Like a merciless incubus, the unfolding Halliburton bribery scandal must surely be one of the most oppressive private emotional ordeals for former President Obasanjo. Although the former President once declared that nothing embarrasses him, the Halliburton bribery scandal is an exception because if courageously and openly investigated, the issue may send Obasanjo back to prison. The only question is whether President Yar’adua will have the courage to arrest and prosecute Gen. Obasanjo and others who have so far been implicated in the bribery scandal. Considering the fact that this is a litmus test for Yar’adua’s anti-corruption crusade, the pressure to call Obasanjo to account will get stronger and Yar’adua may then face a choice between protecting national interest and losing his entire credibility.
One hundred and eighty million dollars is not a small amount by any standard and if petty robbers could be sent to the gallous for stealing, there should be no reason why former President Obasanjo and all those connected with the Halliburton bribery scandal should be spared. This is the moment of truth for Yar’adua and there is no hiding place for anyone that soiled his hands in the scandal. The earth is made of glass and therefore, there is no place big enough to hide the rogue. In Europe and America, those connected with the scandal are being sent to jail but in Nigeria, there are desperate moves to protect the identity of the culprits. However, because of the international dimension of the bribery scandal, any attempt to frustrate investigation will fail as all Nigerians are watching.
The keen interest of Nigerians in the Halliburton scandal is understandable. They want to see whether President Yar’adua will have the will or courage to submit former President Obasanjo to the bitter pills of his anti-corruption crusade. In fact, the arrest of Obasanjo’s former Special Assistant, Mr. Bodunde Adeyanju by the Okiro panel has exposed the knowledge of Obasanjo about the bribe scandal and the criminal connivance of his hypocritical administration to cover up the sleaze.
According to the Next newspaper, which has been following the scandal with patriotic and Professional zeal, a British lawyer, Mr. Jeffery Tesler, was appointed to deliver millions of dollars to Gaius Obaseki, the former Group Managing Director of the NNPC who in turn was delivering the money to Obasanjo’s government through a former Special Presidential Assistant, Mr. Bodunde.
The bribe money, according to the paper, was turned into a secret fund for financing the PDP. In fact, the paper quoted former PDP national chairman, Mr. Audu Ogbeh as admitting the receipts of several millions from the Presidential villa during Obasanjo’s tenure. However, Mr. Ogbeh said they didn’t know the source of the money. Three people – Obasanjo, Obaseki and Bodunde- knew the source of the money and it was not therefore important for Ogbeh and others to know about such a tightly guarded secret. But the skeletons are crashing heavily from Obasanjo’s cupboard.
Bodunde was so trusted by Obasanjo that the former President found it convenient to let his aide receive and distribute the Halliburton bribe money as instructed. Foolishly and deceitfully, fighting corruption was one of Obasanjo’s major policy focuses. The late Gen. Sani Abacha family and friends became the first guinea pigs of former President Obasanjo’s anti-corruption crusade.
In fact, he almost turned them into a squeezed orange under the guise of recovering stolen money. Ironically, even the so-called stolen money allegedly recovered from the Abacha family, friends and associates couldn‘t be accounted for. Nobody can say as yet where the money had gone to, despite the fact that fighting corruption was carried out with so much razzmatazz by the former Obasanjo administration. Even the 18 billion dollar debt relief granted Nigeria by the Paris and London of Club of Creditors didn’t make any impact in terms of improved quality of life for Nigerians. What also happened to the commission paid to Nigeria on the debt relief?
Was former President Obasanjo truly fighting corruption or was it merely a smokescreen to divert our attention from unprecedented corruption, which his hypocritical administration was about to unleash on Nigerians? In fact, there was no administration in which corruption grew rapidly like weed that compares to Obasanjo’s. Corruption reached a trillion naira scale under the Obasanjo administration. If, indeed, corruption was an Abacha phenomenon, why did the evil grow ever worse under the Obasanjo Administration? Why didn’t corruption come to an end after the election of “Saint” Obasanjo? Ironically, under his rule, Nigerians saw the beatification of corruption so much that Nigeria received a badge of infamy as one of the most corrupt nations of the world, according to Transparency International of which Obasanjo was once a member of its governing board.
Corruption is the biggest threat to the development of Nigeria. As long as this evil persists, we cannot attain the ambition of becoming among the 20 leading economies of the world by 2020.
Nigerians must maintain the pressure on Yar’adua over the Halliburton bribery scandal. Proceeds of corruption, whether they were used to finance PDP campaigns or whatever, remain illegal and all those who collected the Halliburton money under whatever guise stand indicted.
Tsoho writes from No. B28, Anguwar Dosa, Kaduna