Senator Musiliu Obanikoro, spoke with select journalists from his US base recently where he x-rayed the performance of the current administration. The former Nigeria’s Ambassador to Ghana believed that the war against corruption is simply war against opposition. Excerpts
How did you feel after your post graduate degree in History from Oglethorpe University here in United States of America?
Well, that was just another degree. I deliberately read History so that one can have in-depth knowledge in terms of frontal issues that are relevant to happenings today and tomorrow. As someone who has spent the larger parts of his life in public office, it is always important for one to be able to relate issues of today, with yesterday so that one can certainly projects into the future.
How do you feel reading and seeing your name being dragged on ground by Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on social media of peoples’ opinion court?
Let me say this: first of all, it is very unfortunate that any government, any responsible government will engage in use of social media just to malign and destroy citizens of their country. I have been in active politics since 1981, I have never seen a situation where a government agency has been reduced to using social media to destroy citizens of this country for any reason.
If there are investigations to be conducted, they should go and conduct their investigations thoroughly, and if they (EFCC) have reasons to believe you have wronged the system, they will indict you. Following the indictment, you will be tried either by a jury or by a judge.
You have a choice of either a jury trial or by a judge. I believe you will have your day in court. That is how a democratic government should work. Let me tell you, as a good student of history, the path Nigeria is towing now is very dangerous.
In a democratic setting, the law enforcement agencies should take back seat. They (security agencies) should be in the background. What we have now in Nigeria is a situation where security agencies are wielding enormous power over and above citizens of Nigeria, which should not be so.
We are not making progress in our democracy with this kind of disposition. No matter what you say about former presidents Olusegun Obasanjo or Yar’Adua or Goodluck Jonathan, they never relegated security agencies over and above Nigerian citizens.
Yes, there were mistakes made within those periods, but not the way security agencies choose to be more powerful than citizens and other institutions of government. This is dangerous in a democracy because if you are talking about institutions that have matured over time, may be you would not be worried. How can we in Nigeria go back to the days of early 60’s in America in 2016?
Going back to America of the 60’s? That to me is a mistake we should not make as a people. This is not a political talk. I am not talking politics here, because if you look at the sacrifices people like MKO Abiola, Pa Rewane, Alhaja Kudirat Abiola (late Chief MKO’s wife) and a host of others who were killed so that we can have this democracy, you will agree with me that it does not make any sense for us to take our democracy with levity. We have paid too high a price to achieve it. And we should not allow it to falter under any guise.
Don’t you think the way Nigeria’s security agencies are being elevated presently in enormous power, many innocent Nigerians could be victims of their brigandage?
Let me tell you: most people are not good students of History. There are some who are clapping for them now, thinking that security agencies are working, but they are not working. Let me tell you, they are not working, what they are doing is destroying the fabric of the society.
There is no gain-saying and I am not playing politics with you. The way Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) funded their election was the same way All Progressives Congress (APC) funded their own election. The only difference is that some PDP got their funding from the federal, while APC got their funding from the states controlled by APC.
There is no way General Buhari will come out and say that he got his own funding for the campaign for the election through his inheritance. He got this money from states like Lagos, Rivers, Kano, Borno Yobe and a lot of other places that gave him money for the election.
Now, what I think anybody who wants to go on this kind of journey, that General Buhari decided to go on, is to first of all admit to the public that you are also guilty of the same offense (corruption). I can recall in 1976 I was not too young to know this: when General Murtala Muhammed took over government and decided one family should have a plot of land or a house, first thing he did was to forfeit all his own properties to the government, and kept only one for himself.
You will also recall of recent, when Yar’Adua became president, at the inaugural ceremony, he admitted that the process that brought him in as president was faulty. He said he would do something to correct that.
How can Buhari stand before the whole world and not admit to the fact that it was the same public funds that he is busy crucifying us for was same fund that brought him into government? So, I believe that ‘He who comes to Equity must come with Clean Hands’. It is evident that what is going on in Nigeria today is witch-hunt and political persecution just to muzzle the opposition and destroy individuals they perceive as threat to their continual perpetration in government.
There are different allegations EFCC is pushing into the social media against you, prominent is the $2.1 million Armsgate Scandal viz-a-viz Sambo Dasuki (former National Security Adviser’s) office and the issue of Ekitigate fund is generating buzz on internet?
Let me say this: with all due respect, what they (Buhari’s government agencies) are persecuting me for occurred in 2014. Don’t forget that every year, we run a different budget. They cannot tell me that $2.1 million was for 2104, the same budget was another year.
They cannot hide under that. Definitely, something is wrong somewhere. The truth of the matter according to EFCC in the release they did today, they said the money came from imprest account of the National Security Adviser (NSA).
Now, let us assume without conceding that what they are saying is so. I am not conceding that that is the truth. It is even the prerogative of the NSA to use the money that comes from his imprest account as he pleases.
He is the National Security Adviser, he has the constitutional backing to define what security threat means and spend money accordingly, to ensure that security threat is eliminated. Assuming without conceding to them that what they are saying is truth that NSA did give such money.
But the truth of the matter is that they cannot in good conscience link my name to this thing they are talking about. The business they are talking about is not my business and it is not known to me. The account they are talking about is not known to me. They (EFCC) trace money to peoples’ account, right?
They have not traced a kobo (a cent) to my personal account or any of my children accounts. And even there are allegations, they should have called me to come and clear whatsoever that requires clarifications. They (EFCC) never did. Since last year, they started spreading this malicious allegations. These are people who has no respect for due process.
EFCC alleged that the sum of N200million was paid into Sylvan McNamara Limited, an account where your children-Gbolahan and Babajide Obanikoro were directors of the company in 2014?
Thank you my brother. As of 2013, two of my children (Gbolahan and Babajide) were signatories to the account. They are not the owners of the company. They were signatories to the account as of 2013. By 2013 they were no loner signatories to the account.
Do you mean to say by late 2013, your children were no longer signatories to the account?
Not even late 2013, around June/July 2013 they were no longer signatories to the account. Yes, by 2013 they were no longer signatories to those accounts. Well over a year and I was not even a minister at the time they removed their names. So, you cannot say because their father was a minister that was why they removed their names. No.
Will you then agree that the EFCC just put up a falsified claim, falsehood and propaganda machinery on social media deliberately to impugn, rubbish, ridicule and drown the opposition in a bid to ruin those people?
My brother that is precisely what they are doing. They said I was on the run. I left Nigeria at the end of July. Before I could get admission into a school I must have applied well on time. It takes time for admission to be processed here in America.
Moreso, Oglethorpe University is a private school. It is a well reputable private school. Not just any private school on the bloc. They just don’t take students anyhow. For me to have gotten admission, I must have started admission process for sometime. I left Nigeria in July, those guys came after me, in December they started their media persecution of ‘giving a dog a bad name to hang the dog’.
In short, you are being persecuted social media wise by EFCC?
Yes, I am being persecuted social media wise by Nigeria’s security agencies to arrive at a political persecution. Try him in the court of public opinion, try him guilty and then lynch him.
You mean trying him in court of public opinion, so that there is no way he can escape from being found guilty?
That is the issue, God bless you. That is why they have sustained that media campaign. If you look at the level of poverty in Nigeria today, when you call such amount of money in public opinion court, evidently you are going to get sympathy.
That means the generality of Nigerians will be placing curses on that person without knowing the real truth…
That is precisely what they did and what they will continually to do. They have a more pressing issue. All the promises made by government (to the people), not a single one has been kept. A serious-minded government must take this very serious that we made promises during campaign, not a single one has been kept. Infact, what we are seeing are reversals.
They said the price of fuel will become N45 when they get into government, the price of fuel now is about N145.00 per litre. They said they will strengthen Naira. What they have done now is to devalue Naira to N343.00 to One Dollar. Every promise they have made, they have not kept anything.
They promised to give us the Rule of Law, they have almost completely eliminated opposition. Even within their own (APC) circle, they don’t tolerate dissenting voice. Everybody must tow the line, otherwise you will run into trouble with the government of Nigeria.
That means in all these EFCC allegations you are innocent of all the accusations and charges?
Of course. I am challenging EFCC to publish any amount of money they saw directly linked to me or any of my children from than account. I am challenging them since they have decided to drag me in the court of public opinion, let them publish it.
At least, there is an account sheet of transfers from that account. Let them put it in the paper, give it to Sahara Reporters who is their partner in this media persecution. Let them publish it, let the whole world see it that this is the amount of money Obanikoro and children have benefited directly from this account.
How will you describe the One Year Anniversary of Buhari so far in power?
Let me tell you: there is no doubt that they inherited some challenges. No doubt about that, I am a Nigerian and I am God-fearing man. What is fair is fair. There is no doubt they inherited some challenges, but you see let me tell you, in any system there are assets, and there are liabilities.
Before I go into that, I also want to challenge EFCC to publish the CAC document of that company. Let the whole world see it. I challenge them to publish CAC of that company-the document whether you will see my name or my children name on it.
Having said that, they have inherited challenges which is normal in any government. When Barack Obama became President of United States, America was at the verge of economic collapse, complete economic collapse, and he stood by his campaign promises.
And he got America out of the woods. He did not compound their problem. He did not complain because Americans refused to listen to any complain. Let me tell you: If APC is saying that they did not contemplate the level of challenges they were going to surmount when they get into governance, it shows how unprepared they were for governance.
Reasons being that the World Bank before the election was already projecting that the oil price was going to fall. We saw this economic crisis coming, and you cannot blame PDP for the collapse of the oil market. You cannot. Let me tell you: I don’t see why oil alone should account for 99percent of our revenue. Then we are being insincere to ourselves as a nation.
And one question that people are not asking is to ask the government how come, what is happening to the money that they are stealing in solid minerals in the North. Who are the people behind it? How come individuals are extracting our solid minerals in the North and they are not getting the same treatment that people are getting from stealing our oil?
It is okay in the North for people to steal the solid minerals, but it is wrong for the South-south people to benefit from what God has given them. We need to ask ourselves a number of questions as Nigerians. It is either we have a country where all of us will be treated as equal or we allow the country to fall into regional government where most of the powers will reside at the regional level, which I think it is the best for the country.
The system we are operating today is not going to get Nigeria anywhere. They way they are running the country now, they are going to destroy the country where the resources of the country is being diverted to one section of the country at the expense of others.
I was looking at the budget he (Buhari) just read now, almost 60 or 70 percent is meant to benefit the North against the South. What the North-Central got is more than what the entire South got. 99Percent of our revenue comes from the South. Even the VAT that Kano is getting more than Lagos, almost 70% or 80 % of the VAT revenue comes from Lagos.
Yet, a state like Kano collect more VAT than a state like Lagos. How can you continue to justify this kind of injustice? How, how? Honestly speaking I had thought General Buhari would come in and behave like an elder-statesman. He would pull everybody together, protect everybody.
Yes, fight corruption, since corruption is a monster we must kill in Nigeria. No doubt about that. But you cannot kill corruption by using double-edge sword by condoning corruption on one side and then condemning it on the other side.
Even the fact that Mr President refused to make his asset declaration public is corruption on his own. He declared his own asset declaration secretly, he did not even include his wife in the asset declaration. It is against the law.
There is another allegation and rumor making the rounds in social media that Goodluck Jonathan, a former president may be arrested and tried for corruption, the manner some members of his then cabinet are presently being prosecuted?
Let me tell you: I have told you that all the fight against corruption is a fight against opposition. So, I would not be surprised if that is done. But the truth of the matter is, this is directed at the opposition. There are people in government today that are supposed to be in jail, who are now ministers.
What has Femi Fani-Kayode done that he’s locked up by EFCC because he was criticizing the government? How do you blame a party’s publicity secretary for doing his job, like they have their own publicity secretary during the campaign? Did they (APC) paid for all the adverts they placed on televisions, newspapers and social media outlets? They paid for it. They paid billions of money. How were they (APC) able to hire David Axelrod as their Campaign Consultant? How were they able to hire President Obama’s Campaign Consultant? Somebody paid for it.
Questions begging for answer. You cannot accuse people of a crime you are also grossly guilty of. You are alleging they gave me money for Ekiti/Osun states elections? So, APC did not spend money to prosecute those elections? Let anyone of them including those who are beneficiaries of the elections tell us what they inherited from their parents that was sufficient enough for them to have prosecuted the election.
There were allegations in some section of Western press that Rotimi Amaechi, highest fund donator to APC Election found guilty of corruption by Governor Ezenwo Nyesom Wike’s committee in River state could be made Transportation Minister…
They (Rivers state government) set up a panel in Rivers state and they found him (Amaechi) guilty. A petition was submitted to the National Assembly, a petition was sent to EFCC, up till today, they have not looked at those petitions.
Nothing has been done on the petitions. The same thing in Lagos state, petitions were submitted against a former Lagos state governor, up till today, they did not even consider it. Then it is okay for them to go after people like us because we are no longer in government, and be maligning our names, destroying our reputation for nothing.
What is your message to Nigerians at home and Nigerians in the Diaspora?
What I will say is to appeal to Nigerians at home, particularly Nigerians in the Diaspora not to lower the standard by which people in public service are judged. There is standard in service here overseas, that is the standard I want them to push to Nigeria.
If we are not able to measure up to that standard, if Nigerians in the Diaspora cannot stand up and demand of us to measure up, I doubt it if Nigeria will be able to achieve progress sooner than later. I doubt it if Nigeria will achieve the greatness that we seek, because I believe if there are issues affecting our society, Nigerians in the Diaspora have a lot to do about it.
I can understand the plight of people at home, you can pardon them because the system being operated in Nigeria is the only system they know. But Nigerians in the Diaspora, they have had the benefit and privilege of other systems which has worked and it is working for all of us. I think we should not demand anything less for Nigeria.
Having said that, for Nigerians at home, I believe this is a very difficult time for everybody. And there is no doubt in my mind that as a people we will overcome it. The primary thing Nigeria must do is to restructure.
We need to restructure Nigeria, they system we are operating now cannot get us to the promised land, until we are able to courageously confront the issues that stares us in the face, but we refused to accept; we will continue to struggle.