Oby Ezekwesili’s Gaffe, By Tony Ademiluyi

Obiageli Ezekwesili came to national prominence when she was the Special Assistant on Budget Monitoring more popularly known as Due Process between 1999 and 2005 under the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo. She was said to have saved the nation billions of dollars in over inflated contracts and even once quipped that she could hardly afford to pay the house rent of her aged parents and was at a loss on how to complete the payment for her Harvard education. Such a person was extremely rare in a nation riven by graft and corrupt enrichment and it was no surprise that she later became the pioneer World Bank Vice-President for Africa after she left office. This certainly was good news and good image laundering as our rating by Transparency International at the time was at its lowest ebb. In a twist of irony, she was among the co-founders of the global anti-corruption rating body.

She raised dust last year when she alleged that about $67 billion developed wings during the Jonathan led administration. The powers that be didn’t find this funny at all as it even led to a collision course between her and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the de facto Prime Minister of the country who doubles as the Finance Minister and Coordinating Minister of the Economy who defended the government and cleared it of any wrongdoing. Her alarm was buttressed by a stinker which Professor Chukwuma Soludo, the ex-Central Bank Governor wrote which alluded to the gargantuan corruption of the outgoing government.

It was disheartening when she opined in an interview granted by Al-Jazeera’s Hard Talk that there was no evidence of corruption against the government of Olusegun Obasanjo. She was quoted to have said “I really like empirical evidence and right now you don’t have any. You just assumed.” She went on further to debunk the insinuations making the rounds that the Obasanjo government was more corrupt than Abacha’s. “There was no way it could have been more corrupt than the government of Abacha. I am sorry.”

It is an open secret that Obasanjo ran one of the most corrupt governments in the history of Nigeria – both military and civilian. When he was released from Abacha’s gulag in 1998, his farm which was acquired with questionable funds was

doddering on the verge of bankruptcy. It got suddenly transformed into a multi-million dollar empire in less than a decade as revealed by his erstwhile Special Assistant on Public Affairs, Femi Fani-Kayode who told a bewildered nation that the wonder farm was raking in 30 million naira monthly – a pointer to the fact that miracles do exist in Nigeria. His acquisition of 600 million naira shares in the Transnational Corporation was a monumental case of corruption. How did he get the funds for such a huge purchase? To douse the public outcry, he sold a dummy that it was done through a blind trust. His presidential library valued at billions of naira was openly done while he was still in office. That was a clear nauseating case of a conflict of interest as he used his enormous powers at his disposal to arm twist the corporate bodies to be generous with their donations. Under normal circumstances, he ought to have waited to have left office before embarking on such a mission if he felt he would still be sufficiently popular. There were two reports of either $10 billion or $16 billion disappearing from the power sector when frivolous and unexecuted contracts were indiscriminately awarded to fraudulent contractors. Obasanjo also owned up to some smuggled dollars found in Andy Uba’s private jet and said it was meant for the purchase for some equipment for his famous Otta farm. According to Jeffrey Tessler who has been convicted, the former president was said to have been one of the bribe takers in the Halliburton bribe scandal that shook the foundation of the oil and gas industry. How did he get the funds to erect his massive Hill top mansion in the ancient city of Abeokuta?

In a decent society, Obasanjo should be facing trial for grave corruption allegations. Alas, we are in a jungle that greatly rewards profligacy and doesn’t ask salient questions as to the acquisition of sudden and obscene wealth. What happened to Mobolaji Osomo, the erstwhile Housing Minister who was booted out for corruption? Did the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission take it up from there? It was ironic that even Nuhu Ribadu the first chairman of the EFCC which was a mere front for the witch hunting of Baba Iyabo’s adversaries admitted to the mind boggling corruption of his former boss’s regime. Mallam Nasir El-Rufai who served the regime as the Director-General of the Bureau for Public Enterprises and Minister for the Federal Capital Territory revealed the

reality of the corruption scourge in his highly controversial book whose publication generated ripples across the nation and had the status of an international best seller.

Nobody has castigated Madam Oby for serving a corrupt government as she has not been found wanting. The Late Dora Akunyili’s international prominence was facilitated by a corrupt regime but that didn’t dent her global image. However to insult the collective intelligence of Nigerians that the Obasanjo government was akin to a Sainthood is taking the expensive joke too far.

Let us call a spade a spade!

Tony Ademiluyi


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