I am a fan of Obiageli Oby Ezekwesili, but I have said elsewhere that my problem with her loud, anti-corruption activism is that it is strangely amnesiac and hypocritical. Even as she proclaims herself a one-woman transparency police, she inadvertently advertises the contradictions of the Obasanjo government, in which she served.
However, when you go around self-righteously castigating the corruption of the present government without even a perfunctory acknowledgement of, or an effort to explain your failure to prevent or punish, the corruption of the government for which you were supposed to act as gatekeeper for public procurement and contracts, your rhetoric rings hollow and raises questions about the sincerity and consistency of your moral indignation. It is only a matter of time before such duplicity is exposed, and Ezekwesili’s moment of exposure came in her interview with Mehdi Hasan on Al-Jazeera.
It was under Ezekwesili’s superintending eyes that many corruption scandals occurred, including the grand larceny of expending $16 billion on contracts in the power sector only to have the contracts abandoned, while the contractors, who were connected to Obasanjo and other politicians of his government, pocketed their loots. It was under her watch that Obasanjo acquired his N600 million shares in Transcorp as an incumbent president and, after public outcry, declared farcically that he had lodged the shares in a blind trust.
It was while Ezekwesili was in the ‘Due Process Office’, that Obasanjo smuggled dollars in Andy Ubah’s private jet into the USA, the interception of which caused so much brouhaha he had to reluctantly own up to the money, claiming it was for the purchase of equipment for his farm in Otta. It was during Ezekwesili’s tenure as due process chief that Obasanjo fraudulently and corruptly raised billions of naira for his presidential library project, for which the late Gani Fawehinmi took him to court. It was while she held watch that Obasanjo started building his multi-billion-naira Bells University.
It was under Ezekwesili’s stint as czar of transparency that corruption in high places blossomed, including the curious case of OBJ, who, from having only N15, 000 in his bank account in 1999 according to el-Rufai transformed into a billionaire and one of the wealthiest Nigerians alive. It was while Obasanjo was president and Ezekwesili was his preeminent transparency enforcement officer that damning revelations on how he and his vice president, Abubakar Atiku, turned the Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF) into a personal piggy bank.
Yet when Ezekwesili was asked a simple question in the al-jazeera interview about whether she believes Obasanjo was corrupt, as Nuhu Ribadu, his EFCC chairman, said in wikileak cables and as most Nigerian believe, she prevaricated and resorted to obfuscation and evasive legalistic maneuvers, requesting for evidence and facts. This is extremely disappointing coming from ‘Madam Due Process’.
We get it. She is beholden to Obasanjo, who gave her political prominence by appointing her into two important posts in his government. Nevertheless, the least she can do is to not insult our intelligence when it comes to the man’s corruption and malfeasance. You do not have to publicly condemn or chastise your corrupt friend, benefactor, or mentor, and most people understand that. However, you do not have to defend them or engage in unconvincing pretense. We all have friends and associates whose moral choices embarrass us, but we do not have to defend their choices to demonstrate our continued loyalty as friends and associates.
Perhaps Ezekwesili should take a cue from Mallam Nasir –el-Rufai, who got ahead of the curve by publishing a memoir in which he documents gargantuan corruption in the Obansajo government. For further exculpatory effect on his image, he criticized the former president in the book. Moreover, in several interviews, he made it clear that the former president’s aides and technocratic team were “not proud of some of the things he did,” a very clever, euphemistic, and diplomatic acknowledgement of Obasanjo’s corruption.
We can understand the reluctance to publicly acknowledge Obasanjo’s outsized reputation for corruption, but playing dumb and refusing to give an opinion about that well documented corruption is unacceptable. Evasion will not cut it. Ezekwesili cannot have it both ways, proclaiming intolerance for corruption and lack of transparency and at the same time refusing to acknowledge a basic truth such as Obasanjo’s monumental corruption, the crowning material edifice of which is his multi-billion-naira hilltop mansion in Abeokuta.
Whether she admits it or not, Obasanjo was a smart, self-centred man, who recruited a coterie of technocrats, some of them people with integrity and pedigree, and projected them as the face of his government, as window dressing for his corrupt government. Now that he is out of office, it has been exposed for the world to see, and it is futile for Ezekwesili to disavow or deny being inadvertently and perhaps naively used to burnish the reputation of a corrupt administration.