience and Willy Ezugwu, who is also the Secretary- General of the Conference of the Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP), pronounced the suspension of the SNG Convener, Pastor Bakare along with other two members.

The other two members purportedly suspended along with Bakare were the spokesperson of the group, Mr. Odumakin and Mallam Salihu Luqman for alleged activities described to be inimical to the objectives of the SNG.

Ezeagu still insists that the move to use the platform of the group to negotiate political office from notable presidential hopefuls was at the root of the current crisis that culminated in the suspension of the trio.

Ezeagu alleged that there was a move to use the platform of the SNG to negotiate the vice president slot for the fiery cleric.

'Contrary to our original policy of using the association as a purely pressure group, both Odumakin and Pastor Bakare were bent on using the association to negotiate vice president slot for Pastor Bakare. When that failed, they decided to transform the association into full-fledged political party. As I'm talking to you, I have a copy of the manifesto of the party and its proposed name.

'It is most unfortunate that Pastor Bakare said I'm not a member of the group when it is on record that I suggested its name. How can he claim to be the sole owner of the group formed by coalition of several associations and notable individuals. For your information, Jimi Agbaje from the DPA, Prof. Pat Utomi, Mike Iginni, Ankio Briggs, Tony Nnadi, Femi Falana of NCP, Yerima Shetimma, Wale Oshun of the then AC, Sani Uba of PDP were among the foundation members of SNG. It is therefore wrong and unacceptable for Pastor Bakare to use the platform of the association for any political purpose without carrying other stakeholders along.

'For example, he asked Ribadu to quit Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and join his party which he wants to form from SNG. He wanted Ribadu, Okonjo-Iweala, Utomi, El-Rufai to join him in the party. I challenge him to deny this,' Ezeagu said.

Response
When contacted for comment on the allegations levelled against them and their purported suspension, Odumakin said: 'I don't want to dignify them with a response.' But when pressed further to response at least to enlighten the public on the issue, he threw a bombshell by disowning them, saying 'we don't know these people because they are not members of the SNG.'

However, because of the gravity of the allegations and adverse effect they could have on the psyche and morale of the SNG, Pastor Bakare defended himself and the other two purportedly suspended officials. He started thus: 'Under normal circumstance, I would not have responded to the alleged suspension of myself and two others by non-members of the SNG. But because I am answerable to God and to my constituency as well as to all the forces of positive change in our nation, I will, in the tradition of scriptures give my answer to the lying propaganda going on.'

And having quoted copiously from the scripture, Bakare said: 'SNG is not a civil society. It is a political organisation galvanizing our citizens for the purpose of good governance in our land. As a result, we are bound to engage in interface with all political parties and politicians of repute with a view to finding lasting solution to our problems by re-organising the socio-economic and political landscape of our nation.

'This, we have done with absolute integrity and credibility. We have never solicited for money from any political party or politician for our activities talkless being running mate to any presidential aspirant as there are no candidates before party's primaries. 'SNG is not a political party, but members are free to engage in partisan politics outside of the SNG. The account for the organisation was formally open on April 10, 2010 with Wema Bank, Ikeja, Lagos branch as we commissioned our secretariat and up to date, not a penny has been withdrawn from that account.

'On May 3, 2010, we set out the procedure for the membership of SNG. Individuals are to fill membership form, corporate bodies to write the secretariat of SNG signifying their intention to be members. 'Up till now, none of the people you read about in the papers have joined the organisation, though they claimed to be members, (and) though they were present and fully participated in the meeting of 3rd May, 2010.'

Bakare, however, assured that 'there is no cause for alarm,' saying 'integrity remains our bodyguard, and that is why people embrace the SNG brand and none of them would be disappointed because they believe in our cause.' Only time can now prove which of the sides is saying the truth. What is crystal clear now is that things seem to be falling apart and the centre appears not to hold in the seven months old house of the SNG.