Nigeria: The Negative Polical Ramifications Of Cover- ups
In the early seventies, the Watergate scandal that brought down the presidency of Richard Nixon was a matter of covering up illicit acts of some operatives of the Republican Party. Although Richard Nixon was not proven to be involved in the illicit acts, his white house under his supervision became so involved in the cover up that when
everything eventually became public his only choice was to face a looming impeachment and prosecution or to resign. He chose the latter and resigned. Nixon, thereby became the only American president in the twentieth century that resigned from office.
At the tail end of the same twentieth century, President Clinton became the second American president to be impeached, all because of a cover up. President Clinton supposedly had amorous relationship with a white house intern, Monica Lewinsky. An affair between a powerful man and a young woman has been occurring since the dawn of history. Neither president nor any powerful politician had ever been criminally penalized for adulterous affairs. Nevertheless, Clinton and his white house political operatives chose to go all length to cover this affair. Clinton eventually was accused of obstructing justice as a result of his cover-up efforts. He was impeached by the U.S congress but survived prosecution and removal at the U.S senate,
Clinton was disgraced and became only the second United States of America’s president to be impeached. As a licensed lawyer under the state of Arkansa, he was also stripped off his bar license.
Imagine what would have been the case, if President Nixon after being sworn-in for his second term and upon the knowledge that Republican Party operatives broke in to the Democratic Party headquarters at the Watergate hotel and illegally monitored the Democratic Party strategies?
My take is that Nixon could have become a hero and would not have been disgraced out of office. The American public would have understood that in the zeal of trying to win a presidential election, some unsavory people may engage in inappropriate means for an edge in the election. Nixon would then have been greeted as a hero for bringing their unsavory acts to the fore and eventually when the individuals are criminally convicted for breaking and entering, Nixon would not have suffered greatly in his rating if he pardoned them. Moreover, he was in his second term.
Clinton would also have avoided the humiliation of an impeachment, if he had simply admitted the illicit relationship with an intern. But with the elaborate cover-up, he did not only suffer the embarrassment of an adulterous relationship but also the humiliation of impeachment and disbarment from the Arkansa bar.
The stories and revelatios trailing the N13.3bn bond proceeds left behind by the Ohakim’s administration could possibly ruin the promising careers of some Imo politicians as a result of the elaborate cover-up surrounding it. On Sunday morning, January 27 2013, the Commissioner for Finance in a radio program on Imo Broadcasting Corporation (IBC) announced to Imo public that the Okorocha’s administration had been granted a change of purpose by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for the Bond proceeds.
In my column which appeared on Wednesday, January 30, 2013, I raised some pointed questions based on the announcement of the Commissioner of Finance. It is not a secret that this administration has tried everything to shield the fact that the previous administration left N13.3bn of Bond proceeds.
Less than ten days from the date of the swearing-in of Governor Okorocha, Nigerian Horn reported on its front page on June 6 – 8 2011 edition, that the Governor stated that the previous administration of Ikedi Ohakim left him a loan debt burden of N100bn. Soon after this, the Governor again in a public address stated that Ikedi Ohakim’s government house spent N150m every night.
This constant effort to portray Ikedi Ohakim and his administration as having mismanaged Imo treasury was the reason that in late June of last year I revealed in a facebook page – Igboville – that the Ohakim’s administration actually left N13.3bn of the Bond proceeds to Okorocha administration and it is contained in the hand-over notes. I was challenged to prove it by posting or downloading the hand-over notes from Ohakim to Okorocha. When I informed the members of the page that hand-over notes privileged document that only could be made public ten years after, I was simply not believed by about 65% of the members of the page.
The reason the issue of the N13.3bn Bond proceeds came up was the constant lambasting the administration I served was taking because of the Oguta Wonder Lake project on this face book page. A certain operative of the so called Rescue Mission had gotten most of the followers of the page to believe that Governor Ohakim took 40 Billion Naira from the Bond market and embezzled it. The operative of Rescue Mission even posted a picture of an empty field claiming that it was Ikedi Ohakim’s Wonder Lake project.
Less than 10% of the members of the page believed that only N18.5bn bond money was accessed by the Ohakim’s administration. This means that about June of 2012, 90% of the public still believed that Ohakim’s administration actually accessed the entire N40bn Bond approved for Imo State by the capital market. The propaganda campaign against the Ohakim’s administration was so effective that even educated and enlightened imolites believed it. I had the most difficult time convincing anyone that only N18.5bn was taken in the first tranche, and out of the N18.5bn, only N5.2bn was expended, leaving N13.3bn.
Few months after the fact that N13.3bn in bond proceeds was actually left by the Ohakim’s administration, Sun Newspaper reported a story where the Commissioner for Finance admitted that such proceeds of the first tranche of the Bond was left by the Ohakim’s administration and the administration of Okorocha has petitioned the Securities and Exchange Commission for change of purpose.
This is possibly what led the authorities to commence their investigation on the Bond proceeds. Once the investigation was commenced and it was discovered that the proceeds lodged in an income yielding account in United Bank for Africa (UBA) had been withdrawn even before the granting of change of purpose by the Security and Exchange Commission. It raised eyebrows.
On Sunday, January 27, 2013, we were officially told of the granting of variance to apply the bond proceed in building of schools and the 27 hospitals. Responding to this official announcement, I raised some questions in my column of January 30 2013. The first question I raised was, could the administration apply for a change of purpose without first forwarding an executive amendment to the bond law?
I raised this question because I am aware that the authority to proceed to the capital market for bond was reduced to a law which detailed the uses for the proceeds of the bond. Logic therefore makes it elementary that for the purpose of the proceeds to be changed, there must be an amendment to the law to evidence the change.
On the same Wednesday January 30 2013 that this question was asked in my column, the House sat and passed some type of amendment to the Community Government Council Law thereby giving the executive the authority to appoint Transition Committee in the Community Government Council. After the passage of the Amendment to the Community Government Council Law, the House completed its legislative business of the day and the members present, dispersed.
Later on the same day, I received a call that eleven members of the House (APGA legislators) reconvened to pass an amendment to the bond Law since I had raised the question and it was published on the back page of that day’s Nigerian Horn Newspaper. During the course of the illegal sitting to pass this bond amendment, I was told that some pranksters started shouting that EFCC operatives are coming and once the legislators heard this shouting, they took to their heels.
It is important to recall that PDP legislators were away in Abuja while all these were going on. The APGA legislators must have thought that this was their only opportunity to cover-up any and all questions relating to the N13.3bn bond proceeds, if actually this story is true.
Without an amendment to the bond law or some type of a resolution there remains a vital missing link in the avarice granted.
Another question raised in the said article of my Wednesday column was in relation to the uses for which the bond proceeds were claimed to have been applied. I raised the question regarding the claim that part of the proceeds of the bond was applied to the 27 hospital currently being built in the 27 Local Government Areas of the State. I raised the question of the original 18 hospitals leased to a hospital management company and asked what exactly the amount that these state hospitals were leased is and for how long? Additionally, I asked what the funds derived from the lease was used for?
The next day being Thursday January 31 2013, I received a long text from a reader of my column who answered the above question regarding the hospitals. The text was more than seven pages long. It stated that the boss of Lanteck Solutions Nig. Ltd is the person of Alhaji Husaini Bokane from Niger State. That the Financiers of Lanteck are retired Northern Generals led by the former Head of State – Gen. Ibrahim Babangida. That these Generals wanted to use Lanteck to launder their ill gotten money in a legitimate people oriented business.
The arrangement for the lease of the State 18 hospitals was for N17bn for 20 years, but the proceeds of the agreement was to be used to build the 27 hospitals in the 27 Local Government Areas of the state. Upon reaching this agreement, the construction of the twenty seven hospitals commenced. But soon after, Governor O korocha demanded to be handed-over the proceeds of the agreement so that only him could control the contracting involved in the building of the twenty seven hospitals. The financiers refused to do so and this is the reason responsible for the stoppage of work in the construction of the hospitals for over six months now. The text went further to state that the claim that proceeds of the Bond was applied in the ongoing construction of the hospital is false because every penny expended in the ongoing construction of the 27 hospitals had been from the financiers of Lanteck as part of the lease agreement entered between Lanteck and Imo State government.
The text further stated that may be the honourable Commissioner for Finance, made a mistake by including the hospitals in the project for which the administration applied the Bond proceeds.
The text also said that the business romance between Gen. Ibrahim Babaginda and the Governor of Imo State started with this hospital deal. Ever since then, Babaginda had been a permanent fixture on the Governor’s major public functions like his birth day celebration late last year, and the celebration of his daughter’s marriage early this year.
But the business romance between these two had hit a snag, since the insistence of the Governor to change the terms of the agreement giving him control of the money and the contracts for the building of the hospitals.
Now, whether this story is true, only the administration and Lanteck can say. I could not verify this story myself; however there may be some kernel of truth to the story. For one, the construction of these hospitals has been suspended for some time now that the site of the entire 27 hospitals look like abandoned projects. We are now into the third or fourth month of continuous dry season and yet nothing is happening at the construction sites of these hospitals. This is what we lawyers call circumstantial evidence of the truth.
Furthermore several pundits had complained that the hospitals were being constructed by non-indigene contractors mostly from the North. If this is true, the fact that Lanteck is building the hospitals from the proceeds of the lease agreement may explain the use of Northern contractors since Lanteck itself is a northern outfit.
Nwaorie river dredging propaganda was used to paint Ohakim and his administration as a bunch of financially irresponsible goons running Imo State. It has been about four years since the propaganda was started, and in spite of the fact that Nwaorie River dredging is a Federal NDDC project, the propaganda does not seem to abate.
One of the so termed white elephant project by the so called Joint Action Group (JAG) in their press conference after their sponsored demonstration was the Nwaorie River project. Anybody driving from Control Post to Bank Road can visibly see the sign-post bolding stating that the dredging project is NDDC project but this had not stopped the propaganda.
It was the success of the Nwaorie River dredging false propaganda of financial irresponsibility by Ohakim and his administration that led to the false heaping of financial rascality on Ohakim’s administration.
When the Okorocha intentionally stated that Ohakim left a 100bn debt burden, and that Ohakim’s government house spent N150m a day, he was just furthering the same false propaganda of financial irresponsibility started by others with the Nwaorie River dredging. So admitting that Ohakim left N13.3bn of bond proceeds will go contrary to the propaganda of financial irresponsibility on the part of Ohakim. This explains the genesis of the denial of the N13.3bn bond proceeds.
The denial of this bond proceeds has in turn led to the discovery of its usage possibly before obtaining a variance from SEC. This in turn has opened the can of warns and the financial irresponsibility of the Okorocha’s administration.
The public now know that Ohakim left in excess of N22bn to Okorocha and people are now asking what exactly were these huge sums used for. With every attempt to cover-up, Imo government only opens itself to a vista of legal questions. If the cover-up should continue, a lot more officials of Imo Government will find themselves in the net of EFCC. May be no crime have yet been committed, but cover-up eventually involve the commission of a crime and members of the Imo House of Assembly and all Imo senior civil servants should all be aware that none of them is covered by any type of immunity under our constitution.
The political ramifications of using ones office to cover-up a mistake or misdeed is a crime and the conviction of a crime is the death nail on any political career.
Just something to think about before the next round of covering-up begins.
Imo must be returned back into the hands of God.
Dr. Kelechi Okpalaeke.