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April 13

April 13 EDITORIAL PAGE 45 Panama Papers fallout Not a few feathers in many countries were ruffled recently by a massive leak to the press…

April 13


Panama Papers fallout

Not a few feathers in many countries were ruffled recently by a massive leak to the press of millions of documents containing information which suggests secret and unlawful business transactions by highly placed public figures. The documents were leaked from the computer records of the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca. This firm has been involved over the years in conducting proxy financial services for hundreds of thousands of companies often referred to as shell companies, and owned by the high and mighty across the world. The shell companies are usually operated outside the shores of the owners’ countries, where they facilitate the concealment of business transactions of such owners from the laws of their respective countries.

It is generally believed that business operations through shell companies are associated with intention of the owners to engage in clandestine activities including tax evasion, money laundering and concealment of stolen funds in offshore safe havens. Specifically featuring in the Mossack Fonseca affair are monarchs, presidents, prime ministers and a long list of other national leaders hailing from virtually all corners of the globe, including Nigeria. For Nigeria, the situation offers significant implications with respect to the specific provisions of the country’s laws which prohibit public officers from maintaining foreign businesses and bank accounts while in public service. Indeed the country’s laws demand that on assumption of office, every public officer shall declare whatever interest he or she has in any foreign business and formally disengage from such, throughout the service tenure.

Incidentally, listed among the clients of Mossack Fonseca are several Nigerian public figures whose association with the firm lasted even during their tenures in public office, and in clear breach of the extant law. While the use of the firm or any other proxy organization to transact foreign business may not be intrinsically wrong, the violation of extant laws in that regard by such Nigerian citizens, no matter how highly placed, demands appropriate response from the law enforcement agencies, especially the anti-graft organisations such as Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Independent Corrupt Practices and Related Offences Commission (ICPC) and Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB).

The disclosure is a serious concern in Nigeria given the mind boggling scope of looting of public funds by generations of unscrupulous occupants of public office, who spared no effort in ensuring that they stripped the country bare of her fortunes. Given the antecedents of Mossack Fonseca, it remains a prime destination for such looters and their ill-gotten wealth. The Nigerian public expects relevant agencies to seize this opportunity offered by the Panama Papers to maximum advantage. It is of particular interest to the Nigerian public to know if the funds associated with the implicated public officials are traceable to the public till. It is not out of place for the anti-graft and security agencies to borrow a leaf from the situation in other countries where the Panama Papers have stirred up relevant agencies and members of the public in arms, pursuant to sanctioning implicated public officers.

Since the advent of the present administration, President Muhammadu Buhari has on several occasions expressed his resolve to track looted public funds and the looters, and has embarked on foreign missions to promote that resolve. The Panama papers provide a most auspicious opportunity for him to be definitive in the anti-corruption crusade by ensuring a clinical treatment of the matter, and assuring Nigerians of his capacity and resolve to protect the public weal.

Of importance in the expected response from the security and anti-graft agencies should be the issue of tax evasion which, lamentably has suffered criminal neglect from our authorities over the years. Money laundering is the other area of serious concern for us. Also of critical significance is the need to revisit the country’s investment laws with a view to plugging loopholes that may not have been apparent in the past but have been highlighted by the Panama Papers’ disclosure.

Who’s after Saraki’s blood?

By Abdulrazaq Magaji

There is no point bluffing when trouble comes visiting. It appears trouble has chosen the home of senate president, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, for an unwelcome visit and, so far, all attempts to call the bluff of trouble appear to be failing. And, while things continue to fall apart, the man in the eye of the storm is busy clutching at straws in the belief that his theatrics can get off out of the pit he dug for himself.

At long last, the long-awaited trial of Dr. Bukola Saraki has commenced at the Code of Conduct Tribunal. And, from stomach-churning revelations by the Economic and Finance Crimes Commission, EFCC, of how Dr. Bukola Saraki serially plundered Kwara state when he served as governor from 2003 to 2011, Nigerians are getting to know why the man was desperate to stop his trial. And, before you could say Panama, the senate president’s woes suddenly took an international dimension.

The leakage of the damning Panama papers could not have come at a worse time for the embattled senate president. In essence, a section of the leaked papers as it affects Dr. Bukola Saraki detailed his controversial ownership of hidden properties not listed in his padded asset declaration papers. Dr. Saraki’s wife, Toyin, and younger brother, Laolu, are also implicated. The way it is going, the scandal portends trouble for those involved.

Dr. Saraki’s initial response to the Panama scandal was a lame statement by his UK-based lawyers who, typical of people defending their meal ticket, issued a statement to the effect that the senate president committed no crime! But, the man in the centre of the storm thought differently and, within twenty-four hours, caused another statement, this time by one of his aides in Nigeria, to be issued. Signed by an appropriately named Mr. Olaniyonu, a name someone said Dr. Saraki should adopt as his middle name, the statement simply reminded Nigerians that the senate president and his wife, Toyin, also the subject of corruption investigations, come from wealthy homes!

Of course, Toyin Saraki, comes from the wealthy Ojora family in Lagos while the senate president is the son of late Dr. Abubakar Olusola Saraki, himself senate leader from 1979 to 1983 and who, like his son, Bukola, excelled more in politics than his calling as a medical doctor. Interestingly, none of the properties allegedly acquired illegally by Dr. Bukola Saraki and his wife belong to the Ojora and Saraki families and none of them was passed on as an inheritance! Still clutching at straws, eh?

By the way, does the senate president have need to clutch at straws if, as he claimed, he is happy that his trial has finally commenced? If he is honest, why then did he have to go up to the nation’s apex court to stop the same trial? What do honest, decent and innocent people do when they are tossed before a judge for an offence they never committed? Do they clutch at straws and blame others instead of standing in front of a mirror? Do honest men have need to waste millions to hire lawyers in defence of emptiness?

Honest people rarely get charged for looting, a crime Dr. Bukola Saraki is alleged to have committed. But, in the unlikely event an honest, decent and innocent person is charged for an offence they never committed, the reasonable thing to do is to go clear their names before a judge! That, exactly, is what decent and innocent Nigerians expected the senate president to do but which, for reasons best known to him, he tried to run away from. Isn’t that strange?

And, look at the quality of legal representation Dr. Bukola Saraki’s money procured for him! After he realized that the imposing figure of Joseph Daudu failed to intimidate the CCT chairman and after he was reportedly turned down by some lawyers with integrity, the senate president succeeded in drafting, among others, Kanu Agabi, a former federal attorney general who said, in his first major public pronouncement, that his main brief was to use the opportunity provided by the trial to dispel the rumours in the country surrounding his client!

Of course, Mr. Agabi has to feed his family and is right to care less about whose money the Senate president is paying him just to dispel rumours. But, would he have behaved differently even if knew? At the end of the day, Dr. Saraki himself cannot be definite as to how many billions of Naira he paid lawyers to dispel rumours. Will the senate president be throwing money at lawyers to dispel rumours if he earned it? Is this the mark of an honest, decent and innocent person? Does Dr. Bukola Saraki know the amount of pain his recklessness caused the people of Kwara state who still reel under the effect of his tenure?

It’s okay for the senate president to carry on the way he is doing. He has a cross to carry and it is only he that can bear it. It is a big surprise that, in spite of the chest-thumping by some senators, none of them thought it fit to conjure someone from outer space to come carry their boss’s cross. Few years back, an ingenious loyalist would have sworn to an affidavit and grabbed the headlines by confessing that it was he, an Ilorin-based truck driver named Bukola Saraki that committed all the crimes his namesake, Dr. Bukola Saraki, is accused of! If one is needed, this is proof that things are changing!

An immediate indication of the changing times is that, these days, few senators who still believe they can get the case swept under the carpet, are bold enough to show their face in solidarity with their man at the trials. There were 11 of them at the last session, down from a five-dozen high, when Dr. Bukola Saraki first appeared at the CCT last September. Fine, if this means senators no longer wish to live in the past.

Nigeria will get it right. And part of the process of getting it right is for people to learn to stand before mirrors and assess what they see. If you are bold to stand before a mirror, you will be sincere to admit that the only thing people should fear is the reflection you see in the mirror! Isn’t this one time for Nigerians to begin to hold their heads high?

Magaji wrote this piece from Abuja

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