Obasanjo of Nigeria: Israelis Paid N33m to Probe Me’
From Josephine Lohor in Abuja, 04.13.2005
President Olusegun Obasanjo yesterday disclosed that the leadership of the National Assembly had in 1999 paid some Israeli accountants $250,000 (N33.2 million) to trace all his funds wherever they might be lodged in an attempt to nail him for corrupt practices.
He also described as "stupidly irresponsible" the media reports linking his first son, Gbenga, with ownership of an account in the United States where $22 million was said to have been lodged.
Obasanjo in an interactive session with State House Correspondents said despite all the efforts by the investigators hired by the National Assembly, nothing was found against him. He added that the battle against corruption had no friend or foe.
"Very early in the life of the National Assembly, they hired a couple of forensic accountants from Israel to find out any corrupt information about me. Someone paid them $250,000. One of them told me. I said instead of you spending the money, you should have come to me. I would have given all the information you wanted. They needed just to have given me half of the money instead of going on a wild-goose chase. In this (anti-corruption) crusade, whether you are friend or foe, the battle must go on. The war will continue. My family knows where I stand on this issue. They all have a code of conduct. If they don't follow, they will be treated like anyone else. And we have done well. The Presidency in its totality is united in this war against corruption."
He said he was not bothered by critics and doubting Thomases, "but there had never been anytime in the history of Nigeria that this kind of onslaught is being waged. I came and said there is no business as usual. People said then we've heard it before. I spent a whole year to pass the ICPC Act into law.
"I am told that members of the National Assembly said that if they pass the bill the way it was, they will all be behind bars. When it comes to judgement, conviction, there should be no short cut to the rule of law. You can make allegations, but you must follow the rule of law. One area we need to look at, maybe by the National Political Reform Conference, is the delay in handling cases. There is a case of libel in court since 1982. You can imagine the frustration. Until you do something about fast-tracking justice, we just have to continue to live with it. And the fact that you don't hear about cases doesn't mean it is dead.
"The first case to be filed in court in the anti-corruption issue was that of the former Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Defence, Dr. Julius Makanjuola. As the case was going on, they found that they could lose the case. So, the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice made a tactical withdrawal of the case. I have instructed the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) not to let the case die but to see it to a logical conclusion. The way we are pursuing the case of the (late military leader Gen Sani) Abacha family should show that we are consistent.
"On the Identity Card scam case, though one of the suspects (Chief Sunday Afolabi) is dead, not only are we continuing with the case, I insisted that the French people who are accomplices be dealt with in France. I even sent the Attorney-General to brief them on the case. We can't say we are not doing something. But the wheel of justice runs slowly. Those who are saying, where is the end? I don't think anyone should say where the end is. I don't know any country where it is said that the head of any country's police force is arraigned for corruption. I don't think we appreciate what we have done.”
Obasanjo, however, said that there was a backlash on the war on corruption, because, "there is a danger you may not see which I see. And that is that those who feel that they are in danger of being caught, or may be caught, or afraid, will want to weaken the process. They are throwing out that every Nigerian is corrupt; oh there is selective implementation of the anti-corruption crusade. Oh, he is only targeting his enemies. Look, I have no enemies. Those doing bad are the enemies of Nigeria. They are not my enemies. If you are part of this government, you must toe the line of honesty. I see what they are doing as wicked, criminal and stupid."
"My son Gbenga (Obasanjo) has no money in his name. Someone said he has $20 million in his account. We know the man who is doing this. He's a member of the National Assembly. He has no credibility. It is criminal. It is stupid to say the President of the United States has sent a letter to me. There is nothing like that. You say corruption emanated from the Presidency. It's stupidly irresponsible to say that. There are men and women of integrity who must be acclaimed. We can't stand for confusion in this (anti-corruption) exercise. You say the SGF (Secretary to the Government of the Federation), the Head of Service or the Chief of Staff (to the President) is corrupt. When you give us anything that is solid, we'll work on it. There are no sacred cows."
The President who stated that his family had a code of conduct which it religiously abides by, said his son had no such money saying that, evidence should be provided as government would, in its anti-corruption crusade, "look at every case". He, however, said the government "will not go wild-goose chasing."
“They all have a code of conduct. If they don't follow, they will be treated like anyone else. And we have done well. The Presidency in its totality is united in this war against corruption."
He added, "we are going to be focused. We are going to be determined but not going to be diverted or confused. We can even sue people for irresponsible libel and slander. All they want to do is to shortcut this wonderful (anti-corruption) exercise. And this exercise must not be diverted. We know those who are doing this. We know some in the executive, both at the federal and state level. There are also those in the media. These are the media-419. They say, oh yes, former Police Inspector General (Tafa) Balogun will open can of worms! Let the can of worms be opened up. (sacked Housing Minister Mrs. Mobolaji) Osomo will open up! Let her open up. Oh yes, there is something to come. But there is nothing to come."
On whether his government would tender a public apology to anyone mentioned as corrupt but which later turned out to be false, Obasanjo admitted that no investigation is perfect.
"I've never said that any investigation is absolutely perfect. But you tell me how many Nigerians have admitted wrong. If the senator from Abia and the Minister hadn't spoken out, they would have denied receiving any money. They would have turned the case against the government. We are still calling it allegations. The ICPC is still investigating. The EFCC investigation is still going on. If at any stage anyone is found to be wrongly accused, there is unmistakable assertion, I will ask them to apologise. But don't ask for apology until you are proved to deserve apology," he said.
Obasanjo has however left for China and Vietnam to continue his drive for more foreign investment into the economy.
The President said "China is gradually but steadily growing to become the leading nation of the world. It is competing favorably and I believe it is in our best interest to look ahead and not put all our eggs in one basket. At this point in time, it is just right that we should be proactive, look for more friends. Vietnam is really anxious to receive us. We are looking for those who can do business with us."