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THE PLOT TO KILL THE ARTS AND ITS SYMBOLS.

By Salisu Tanko

A group of over 4 Arts NGO gathered today in Abuja under the auspices of Arts for Human Empowerment & Development (AHEAD) and had a press statement to correct and make its observations concerning the recent media bashing of the embattled DG, National Gallery of Art.

Please find the links to four CONTRADICTORY EFCC press releases on the above.

http://www.efccnigeria.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=980&Itemid=34
http://www.efccnigeria.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=979&Itemid=34
http://www.efccnigeria.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=671&Itemid=34
http://www.efccnigeria.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=670&Itemid=34

Statement of Arts For Human Empowerment and Development on the framing of Joe Musa and the destruction of the Art Community in Nigeria.

Having followed with keen interest the court proceedings over the matter of the erstwhile Director General of the National Gallery of Arts, Chief Joe Musa, we were alarmed to read certain embarrassing and groundless stories in the newspapers. As representatives of the Art community conscience and consciousness who have a commitment to art development we took it upon ourselves to proffer the following facts not to defend Chief Joe Musa, [he is already doing so in court] but to put a stop to the nefariousness that has bedeviled the Arts and its Community in Nigeria.

1. That the sum of N2.2billion said to have been misappropriated by Joe Musa is totally false and a callous misrepresentation of the facts. When the DG and other officials of the NGA were arraigned on July 20th 2009, the initial amount they were charged is N1.2billion. These much can also be found on EFCC website.

2. The counts were 12 and not 14 as widely reported. As at date these counts have been reduced to 8 after 4 counts were quashed on December 17, 2009 and this has further reduced the amounts charged from N1.2billion to only about N800million.

3. The testimonies or statements credited to ALL the witnesses were all misrepresented. They were all made up for the purpose of media bashing of the DG Joe Musa and the relevant achievements of his tenure within the arts community. The court record of proceedings of this trial is available to the public to verify all the witnesses' statements A few will suffice.

One witness, Mr. Solomon Tope Eyioluse who, prepares salaries stated in court that the average monthly salary during the period of investigation was between N19million and N20million and never N15million as reported. So, the accusation that the monthly wage bill was N15million and the N19million paid was inflated for purposes of embezzlement was only a figment of somebody's imagination. He further explained the process of salary preparation viz: the payroll originates from the admin dept who states the number of staff, new employees, retired staff etc; after the salaries are prepared they are sent to the audit dept for further scrutiny. It is only when audit has endorsed same that the DG then approves it for payment. The court proceedings captured all this “in the record of proceedings”.

1. KINDERGATEN PROGRAM FOR UNDER 12. K 12 PROGRAM

Another witness Mr. Chidi Festus Orji, who alleged that N40million was embezzled in the pretext of holding K 12 program. The program did not hold because there were actually no funds available to execute the program. First the witness had no documents to prove that the funds were embezzled. On cross examination he admitted that he got the information from telephone conversations with staff from the Headquarters. He further admitted that he was stationed in Abakaliki and WAS UNHAPPY ABOUT HIS TRANSFER. Again when he was told if he knew that about N1billion was mopped up by the Federal Government from NGA budget allocations in 2008, he was totally confused as he replied 'for what and by who?' So while he was receiving information about embezzlement he was never told that such funds were mopped up.

The media also reported that the witness Chidi Festus Orji said previous budget for the K 12 programme was between N1.2million - N2.8million so the increase in the budget to N40million was over bloated by DG Joe Musa for misappropriation purposes. What he did not explain was that the DG increased the number of out stations from 6 to 22 (an expansion of 18 stations or branches). This increase in the number of out stations also translated to an increase in the numbers of Station Curators/Keepers that needed to attend the K 12 program which obviously meant that there needed to be an increase in budgetary allocation for the program.

It is also instructive at this stage to note that ALL the witnesses who made all these accusations were grudge witnesses. They are all facing disciplinary actions for various offences ranging from stealing, absenteeism to forgery, etc. and were transferred to outstations of the NGA from 2007-2009. Rather than view their postings as opportunities to use their wealth of experience to boost the operations of the newly created out stations by the DG it was interpreted as witch hunting

4. ALLEGATION OF THREAT TO WITNESS'S LIFE
On the 20th July 2010, the Prosecutor alleged that he received several telephone calls that morning threatening him over the case and for that reason he wanted the case to be adjoined. He also claimed that one of the witnesses, Henry Achugbu could not come because he was SICK. All the defence lawyers argued that Henry Achugbu was seen in court the previous day July 19, 2009 and prayed the court that he should be cross examined.

But the media reported the next day that it was the witness who was threatened. Perhaps realizing that their excuse of sickness could not stick as the witness was seen in the office All day without any sign of sickness they had to make up the threat story.

The irony of this fallacy is in the fact that the written testimony of this particular witness actually exonerates the DG of any wrong doing. His name is Achugbu Henry Uche the Deputy Director in the Department of Finance and Accounts and his statement in the charge sheets reads thus “K – 12 is an international exchange program with Ohio State University, USA. It is a training program on visual Art for School Children and their teachers. The Program is funded from the budget under a counterpart funding arrangement….the Keepers Retreat is a program designed to assess the performance of the State branches and to address their challenges…in 2007 it was held in Abuja but in 2008 it could not hold due to the non- release of funds'. Concerning salaries he said 'On salaries paid to staff – in 2006 we were paying about N16m monthly; in 2007 we were paying about N18m monthly; in 2008 we were paying about N19.2m monthly and presently we are paying over N21m monthly'. From his statement it is obvious that the salary of NGA was never N15.5m. As the petitioners claimed that the figure was inflated to N19.27 by Musa and Co in 2008 for the purposes of embezzlement. Henry Achugbu's statement also tallies with the witness statement from the salaries Department debunking the allegation of inflation of salaries.

For the witness to allege threat to his life on the day he was supposed to be testifying makes no sense at all but rather serves as a ploy to further delay the process of justice and cause diversion from the truth.

ALL the other witnesses who actually accused the DG and others of embezzlement have all testified without anyone claiming harassment or threat to their lives.

The question is where did these petitioners get their information and documentary evidence to stage this charade that has been brought upon the art community? Is someone seeking to manipulate or rather divert the attention of the media from conducting their esteemed professional duty into the sleaze going on at the NGA right now.

BUDGET PERFORMANCE OF NGA FOR THE YEAR 2008
Now let us get down to real grit.
Amount Budgeted 2,163,229,278
Amount Released 1,178,362,054
Amount Withheld 984,867,224
Where is the beef? Is it possible to embezzle an amount that was never released? Where did Joe Musa get 2.2 billion naira to 'eat' as bandied about by the media?

ALHAJI ABDULAHI MUKU, Acting DG, was the Head of Administration in the year 2006-2007, While Alhaji Abdulahi Muku who was substantive head of Admin in the period under investigation) were all exonerated from any wrong doing, Mrs Elizabeth Oparugo who became Ag Head of Admin from June 2009 – July 20th 2009 (only two months, to the date of arraignment) was arraigned with the other Directors.

The question is how come ONLY Alhaji Abdulahi Muku who was Director of Administration from 2006 – May 2007 was conveniently omitted from the charges of connivance but Mrs Oparaugo who headed the Admin in 2009 barely 2 months to the date of arraignment was accused of connivance. Perhaps it was part of the ploy to pave way for him to replace the DG being the next most senior officer at the time since his superior officers have all been charged to court.

Alhaji Abdulahi Muku can not deny complicity in the unfolding tragic-comedy. He was part of the committee who disciplined which investigated and recommended disciplinary measures but he went behind to instigate affected officers to come up with spurious allegations. Today he has rewarded these officers with supposedly lucratic positions in the headquarters for a job well done. This is essentially how to unseat any DG anywhere in Nigeria. Identify an ambitious subaltern, let him gang up with ineffective and disgruntled officers who will throw up spurious allegations to EFCC and you are well on the way to suspension by your parent Ministry. The rest is history.

House in Kaduna
Just as in the above sensational media bashing, the accusation of a house in Kaduna is another ploy to call a dog bad name in other to hang it. This allegation is not captured in the Charge sheet either and was never deliberated in court as quoted in the media press release that was distributed on July 20th and 21st by the various Nigerian Media organizations.

700 Million House in Auchi
Our investigation shows that there is no allegation of this sort in the charge sheet. Furthermore, a comprehensive and detailed investigation shows that the DG does not have a 700 million naira house of that sort neither in Auchi nor anywhere else in Nigeria. The question is which house are they talking about? Auchi is a community where a house of such value would be very conspicuous, Is it a residential building, a factory or what ? Strange is the fact that the DG, Joe Musa's present accommodation in Abuja is a rented property.

The sponsors of these reports who are the direct beneficiaries of his travails it is believed are only using it as a ploy to tarnish his professional name to achieve their grotesque goal of taking over his office and position through the back door knowing quite well that their crony who was used to replace the DG would NEVER have attained this position on merit , hard work or professionalism. Those behind this saga also know that Joe Musa's record of achievements in his short term in the helm of affairs in the visual arts subsector could not be easily tainted or destroyed except they employed this type of diabolic ploy.

Apart from the Abuja (Head Office) office, the NGA has NEVER paid rent for any of it's over 20 out stations nationwide. Almost all NGA offices nationwide are gotten free OF RENT PAYMENT using the PPP arrangements with governments and institutions to enable the presence of the visual arts subsector development in each state as guaranteed by the laws creating the NGA.

OPENING OF ILLEGAL ACCOUNTS WITH SPRING BANK/OCEANIC BANK

To start with this particular charge has been quashed by the courts in December 2009 and subsequently no issues concerning them have been raised in the courts since the trial commenced to even warrant any witness making reference to them. It would be interesting to know where the reporters of these events got their stories; was it in the same court or somewhere else?

OCEANIC BANK
The sum of N20m only which was Oceanic Bank's partnership contribution towards the First African Regional Summit & Exhibition on the Visual Art project (ARESUVA 2008) was used to open this account and ALL transactions in that account was purely for the ARESUVA Project. The evidence is in the Bank Statement.

The insinuation that this account was illegally opened for purposes of siphoning funds by the DG does not make sense. The cheque from Oceanic Bank was publicly given to the NGA during the opening of the event and received by the then Minister of Culture, Tourism and National Orientation. This is one of the proofs that if well marketed, the visual Arts sub sector can generate alternative income for our nation; as this has been the ideas the DG Joe Musa has been canvassing right from his days on ArtHouse (Channels Television) which he anchored for over four years.

This is also a first time such huge sponsorship has been realized in this parastatal in its over 11 years existence prior to the coming of the DG. In the same vein another contribution of the sum of N50million (fifty million naira only) by the Bayelsa State Government was also generated. Why do these achievements worthy of note anger the faceless sponsors of the debacle facing the DG?

Being a PPP arrangement with Oceanic Bank it was agreed that the account be opened in Oceanic Bank Plc and the account has been since been closed after the program. It is common knowledge that an official banker of an event, or programme always insists to warehouse such project income and will never allow you to take its sponsorship to another bank.

CONCLUSION
Professional investigative journalism entails that reports should be well investigated before going to press. We do not question your integrity but we dare ask where did the media get these sensational materials packed with lies and half truths; two screaming press releases bearing the same story but authored by the different journalists as published sensationally on July 20th and 21st.

The least anybody expects is diligent investigation especially when a man's reputation and life is involved. This is unfair to the ethics of the 4th realm of the estate; the bastion of hope for the common man. Evidences abound everywhere concerning this case from the “court record of proceedings” (The court dialogue of all the witnesses during this trial), the charge sheet, the Federal Ministry of Culture, Tourism and National Orientation, the Accountant General's office & the Auditor General's office, the Central Bank of Nigeria, Oceanic Bank Plc, Spring Bank Plc, etc.

We the coalition of Nigerian Artists view with trepidation situation where persons without a background and a profound knowledge in the arts are appointed, whether acting or substantive, to manage gateways to the Arts. The present acting DG is not an artist. This is dangerous trend that does not mean well for the Arts sector in Nigeria.

We have painstakingly stated these facts for you scrutiny. Please, please gentlemen of the Press, let us help the arts community Did not the great writer state, 'the man dies who keeps silent in the face of tyranny.' If the rest of the art gurus and the government prefers to keep quiet, we will wake them up to face the truth. Let us not destroy the integrity of some of our best known professional artists. Let justice be done in its stead..

Dan Nwokoji-aku.
President
Arts for Human Empowerment & Development
(Coalition of Artiste for Nigeria Development)
No. 8, Ogoja Lane, Umuahia, Abia State
Phone: 08161356349
[email protected]

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of Salisu Tanko and do not necessarily reflect those of The Nigerian Voice. The Nigerian Voice will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."