Sunday, September 30, 2007
Open Letter to Madam Speaker
Dear Madam Speaker, I have followed your travails in the past five weeks with keen interest and although I have been one of your more ardent critics, I must admit that you have put into the matter, a lot of energy and determination and you have shown uncommon courage. It is natural for you as a human being to stand up and defend something you have worked for all your life. To make the transition from a beauty shop to the No 4 position in the country is no easy feat. But it is also a mark of virtue to realise when you have been beaten, when the game is truly up.
Every human being should pray for three things, and you Madam should take this to heart: the hindsight to know where you are coming from, the foresight to know where you are going and the insight to know when you have gone too far. I believe Madam Speaker that you are just about to take one more step too far in the current scandal of your office's attempt to squander a whopping sum of N238 million on the renovation of the Speaker's House. Or is it a grand total of N638 million (?) - to cover that expenditure plus the renovation of the Deputy Speaker's House and the purchase of vehicles for Principal officers of the House of Representatives.
Madam, I'll like to score you highly on effort. But I am sorry, the combined effect of whatever you may have done so far has been totally negated by the Idoko panel report and the verdict of the court of public opinion. The nine-man Idoko panel presented its report a few days ago. The chief message of that report is that you have been found to be an incompetent leader. According to the Idoko panel, "due process" was not followed in the award of the renovation and furnishing contracts.
The panel pointed out that the tender for the contracts was not advertised, no bill of quantities and drawings were prepared, there was no provision for the expenditure in the 2007 budget, the companies that were given contracts are illegal entities that are unknown to the Corporate Affairs Commission. You told the panel and Nigerians that the N238 million was meant for the renovation of about eight houses in the Speaker's compound, but the panel found that the contract that was awarded was only for the Main House. You told the panel that the Clerk of the House and his team acted on their own. The panel found that you in fact gave written instructions to the Clerk to act as directed by you. The panel added that the basis for arriving at the sum of N238 million can not be established. And that the House that you want renovated was actually renovated in 2005. What this panel has done is to tell Nigerians that the No 4 Citizen of Nigeria is a liar and a lawbreaker. It is a deep and a sharp cut.
In response you and your supporters have been saying that the panel has not indicted you and that only the House can declare you guilty or not. Some people have also said that the panel has not made any recommendations because it was not given the mandate to do so. With due respect. I will like to put it to you that you have, in fact, been indicted by the Idoko panel. The legal meaning of indictment is not guilt but that you have a case to answer, in other words a prima facie case has been established against you. And looking at the proof of evidence, the case is a bad one indeed. You may argue that nobody has accused you of embezzling money, at least not yet.
But corruption is not just about taking money, the abuse of due process with the intent to manipulate the system in one's favour is also an act of corruption. Your case is worsened by the fact that everything has been conducted in the open. You were given the benefit of fair hearing and Nigerians have all been able to assess the evidence. Indeed, if the Idoko panel had sat in camera, perhaps it would have been possible for the nine members to help cover up the scam. But what the nine lawmakers have done is to protect their own integrity by placing all the cards face up. They are all looking good.
Madam Speaker, one newspaper has written that you are "close to the brink". You don't have to wait until you are pushed off the cliff. The Honourable thing to do now is to resign. With the Idoko panel report there is no other story that you can tell Nigerians. Politics is often described as the art of the possible and here in Nigeria, politicians take this literally to heart. But with the benefit of hindsight, you can easily realize that one of the bitter lessons that some of our politicians have had to learn is that certain things are impossible. Like Obasanjo's Third Term, for example.
Should you continue to stay in office as Speaker, you will create a bigger moral dilemma for yourself. You cannot sit as Speaker when the report is to be debated. To do so would amount to being a judge in your own case! If the House allows that to stand, the Nigerian public will point out the contradiction. With you as Speaker, the media will continue to haunt that House and insist on your impeachment. You will become the issue rather than the business of legislation being the focus. Staying on stubbornly and claiming that resignation means an admission of guilt is just being foolhardy.
Searching for succor in New York
Reprieve will not be coming the way of detained CEO of UNIGATE investments, Sam Iwuajoku anytime soon, as lawyers of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) obtained a court order to keep Mr. Iwuajoku in detention pending the determination of investigations concerning cases of economic sabotage and money laundering leveled against him.
Sam Iwuajoku, who is a business partner of Alhaji Aliko Dangote, was arrested last week for scamming the Federal authorities in Nigeria to the tune of N100 billion naira in unpaid import duties. In conjunction with former president Obasanjo and his top aides, Mr. Sam Iwuajoku obtained series of import duty waivers under the pretext of building power plants in the troubled Niger Delta region; however Saharareporters investigations showed that Mr. Iwuajoku was never involved in building power plants in the Niger Delta region.
Investigators told Saharareporters that the accused person was merely scamming the nation to import steel and rice that have no bearing to the purpose for which the duty waivers were granted in the first place. Before his arrest last week, Mr. Iwuajoku arranged for his private jet to be ferried out of Nigeria before the EFCC could lay their hands on it.
Also, four high caliber automatic weapons with several rounds ammunition were found in his house in Lagos. He has named top customs officials as well as Governor Bukola Saraki of Kwara State as his partners in the scam.
He reportedly mentioned that former senior aide to Obasanjo, Mr. Emmanuel “Andy” Uba was facilitating the import duty waivers from the office of the former president. Mr. Andy Uba and Aliko Dangote were both seen together in New York on Monday September 24th 2007 apparently on a trouble-shooting mission to save Sam Iwuajoku, sources at the Millennium UN Plaza Hotel where Yar'adua camped said he had series of meetings with some of the controversial businessmen who are subject of various degrees of money laundering investigations. This include, Mr. Mike Adenuga, the fugitive CEO of telecoms giant, GLOBACOM who currently lives in London after he fled from the Nigeria after he was arrested by the EFCC over his role in the PDTF scams.
This is coming on the heels of a declaration by the Federal finance minister earlier today that the Federal government will investigate past abuses of import duty waivers granted by the last administration of president Obasanjo.
Also in Aba today, the EFCC submitted its defense against the lawsuit brought by former Abia State governor, Orji Uzor Kalu which had become a subject of controversy between the Attorney General office and the EFCC. A source at the EFCC told Saharareporters that after submitting their defense to contest the lawsuit, the Judge adjourned the case till October 31st 2007 for further hearing. Contrary to the position of the Attorney General of the Federation, the Abia High Court judge did not discuss any issues regarding “contempt” of court at the proceedings. Lawyers to Orji Uzor Kalu also said they did not file any contempt proceedings yet against the EFCC. They also confirmed that the AG was never party to the suit from the onset.
Saturday, September 29, 2007
EFCC ready for Madam Speaker
Following the reports of the House of Representatives N628 Million contract scam probe committee that indicted the leadership of the House, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission is said to have indicated interest to prosecute all found wanting by the reports.
But the speaker in her desperate bid to remain in office, last night met with some top notch of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP to begin a last minute move to save her job and avoid being prosecuted by the anti-graft body.
A very reliable source at the EFCC told pointblanknews.com over the phone that the body is currently studying the reports and would determine how to go about prosecuting those indicted in the contract scam.
"We have seen the reports and we are studying all the findings of the probe panel. As soon as we are done we would come up with how best to go about our business of prosecuting those involved." The source told Pointblanknews.com over the phone.
The source who prefer to be anonymous said that "our job is to fight financial crimes anywhere found in Nigeria regardless of who is involved and we would not hesitate as soon as we study the report of the committee to invite those found guilty and charging them appropriately according to the laws of the land."
Asked if permission would have to be sought from the office of the Attorney General before it begins the process of prosecuting those involved in the contract scam, the EFCC official stated that "we are going to work within the laws that gave us the powers to prosecute anyone found in any form of financial crimes."
However, the Speaker, Mrs. Etteh has engaged the services of some lawyers to study the reports and advise her on the next line of action to save her from prosecution. Sources hinted that soon after she met with some leaders of the PDP last night over the reports, a team of lawyers led by a Senior Advocate of Nigeria whose name could not be ascertained as at the time of going to press were mandated to do a critical study of the reports and recommend to the speaker the next line of defence.
Earlier, while meeting with some PDP chieftains, Etteh was said to have been assured that the PDP caucus in the House would be persuaded in another meeting to be scheduled to save the Speaker from impeachment and prosecution.
A PDP source at the meeting told pointblanknews.com that "this is a family issue and we are going to find the best way to settle the issue and everyone would be happy at the end."
Without a doubt, Madam Speaker can sure use all the prayers and incantations she ever learnt how to recite... yup!
Friday, September 28, 2007
Compare and contrast
Compare these two amounts of money: N686 million and N628 million. The first (about Euro 3.9 million) is the amount the European Union is reportedly making available for the provision of clean water and sanitation in 12 towns and communities of Enugu and Jigawa states. The second figure is the alleged value of contracts for renovation of official residences and purchase of cars for some officers of the House of Representatives. Spot the difference. Foreign donors are funding water supply and sanitation with N686 million in a country in which N628 million is allegedly to be spent in renovating official residences of two public office holders and purchase of some official cars.
Thursday, September 27, 2007
An inconsequential ex-president's life of scorn
These days, scorn and derision follow former President Obasanjo everywhere he goes. Such was the case a week and a half ago when his car broke down on the Lagos–Ibadan highway. His security detail scrambled to ferry him away to safety.
That same day, he was in Ibadan to preside at the official launching of a remodeled Mapo Hall. He was largely ignored by prominent Ibadan indigenes, including the Olubadan and other traditional rulers, who boycotted the event. The ancient city’s elite had earlier accused the former president of destroying their domain. During his eight-year administration, Obasanjo had empowered the geriatric thug called Lamidi Adedibu to make Oyo State strife-torn and ungovernable.
Internationally, Obasanjo has also suffered scorn and isolation. As a way of mobilizing international censure of the former president, former South African president, Nelson Mandela, personally ensured that Obasanjo was not invited to a group of prominent African head of states and citizens he constituted.
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair also visited the same humiliation on Obasanjo by dis-inviting him to a crucial meeting of the African Commission. Blair fell short of outright removal of Obasanjo from the august body. Bob Geldoff, working with Professor Wole Soyinka, had threatened not to attend the commission’s meeting if Obasanjo was invited. After the meeting held, Kofi Annan, the former UN Secretary General, was dispatched to Abeokuta to meet with Obasanjo. Annan’s brief was to register the group's disappointment with Obasanjo’s role in rigging the April 2007 elections, reckoned by many observers as the worst election in history.
Early this week, Obasanjo sneaked into the U.S. on his first visit since leaving office in May. One of his handlers, who spoke to us anonymously, said the former president was in the U.S. to “show the ropes to Yar’adua,” his self-selected successor. “To tell you the truth, we made sure to downplay his visit—in fact to keep it secret—to avoid Nigerian and other protesters trooping out to embarrass the man.”
Prior to this “secret” trip, Obasanjo had ventured only to the safe havens of Jamaica, where he is involved in real estate development as well as the building of a refinery, and Tanzania, which he visited at the invitation of President Kikwete. Andrew Young and Carl Masters, two shady lobbyists with vast business dealings with Obasanjo and Kikwete, facilitated Obasanjo’s trips to both countries.
Saharareporters’ sources said Obasanjo went to Tanzania to prevail on the President of Tanzania to fund the next generation of the controversial Leon Sullivan Summits that had held twice back-to-back in
Andrew Young hasn't rested in reviving an isolated and depressed Obasanjo and smuggling him back onto the international scene, the former president's most beloved forte. After a series of moves to convince the skeptical world, Andrew Young and his lobbyists got Obasanjo to be a participant at the Clinton Global Initiative conference that commenced today in New York.
For the fear of being caught in his private jet, Obasanjo decided to board a British Airways flight out
of Lagos on Sunday night; he was the last to board the London-bound flight.
One passenger on the flight told Saharareporters that the former president got the shock of his life on the flight. “I can tell you that Obasanjo was just ignored by other passengers in the first class cabin,” said the source that declined to be named. “When he came on the flight, he was grinning from ear-to-ear with the hope that people in the first class cabin would greet him. He was met with cold silence—absolutely ignored—as he made his way to his seat on row 5.” Our source said the same mute treatment was meted out to the Obasanjo as disembarked.
Obasanjo arrived New York on Monday night and is billed to attend the Clinton Global Initiative meetings at the Sheraton Hotel in New York. On Friday he will be in Washington, DC to attend an event organized as part of the Annual Legislative Meetings of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation at the Convention Center.
Though he was invited by the caucus, Obasanjo was not listed as a participant on
the website of the CBCF. In both the Clinton and CBC events, there was an attempt to conceal Obasanjo’s participation. “It’s obvious that the former president is desperately looking to rebound into international reckoning as his ignoble role in rigging the April 2007 general elections continues to haunt him,” said Dr. Peter Okechukwu, a political scientist.
Meanwhile, Nigerians in the Maryland and Washington DC area are planning a surprise protest against Obasanjo on Friday. Saharareporters learnt from one of the planners that moves are going on to disgrace Obasanjo at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation event.
The source declined to disclose the mode the protest would take or the strength of the protesters.
Thursday, September 20, 2007
QUOTE ME: Senator Maeba-- Defending his motion, Senator Maeba argued that the independence of the EFCC was adequately provided for in its enabling powers, adding that the commission's prosecution powers had been affirmed by the Supreme Court.
With EFCC's efforts, "Nigeria's ranking on the Transparency International Perception Index has improved, placing the country 146th out of 163 nations in the world and delisting Nigeria from its blacklist of nations with high records of financial crimes by the United States of America (U.S.)," he noted.
According to Senator Maeba, the face-off had put the present anti-corruption crusade into ridicule because of the utterances of the Attorney-General.
The Chairman, Senate Committee on Drugs, Narcotics, Financial Crimes and Anti-Corruption, Senator Sola Akinyede, on Wednesday expressed doubts over the ability of the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice to effectively prosecute all cases.
Akinyede said this during an address he read at the inauguration of the committee.
He added that he had no doubt that by virtue of Section 174 of the 1999 Constitution, the AGF had the powers to take over the prosecution of all cases being prosecuted by agencies under him.
Akinyede, however, said, “The power not only applies to the cases being prosecuted in all courts including the more than 2,000 Magistrate Courts and area courts all over the 774 local government areas in this country.
“This therefore raises the question whether the office of the AGF has the capacity to effectively exercise its supervisory and prosecutorial powers over all the cases being prosecuted in all these courts.
“I believe that it was because the office of the AFG lacked, and in my opinion still lacks this capacity, and because of the serious threat that these crimes had become to the very existence of our nation that these specialized agencies( EFCC, ICPC and NDLEA) were created.”
He argued that it would be a share waste of time and resources to deploy the nation’s resources to train specialised personnel to man these agencies only to have their functions taken over by another government body.
The chairman said while it was true that some of these agencies were not perfect because they were manned by human beings, it must be acknowledged that the activities of these agencies had improved the image of the country.
In his remarks, the President of the Senate, Senator David Mark, said that whether people were willing to admit it or not, the EFCC had perform creditably.
On drugs he said consumer nations would do well by reducing drug demand.
He said “It is obvious that without rule of law, we can’t deliver dividends of democracy but we cannot encourage rule of law by tolerating corruption.”
END OF QUOTE: In his remarks, Smart Adeyemi declared: "There have been a lot of questionable court orders that have ridiculed the judiciary itself. And the Attorney-General has allowed his personal interest to becloud his sense of justice in this case. The EFCC should not be ridiculed in the name of fighting for the rule of law. The Attorney-General should be told that his duty is not to attack the EFCC on the pages of newspapers."
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
The Attorney-General and graft cases
A Punch Newspapers Editorial of 18 September, 2007.
The open tussle between the Minister of Justice and an anti-graft agency over the prosecution of some governors is sending signals that all is not well with the crusade against corruption. The Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Mr. Michael Aondoakaa and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) have clashed over who conducts the trial of the former governor of Abia State, Chief Orji Kalu, who is standing trial over 100 corruption allegations involving billions of state funds.
EFCC had complained about procedural impropriety in the attempt of the AGF’s office to take over the prosecution of Kalu at an Abuja High Court without prior communication of intention. But the AGF has justified the need to intervene directly in the matter on the administration’s respect for the rule of law and the need for government to obey all judicial orders.
The intervention, the AGF said, was necessary to make the EFCC respect an order of a High Court in Umuahia, Abia State, restraining it from arresting and prosecuting Chief Kalu for alleged offences against the state. The AGF’s action followed a protest to the Presidency by Chief Kalu that the EFCC was disobeying a subsisting court order. The second plank is that the 1999 Constitution empowers the AGF to continue or discontinue any case by any agency in the country.
The AGF’s overriding constitutional power to take-over, continue or discontinue any suit is, not in doubt. What is worrisome is that his direct intervention and visibility may politicise the cases against the high-profile suspects and subvert public interest. The nation’s experience of AGF’s direct involvement in graft cases has been very bitter. When the Justice Ministry intervened directly in the N400 million embezzlement case against Dr. Julius Makanjuola and some Defence Ministry officials, the trial was stopped without any explanation a few days to a High Court judgment on the matter. Therefore, does the AGF want to takeover and continue with Kalu’s trial or does he want to stall and bury the case like that of Makanjuola? The AGF should come out clean.
The undue interference from the AGF’s office in corruption-related cases is already casting doubts on this administration’s determination to fight graft. There are indications as well that the anti-graft agencies are not comfortable with Mr. Aondoakaa’s body language. The Chairman, Independent Corrupt Practices and Related Offences Commission (ICPC), Justice Emmanuel Ayoola, who is a retired Supreme Court justice, remarked last week that the public deserves to know why the AGF is interested in taking over Kalu’s corruption case, adding “there is a lot of suspicion so far on his motive.”
Similarly, the Chairman Code of Conduct Tribunal Justice Constance Momoh has expressed doubt over the government’s willingness to continue the prosecution of former Bayelsa State Governor, Chief Diepreye Alamieyeseigha. Justice Momoh was visibly irritated when government prosecutor strangely claimed that Alamieyeseigha was still ill. The judge advised the AGF’s office to withdraw the case if it has “compromised”, instead of stalling trial by asking for questionable adjournments. On its part, the EFCC has expressed regret that its statutory anti-corruption mandate “is being dragged into a murky political terrain.”
By setting personal examples, President Yar’Adua has demonstrated that his administration is sincere in the battle against official corruption. The actions of the AGF should conform with the high standard of personal integrity which the President has brought into office. Mr. Aondoakaa should not be allowed to bog down the anti-graft crusade with legal technicalities. The public interest is not served when the AGF hides under the guise of the rule of law to stall or bury grave corruption charges.
Friday, September 14, 2007
A Paradise gone to hell
Gunmen struck the second time in three days in Rivers State and kidnapped a two and a half-year-old girl, Nuseyba Usman on Wednesday night from her home near Port Harcourt.
Already, the hoodlums have demanded a N5million ransom from the baby’s parents.
The little daughter of a staffer of Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), Mr. Anibasa Usman, was kidnapped at about 10.30pm by the gunmen who raided their NNPC Housing Estate residence at Aleto Eleme near the Rivers State capital.
It was gathered that the gunmen numbering about 10, raided several homes in the estate and made away with the girl and valuables of residents, including mobile phone sets, jewelry and cash.
The father of the girl, Mr. Usman, amidst suppressed sob said in an interview that he was surprised that the gunmen went away with his baby even though he gave them all they wanted.
"I am appealing to them because I was very very cooperative. They asked for everything they wanted and I gave them. They asked me to give them the phone, the money, I obeyed.
"I have no problem with anybody so, I am so surprised that they had to go and take a two and half-year-old girl that does not know anything."
A highly disturbed Usman passionately appealed to, "whosoever is concerned" to send back his daughter to him.
"I appeal to them. I know people are looking for ways to make money. I can understand that. I know the country is not easy but this is just a little baby. She is just in pre-nursery… we are all young men and I don’t think I have done any wrong to anybody to deserve that."
The grieving father said that the kidnappers were demanding N5million but he could not afford the amount.
Meanwhile, the 12 gunmen who abducted the cousin of the state chairman of the Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria (IPMAN), Mr. Dimbara Dimkpa from his Woji residence in Port Harcourt last Monday night have scaled down their ransom to 2 million.
The IPMAN boss who said that the amount was beyond him, said they had initially demanded N12million.
INDICATIONS have emerged that some foreign donors are becoming worried over the sustainability of the anti-graft war in Nigeria following the recent altercation between the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Michael Andoakaa and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
Specifically, sources close to some international donors in the United States (U.S.), said with the internal rancour going on within the Nigerian government regarding the style and means of operations of the EFCC, their focus may be shifting towards the Independent and Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), which has recently announced its preparedness to name an independent counsel.
Incidentally, the Attorney-General and the EFCC chairman have both been invited by the New York-based Nigerian Lawyers Association to address the lawyers yearly dinner. This year's dinner is coming up tomorrow.
Ribadu would be the keynote speaker, while the AG would also be speaking at the dinner, which attracts very top Federal Government officials and distinguish Nigerians yearly.
Last week, two Nigerian lawyers, Femi Falana and Kayode Oladele in a statement in the U.S. objected to the plans of the ICPC to create the office of independent counsel, a move sources close to a US-based international donor said reflected the ongoing worry over the EFCC's fate among donor bodies.
But another Nigerian lawyer based in Washington, DC, a certified U.S. special consultant on Nigerian laws, Emmanuel Ogebe, argued that the need for an independent counsel was now imperative to move forward the anti-corruption efforts in Nigeria.
According to Ogebe in a brief statement, the solution to the jurisdictional concern between ICPC, EFCC and the Attorney-General's office lies in the appointment of an independent counsel who will consolidate and coordinate as a corruption clearing house and czar in Nigeria.
Ogebe added that the funding is critical and should be made available for such an independent counsel basically as a means to keep Nigeria's anti-corruption war constitutionally grounded.
Donor community sources have said that it was not difficult to interpret the debate over the need for the creation of an independent counsel in Nigeria as partly a funding and turf battle since the Independent Counsel would take out a substantial chunk of what the EFCC is currently doing.
Falana and Oladele said the establishment of the office of independent counsel in Nigeria would be a duplication of the role of the EFCC.
The current dispute between the Attorney-General of the Federation, and the EFCC over the means the anti-corruption agency was conducting its business may affect international support and funding that the EFCC has been getting.
There is concern in the international donor community that there seems to be deep internal cleavages regarding the EFCC, and there are conflicting signals from different Nigerian government sources on the means of prosecuting the anti-corruption war.
At the peak of the crusading role of the EFCC, the agency had made tremendous inroads internationally that it is fast becoming a model on an international scale for anti-corruption management and planning. But recent claims that the agency itself may have been abusing the rule of law is beginning to be noticed by international donors, many of which have continuing funding programmes with the EFCC.
Diplomatic and official sources said that most of the foreign donors, including the European Union (EU), UNDP, UN, USAID and other western countries like Canada and the Netherlands were fully aware of the misunderstanding that had developed between the EFCC and the new Attorney-General bordering on the prevalence of the rule of law.
For instance, the EU sources said it had committed about $32 million to the EFCC since 2003, while the UN through its office of Drug and Crime recently signed a $700,000 funding agreement with the EFCC.
"Other international donors and agencies actively backing the EFCC include the World Bank. Sources added that the strength of the EFCC among international donors is its perception as an independent anti-graft agency securing results through a lawful pursuit of official looters and curtailing systemic corruption in Nigeria."
However, some of the donors are now said to have become confused with the claims also coming from Nigerian government officials that the EFCC have in the past adopted extra-judicial means against some of those that have been prosecuted.
Some international donors are unsure who to believe. Others attribute the development to the change of administration, while many have now mandated their Nigerian offices to pay greater attention to the deeper currents of the dispute between the EFCC and the Office of the Attorney General.
Sources added that President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua's rising perception as an ardent defender of the rule of law has only complicated the situation for EFCC in some international circles.
Before now, a review of the anti-corruption agencies in some selected developing countries including Nigeria, Vietnam, and South Korea conducted by U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Center in Norway, a centre affiliated with the Transparency International rated EFCC very high but observed that critics have accused the government of interfering in particular with the activities of the ICPC.
Of the EFCC, the report said it has gained more credibility with the public for its effectiveness, while the ICPC according to the report has been criticised for not being sufficiently proactive.
© 2003 - 2007 @ Guardian Newspapers Limited (All Rights Reserved).
Thursday, September 13, 2007
By Seyi Olu Awofeso
NIGERIA'S Minister of Justice and attorney-general, Michael Aondoakaa, has been flexing a muscular erection lately, and is about now getting into the mood of shredding an already frail, public trust in President Yar'Adua's ability to prosecute official thefts without self-imposed restraints over his concerns for the political status of the accused persons.
The attorney-general last week issued a statement saying he wants to preserve a "prohibitive injunction" issued by a state high court in Umuahia, so as to avoid his own committal to prison as the attorney-general in breach. And so, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) must be pushed out of court, and stopped from prosecuting ex-Governor Orji Uzor Kalu, said the hilarious attorney-general. In terms, the injunction at issue states that no one should arrest (or prosecute?) ex-Governor Orji Uzor Kalu, pending a determination of a Civil Rights case that Kalu had filed in Umuhaia, which case may take several years to decide; and is thus tantamount to impunity, when placed against the criminal charge filed by the EFCC, that ex-Governor Kalu, along with his mother, stole close to N20 billion of Abia State funds.
Attorney-General Aondoakaa, however, did not say he was looking at the justification or legality of the injunction itself; as he ought to, or that he intends to intervene in the Umuahia state high court, so as to have the injunction set aside. Merely affirming without critiquing the Umuahia state court's injunction exposes this vignette as another foil on the probable intent of the attorney-general to side-step the substantive matter of financial corruption underlying this case.
So far, there is no concrete step taken by President Yar'Adua as convincing proof that this administration is combating or will seriously fight corruption. For no sooner a corruption matter arises than the Yar'Adua administration invokes a procedural reason, for non-action, as happened again a fortnight ago, over the N638 million renovation expenses of the Speaker of the House of Representatives. Under Nigerian law, a House committee's investigation is not a condition-precedent to Police or EFCC's arrest, investigation or prosecution of the Speaker for (suspected) financial corruption.
President Yar'Adua, however, publicly mis-stated the law as firstly requiring a House Committee's investigation. Such a complete mis-understanding of the legal notion of due process is fraught. And worse; it is curious that the invocation of "rule of law" by Yar'Adua's administration has always been made in clearly defensive contexts, and invariably; always redounding to the benefit, freedom, and, sometimes, escape of criminally indicted persons.
An attorney-general who intends to uphold the public good by combating corruption could have begun his "intervention against the EFCC" with an affidavit of urgency, filed before the Umuahia state high court; showing the egregious nature of the injunction granted ex-Governor Kalu, and demonstrating the (urgent) intent of Yar'Adua's government to argue to have that injunction re-considered for cancellation.
Nigeria's attorney-general, however, took neither of those sensible steps which would have properly laid the foundation for his seamless takeover of the case from the EFCC, without his legal nitpicking at press conferences, or, the fisticuffs of his DPP in open court. For all that, and while still hesitating to draw the inference of a likely complicity by President Yar'Adua in all of this predictable muzzling of corruption cases in Nigeria; done by bringing corruption case files under President Yar'Adua's political control, it is at least certain that the injunction issued by the state high court in Umuahia will be further assessed by the international legal community, for its consistency or otherwise with Nigeria's current rating as a country with the 10th most corrupt judiciary in the world.
* Awofeso is a legal practitioner in Lagos
© 2003 - 2007 @ Guardian Newspapers Limited (All Rights Reserved).
The Attorney General's Agenda
By Kunle Sanyaolu
AGAINST the backdrop of legal and constitutional reforms proposed by the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Mr. Michael Kause Aondoakaa (SAN), the recent government's takeover of the trial of former Abia State Governor, Orji Uzor Kalu is interesting. The incident reportedly caused a drama at the Federal High Court Abuja, as lawyers from the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) traded words with the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) who represented the attorney-general. A curiosity thus raised is whether the proceedings is any pointer to the reservation earlier expressed by some citizens about government's policy to supervise the prosecution responsibility of crime-fighting agencies such as the EFCC, the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) and the Code of Conduct Bureau. The Federal Government had relied on certain rules in the EFCC laws and those of the other agencies' empowering the federal attorney general to oversee them. This was in addition to the attorney general's power, under section 174 of the 1999 Constitution, to initiate, take over or discontinue criminal proceedings against any person, in the public interest. The power to discontinue such proceedings at any stage of proceedings is otherwise called the power to enter nolle prosecui. The AGF had seemingly given the advice on alleged premise that the agencies, particularly the EFCC, were abusing their authority. That policy came on stream at a time the EFCC was strenuously trying to prosecute about four former governors alleged to have corruptly enriched themselves and laundered public money. However, the policy provoked a public uproar, following perception that the ex-governors were seeking to undermine the EFCC and evade trial. Naturally, people remembered that before he became the justice minister, Aondoakaa was in the legal team of prominent politicians and public office holders. The public uproar was so much that government retracted within 24 hours, saying it had no intention of stifling EFCC's work, despite section 174.
Coming only a couple of weeks after the approbation and reprobation, the AGF's intervention in Kalu's trial is bound to rekindle previous suspicion. According to news reports, lawyers from the EFCC, led by Mr. Adebisi Adeniyi, dutifully announced their presence as prosecutors, as they had done in previous sessions in the case. They were surprised when the DPP in the person of Mr. Salihu Aliyu announced representation for the AGF also as prosecutor. Adeniyi complained that the EFCC had no prior notice of the attorney general's take over bid; and that the manner of the take over in open court was untidy. The DPP would have none of the complaints, as he posited that not only was the Federal Government a party in the case, the AGF is undisputedly the number one law officer in every criminal case. By virtue of that and section 174 of the Constitution, he emphasised, he could come into any criminal case at any stage. The exchange was hot enough for Mr. Justice Babs Kuewumi, the sitting judge, to stand the case down for 10 minutes to allow cooling of temper. The EFCC lawyers withdrew. But Aliyu's subsequent explanation to the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), that the AGF was not taking over the case and that he only came to clarify some grey areas probably compounded his action and perhaps reinforced public reservation. Aliyu said his action was based on a petition by Kalu's lawyer, Chief Livy Uzoukwu to President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua to the effect that the EFCC was prosecuting in disregard of a subsisting order of an Abia High Court restraining the commission from arresting,, detaining and prosecuting Kalu.
Considering the comprehensive provisions of the EFCC Act, it is curious in the first place that a court could issue an order stopping it from arresting, detaining and prosecuting anybody. That order was reportedly issued on May 31, when obviously Kalu no longer had immunity under section 308 from prosecution. The functions of arresting, detaining and prosecuting form the kernel of EFCC's legal existence. The EFCC of course can be called to order or restrained from carrying out any act, if the court considers that the commission has in any way exceeded its legal bound. But the AGF's intervention in Kalu's case stands the risk of being interpreted as an attempt to assume judicial authority. Ordinarily, court issues orders to be complied with, not in vain. But the court should be in a position to enforce its order and compel compliance. In the Kalu case, we can take cognizance that the EFCC is a powerful organisation that may not easily be compelled. But it is not above the law, and in fact should be seen to respect judicial order. If the EFCC falls short of this, there are probably ways to bring it to order. One, the President can direct the commission's attention to the order with a view to complying. This will not require the AGF to come to court and bully the EFCC. The commission may in fact appeal. Besides, Kalu, through his lawyers, can bring the EFCC's alleged disobedience of court order to the judge, who will then prescribe appropriate sanction.
The AGF or his representative, the DPP did not indicate readiness to continue Kalu's case, even though they gave no specific indication of discontinuance. Kalu's subsequent applications for discharge and vacation of bail terms stand adjourned following the absence of the DPP's counter affidavit. One hopes that the development will not occasion undue delay in trial, as such can also constitute a violation of the right to fair trial. The AGF should have pressured the EFCC to observe fair hearing rather than taking over a case and then fail to respond firmly and quickly. That attitude can also strengthen the belief that the AGF has ulterior motive over his interest in the trial of former governors. Why for instance hasn't the AGF reacted similarly to thousands of criminal cases pending and for which accused persons are being inordinately detained? Is it because the persons involved are ordinary Nigerians without the clout of former governors? Nigerian laws make no distinction between a former governor and other citizens. The AGF therefore needs be careful in applying the law, else he lays himself open to accusation of being discriminatory. Moreover, the AGF should recognise that Nigerians are not enthused with government's professed anti-corruption campaign, where this does not lead to arrest and prosecution of erring officers. Neither are they impressed that public officers convicted for looting public treasury are let off after spending a few weeks in jail. Before May 29, the EFCC had issued statements indicting as many as 29 of 36 governors for alleged financial crime and corruption. Several months later, only three or four have been charged. Nigerians expect the AGF to be in the vanguard of prosecuting as many ex-governors as possible, not to be the agent to stall their trial. If indeed the AGF is interested in anti-corruption, shouldn't he be filing fresh charges, even in collaboration with EFCC? So far, the AGF hasn't filed any charge.
Certainly, the AGF needs to exercise some circumspection. It is not a good omen for him that he started on a controversial note, particularly with the EFCC. The commission had been overbearing, and probably exceeded permissible bounds in discharging its duties. The AGF should not, in attempting to correct that misdemeanor, kill the concept of anti-corruption drive particularly against public officers who abused their offices. Mr. Aondoakaa has set a critical agenda for himself in the areas of enforcement of fundamental human rights, protection of all law-abiding citizens, obtaining redress for injustice, prison reforms, loss of faith in the legal system and anti-corruption. He will need more than rhetoric to succeed, because a lot of his desire cannot be achieved without drastic reform and re-orientation of many agencies and government parastatals that are not directly within his control. More than that, he cannot afford to permit actions or statements that appear to be at cross purposes either with his desire as AGF or with public policy.
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Apologize, my foot!
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission on Wednesday said it had not apologised to the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Mike Aondoakaa, or any other Nigerian over the ongoing trial of a former governor of Abia State, Chief Orji Kalu.
The anti-graft commission made the clarification against the backdrop of a claim by the AGF that the EFCC had apologised to him.
The AGF had on September 6, 2007 demanded an apology from the Chairman of the EFCC, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, over the ‘rudeness’ of the commission’s counsel, Mr. Adebisi Adeniyi, to the nation’s Director of Public Prosecutions, Mr. Salihu Aliyu.
Adeniyi and the DPP had on September 5 openly disagreed in a Federal High Court in Abuja over attempts by the office of the AGF to take over the trial of Kalu from the EFCC.
Kalu is standing trial for a 107 – count charge of alleged mismanagement of N1bn.
But the EFCC, in a statement by its Head of Media and Publicity, Mr. Osita Nwajah, said it would never ‘apologise’ for carrying out its duties.
The commission’s statement reads, “The attention of the commission has been drawn to news reports that it tendered an apology to the Attorney-General of the Federation, Mr. Mike Aondoakaa, regarding the ongoing trial of former Abia State Governor, Chief Orji Uzor Kalu, currently facing criminal charges of money laundering to the tune of about N1bn, property of Abia State Government.
“The commission deeply regrets that its statutory anti-corruption and anti-money laundering mandate is being dragged into a murky political terrain by those who apparently seek to provoke it into a challenge with executive power.
“For the avoidance of doubt, the commission will never put itself in a position to do battle with those whose mission is to aggravate and stampede it to actions that are inconsistent with its mandate.
“The commission never obtained a request, and could therefore not, indeed would never, apologise for prosecuting criminal charges, which are properly defined within its statutory responsibilities.
“Keen observers of developments affecting the commission will recall that this type of provocation is not new and will probably not end soon.
“To be sure, however, no formal records in the commission today suggest that an apology emerged from it to any person.
“The commission wishes to reiterate that its investigations and prosecutions of public officers are properly in sync with statutory demands to improve the integrity quotient in public service.
“And while this may not sit well with subjects under the commission’s scrutiny, they will be well served to appreciate that there are no personal scores involved.”
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
In the purported defence of the rule of law,the Attorney-General of the federal government "ruled" that the charges filed by the EFCC against ex-gov Orji Kalu are illegal on the ground that they were filed in defiance of the ex parte order issued by an Umuahia High court.Sometime in May 2007,Chief Orji Kalu had approached the High court of Abia state holding at Umuahia for the protection of his fundamental rights to personal liberty. While granting him leave to enforce his fundamental rights,the high court directed that the leave shall operate as a stay of action pending the final determination of the substantive application.
With respect,the intepretation of the learned Attorney-General to the effect that Chief Kalu could not be arrested or charged to court until the final determination of the application for the enforcement of his fundamental rights is totally misleading.In the case of Nzewi and others vs Commissioner of police(2000) 2 HRLRA 156 the applicants complained of arbitrary arrest and detention by the police. The federal High court granted them leave to enforce their fundamental rights and directed that leave should operate as a stay of further action pending the determination of the substantive case.The applicants proceeded to commit the respondents for contempt when they were invited by the police to answer the criminal complaint against them.In dismissing the application for contempt,the federal High court(per Ajakaiye J.) held inter alia:
"It is clear that what the Court intended in that order is that the applicants should not be arrested unless there is a legal basis or justification for it.It cannot be said to mean that the order granted to the applicants is a general bill of immunity or insurance from legal processes or redress in appropriate cases.The order was not meant or could not have intended to make the applicants or any of them an institution or anybody above the law.It was implicit in that order that while they carry on their lawful business peacefully and while they continue to be law abiding, their fundamental rights as enshrined in our constitution remain inviolate and guaranteed.No court of law can make an order capable of turning a citizen into an outlaw."
Since the EFCC arrested Chief Kalu and charged him to the federal high court promptly it cannot be said by any stretch of imagination that the order of the Umuahia High Court was disobeyed by the anti-graft agency.In any case if the EFCC has committed contempt in the circumstances,it is left for the Umuahia High Court to take appropriate action under the law.The honorable chief law officer has no power whatsoever to usurp the judicial functions of the Abia state High Court.Therefore, the pronouncement credited to him on a matter that is pending before a competent court of law is tantamount to a gross subversion of the Rule of Law which he claims to be defending.
Instead of playing on the collective intelligence of Nigerians,the Umaru Yaradua regime should be courageous enough to drop all corruption charges against his brother Governors and stop masquerading under the Rule of Law. .
President, West African Bar Association
Saharareporters can authoritatively report that the Umar Yar’adua machinery has perfected a plan to spare all corrupt ex-governors, former President Olusegun Obasanjo and top officials of his administration from prosecution for corrupt enrichment. Each official has been advised to scout a corrupt high court judge willing to issue an order restraining the official’s arrest or prosecution. Yar’adua’s attorney general will then order the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to desist from harassing any official who is protected by this “bought order,” revealed our source with insight into the workings of the Yar’adua “government.” Added the source: “I can tell you that a lot of former governors, ministers, special aides to Obasanjo and even the former president himself have paid off judges who have written such orders.”
As part of the general plot, Attorney General Michael Andoakaa met with Orji Kalu and James Ibori two weeks ago to guarantee them that the EFCC would be thoroughly emasculated. James Ibori, whose money laundering case in London is coming up in October, needed the Attorney General’s assurance that the EFCC will be reined in to prevent the anti-corruption agency feeding the London Metropolitan Police damaging information about Ibori’s massive looting of Delta State funds. Should Ibori lose the case in London, he faces the prospect of forfeiting his worldwide assets. A few weeks ago, the Southwark Crown Court in London ordered the assets frozen.
Andoakaa’s secret meeting with the two ex-governors was a follow up to an earlier meeting between Umar Musa Yar'adua, James Ibori, Orji Kalu and Peter Odili. The former governors asked Yar'adua to save their neck from what they referred to as a "rampaging EFCC".
The latest meetings took place after the collapse of Yar’adua’s initial attempt to emasculate the EFCC by stripping the agency of the power to prosecute corrupt public officials and individuals. Under that plan, the power to prosecute would be exercised solely by Aondakaa who had cut a deal with many corrupt former officials. That plan backfired when the public kicked against it, forcing the government to retreat. Even so, Yar'adua and the former governors did not abandon the idea but merely returned to the drawing board to come up with a different strategy.
After the second round of meetings with embattled former governors, James Ibori hopped on a plane to South Africa from where he disappeared into thin air. His escape, Saharareporters has learned, was at the instance of Yar’adua who asked him to watch the unfolding scenario from a safe distance. Yar’adua, whose campaign expenses were underwritten by Ibori to the tune of several billions of naira, is the biggest single beneficiary of James Ibori's loot.
The latest plot to checkmate the EFCC is well choreographed at the highest levels.
Orji Kalu's corruption trial is designed to be the first test of the plot. The attorney general reached an understanding with Kalu's lawyers to officially protest to him “about the EFCC’s high handedness and disregard for the principles of law and order.” Kalu’s lawyers wrote to Aondakaa claiming that the EFCC had disregarded an order by an Abia High Court presided over by a certain Justice Kalu(a relative of Orji Kalu) barring the EFCC from arresting the ex-governor after his immunity might have run out. Citing this alleged contempt for the courts, Kalu’s lawyers asked Aondakaa to order that, “in the interest of justice,” their client is discharged from trial.
The action whole ploy was arranged without the attorney general inviting the EFCC to state its side of the story. The attorney general replied almost immediately assuring Kalu's lawyers that he would intervene. He did by sending the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) to appear in court without the benefit of being briefed on Kalu's case file or any prior consultation with the EFCC.
This curious action led to an open altercation in court between the EFCC's lawyer and the DPP. Following the public embarrassment and public relations disaster, the attorney general beat another retreat, but not until he had demanded that Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, head of EFCC, axe the agency’s lawyer with whom the DPP had had an altercation. He also asked that the EFCC apologize to his office for being "rude to the AGF".
Saharareporters has been reliably informed that when Orji Kalu’s case comes up tomorrow before the Federal High Court, the DPP is expected to file a nolle prosequi, indicating the government’s decision to halt Kalu’s prosecution. This move is to be made under the pretext that the current regime believes in the "rule of law".
Meanwhile, an examination of the so-called order by the Abia High Court shows that it contained nothing that should prevent the EFCC from arresting Orji Kalu for corruption. Instead, it was an order granting Orji Kalu "leave to enforce his fundamental human rights". A legal scholar who has studied the order told Saharareporters that it was so weak that Orji Kalu had to flee from Nigeria before the expiration of his tenure as Abia State governor. It is public knowledge that he handed over hurriedly to the current governor, Theodore Orji, three days before May 29, 2007. He then fled abroad.
Kalu returned to Nigeria only after Yar’adua promised him a position on the so-called Government of National Unity (GNU). Interestingly, Kalu’s lawyers never mentioned the so-called order of the Abia High Court after his arrest and arraignment before a Federal High court. A legal analyst told Saharareporters that if Orji Kalu was sure that the EFCC was violating a High Court order, his lawyers would have approached the same court to ask that the EFCC Chairman Nuhu Ribadu be committed to prison for contempt of court.
One inside source told Saharareporters that contrary to the AGF's position in his response to Orji Kalu's lawyers, the EFCC actually obtained a "warrant of arrest" from a Federal High Court judge before picking up the former governor. They also pointed to the exparte motion filed by Orji Kalu before another Federal High Court, where he sought the leave of the court to proceed on a non-existent surgery for his wife in a hospital in Boston, Massachusetts.
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
Turaki's $80 million oil block up for sale
Former Jigawa State Alhaji Saminu Turaki is shopping for prospective buyer(s) for his crude oil bloc OPL 252 and OPL 292 allocated to him by former President Olusegun Obasanjo in appreciation of a solid backing for the failed third-term Presidency bid. Turaki’s two oil blocs are estimated to be worth over $80 Million.
The former Governor whose trial begins at the Federal High Court, Abuja on October 16 2007 on charges of embezzling and laundering over N36 Billion is said to be making desperate moves to sell off the oil prospecting license in order to stave-off possible revocation of the allocation by the Government of Nigeria.
Sources told Pointblanknews.com that Turaki made a temporary relocation to an Apapa based Command Guest House a couple of weeks ago where he held meeting series of negotiation with interested local and foreign prospective buyers. The deal has not yet been fully closed as the embattled ex-Governor hopes to maximize profits on the coveted holding blocs.
The usually reliable sources said that Turaki has not enjoyed good relationship with the Obasanjo caucus lately. And that he cannot predict what fate could befall him at the Abuja High Court hearing.
In particular, he was said to have been “emotionally disturbed” to learn that ex-President Obasanjo personally intervened on behalf of some notable individuals detailed in
Turaki’s confessions to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC. One such key actor in the distribution of the huge cash from the Jigawa Government coffers was disgraced former Governor of Anambra State, Mr. Andy Uba whom Turaki said received N10 Billion contribution to the Obasanjo third-term campaign fund.
It was said that Obasanjo’s intervention without prior consultation with Turaki became a major source of embarrassment to the ex-Governor. Turaki was said to have taken the issue “very personal” concluding that Obasanjo is leaving him in the cold. Obasanjo was said to have prevailed on the EFCC through the Musa Yar’Adua Presidency to stop a deep probe into allegations made by Turaki against Uba and other key personalities involved in the Obasanjo third-term project.
Source hinted that Obasanjo’s intervention may have finally truncated every possible move being made by the EFCC to prosecute Andy Uba. It was said that the former President had argued that if Uba is sucked-in over the Turaki allegations other “heads would roll as well.”
Although was later said to have invited Turaki for a meeting at his Ota Farm for “serious talk” on the so-called confessions to the EFCC. Sources said that Obasanjo told Turaki that he (Obasanjo) was surprised that Turaki had to implicate others while being interrogated. Turaki was said to have told Obasanjo that he merely tried to set the records straight. The former Jigawa Governor, it was learnt, left Ota farm for the Command Guest House located somewhere in Apapa where he has been hiding after being granted bail. He was said to have told some close confidants that he would do what he has to do now that there is no assurance of friendship and support from Obasanjo whom he felt was maintaining double face.
Sources said that Turaki knows that Obasanjo would not intervene to make sure that his oil bloc allocation is not revokes hence desperation to dispose off the two lucrative oil licenses.
Monday, September 10, 2007
Friday, September 07, 2007
Days ahead of September 11 commemoration of the terrorist attacks on the United States by the Al-Qaeda Network, the American Consulate in Lagos has raised alarm over a threat on Western and US interests in Nigeria.
A similar warning in June 2005 led to the closure of embassies in Lagos and Abuja for some days. Then, a US military spokesperson, Major Holly Silkman, speaking from Dakar, Senegal, had confirmed the terrorist threat thus: “There was some kind of threat made and it was through telephone call."
Yesterday, the US mission said it received information that American and other Western interests in the country are at risk of a terrorist attack without giving the name of any group behind the pilot.
A press statement issued by the Consulate said potential targets included diplomatic buildings and businesses in Abuja and Lagos.
“The US Mission in Nigeria has received information that US and other Western interests in Nigeria are currently at risk for terrorist attacks,'' the embassy said in a consular statement sent via e-mail to US citizens in Nigeria.
"Potential targets include official and commercial installations in Abuja and Lagos,'' it said, without elaborating.
An embassy official who spoke to THISDAY last night said he was yet to be briefed on the development.
Following the statement, expatriates were urged to take security steps, including varying routes to and from work and avoiding bottlenecks.Lagos is known for its long traffic jams while traffic is light in Abuja.
The embassy told US citizens to be vigilant and be aware of their surroundings at all times, saying "analysis has shown that individuals who appear to take basic personal security measures are often passed over by terrorist groups as a potential target."
But a US official has played down the embassy warning saying the advisory was based on "very non-specific threat information.”
"I'd steer you away from the idea that this was some major terror plot and I'd kind of point you more in the direction of things associated with Nigerian local kinds of actions," said the US State Department official, who asked not to be identified.
“No one should think that this means that Osama bin Laden is planning a major attack in Nigeria," the official said from Washington.
"That's not the level of what we are talking about. Local organisations, as far as I understand it, is the nature of the threat," he added.
"This was described to me as one of these things where they had some very non-specific threat information."
The cautionary statement followed the arrest September 4 of three men in Germany suspected of planning massive attacks on targets in Germany used by US citizens.
Al-Qaeda has previously indicated its interested in Nigeria. In 2003, its leader, Osama bin Laden, included Nigeria in a list of six countries he said he wanted to see liberated from enslavement by Washington.
A February 2005 United Nations report said Al-Qaeda established "recruiting and training bases in Northern Nigeria, where majority of Muslims live."
Some critics say the warning may not be unrelated to the attempt by US to justify its new idea of an African Command and that with September 11 fast approaching, there is great need for the country to warn its citizens to be more cautious.
But according to Rudy Stewart, a spokesman at the US embassy in Abuja, the statement was issued as a "prudent'" measure.
Nigeria is the largest US trading partner in sub-Saharan Africa, largely because of oil imports. The country accounts for 11 percent of US crude imports and is the fifth biggest source for US oil imports.
Al-Qaeda previously attacked US interests in Africa when it bombed the US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya on August 7, 1998.
Foreign Affairs Minister, Chief Ojo Maduekwe, did not respond to THISDAY’s calls to seek his comment on the development.
But a top government official said the Federal Government was ready at all times to contain any external aggression.
Analysts believe while Nigerian Muslims like Kenyan and Tanzanian Muslims are generally peaceful, the conditions exist in parts of Nigeria for foreign Jihadists to use the legendary hospitality of their hosts to plan terrorist attacks.
The US military has created a new African Command, known as Africom, stationed in the Gulf of Guinea, due to begin operations next month to safeguard the region's oil interests against rebel or terrorist attacks.
Africom will not have any permanent units or bases.
Analysts say that a tragic terrorist attack on US installations in Lagos will not affect oil production in the Niger Delta but will raise the overall risk profile of the country and tear apart the political coalition of the new President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua.
Prior to the warning, a former US ambassador to Nigeria, Dr. Princeton Lyman, had said that after the dreaded Middle East terrorist group, Al-Qaeda, was chased out of Afghanistan, it has shifted base to Nigeria where its influence is growing by the day.
Lyman quoted a United Nations investigation which he said uncovered Al-Qaeda's surreptitious training and building bases in Nigeria in support of his conclusion that the country is a natural target for terrorists seeking to expand their operations.
Wednesday, September 05, 2007
OK, throw another $50 billion down the rat hole that is the Iraq occupation. It’s only money, if you ignore the lives being destroyed. That’s what the White House is asking for, in addition to the $147 billion in supplementary funds already requested, and Congress will grant it after Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker follow President Bush’s photo op in Iraq’s Anbar province with a dog and pony show of their own. Meanwhile, the Democrats are totally cynical about this continuing waste of taxpayer dollars and of American and Iraqi lives, and, wanting Bush to hang himself with his own rope, they will deny him nothing.
In the effort to retaliate against terrorists who hijacked planes six years ago with an arsenal of $3 knives, this year’s overall defense budget has been pushed to $657 billion. We are now spending $3 billion a week in Iraq alone, occupying a country that had nothing to do with the tragedy that sparked this orgy of militarism. The waste is so enormous and irrelevant to our national security that a rational person might embrace the libertarian creed if only for the sake of sanity. Clearly, the federal government no longer cares much about providing for health, education, hurricane reconstruction or even bridge safety, as the military budget now dwarfs all other discretionary spending, despite the lack of a sophisticated enemy in sight.
Numbers are boring, and the media act as if there is no difference between a million and a billion dollars thrown at the military—let alone the trillion-dollar projected cost of the Iraq war. That last figure is well documented in a solid study out of Harvard co-authored by Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz but ignored by the mass media So too a recent authoritative report from the non-partisan Government Accountability Office that, despite the $44.5 billion in U.S. taxpayer dollars already poured into reconstruction, little detectable progress has been made in Iraq’s crucial oil and electricity systems.
Remember when Paul Wolfowitz, then the Pentagon’s resident neocon genius, assured Congress that Iraqi oil money would easily bear the entire cost of America’s Iraqi adventure? Now the GAO tells us that, even after spending an additional $57 billion on the Iraqi oil and electricity infrastructure, and assuming peace is restored, Iraq would still not produce enough oil and electricity to meet local demand until the year 2015.
Aside from corruption and the lack of security, the biggest problem in supplying Iraq with electricity is that the national electrical grid has broken down, and different factions, divided largely along ethnic and religious lines, are grabbing what they can. This kind of anarchy is emblematic of the new, emerging Iraq, in which the central government has declining sway over the nation’s decisions.
That latter point was underscored this week by Bush’s happy-faced visit to a highly fortified and isolated American outpost in Anbar province. After posing gamely with the troops at the Al-Asad base, Bush celebrated the return of Sunni areas to the control of U.S.-armed militias—composed largely of former insurgents who have at least temporarily decided that their Shiite rivals, currently in control of the central government, are a more pressing enemy than the American occupiers. Speaking of one such group of Sunnis trained by the Americans and dubbed the “Volunteers” by their instructors, a U.S. soldier told The Washington Post, “I think there is some risk of them being Volunteers by day and terrorists by night.”
That is exactly what has occurred on the Shiite side, where anti-U.S. religious groups have completely infiltrated the American-trained Iraqi military and police forces. In Iraq’s Shiite-controlled south, the domination of the military and police by the fiercely anti-American Madhi Army and other militias was ensured by the final withdrawal of British troops from Basra, Iraq’s second-largest city and a vital center of oil production, on the same day that Bush visited Iraq. Instead of the liberated, united and democratic Iraq promised by this invasion, we are left with a nation ruled by religious fiefdoms sustained far into the future by U.S. taxpayers.
The French and the Germans, hoary veterans of various failed European adventures in imperialism, warned us about precisely this outcome. While U.S. troops spill blood to guard broken oil pipelines, the Chinese and others go merrily about the world buying up black gold on the open market. But hey, don’t worry about your tax dollars and the waste of lives—eat some freedom fries and learn, like our president, to keep smiling.
Iran: the next quagmire
With a series of airstrikes aimed at 1,200 targets, the Pentagon reportedly has plans to destroy Iran's military capability in three days. But then what?
The most effective diplomats, like the most effective intelligence officers and foreign correspondents, possess empathy. They have the intellectual, cultural and linguistic literacy to get inside the heads of those they must analyze or cover. They know the vast array of historical, religious, economic and cultural antecedents that go into making up decisions and reactions. And because of this—endowed with the ability to communicate and more able to find ways of resolving conflicts through diplomacy—they are less prone to blunders.
But we live in an age where dialogue is dismissed and empathy is suspect. We prefer the illusion that we can dictate events through force. It hasn’t worked well in Iraq. It hasn’t worked well in Afghanistan. And it won’t work in Iran. But those who once tried to reach out and understand, who developed expertise to explain the world to us and ourselves to the world, no longer have a voice in the new imperial project. We are instead governed and informed by moral and intellectual trolls.
To make rational decisions in international relations we must perceive how others see us. We must grasp how they think about us and be sensitive to their fears and insecurities. But this is becoming hard to accomplish. Our embassies are packed with analysts whose main attribute is long service in the armed forces and who frequently report to intelligence agencies rather than the State Department. Our area specialists in the State Department are ignored by the ideologues driving foreign policy. Their complex view of the world is an inconvenience. And foreign correspondents are an endangered species, along with foreign coverage.
We speak to the rest of the globe in the language of violence. The proposed multibillion-dollar arms supply package for the Persian Gulf countries is the newest form of weapons-systems-as-message. U.S. Undersecretary of State
R. Nicholas Burns was rather blunt about the deal. He told the International Herald Tribune that the arms package “says to the Iranians and Syrians that the United States is the major power in the Middle East and will continue to be and is not going away.”
The arrogant call for U.S. hegemony over the rest of the globe is making enemies of a lot of people who might be predisposed to support us, even in the Middle East. And it is terrifying those, such as the Iraqis, Iranians and Syrians, whom we have demonized. Empathy and knowledge, the qualities that make real communication possible, have been discarded. We use tough talk and big weapons deals to communicate. We spread fear, distrust and violence. And we expect missile systems to protect us.
"Imagine an Iranian government that was powerful, radical, and in possession of nuclear weapons; imagine the threat that would pose to Israel and to the American-led balance of power, which has been so important in the Middle East since the close of the Second World War,” Burns said in a speech at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston last April 11. “That is our first challenge.”
"Our second challenge is that Iran continues to be the central banker of Middle East terrorism,” he went on. “It is the leading funder and director of Hamas, Hezbollah, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine general command. Third, Iran is in our judgment a major violator of the human rights of its own people; it denies religious, political, and press rights to the people of a very great country representing a very great civilization. And so we see a problem that is going to be with us for a long time, and we are trying to fashion a strategy that will work for the long term.”
US jittery over China in Nigeria
The United States of America is growing increasingly apprehensive of China’s incursion into Africa, especially Nigeria. There has been widespread speculation on an international scale about China’s recent upsurge in bilateral and multilateral foreign policies, which have seen other super powers, especially the US on the edge without openly conceding such.
For instance there is a lot of suspicion that one of the most critical factors that ultimately compelled the decision of the Americans to set up a US Military Command in Africa is to checkmate China’s inroad into that continent. But US government officials have consistently dismissed such presuppositions.
However, Empowered Newswire reports that an annual report on China’s military power sent to the US Congress from the Secretary of Defence for this year and last year specifically mentioned Nigeria in the American government’s review on China’s military, while in 2005, the same report referred to Africa.
The US government made it clear in the 2007 report that it welcomed the rise “of a peaceful and prosperous China and it encourages China to participate as a responsible international stakeholder.” However, the report expressed the view that “much uncertainty surrounds the future course China’s leaders will set for their country, including in the area of China’s expanding military power and how that power might be used.”
Although the reports are in themselves essentially glimpses into the deeper core of American’s own foreign policy and military complex, observers say the US government is clearly considering China’s inroad to Nigeria, Africa and some other regions of the world as an essential aspect of military strategy of China, which the Americans cannot ignore.
Tuesday, September 04, 2007
Chairman, defunct National Economic Inteligence Committee, Prof. Sam Aluko, has condemned the "Strategic Agenda for the Naira," proposed by the Central Bank, but which was suspended by the Federal Government.
The economist and scholar, in a statement on the ill-fated policy, described it as "another bang in the arsenal of those foreign-imposed gimmicks that have dominated the so-called reform programmes of the Federal Government since May 29, 1999."
According to him, the new proposal to decimalise the naira, by removing two zeros from the current dollar exchange rate runs counter to the avowed advocacy of the CBN, its governor, Prof. Chukwuma Soludo, bankers and their collaborators, that the exchange rate value of the naira could not, and should not be fixed but be left to market forces.
"It is an admission of the failure of the country’s entire exchange rate policies since 1986," Aluko declared in the statement which critiqued the successive official efforts at revamping the economy and strengthening the nation’s currency.
The economist was annoyed at what he described as the Central Bank’s conceit and practice of non-consultation in the exercise of its so-called independence to foist on the nation a monetary system, remarking that, that was how it foisted on the nation N500 and N1,000 notes against rational advice "in the ecstacy that they were the best things that had happened in Nigeria."
"The CBN got the accolade of the gambling bankers, their collaborators and their foreign sponsors. Later, at great costs to the nation, it minted coins of various denominations which are yet to be fully accepted in the market. It promised that in future, in view of the need to prevent the holding of many currency units of small values, it might print N2000 or N5000 notes. A pliable nation applauded then. Now the CBN plans to abandon them for smaller units!
"Similarly, without consultation, and oblivious of the ill-effects on the rural population where the majority or our people live, have their being and provide food security for the population, it abolished the People's Bank, the Community Banks and their ilk and replaced them with what it termed micro-financial institutions, as if the People’s Banks and the community banks are not also micro-financial institutions.
The CBN also abolished the 89 banks that existed and replaced them with 25 quarrelling, consolidated banks by arbitrarily increasing capitalization of banks from N5 billion to a minimum of N25 billion. Without due consultation it also increased the insurance companies minimum capitalization by about 10 times. All these anti-people ‘reforms’ have violated not only existing laws but also Nigeria's constitutional provisions.
The overall effect is to concentrate wealth in the hands of a few at the expense of the majority of Nigerians. Soludo has been congratulating himself, had been lauded by the few beneficiaries, and has received accolades abroad, because he is a tool of international finance capital. Today, more than ever before, the financial and economic systems of Nigeria have been captured from the people by foreigners who masquerade as development partners.
Foreigners now dominate not only the most important arms of our government, but they also control the thought processes of our leaders. They deceived the national assembly to grant independence to the CBN, as if they are not aware that monetary policy direction is the responsibility of government and that the monetary policy must be in tandem with the fiscal policy of the federal, state and local governments acting in concert," said Aluko.
He, however, contended that: "The Central Bank is to operate and execute the monetary policy of government. The government is not to operate the monetary policy of the Central Bank. The government owns the CBN, the CBN does not own the government.
"In its characteristic malevolence, before the Yar-Adua administration settled down, as in Obasanjo administration in 1999, the CBN has somersaulted on Nigerian Monetary Policy by decimalizing, in reverse, the naira foreign exchange rate and its domestic denominations by merely knocking out two zeros from their current face denominations without consultation or due process."
He expressed surprised that the: "Ministry of Finance which is really supposed to oversee the CBN on behalf of the governments, defended the CBN, that its law grants it independence to act so unilaterally, and if I may say so, irresponsibly," adding that: "The Central Bank is the governments' bank. Its Governor, deputy governors and its board of directors are appointed by the president of Nigeria, in consultation with the executive and the legislature. Government’s money is what sustains the CBN. Most of its lendings are made to the government. Its establishment was by the Nigerian government. When some of us argued that the CBN cannot, and should not be independent of government but that its activities should be reactive, and complementary to the policies of the Nigerian governments, eyebrows were raised, that it was an attempt to politicise the CBN.
"But the CBN Governor for whom not a single electoral vote was cast at any election, has become not only a financial dictator but also a danger to the stability of the Nigerian economy,"
Aluko lamented. Condemning the CBN, he said further: "It has been largely responsible for the successive devaluations of the Naira since the early 1980's. It has been responsible for much of the distress in the financial sector in Nigeria. It has been the chief cause of the instability in the foreign exchange market and, consequently, for the slow growth of the Nigerian economy. It has been deceiving the government and the people that it has succeeded in bringing down inflation, when, in actual fact, the masses of our people continue to be plagued with galloping inflation. The new plank being touted by the CBN Governor is focused on foreign exchange than on the stability, management and domestic health of the naira."