The moment I saw a woman sashaying across the stage during the inauguration of Governor Chukwuma Soludo of Anambra State, I knew something was out of place.
I did not know it was outgoing first lady Ebele Obiano, let alone that she was about to set for herself a new standard in public humiliation. In moments, she would run her mouth off one more time, and —on camera— get the very mouth slapped out of her face.
Delivering that robust censure was the former beauty queen Bianca: lawyer, diplomat, judge, jury, executioner, daughter of CC Onoh and esteemed bride of Odumegwu Ojukwu. She, it was, who converted Ebele from reckless to regrettable, establishing a historic “where-were-you-when” moment. Ebele, who recently vowed to crown herself a senator, getting her insolence and arrogance walloped out of her in her final seconds of political relevance.
The image of a repugnant public figure getting her comeuppance publicly is one that many citizens dream of. Thanks to Bianca, we now have one to adorn our television and cell phone screens with: a permanent laughter-stimulator to guffaw to, and to show to our grandchildren and their children.
Where, meanwhile, was her husband, “Willie-Was-Working” Obiano? He was physically present as his wife, rather than raise the bar of dignity on their way out, brought down the roof of shamelessness instead. Mentally, as it would turn out, he was on his way to Houston, Texas, his “after-Anambra” dream. Houston, where he somehow owns massive estates…where nobody would mention the word, Anambra, ever to him again…Houston, from where Ebele planned to commute to a senatorial seat in Abuja on payday—sorry, playday — while he babysits dogs.
How do we know this? Well, in just a matter of hours as he fled Awka, the Anambra capital, he would be arrested at the Lagos airport, a scenario he must have feared ever since he announced that as soon as he was no longer governor, he would be shaking the sands off his feet and heading for the bliss and peace of Texas, following which it somehow transpired that the EFCC had placed an APB for him once he lost his immunity cover.
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And so, Willie was seized by the EFCC, and was soon being spirited off to Abuja, suggesting that he had questions to answer about what he owns or who he really is or what he has done with some public funds.
However, as former President Olusegun Obasanjo said recently about some of the persons running for president, the EFCC’s mission collapse has permitted persons who should be in jail to be on the presidential campaign trail.
But such persons sadly run Nigeria: as legislators or governors or political party chiefs or top appointed officials. We fall on our faces before them and call them “excellency”. They may seem to have a problem with the EFCC, which makes a show of inviting them to its offices for questioning, but it is mere street soccer, and some of those games have been going on now since the agency was set up in 2004. In a country as ethically empty as Nigeria, ask yourself how many former high office holders the EFCC has put in jail, and how many former governors with scandalous records have moved on to the Senate or —as Obasanjo said— to enter a presidential contest.
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Sadly, Obasanjo himself helped nurture the animal of an ineffective EFCC and of governors without control. Remember: Nuhu Ribadu, the pioneer EFCC chairman, confirmed that corruption was worse under Obasanjo than under Sani Abacha. He told Robin Sanders, the then US Ambassador to Nigeria, that Obasanjo was simply better at covering his tracks.
It is therefore no surprise that Obasanjo continues to claim superiority over other Nigeria misleaders, the same game of pretence that critical national institutions, such as the EFCC and the electoral commission, INEC, play.
Like Obasanjo, think about how loudly Attahiru Jega, the former INEC chairman, has spoken recently about how Nigeria is “collapsing.” As I continue to point out, for the history books, Jega is the same man who put the world on notice in March 2011 that his extremely expensive electoral register had been violated by “some high-profile double registrants,” who would be prosecuted.
As a powerful demonstration of our malfeasance, Jega never did. Among others, one of those crooks, who had registered four times—twice in each of two states—became a governor!
The import of all this is that Obiano may well be in one of his palatial American estates very soon, even before this story is published. Or the EFCC may still be playing footsie with him 20 years from now as he returns to run for president. All he has to do is use a pair of scissors to trim his age by 10.
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Still, the Governor Soludo era has got off to an explosive start, and I refer not just to the stars that Ebele Obiano saw on Thursday. He has made a lot of promises, and I am ready to join his chorus of praise singers should he succeed.
But will he lead by example? Unlike many of his supporters, I have heard neither explanation nor apology for his first time in public prominence.
Part of the fear is the mess he made in the Obasanjo government of the Africa Finance Corporation (AFC), over which he illegally made himself chairman, as part of his disdain for rules. Elsewhere, I described the report of the Presidential Committee to Investigate the Activities of the AFCas “reading like a Mafioso diary,” and Soludo’s reputation as being “chin-deep in the sewers.”
With Soludo leading widespread illegalities, the CBN was carpeted as “liable for gross negligence, recklessness, and gross abuse of office.” It was castigated for collusion with the AFC Management, led by Austine Ometoruwa, “to mis-apply AFC funds as a source of cheap trading money rather than being deployed to the critical developmental objectives for which the AFC was established.”
Those illegalities did not escape the American banking system. In April 2008, the US imposed a $15 million fine against UBA New York for violations of the Bank Secrecy Act.
While that was going on, the defunct 234NEXT.com newspaper reported that Soludo had set up a $2.1m home in the London suburb of Brondesbury Park and registered one of his children in a £25,000-per annum school, “roughly half his annual salary.”
“The other child attends a similarly expensive public school— which in Britain actually means private school—so that in theory Mr Soludo’s entire earnings of about N12 million a year hardly covers his children’s school fees,” the newspaper said.
And then of course there is that entire matter of Soludo somehow “buying” the official residence of the CBN governor in Abuja, and for a measly N200m.
Hopefully, the new governor will not slap the Anambra voter in the face. And hopefully, someone translates to President Muhammadu Buhari, the champion of aloofness, the symbolism of the slap that Ebele Obiano ended with.
That symbolism is: history may wait. Or not wait until the end.