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The Matawalle Metaphor

As a young journalist at The Punch in 1980, I appeared one morning at Eko Hotel, as it was then known, to interview newly-elected Senator…

As a young journalist at The Punch in 1980, I appeared one morning at Eko Hotel, as it was then known, to interview newly-elected Senator Joseph Tarka.

Mr. Tarka, whose son, Simeon, had also been elected to the House of Representatives, occupied an expansive suite in the hotel.  It was my first experience of how the other half lived.

He was a well-groomed, well-spoken man, was Mr. Tarka.  He was also bearing some kind of stigma, having been forced to resign his position as a Minister five years earlier, following allegations of official corruption made against him by businessman Godwin Daboh.

As it turned out, in 1979, both men, who were of Benue State origin, were also members of the National Party of Nigeria, which won the presidency.  I soon found myself to be a small part of their story after I was introduced to Mr. Daboh by Punch company chairman Olu Aboderin, and “requested” to interview him.

A few years later, Mr. Daboh would offer me a juicy job at his offices in Oregun, on the mainland.  In 1979, his offices were on Broad Street in Lagos Island.  I arrived to find that he had set up several pieces of audio-visual equipment to document the interview.

As I have written elsewhere, his script was different from my own, which was to ask whatever I thought was appropriate.  Unhappy at some of my questions, he eventually turned off his equipment.

Between my indifference to Mr. Tarka’s offer of coffee and Mr. Daboh’s recording equipment, I learned lessons of consistency early about journalism and politics.

I remembered them  again when news broke earlier this month of protesters besieging the Abuja headquarters of the EFCC, demanding the reopening of its investigations of Bello Matawalle, the former governor of Zamfara State who is now Minister of State for Defence.

Exactly one year ago, the EFCC had confirmed that Mr. Matawalle, at the time just weeks away from losing his immunity protection, was being investigated for a N70bn fraud, and that he would be arrested at the end of his tenure.

But he was not arrested.  Instead, he was nominated for, and received a ministerial chair.

Five months ago, in January 2024, Olawale Olukayode, the EFCC chairman, again reiterated that he was indeed reviewing the Matawalle case.

Who is Matawalle?

Matawalle is a Nigerian metaphor: one of those that I learned about between Tarka’s Eko Hotel and Daboh’s Broad Street four decades ago.  Before I tell you what kind of metaphor, let me cite another example of how power works wonders.

Remember Abdullahi Dikko, the late former Customs Comptroller-General?

In 2009, President Umaru Yar’Adua vaulted him to the top of the Nigeria Customs Service above his superiors, some of who were far more qualified and experienced.

But who was this man?  The media questioned his identity, SaharaReporters also reporting that the date on his birth certificate, which bore the name “Muhammadu Dikko,” appeared to have been tampered with.

He lasted a tumultuous six years as Comptroller-General, hurtling between controversies and allegations that included stealing and looting, eventually resigning abruptly in August 2015.

Early in 2017, the EFCC recovered 17 exotic vehicles from a warehouse Dikko owned in Kaduna, and days afterwards, yet more recoveries.  In 2018, he appeared on Information Minister Lai Mohammed’s “looter’s list”, and was prosecuted by both the EFCC and the ICPC.  About N40 billion and N1.1bn in cash and kind had supposedly been recovered from him.

In spite of all this and a court order for his prosecution and being charged and declared wanted for purposes of trial, Dikko saw neither a court nor a prison.

In 2020, the ICPC withdrew the charges filed against Dikko, saying it had been unable to arrest him.  For its part, the EFCC, which first arrested Dikko in 2016 over a N42bn fraud, was told by a federal court in Abuja in November 2019 that it could no longer prosecute him.

That was after Dikko revealed a “non-prosecution agreement” between he and Abubakar Malami, the Attorney-General of the Federation, based on N1.5bn he had supposedly returned in atonement for his alleged crimes as a public officer. That is how much the Muhammadu Buhari government cheapened Nigeria.

So, who is Matawalle?

First, a man who had been marked down for consequences for allegations of a N70bn fraud should never have been in line for another government appointment until that matter was disposed of.

But let us tiptoe back a little more: In October 2023, the government of Zamfara produced documents showing how Mr. Matawalle had pre-approved “100% payment of over one billion Naira for fencing, landscaping, and furnishing of Governor’s lodges in 14 Local Government Areas.”

In June 2023, the police raided his Gusau residence and recovered over 40 vehicles, including three bulletproof cars and eight SUVs.

On May 24, 2023, Premium Times reported that the EFCC had begun a mass investigation of “at least 28 governors and their deputies” who were leaving office at the end of that month, for which it had requested from the Code of Conduct Bureau their assets declaration documents.  The report cited Mr. Matawalle, who, while denying any wrongdoing, had challenged the agency to probe ‘officers of the presidency’ and members of the Federal Executive Council, and alleged that the then-EFCC chairman Abdulrasheed Bawa had demanded a $2 million bribe from him.

In November 2022, SaharaReporters reported that the EFCC had discovered billions of Naira in cash stashed in various houses of some serving governors, EFCC officials identifying those involved to be Rivers State’s Nyesom Wike (now Minister of the FCT), Kano State’s Abdullahi Ganduje (now APC chairman), and Matawalle.

In October 2022, as Mr. Matawalle attempted to run for a second term as governor, a question about his true identity broke out as the Northern Youth Assembly challenged his eligibility at the Federal High Court with allegations of “serious discrepancies” in his academic and birth certificates.

Two weeks after the governorship left Mr. Matawalle in 2023, news broke out that he had been declared wanted.  The EFCC was quick to deny it, but it has neither arrested him since then nor invited him for questioning.

This is the pattern that has flourished since 1999.  It does not matter how many former governors are listed by the so-called anti-corruption agencies, nor how high the profile or what kind of scandal; how old, how cold or how warm; how clear the matter seems to be, whether it is male or female, or who the anti-corruption leader is.

The agencies will “investigate” for a lifetime, and the suspects will flourish and conquer while they do.  The anti-corruption officials will then move on with their lives, and more compromised officials with faster fingers and dubious memory will take over.  Sometimes—we have seen it happen—porous prosecutions will send the guilty forth, sometimes to become the king and be anointed savior.

I once accused the EFCC of collusion.  That has not changed, and I am sure Nigerians can smell and see for themselves.

The truth seems to be that Nigeria itself has been seized, and we are waiting for the bandits to come to our rescue.

 

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