“If we must win the fight against corruption in our country, we must eschew friendships, tribal ties, consanguineous relationships, generational solidarity and face the facts of each case as we see them”-Festus Keyamo, Lagos lawyer, in his letter to Hon. Dimeji Bankole, Speaker,
House of Representatives asking him to explain the controversial Peugeot
I wrote sometime ago that the fight on corruption was dead on arrival in Nigeria. Once Farida Waziri was enthroned as EFCC chairman by Honorable Dimeji Bankole and his coterie of “do-nothing” legislators, we are sunk! And now, the chicken is coming home to roost.
I am one of the few who are willing to give Hon. Bankole a chance to prove us wrong. After all, until a few years ago, he was one of us, Nigerian abroad. He knows what representative democracy means, he understood the fiduciary nature of the call for public service. In fact he got his present position as Speaker, after his predecessor had been disgraced out of office for corruption related affair. So when the news broke about the Peugeot 407 scandal currently rocking the House of Representative in Nigeria, I could not help but lament how we Nigerians continue to ignore the lessons of history.
Let me posit here however, that Hon. Bankole is yet to defend himself of all the allegations so unlike some I will refrain from reaching any conclusions on that issue. The issue I really want to address is the ongoing charade at the House of Representatives Committee on Ethics and Privileges. At the hearing, the committee members made it explicitly clear they are not really interested in finding the truth about the scandal rocking the house, but are more focused on ferreting out information about the “whistleblower.”
They want to know how Mr. Keyamo got his information and not if the allegation were true. When it got to the turn of Newswatch, the Executive Editor of Newswatch, Mr. Bala Dan Abu, who stood in for the Editor-in-Chief of the magazine, Ray Ekpu, was available and he again was interrogated on the source and authenticity of the magazine’s story on the scam. No attempt was made to first investigate the allegation by staff of the house. None of the administrative staff implicated in the scandal was brought to the hearing.
Mr. Abu told the committee that while the news magazine stood by the content of its story, it had no further presentation, additional information or submission to make.
“This is the magazine I edit and I cannot deny any information contained in it. We stand by all the information contained in our story. It is not as if I have additional information,” he said. You would think the House members will stop here and start asking the right answers instead of red herring. Well, you don’t know them.
And then the members asked the blackmail question, here I will quote the account in Thisday published online on October 30, 2008 “verbatim ad literati”: The House members asked “On whether there was still need to push for the enactment of the Freedom of Information Bill (FoI) in the face of the prevailing situation where the mass media procure official secrets and publish stories such as the car purchase scam.”
Tell me what has the FOI bill got to do with an inflated contract? It was not as if they doubted the veracity of the document submitted by Mr. Keyamo. In actual fact they were astounded that an ordinary Nigerian will have access to a public document. Document that should and ought to be made available online by every democratic government for scrutiny by the public and tax payers. There you go folks, our distinguished House of Representative now engages in blackmail. The implication for the press is to stop any probe of the House expenditure and budget if they want to pass the Freedom of Information bill. This I called the ultimate blackmail.
For me, I have reached an inevitable conclusion that we cannot trust the present Nigerian politicians to pass the freedom of information bill, the political parties and politicians in Nigeria today will be committing political “hara-kiri” if they passed the FOI bill. It will cut off the source of their ill-gotten wealth. Nigerian masses and activist have to prepare themselves for a long slug fight to a constitutional amendment if Freedom of Information were to become law in Nigeria.