Insight Into Wikileaks Controversy and News Analysis - By Tony Eluemunor
Why would Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and Mr. Nasir El'rufai so trenchantly deny that no brother of the Finance Minister's benefitted from a contract that may not have met all requirements of due process? Why would they have done this, especially as a firm
owned by Okonjo-Iweala's brother Mr. Chi-Chi Okonjo, not only got a Federal Capital Territory Ministry
contract, but more importantly, the contract became a subject of a petition from somebody of the rank of a Permanent Secretary, in year 2004?
On reading Okonjo-Iweala's Media Aide, the ever genial and rather polished essayist Mr. Paul Ibe, attempting to tell the world that the accusations against his boss was engineered by enemies, and the second denial from El'Rufai, who attempted to reduce the grave issue to a mere laughing matter, I remembered the challenge a one-time United States of America presidential hopeful threw to the US journalists. It was in year 1988. Mr. Gary Hart, US Senator, author, commentator, lawyer and professor, was the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination when he heard hints that he was having extra-marital affairs. Instead of lying low, he challenged American journalists to prove their allegations.
Well, they gave him the proof; the picture of him and his mistress, Donna Rice, terribly under-clothed, aboard his yacht, appropriately (for the business at hand) named 'Monkey Business'. The revelation of that his monkey business cost him a presidency bid as he withdrew immediately - and never resurfaced again! He acquired a PhD from Oxford in 2001, and politics' loss became a university's gain as he earned a professorial chair in 2006.
...And the sophistry from both El'Rufai and Okonjo-Iwealla were real challenges to Nigerian journalists - to inform the nation, not about the length and breadth and depth of the whisperings from an unnamed informant to a former American Ambassador, Mr. John Campbell, but at least whether there was a basis for such small talk. By the way, going by the recent Wikileaks reports, Campbell, unlike his successor, was not against reporting tales about both sides of the Nigerian political divide - unlike Ms. Robin Sanders who focused on tit bits about the late President Umaru Yar'Adua and his supporters only, leaving off Yar'Adua's opponents to do the finger-pointing and tale-bearing.
Both El-Rufai and Okonjo-Iweala sought to give the impression that no member of Okonjo-Iweala's immediate family benefitted from any contract whatsoever - and that they never took a compromised or even questionable or eye-brows -raising stance. But a former Permanent Secretary of the Federal Capital Territory Ministry sent a petition against El-rufai to former President Olusegun Obasanjo, which among other things had this salient complaint, on page two (2) and item five (5):
'Part of what has been causing friction is the unilateral engagement of contractors without conforming with due process.
5. (i) Georgetown Consulting - owned by Chi-Chi Okonjo, brother of Honourable Minister of Finance for N15m
(ii) Vintage Global Solutions owned by Miss Bimbo Ogunseitan, the minister's friend for a total of sum of N9.6m. They both had been approved before the normal paperwork which amounted to damage control.
Ordinarily, it would be stupid to blame either El-Rufai or the former and re-appointed Finance Minister if a company linked to his brother, a Nigerian and an adult would be awarded a contract, any contract, that was duly bid for and cleanly won, and perhaps without a backing, no matter how slight, from her.
This is because her brother deserves a right to earn a living just like any other person. But according to that petition to Obasanjo, with the file number of MFCT/DFA/559, the petitioner drew attention specifically to 'RE- RUNNING OPERATIONAL REVIEW: MINISTRY OF THE FEDERAL CAPITAL TERRITORY'S OPERATION' and said:
'Please permit me to draw your attention to the approval by the Honourable Minister of Finance at page 1 for the commissioning of a Firm of Consultants to carry out a Running Operational Review (ROR) on the Ministry's operations.
2. Subsequently, a letter of engagement was served on the Consultants, vide page 4 of the file. Based on the letter of engagement, the consultants have demanded an initial payment of N5, 760, 00.00 (Five million, seven hundred and sixty thousand naira only) vide page 2.
3 The Consultants reported to the Department for the commencement of the Operational Review of the 22nd April 2004. (Reporter's comment: by this time, Okonjo-Iwealla was the Finance Minister). After an in-depth discussions (sic) and at their instance, they opted to commence the exercise this week. Indeed, we have had a joint meeting with the SA II to Mr. Minister on the subject matter.
4. I have assured them of the Departments maximum cooperation.
However, there is a need to put the record straight by...( the rest is no longer necessary, as the quoted part showed that the Consultants resumed work on the terms of the contract.
Now, in what way is Okonjo-Iweala involved? She sent a letter dated March 18, 2004, HMF/FMF/003, addressed to Mallam Nasir Ahmed el-Rufai, OFR, Minister of the Federal capital Territory, saying:
'I am in receipt of your letter dated 15th March 2004 requesting an approval for a RUNNING OPEARTIONAL REVIEW ROR) on the Ministry of the Federal Capital Territory's Operations.
In your letter you stated that a consultant would be hired to review the internal organisation processes of the FCT and the day to day finances of the FCT.
2Please accept this letter as an approval for the Running Operational Review on the request indicated above.
3. Do accept the assurances of my continued highest regard.
Yours Sincerely, (Signed) Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Minister of Finance.'
The FCTM acknowledgment stamp to denote date of receipt of this letter bore the 22 March, 2004 date and just two days later El-rufai minuted to his COS (Chief of Staff) and SA I, II
'Please commission the RoR (running operations review) based on the proposal submitted by GC (reporter's question: Georgetown Consultants?) and one other firm. Negotiate with the firm and brief me'.
Unfortunately, what this suggests is that Georgetown Consultants, owned by Chi-Chi, a brother to Okonjo-Iweala, the very Finance Minister who approved the RoR operations, got the contract before negotiations ever began!
There is a missing aspect of this report: and that is the outcome of the petition. Was the petition taken seriously? Did former President Olusegun Obasanjo ever set up a committee to investigate it? If so, did the report exonerate both the Minister of Finance of and Federal Capital Territory of any untoward acts?
This reporter has been asking such questions since 2004. So far, mum has been the word. By the way, the petition brought up other questions such as FCT Ministry's security vote of N400m that was overspent by the end of August by N50 million. In fact, the petition raised nine issues against El-Rufai, but only one concerned an Okonjo or an Okonjo-Iweala; that addresses the question about the Finance Minister's enemies being behind the unresolved controversy.
Tony Eluemunor, A Fellow of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard, on Ford Foundation sponsorship, was Abuja Bureau Chief for Daily Independent in 2004 - when the petition was written .