Oshiomhole vs. Niger Delta vultures
Last week, in a rehash of ‘rent-a crowd’, an art perfected by Niger Delta wheelers and dealers as leaders when confronted with their betrayals of the poor on whose name they swear, sponsored demonstrating half-naked women who claimed to be “mothers, sisters and aunts to Chief Igbinedion”, descended on the ancient city of Benin threatening to go completely naked if Oshiomhole fails to stop ‘insulting elders from Benin Kingdom’. Governor Oshiomhole’s offence was his announcement that his government had begun moves to recover $31million “fraudulently taken” from the government coffers, during Igbinedion’s administration and resolved to revert the conversion ‘to private use, of government properties and funds meant for the people of the state’ by the former governor and his father, Chief Gabriel Igbinedion.
The Niger Delta itself is a land of extremes where the masses of the people wallow in abject poverty while a small segment of their political elite, described by Saro Wiwa as ‘vultures’ feed on the blood of the vulnerable in their midst. They erect mansions in major cities of the world, and fly in private jets to visit their homes in Warri, Asaba, Port Hacourt, Uyo and Yenagoa. Saro Wiwa, a witty playwright and environmental right activist and one of Africa’s brightest ‘sun’ killed by Africa, strongly believed the Niger Delta vultures are responsible for the prolonged nightmare of his people.
Adam Oshiomhole, whose life-long commitment has been the protection of the disadvantaged, shares with Saro Wiwa not only a striking physical semblance, stubborn suicidal instinct but also the passion for the impoverished people of Niger Delta. Like Saro Wiwa, Governor Oshiomhole is not afraid to confront those he believes are parasites sucking the blood of the impoverished people of the Niger Delta.
First it was Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the former Minister of Finance whose ministry he accused of unauthorized withdrawal of $2.1b from the Excess Crude Account (ECA) and of colluding with the Ministry of Petroleum Resources to withhold huge sum of money that ought to have been transferred to the federation account. He also took on Diezani Alison-Madueke, the immediate past minister of petroleum who he claimed supervised the theft of about N1.6 trillion by some PDP stalwarts and their offspring under the guise of fuel subsidy when in reality ‘they never imported a pint of fuel’. On November 5, he picked on Lucky Igbinedion, his predecessor in office and his father, the respected Esama of Benin, accusing them of betraying the trust of those who looked up to them for protection.
But Igbinedion has shot back asking Oshiomhole to “tell the people about properties he allegedly acquired in the last seven years in Dubai, Cape Town in South Africa, in San Francisco, United States of America, a high rise apartment in Atlanta also in America and in London. He is calling everybody a thief but Oshiomhole is the biggest thief in Benin City today.”
Igbinedion’s friends in the judiciary have reminded the governor, in case he has forgotten, that ‘the law empowers a sitting governor to allocate lands to people, including his own father’. Is Oshiomhole himself not allocating lands to people as a sitting governor they sneered? And as if to justify Lucky Igbinedion’s actions, Oshiomhole was told that by 1952, the year he was born, Chief Igbinedion had built a mansion in Benin and was wealthy enough to donate two houses to the then newly created Mid-west in 1963.
As part of the battle for the minds of the Edo people, Igbinedion said he was revealing for the first time how much contribution his father and Tony Anenih, his godfather made to his administration. According to him, “They borrowed the state money. It is documented and you have it there. When the banks could not trust us, I went to them. My father just felt you have got to do what you have got to do. There were days the pensioners would cry to him or block the road to Government House. We had to run to them just to keep the government running.” Impetuous Governor Oshiomhole, there you have it. Pa Igbinedion and Anenih (the fixer) were jointly richer than Edo State when Lucky held sway.
But that cannot be the end of the narrative. To ascertain if indeed Niger Delta vultures are really behind the nightmare of the impoverished masses of Niger Delta as hypothesized by Saro Wiwa, a prejudice swallowed by Oshiomhole, a quick recourse to memory is required to complete the narrative.
Let us start with Lucky Igbinedion himself. He was after his tenure as governor dragged to court by EFCC and slammed with 191 court charges including the theft of N25b. This was reduced to one count of corruption summarized as ‘false declaration of account’, after plea bargaining. An Enugu Federal High Court presided over by Justice Abdullahi Kafarati later sentenced him to six months in prison with the option of a N3.5 million fine which many considered a slap on the wrist. With the plea bargain agreement he reached with the EFCC, he was required to return N500 million and forfeit three of the houses he acquired with stolen public funds to the Federal Government.
Ibori who perfectly fits Saro Wiwa’s vulture characterization was first arraigned in Kaduna. But his associates in the judiciary curiously won their argument that he could only be tried in Asaba. Since there was no Federal High Court in Asaba, Dr. Ewetan Uduaghan, secretary to Ibori government, who went on to succeed him as Delta State governor, quickly donated two government buildings for the purpose. The Asaba Federal High Court created for Ibori and presided over by Justice Marcel Awokulehin wasted no time in discharging and acquitting James Ibori of all of the 170-count charges of corruption, involving the laundering of millions of dollars, filed against him by EFCC. But this did not stop a London court that described Ibori as ‘a criminal in government house’ from jailing him for 13 years after pleading guilty to some of the offences for which he had been acquitted by Asaba Federal High Court.
And finally we can add Alamieyeseigha, the ‘Ijaw Governor-General’. While his influential Nigerian associates insisted the people of Niger Delta had no problem with their governor-general over his husbandry of their resources, the governments of Britain, United States, South Africa, Bahamas and Seychelles as well as the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and the World Bank under the Stolen Assets Recovery Initiative’ were not impressed. They went on to list his portfolio of foreign assets which included accounts with five banks in the UK and further accounts with banks in Cyprus, Denmark and the United States; four London properties acquired for a total of £4.8m; a Cape Town harbour penthouse acquired for almost £1m, assets in the United States, and almost £1m in cash stored in one of his London properties. Britain’s Metropolitan Police went on to charge him to court from where he jumped bail and escaped to Nigeria. And when Ribadu finally secured his conviction in Nigeria, ex-President Jonathan his fellow Ijaw man granted him a presidential amnesty.
Membership of Saro Wiwa’s Niger Delta vultures is spread among the political, economic, intellectual and military classes as well as the judiciary and the press. With Igbinedion, the convict now playing the victim while casting the governor as the villain, Oshiomhole must have now realized that embarking on a crusade against Niger Delta vultures is like going on a suicide mission as Saro Wiwa discovered too late.