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ANATOMY OF A REBRANDING NATION - by Festus Edoreh

Source: www.huhuonline.com

No doubt, Nigeria is in a dire need for resuscitation, and the task of rebranding the country cannot be wholly faulted. However, each passing day, the country keeps rebranding itself. Prominent are the issues of disconnected political structures; poor ideology, inefficient managerial capabilities and leadership, deep-rooted insecurity as well as high-powered corruption which have continued to bedevil our nation. Our fathers' land, filled with milk and honey, the once pride of the black race of Africa has been desecrated, and the masses continue to languish in abject poverty.

Today, mediocre and sycophants foist themselves into leadership through the manipulation of the ballot. Worst still, public officials often turn around to be the most treacherous and despicable betrayers of our nation. And reports of how the so-called leaders perpetuate high-powered corruption make daily news headlines.

The Nigerian mainstay of oil that is managed by the NNPC has become a theatre for fraud. Current investigative report points to the fact that the federation account has again been short-charged of a whopping N450bn underpayment by the NNPC.

Earlier, there were indications that the NNPC and major marketers collected N38.88 billion from the Petroleum Products Pricing and Regulatory Agency (PPPRA) for pipeline maintenance between March 2007 and June 2008, whereas it is a known fact that products were distributed nationwide by trucks. Infact, reports emanating from the fresh fuel crisis may not be unconnected with the unwillingness of marketers to import products in view of the chaotic distribution chain where product is 100 percent distributed through trucks across the country as against the use of pipelines meant for the purpose.

It would be recalled that since 1999 Mr. Hamman Tukur, Chairman, Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) had consistently accused the NNPC of short-changing the government on the oil revenue accruable to the federation account.

In 2003, Mr. Robert Ejevani, had in an Auditor-General's report stated that the Federal Government lost more than N52bn in revenues from agencies and departments in that year. He emphasized that 22 agencies failed to file expected revenues in breach of Financial Regulations No.325 (a). He maintained that out of the N52bn, N40.9bn came from shortfalls in the revenue collected without the affected agencies indicating any reasons for the shortfalls. And this trend has continued unabated.

The electricity situation in Nigeria has been identified to produce far below the desired capacity to turn the rusty wheels of our industrial machines, thus making real investment initiatives, industrialization and infrastructural development unrealistic for stable economic growth. One of the major cardinal points of the Yar'Adua's 7-Point Agenda is the Energy sector. Yet, bleak hopes pervade the promises 2 years into the administration.

The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Dimeji Bankole confirmed to Nigerians that a staggering N16b was injected into the power sector in the 8 years of the Obasanjo's administration without meaningful ray of light to justify it. The probe panel, headed by Hon. Ndudi Elumelu was mandated to unravel the mystery behind the persistent darkness. At the public hearing, there were testimonials of how non-existent projects were commissioned. It was also revealed that the due process waiver mechanism was undermined which blurred transparency and accountability.

Former Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, testified that ex-president Obasanjo asked for, and was granted waiver for due process certification for the electricity projects, following the requests made by the then Minister of Power and Steel, Liyel Imoke now in Government House, Calabar. Oby Ezekwesili, former boss of the Budget Monitoring Pricing and Intelligence Unit otherwise known as Due Process frowned at the flagrant abuse.

At the forum, Mr. James Olotu, Managing Director of NIPP also testified that Obasanjo personally awarded most of the projects valued at about $3.7 billion without involving the agency. Most of these contractors abandoned the projects after collecting the contract sums.

Although, the probe panel has since submitted its report, the report has suffered several setbacks. It is highly speculated in some quarters that the report is being rebranded.

And in a bid to discredit the probe panel, its members were at some point accused of N100 million bribes. However, when the claim could not be substantiated, the smearing project failed. And dramatically, some members of the probe committee were alleged to have claimed that their contributions and/or signatories were excluded from the report. And on that premise, the House through an executive session set up a 7-man ad-hoc committee to review the original report in what seemed like a face-saving measure. Thus raising fears that some influential elements are at work to discredit the probe report.

While the ad-hoc committee was at work, it was sad to note calls being made by some supposedly honourable members appealing for the House to take a second look at the presumed indictment of some prominent and corrupt Nigerians. However, as Nigerians continue to await the outcome of the reviewed version of the report, one issue cannot be rebranded, that is the fact that the Obasanjo's government injected billions of Naira into the power sector purportedly to guarantee steady power supply, but the nation still looms in darkness.

In another related issue, while Nigerians continue to battle with epileptic power supply, a whooping N5b belonging to the Federal Government is said to have been diverted into private pockets in the recent scam rocking the National Electricity Regulatory Commission.

The embattled chairman, Mr. Ransome Owan, Mr. Abdul-Rahman Ado (Vice-Chairman and Commissioner, Market Competition and Pricing); Muhammed Baba Gana Bunu (Finance and Support Services); Prof. O.C. Iloeje (Research and Development); Dr. Muhammed Alimi Abdul-Rasaq (Legal, Licensing and Enforcement); Abimbola Odubiyi (Engineering Standards and Safety) and Dr. Grace Eyoma (Government and Consumer Affairs) are currently facing criminal charges on that matter.

In another related development, the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Power, Dr. Aliyu Abdullahi has been arrested by operatives of the EFCC over an alleged breach of due process and embezzlement of the sum of N3 Billion said to have been paid for rural electrification projects in 2008. The Chairman of the Senate Committee on Power, Senator Nicholas Yahaya Ugbane has also been arrested, while three members of the House of Representatives also involved in the contract scam are said to be on the run.

At the Stock Exchange Market (SEC) the story is not different. The African Petroleum Plc share manipulation saga is in the front burner. The principal actors in the drama are Mr. Femi Otedola of AP and Alhaji Aliko Dangote of Dangote Group. Already, Mr. Musa Al-Faki, the Director-General, Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) have resigned his appointment.

In the Transnational Corporation saga, the Chairman, Dr. Ndi Okereke-Onyuike confirmed speculations that ex-president Obasanjo held equity shares in the company. This was after the EFCC raided its Head Office reportedly in a bid to investigate the shareholding structure and operations of the company. To a large extent, it confirmed media reports that the ex-president owns between 200million to 600million shares in Transcorp while in office.

During the notorious Obasanjo's administration, Transcorp is said to have enjoyed tremendous presidential waivers in the different sectors of its operations. This were apart from the preferential treatments it got in its bid to buy some public companies like NITEL and Nicon Hilton (now Transcorp Hilton) and concessions which include a license to build an Independent Power Plant (IPP) as well as an exclusive access to government's cassava report for the construction of a cassava processing facility.

The last may not have been heard from the National Association of Nigerian Footballers (NANF) on the missing $236,000.00. The NFF shocked a bewildered nation when it claimed that the money which was meant to prosecute the World Cup qualifier against Mozambique on March 29, 2009 in Maputo was stolen from its office in Abuja . The President of the footballers' association in the country, Harrison Jalla is miffed that the Nigerian law enforcement agency are still investigating the case when indeed the incident took place at the Glass House secretariat of the NFF in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja.

Also, the EFCC is still on an endless investigation sojourn in the N2.3bn car-purchase scandal involving the Speaker of the House of Representative, Honourable Dimije Bankole in collaboration with some official of the Peugeot Automobile Nigeria Limited in Kaduna (PAN) and others. It would be recalled that an alleged fraud for the purchase of 380 units of Peugeot 407 cars was reported following a petition by a famous lawyer, Mr. Festus Keyamo on the procurement process, price of acquisition, tax payments and the model.

Diversion of ecological funds to pursue political ambitions and personal aggrandizements has again reared its ugly head. The chairperson of the Senate Committee on Environment and Ecology, Mrs Grace Bent who lamented the paltry sum of N3bn allocation for the Ministry of Environment in the 2008 budget proposal, noted that some state governors diverted the funds into private accounts, while others converted it for entertainments and politics, and the ecological problems continue to pose hazards to human lives unabated.

Halliburton had admitted it paid $182m to Nigerian government officials over a 10-year period to win a $6b contract to build a liquified natural plant on Bonny Island, which reportedly indicted three ex- presidents; and whereas Kellogg, Brown & Root LCC (KBR), a member of the group had also pleaded guilty to the bribery charges, one wonders why the EFCC is yet to conclude investigation on the matter despite official assurance that the matter has been handed over to the Commission since 2004. Yet, there are indications that enough facts and the names of some of the recipients and even the dates the bribes were offered are already in the public domain during the trial of the British lawyer, Mr. Jeffrey Tesler who received the kickbacks and passed them to various Nigerians.

The inefficiency of the Nigerian government and the much talked about anti-graft agency is further emboldened before the comity of nations in consideration that the Halliburton bribes which were given between 1995 and 2003, had only recently received government endorsement when it set-up a probe panel, headed by the Inspector General of Police, Mr. Mike Okiro, following continued agitations by the Nigerian masses. The panel which includes the heads of the anti-graft agency EFCC, the National Intelligence Agency and the State Security Service has an 8-week span to submit its report.

Apart from the KBR's conviction, a French appeal court had also slammed a $10.5 million fine on a former Petroleum Minister, Mr. Dan Etete, after he was found guilty of money laundering. The money was again part of the bribes obtained from the KBR.

Since May 2007 when the last dispensation ended its tenure, Nigerians are still waiting patiently for the outcome of the unveiled list of 23 ex-governors over the alleged financial malpractices while in office. It would be recalled that the anti-graft agency had claimed that the immunity clause in the 1999 constitution was a hindrance to investigations because it shields the president, vice president, state governors and their deputies from prosecution even on alleged corruption while in office.

In Rivers state, the Chief of Staff to Governor Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers state is said to be involved in a case of criminal breach of trust and willful conversion of public funds to the tune of N4.670bn.

Chief Bode George, the former Deputy National Chairman of the PDP (South West) and Chairman Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) Board of Directors and five others including the former Managing Director of the NPA, Aminu Dabo are alleged to have defrauded the Nigeria Ports Authority of over N85b through contract inflation scam and abuse of office.

The chairman of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP; the prided largest party in Africa is also reported to have been named as key co-conspirator in a Ten Million Dollar ($10m) scam perpetuated against the people and government of Nigeria in 2005 then as Minister of Special Duties (Economic Affairs) in the ill-fated Obasanjo's administration.

At the Nigeria Customs Service, an estimated N300bn revenue is said to be lost yearly due to alleged ''corruption and organisational inefficiency' in the Nigeria Customs Service. Yet, there are no dragnets to arrest the situation.

Despite the usual loud shouts of a paltry sum allocated to the education sector, the EFCC is reported to have arrested a former Executive Secretary of the Universal Basic Education Commission and three directors over an alleged N1.7bn fraud. The contracts which were said to have been awarded in 2005 did not follow due process as stipulated in the existing laws of the land.

Also, in the face of incessant strike actions which often disrupt academic sessions, lecturers with fake PH.D holders are now on the prowl in our higher institutions which of course spell doom to the quality of education impacted in our society.

Nigerians are yet to come to terms with the startling and mind boggling revelations about how key public officials handled government money with contempt following the fallouts from the misunderstanding in the management of the PTDF funds which strained the relationship between ex-president Obasanjo and his vice, Alhaji Atiku.

It would be recalled that Atiku had alleged that ex-president Obasanjo benefited from the PTDF deposit in Trans International Bank (TIB) as well as from campaign funds in the account of MOFAS Shipping Line. Documents made available revealed that the ex-president, his family, businesses, native community and the ruling PDP have benefited tremendously from money deposited in the PTDF.

Also, bank documents provided substantiated the claims that ex-president's Personal Assistant, Mr. Bodunde Adeyanju made over 100 sorties to TIB, Abuja (located at Tofa House in the Central Business District) between 1999 and 2004. While it was also reported that cheques worth over N100 million were issued to IBAD Nigeria Limited, a construction company solely owned by Obasanjo from Fasawe's MOFAS TIB accounts. Also, payments were made by Fasawe directly to the Obasanjo Africa Leadership Forum and to Obasanjo Campaign Organization'. Yet, the government is said to be fighting corruption.

Alsos, ex-president Obasanjo was said to have made approvals in respect of the payment of N250 million to a law firm for the incorporation of Galaxy Backbone; $10 million for the purchase of computers for civil servants outside the scope of PTDF and N1billion for DICON, basically to enrich themselves.

I think the intellectualism of our so-called leaders and elder statesmen calls for questioning. For instance, how can one reconcile a statement credited to a former Nigerian president in a public forum in Dutse, Jigawa state in which he said that his mission in 1999-2007 was not to provide infrastructural facilities, but to salvage the country from a deep socio-political crisis, which as it turns out further sank us even deeper? I guess that the aging ex-president needs deliverance.

That confessional statement at Dutse somewhat explains why Chief Tony Anenih, the then Minister of Works during the Obasanjo's administration wasted a whooping N400b under the guise of road construction, whereas there were no roads on ground to justify the huge fund. This becomes ridiculous when the most sensitive road across the south-south which also takes Chief Anenih to Benin his state capital remained a death trap while he lasted.

How do we rebrand the cost of ex-president Obasanjo's disservice to Nigerians and the seemingly philosophical “do-or-die” electoral culture which is already beclouding the political atmosphere of this nation? Regrettably, electoral mandates pronounced since 2007 are still dangling the air of uncertainty two years after.

How do we genuinely rebrand our conscience to be nurtured by truth when the EFCC in the face of all these unresolved allegations is said to have given ex-president Obasanjo a clean bill of health for corruption charges when indeed the anti-graft agency itself cannot reconcile how the ex-president came about his sudden wealth in his 8-years in Aso Rock after his near-bankrupt status in 1999.

How do we rebrand the sincerity of purpose of the EFCC in the scam involving Prof Adenike Grange, former Health Minister and 11 others for allegedly conspiring and stealing N300 million belonging to the Ministry of Health in which one of the suspects, Iyabo, daughter of Olusegun Obasanjo was arraigned in abstentia. The EFCC claimed that Iyabo was “at large” when the Commission dragooned the other suspects to court. But the senator countered it by the prompt issue of a public statement debunking the allegation that she was on the run, thereby confirming media report that Iyabo was indeed in her office, a shouting distance from the EFCC office.

The Niger Delta issue is a threat to our national integrity. The continued criminal neglect, exploitation and degradation of the region by the government and the multi-nationals merchants has generated militancy to open criminality which invariably has forced the country per day oil production downward by more than 25%.

Stakeholders seemed to have identified the impasse as a source to tap their own share of the national cake in the name of the struggle. The creation of the ministry of Niger Delta and even the offer of amnesty to desiring militants may not be the answer. However, until there are genuine efforts by the federal government to promote peace, equity and justice in the broiling Niger Delta region, the nation shall continue to suffer the overriding effects.

Already, the Minister of State for Niger Delta Affairs, Godsday Orubebe is being chided on the way and manner he disbursed a N200 million cash gift the newly created ministry released through his office for the purpose of pacifying the restive youths in the region. MEND, the umbrella body of the militant groups alleged that the minister has continued to enrich himself at the expense of the peace processes.

In Niger state, the vice chairman of PDP, Mr. Tanko Beji at the Judicial Commission of Inquiry headed by Justice Aliyu Maiyaki to investigate malpractices and award of contracts in the state testified before the Commission that he actually collected N150million; the money disbursed to ensure the victory of PDP in the governorship and House of Assembly 2007 elections. The confession followed a testimony by a former Cashier of the Ministry for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Alhaji Mohammed Yaman Edozhigi that he paid N150million on the instruction of a former Permanent Secretary of the Ministry.

The challenges posed by the controversial Ekiti re-run election in which Mr. Segun Adebayo Oni of the PDP is declared winner is just but a litmus test for INEC and the on-going electoral reform vis-à-vis the 2011 elections. The Transition Monitoring Group (TMG) have confirmed that officials of INEC and the Nigerian police were part of the rigging machinery employed by the PDP to win the just concluded Ekiti re-run election. The TMG, in its supplementary report signed by its chairman, Mr. Mashood Erubami, stated that the conduct of the election had further established the fact that no credible election could be achieved in the country for now.

But Prof. Dora Akunyili, expressed the Federal Government satisfaction and extended a kudos to the Ekiti State Resident Electoral Commissioner, Mrs. Ayoka Adebayo for a job well done stating that the REC acted according to the dictates of her conscience and spiritual conviction as a Christian. I just hope it doesn't take her longer time to realize that there is a huge difference between the battle against fake drugs and the battle for politics. May be, she need to be rebranded.

Mallam Nasir el-Rufai is still on the run. The last time his case came up in court, he refused to appear and his lawyers could not muster enough courage to acknowledge the receipt of court documents on his behalf. Yet, no matter how long it will take, the former minister of the FCT is expected to explain to Nigerians why he re-allocated a plot of land at No 1201, Asokoro District (A4) Abuja, originally allocated in the Federal Capital Territory master plan to Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) Plc to his wives, Hadiza and Asia, and parts of the PHCN land to his associates, M Oil Limited, Philip Daudu, Saidu Samaila, Iyabo-Obasanjo Bello, Jamaila Alhassan and Bello Sani. Investigation on the matter is still on-going.

The anti-graft agency too also needs rebranding. The Commission revealed that it dismissed no fewer than 11 officials for forgery and other fraudulent acts. It is even more alarming that of the eleven dismissed officials are three senior staff and one management officer.

Also, one Mr. Davies Ibrahim, an EFCC official who is said to have been arrested in Lagos for conniving with others to defraud a suspect faces dismissal and thereafter prosecution following the directive of the chairman of the Commission, Mrs. Farida Waziri.

Only recently, the EFCC director of operations, Mr. Tunde Ogunsakin was caught in an exam fraud and has been redeployed to the police from where he was seconded to the anti-graft agency. You would imagine that these are the calibers of men fighting corruption in Nigeria .

President Yar'Adua should not only call for the abrogation of the immunity clause from the 1999 constitution he should infact ensure the passage by the National Assembly to make his point clear. Yar'Adua has made the call noting that official corruption had become endemic in the country. The case of the Governor of Illinois in the United States who was arrested for political corruption while trying to sell the Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama, and still remained the governor of a state until he was impeached was a positive reflection for Mr. President's position.

Deception is the turning point to failure. The servant-leader, President Umaru Yar'Adua who promised a new dawn having observed the depth of corruption from the onset seemed to have mortgaged his conscience if the naked fraudulence being perpetuated in the on-going electoral reforms as submitted by the Uwais-led report is anything to count. Not only can this conclusively point that we are not yet a serious people, it also raises the fear that at the heart of our predicament is the fact that power is exercised here without responsibility.

I think quite seriously that the project of rebranding Nigeria may not be the best option in the circumstance, but a deliberate and conscientious efforts and volition to be morally discipline and responsive to the rule of law which is all what democracy entails.

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