A Scandal-Ridden Society
Mobolaji E. Aluko, PhD
The latest scandal of the moment, following last week's break of the Bribery-For-Budget Education Ministry/National Assembly scandal, is the one involving the seemingly wrongful allocation of 207 housing properties in Ikoyi (Lagos) to privileged members of Nigerian society, including many of President Obasanjo's personal household as well as to cabinet ministers, state governors and other government functionaries. It included disclosures like:
A source told The Guardian that eight certificates of the property were last week handed over to Mrs Obasanjo. They included the property allegedly allocated to
* Mr. Henry Abebe at 23 Milverton Road to the tune of N158,400,000.
*Dr. Yemisi Abebe got 12, Ikoya Avenue, Ikoyi at N80,400,000 while her husband, who is a personal assistant to the first lady,
*Dr. John Abebe, was given the property at 1B, Iru Close at N64,800,000.
*Mrs. Franca Abebe was allotted the property at 7B Maroko, close at N57,600,000. [NOTE: THE FIRST LADY IS NEE ABEBE]
Those who had made part-payment were the
*Senate President Wabara who was allotted the property at 23, Queens Drive, Ikoyi, at N208,800,000. He had paid N50 million.
*Osun State governor Olagunsoye Oyinlola has reportedly made full payment for the property on 16, Alexander Avenue, Ikoyi, at N112,800,000.
*Mr. Felix Odimegwu of the Nigerian Breweries Plc was reportedly allotted two property, 20, Lugard Avenue at N98,400,000 and 22A, Lugard Avenue at N79,200,000. He had paid in full for the two. ŠŠ
Some corporate organisations that had fully paid for their allocations include
*Well Property Development Company, which paid N79.2 million for 33 Queens Drive,
*Chyfrank Nigeria Limited paid N94.8 million for 22 Thompson road, Ikoyi,
*Adenoil Electrical Engineering Company paid N60 million for 34 Cooper Road, ...
*Messrs Just Properties Limited paid N84,456 million for 25 Ilabere Close. Also
*Messrs Atrine Properties Limited paid N72 million for 23 Ilabere Close and
*Forte Properties and Investment Limited paid N132 million to 18 Osborne
*Polysonic Nigeria Limited paid N79.2 million for 27, Cameron Road,
*Craft Union Estate Development Company paid N70.8 million for 46, Alexander Avenue and
*Glorem Investment Limited paid N57.6 million for 23 Cameroon Road.
The text of the president Obasanjo's memo to Housing and Urban Development Minister Mrs. Mobolaji Osomo canceling all of the allocations was uncharacteristically short:
Dear Minister, terms, about the way you seem to be handling the sale of Federal Government properties in Lagos.
I have a document sent to me anonymously (copy attached), where 207 people had been allocated or offered land/property for sale surreptitiously; some with full payment, some with deposit and some without payment at all.
I also feel personally embarrassed that almost all members of my wife's family are on that list.
As it is, the entire list will now be cancelled without fail, the money collected should be refunded and all the property will be advertised for sale, except those allocated to Ambassador Ibrahim Gambari and Chief Emeka Anyaoku which had been approved long before this excersise on special condition of encouraging their relocation to Nigeria and on the basis of current value plus 10 per cent.
Report faithful compliance with this instruction.
This list and the letter were first published on April 1, 2005. Talking to a cousin over the phone over the newspaper report, I confided in him that I strongly believed that it was an April fool's prank which would be promptly denied in the April 2 newspapers, and that the irresponsible newspapers might rightly expect some lawsuits for libel.
So imagine my horror when the following day, I started to read some hemmings and hawings. Some samples of such reactions (paraphrasing now) follow:
Vice-President Atiku; Finance Minister Dr. Okonjo Iweala: "Ehm, I got some housing offer, but I rejected it. I declined."
Dr. Charles Soludo, Central Bank Governor; Police Affairs Minister Frederick Bozimo : "Ehn, em, Some forms were sent to me, but I did not send them back."
NAFDAC DG Dora Akunyili: "Ehm, the official residence in Lagos that I am living in was offered to me under the monetization scheme, and I was given first option to decline purchase."
Governor Oyinlola, Osun State: "Ehen, yes, yes, I got my allocation and paid N110 million through a bank loan." [Which bank, one might ask ?]
Governor Donald Duke, Cross-River State: "Ehm, I was allocated a house, I then applied - but have not heard back since !" [Should allocation come before application, one is bound to ask ?]
Minister of Works, Senator Adeseye Ogunlewe: "Ehm, I was allocated a house, and I accepted the offer, and I paid. But sha o, if it has been cancelled by Mr. President, no shaking, he is the boss: just give me my money back !"
National Orientation Minister, Chief Chukwuemeka Chikelu: "Ehm, I was allocated a house, and I accepted the offer. Abeg, no further comment, please !"
Acting Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Sunday Ehindero: "Ehm, I have no comment. It is government's policy. I will abide by it."
But the one by Oby Ezekwesili (Special Advisor on Due Process) was most interesting:
"Ehm, where is that Minister Osomo ? She has to apologize to me PROMPTLY for my name being on that list ! As Due Process czarina, I am profoundly embarrassed by this episode: I requested no house and made no payment."
In short, I do not believe most of the protestations of innocence, and some questions are so pertinent as to be ridiculous to even be asked:
1. How did the Housing Ministry under Osomo know WHICH house to allocate to WHICH person IF there had been NO PRIOR INFORMATION as to what they wished ? One finds it hard to believe that this allocation was ENTIRELY arbitrary: why was I not allocated an Ikoyi house, or you the reader ?
2. One of the arguments has been that these were houses in which these officials lived as official residence. Okay - but Ikoyi/Lagos is no longer the capital of Nigeria, and most if not all of these people, particularly the top civil servants, work and should be residing in Abuja. So HOW COME THEY ARE BEING ALLOCATED OFFICIAL RESIDENCES IN IKOYI ? Do they have two official residences - does Soludo for example maintain two official residences, one in Lagos and one in Abuja, and would that not be irregular ? In any case, how did someone like Governor Oyinlola of Osun State come to become a beneficiary in the Ikoyi housing scheme ? Who contacted him, how and why ? When did companies also officially-resident civil servants - and who owns those companies ?
3. Who valued these properties and was proper valuation done ?
4. Why was there no proper bidding in those houses that it was required for - or was there ?
5. How did these people have all of these monies to pay even 10 percent down-payment - not to talk of ALL the money being fully paid by, for example, Governor Oyinlola - for these houses ?
6. Finally, when did the president really know about all of this, and what did he know ?
It can be mind-boggling the level of both selfishness and corruption that has been exhibited and is now being revealed by many Nigerian elites, particularly in government. It shows that many of them spend their waking hours tilling the ground in their own directions rather than looking out for the people whose welfare is supposed to be government's business.
It is quite disheartening, and shows why our country is where it is. It is not actually that the money we get in the country cannot go far enough, but it is that a few Nigerians have cornered all the advantages of financial resources for their own good, thereby constituting themselves into a criminal gang, leaving the rest of the country holding an empty bag.
But there is a further tragedy: what do we do with all of these disclosures: Tafa Balogun and his billions; the National Assembly and the millions bribery; and now the Ikoyi Housing scandals ? It almost looks as if while dealing with one scandal, another comes to wipe the earlier one out of thought, and then we are constantly gasping, expecting what will come next.
Tafa can be fired, Osuji can be fired; Osomo could (and should) be fired, Wabara can resign as Senate President, even all of them prosecuted, etc.. But what kind of moral malaise in the country produces all of these criminals and fraudsters in and out of government, including possibly in the president's bedroom ? How did we construct this house of scandal called Nigeria that so elaborately involves virtually all six estates of the realm: the Executive, the Legislature, the Judiciary, Organized Civil Society, Organized Private Sectors and an elite group of the Civilian Masses ?
It may be easy for Obasanjo, by presidential wand, to cancel all the allocations - and for onlookers to hail the action as a commendable righteous indignation - but it would be a great opportunity missed if a DIVISION between all of the 207 properties were not made to determine SEPARATELY how each transaction was initiated, followed up on and consummated either fully, partially or not at all by the parties involved - since each came to this world separately and will leave separately - otherwise a lot of issues will be swept under the carpet.
One cannot but pity the president - and maybe EFCC head Nuhu Ribadu - in his present predicament of seeming loneliness in his crusade: How can so many people have such a penchant for corruption and fraud, without inhibitions ? Are the government audit and control systems so bereft of integrity that these people act with impunity - out of habit since these things must have been going on for so long ?
What must we now do to change things so that we are not constantly locking the stables after the horses have escaped ? While many might ask for revenge and jailings of these criminals, it is infinitely better to prevent these kinds of crimes and fraudulent practice BEFORE they occur, first because these disclosures might simply present more avenues for corruption as these people attempt to bribe their way out of their latest problems, and secondly otherwise the acts of corruption themselves sap the development of the country and make us far poorer than we really are.
Clearly, corruption is a cancer that we must tackle HEADLONG in the country, and the emphasis should be on instituting measures to PREVENT these instances from occurring, not just triumphalist rejoicing at the discovery and punishment of the fraudulent ones.
It is all exasperating, but all the movement will be without motion if we don't ALL seize the moment to institutionalize transparency, accountability and integrity in our system not merely by prosecuting and jailing guilty persons; but through strengthening our laws and their enforcement; opening up the transparency and accountability process to public view; instituting zero-tolerance of corruption in our police and judiciary; and tightening the screws on our banking system
Ikoyi Government Houses Offerred/Sold Without Due Process
MID-WEEK ESSAY: Reacting to the Day of the Long Knives in the Education Ministry