THE ANGRY SENATORS VERSUS ADEYEMI
He is outspoken, articulate and smart, just like his name says. But it seems these same attributes of his have led him to troubled waters. In a country ruled by hypocrisy, where many are afraid to speak their minds for whatever reasons, Prince Smart Adeyemi, debonair former president of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ and Senator representing Kogi West Senatorial District, appears to have opened his mouth a bit too wide, for which some of his colleagues in the red chamber, like enraged lions, are now baying for his blood.
Now, what is Adeyemi's 'grievous sin' for which the Distinguished Senators have been literally belching smoke from their nostrils? One bright morning[ pardon that clichÃ©] in the nation's capital city of Abuja, the Senator went on what he called 'solidarity visit' to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, in his words, 'to encourage them in their work.' To underscore the importance of the visit, it was complete with a battery of camera men, an army of reporters and the Commission's top staffers, including of course, the Czar of the agency, Mrs. Farida Waziri.
In the course of exchanging views [with the chairman of the agency], Mr. Adeyemi was quoted by the newspapers and television as demanding the inquisition of law makers in the National Assembly, NASS, at the end of their tenures with a view to ascertaining those who lived within their legitimate means and others who engaged in questionable businesses, all in the name of law making. He also reportedly chided some banks who had been colluding with law makers and other politicians by making their facilities available as conduit for nefarious activities, bordering on economic malfeasance. The Senator also allegedly canvassed the death penalty for economic saboteurs: the fraudsters who exploited their privileged positions to bleed the people and nation, thereby contributing to the economic adversity of our country.
When I read the newspapers, I was quite excited by the report credited to Adeyemi. I thought his comments were patriotic and courageous. To me, it was dripping with activism and love for the nation. But I also knew these were comments likely to cause him trouble. My reason? Most of our public officers, as we all know, are largely sanctimonious men who denounce corruption at every turn but are themselves not immune from the deadly virus. They preach probity and transparency, but we know they preach only with their lips. Only recently, the chairman of the anti-graft agency, Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission, ICPC, Justice Ayoola, said Nigeria had been fleeced of over 300billion dollars by public officers. Are those public officers ghosts or living in the moon?
Are they everywhere else, except the National Assembly?
The day after the report on alleged corrupt tendencies at NASS was published, Adeyemi was forced to swallow his words or rather a bit of it. I saw a sweating Adeyemi struggling to deny the headline report in the Daily Sun which read: NASS IS CORRUPT, SAYS ADEYEMI….INVITES EFCC TO PROBE MEMBERS. He claimed he didn't use those words, which if he did would amount to self-indictment. His angry colleagues thereafter set up an ad-hoc committee to investigate him, to ascertain if he actually said what was credited to him or if he was misquoted. With the dispatch the issue was treated and their unwillingness to give the embattled Senator the benefit of the doubt, it would seem that Smart had crossed some of his colleagues either in the course of his duties or somewhere else, and now, it's pay back time. May be, may be not.
But Adeyemi, if you asked me, is right and wrong in his attempt to disown the story. Sure, he didn't cast the headline since he doesn't work in The Sun and would not know how the editors in Lagos do their business. But as a journalist or rather as a former journalist, he would certainly know something about interpretative reporting. You don't call for a probe when you believe nothing is wrong. You don't ask that all members be thoroughly investigated if you believe they have been following the straight and narrow path. You don't say some of the banks in the NASS had been used to launder funds if you believe angels have been doing business at the Assembly.
After the Senate's outrage against the report, I summoned the reporter who filed the story, Francis Awowole-Browne, with a view to ascertaining what happened, why he would want to put the distinguished Senator, a good friend of mine, into trouble by misrepresenting him. He swore he had no such intention, because he has no reason to. Not satisfied, I demanded to listen to the tape of the visit. Adeyemi's booming voice was categorical in his call for the searchlight to be beamed on the activities of the members of NASS in the total war against corruption which should have no room for sacred cows. And I still believe that was a patriotic and courageous call to make.
I can also understand why he's recanting. You can't fight a powerful group like the Senate once they declare war on you. The Adeyemi/Senate battle reminds me of a similar one between Senator Uche Chukwumerije and the then enfant terrible of the Senate, Ogbuagu Arthur Nzeribe. Comrade Chukwumerije had reportedly accused Nzeribe of sharing money to Senators with a view to enlisting their support for ex-President Obasanjo in one of his controversial plots I can not now remember. The Senators, like now, were angry and wanted to sanction Chukwumerije for allegedly rubbishing the integrity of the august body. He was forced to offer a full and unreserved apology on the floor of the Senate. Nzeribe would later tell me that Chukwumerije was not pragmatic to make an 'unsubstantiable' allegation. 'He couldn't prove it because nobody would agree that he took bribe since there are no receipts for bribe,' said Arthur. 'I wanted him to tell me what I
was wearing and where I sat when I shared the bribe money, who I gave and what time? If they came alone or collectively and where they signed? The accuser looked stupid. But we all know what sometimes happen here.'
In the past also, Senator Nuhu Aliyu, a retired police chief, had declared that the National Assembly was peopled by some fraudsters, including cheap 419 men. He claimed he was shocked to discover that some of the people he was sitting with in the hallowed chamber and the House included those he had once investigated for criminal offences, including fraud. Harrassed, the ex-police chief was also forced to retract his statement.
I really do not see what new thing Adeyemi was reported to have said other than re-echoing the view that corruption transcends all boundaries: tribe, tongue, social class, position and status. That corruption is everywhere in the country, including NASS, and that EFCC should not harbour sacred cows if we are to be taken serious in the battle against graft.
Of course, it is not correct to say that all members of the National Assembly are corrupt, but it would be absolutely wrong to conclude that because someone is called Distinguished Senator or Honourable Member of the National Assembly, he has become a saint who can do no wrong, who can steal no public fund, who can commit no 419 or engage in unwholesome practices. That is the veritable definition of delusion.