At long last, Nigeria recorded a landmark conviction in the attempt at fighting corruption in all strata of society, particularly the banking sector. This followed last Friday’s ruling by Justice Dan Abutu of the Federal High Court in Lagos which sentenced Mrs. Cecilia Ibru, former managing director of Oceanic Bank International plc, to 18 months in jail on a three-count charge and ordered a forfeiture of her assets worth over N191 billion.
Nigerians, who have hailed this judgement are, however, disappointed that Mrs. Ibru will spend only six months in prison as her jail term runs concurrently. But they also appear to be consoled by the fact that she would give up a large chunk, if not all, of her loot.
Trouble started for the matriarch of the Ibru business empire when on August 14, 2009, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) released the names of five big banks which, it said, were in deep financial mess. These included Afribank, Finbank, Intercontinental Bank, Oceanic Bank and Union Bank.
The subsequent sacking by the CBN of the chief executives of these distressed banks and their relentless hounding by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) made some of them (Mrs. Ibru inclusive) to go underground. She was later nabbed by security agents while attempting to flee the country in her private jet.
Although the banking dame entered a plea bargain for which reason she was convicted on only three charges and given what appears to be a mild jail sentence, the EFCC’s initial charge list was said to have contained about 25 counts, all of which bordered on fraud and mismanagement.
In fact, the Oceanic Bank chief was accused of approving bank loans well above the authorised limits; siphoning funds to local and offshore accounts using names of cronies (including her nanny’s); converting official property to her private residence; owning a private jet worth $100 million; owning over 94 properties in the United States and Dubai; and having proprietorship of about 100 companies in Nigeria, among others.
For a woman who appeared to have held her own in the midst of many professional male bankers, Mrs. Ibru was easily seen as a perfect role model for the younger generation of female bankers. There was certainly no shortage of admirers even outside the banking sector. But where has all that led everyone given the recent turn of events?
Even though most Nigerian and foreign investors would have expected a lot more than the soft landing granted the ex-bank chief, The Tide thinks that her sentencing alone provides fresh hopes that those in whose hands public funds are entrusted do not convert them for their personal usage. The loot which is to be recovered from her and given to the newly established Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) should serve as enough warning to others that the days are gone when bank executives became too lawless in the management of investors’ funds.
We also agree with the CBN Governor, Lamido Sanusi, that it is not a perfect conviction because if both the EFCC and the Federal Ministry of Justice had prepared a water-tight case against her, a plea bargain that handed down a mere six months jail term on each of such offences wouldn’t have been necessary.
This is why The Tide insists that the trial of all others should be pursued by both the EFCC and the Justice Ministry in a manner that provides no loopholes for such soft landing. They should be thorough, patriotic and, above all, open-minded knowing that the outcome of subsequent trials will play a key role in boosting investors’ confidence in the economy.
It is also instructive to salute Justice Abutu for summoning the strong judicial will of identifying an immediate useful channel for the forfeited loots. This is quite different from previous experiences where, the EFCC was allowed a percentage of any recovered loots while the remainder is hardly accounted for. The huge sums confiscated from the accounts of late Head of State, Gen. Sani Abacha, former Inspector General of Police, Tafa Balogun, and former Governor of Bayelsa State, Chief Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, readily come to mind.
Furthermore, we urge Sanusi to pursue, even harder, his latest reforms which seek to safeguard shareholders and depositors funds while also working towards ensuring that no bank executive remains in office beyond a ten-year tenure as a means of checking corruption in the sector.
Lofty as the intentions are, we are afraid that little will be achieved if the apex bank fails to recharge its Inspectorate Unit. Our apprehension is based on the fact that any fraudulent mind would hardly require as much as 10 years to ground a finance house. Only regular inspection and close monitoring by CBN officials can help to check such wanton theft from the banks.
Reps’ Alarm On Ebola
Obviously agitated by the havoc perpetrated by the 2014 Ebola virus crisis, the Federal House of Representatives last week issued a fresh alarm and directive to relevant authorities and stakeholders to enforce checks at the nation’s entry points – airports, seaports and land borders so as to avert another round of disaster by the deadly virus.
Arising from its plenary, the lawmakers unanimously passed two separate resolutions on Ebola, the first being a motion by Paschal Obi entitled: “Looming Reoccurrence of Ebola Crisis In Nigeria” in which the Green Chamber directed the Federal Ministry of Health to deploy all necessary materials and personnel to immediately embark on screening of all passengers at the airports, seaports and land borders as well as for the Federal Government to set aside funds for the management of Ebola virus in the event of its re-occurrence in Nigeria.
Rep Obi, in his motion, explained that considering the proximity of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to Nigeria and other West African countries, the need to put in place adequate mechanism to prevent the resurgence of the pandemic in a densely populated country like Nigeria has become imperative.
Similarly, the House called for the immortalisation of Late Dr. Stella Ameyo Adadevoh for sacrificing her life towards preventing the spread of Ebola virus from Lagos State to other parts of Nigeria in 2014 by naming a public health institution after the medic for her heroic act of patriotism and nationalism.
Well said, The Tide agrees no less with the position of the lawmakers. It is, indeed, apt, timely and commendable that the House could speak out in what is clearly a matter of public interest and urgency which constitutes a clear and present danger to the wellbeing of the citizenry.
Since the Liberian-American diplomat, Patrick Sawyer, brought the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) into Nigeria in 2014, there have been conscious efforts by all stakeholders at governmental and non-governmental levels on preventive and protective measures. Perhaps, that informed the reason why the lawmakers resolved to alert the nation on EVD before we could find ourselves in a messy situation.
Thankfully, Nigerian borders, particularly land entry points remain closed for now and we expect the nation’s security community, especially the Immigration and Customs personnel to be more vigilant and thorough in their screening following reports of Ebola scare in the DRC.
The death of Adadevoh and a nurse that treated Sawyer, still looms large in our psyche and, therefore, no effort should be spared in preventing and containing any outbreak in Nigeria again.
We recall that on October 9, 2014, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) specially acknowledged Nigeria’s positive role in controlling and containing the Ebola epidemic, “Nigeria’s quick responses, including intense rapid contact tracing, tracking, surveillance of potential contacts and isolation of all contacts were of particular importance in controlling and limiting the outbreak,” the ECDC declared, describing Nigeria’s feat as a piece of world-class epidemiological detective work and a spectacular success story.
It is against this backdrop that we think that all critical stakeholders should not relent on the achievements recorded in 2014 in the event of the current EVD scare.
Ebola is widely considered to be worse than HIV/AIDS not because it has no known cure or vaccine. Infected persons face painful death in a matter of days. Regrettably, it has claimed many lives, including heathcare providers who in the discharge of their professional duties paid the supreme price.
Infected persons exhibit symptoms ranging from diarrhea, bleeding, high temperature, haemorrhagic fever, sore throat, among others. This is why we need sensitisation of the populace to track patients that exhibit such symptoms for early treatment and isolation.
With the report of the virus and breakout in the above-named Central African country, Nigerians more than any other time need to be very cautious as conditions that predispose the populace to the virus appear to be everywhere, even as medical experts warn against consumption of ‘bush meat,’ physical contact with infected persons by way of handshake, sexual intercourse and exposure to wild animals and birds. It is worrisome that we cherish the bush meat delicacy as well as live in slum settlements which make our people more vulnerable in case of the virus outbreak.
Our consolation, however, is that the World Health Organisation (WHO), the European Union (EU), the Federal Ministry of Health and other critical stakeholders have been striving hard to put in place strategies to combat the scourge.
The time for the media and all stakeholders to synergise towards providing the much-needed sensitisation is now or never. In the main, the least any Nigerian could do, for now, is to remain vigilant and prayerful.
Let Votes Count In Bayelsa, Kogi
On Saturday, November 16, 2019, the people of Bayelsa and Kogi States, would troop out in their numbers, to vote for candidates of their choice in the governorship elections which the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) fixed on that day for the two States.
Expectedly, preparations for the elections have reached an advance stage, as the electoral umpire has put everything in place for a smooth and hitch-free exercise. This time around, expectations are really high for INEC to acquit itself creditably, by ensuring that the elections are not only peaceful but also credible, free and fair.
On this score, feelers indicate that INEC has already distributed over 2.4 million permanent voters cards (PVCs) to the electorate in both states, to ensure that they participate maximally in the electoral process.
INEC chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, while dropping this hint during a quarterly meeting with Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in Abuja, said a total of 889,308 PVCs were collected in Bayelsa State while 1,485,828 PVCs were collected in Kogi State as at September 30.
Yakubu equally disclosed that the commission had accredited 135 domestic observer groups and 16 foreign observer groups for the polls in both states, hinting that the commission was desirous of deepening transparency and accountability in the conduct of the polls.
There is no doubt that political tension has reached fever pitch in the two states, considering the volatility of these areas, particularly when it comes to matters of politics and elections. To say that the political atmosphere in both states today is fully charged is to state the obvious.
Speculations that violence may characterise and mar the elections are rife. It is even alleged that the various political gladiators in the states are warming up for a serious political showdown come November 16; and are ready to throw everything at their disposal to the ring to ensure that they clinch victory at the polls. The political indices on the ground are frightening.
Just recently, stakeholders from Bayelsa and Kogi States listed violence, vote buying and manipulation of the youths as some of the issues that would determine the outcome of the elections in the two states.
According to one of the stakeholders, apart from violence orchestrated by the Army and other security agencies, the electorate see INEC officials and security agencies as agents of fraud rather than arbiters of fair play.
It is, however, heart-warming that INEC has indicated its willingness and determination to correct the mistakes of the 2019 General Election with the November 16 polls in the two states, stressing that the two elections would correct the mistakes in the general election and set a new standard for future elections.
The chairman of the Board of INEC’s Electoral Institute, Prince Solomon Soyebi, who gave this assurance said, “the elections will provide the commission with yet another opportunity to test-run its policies, process and new initiatives”.
According to the INEC National Commissioner, “Athough the conduct of the 2019 general election and the commission’s performance had some challenges, we can use the 2019 general election as a barometer for comparison with subsequent elections, including the Bayelsa and Kogi governorship elections. Clearly, the commission is not under any illusion about the many issues and challenges posed by the electoral process”.
There is no gain saying the fact that INEC’s performance in the 2019 General Election was not too encouraging, as it fell short of the expectations of most Nigerians. One obvious area where the electoral umpire performed abysmally was the manual recording and transmission of results instead of the electronic transmission from the polling units. It is mind-boggling and shocking that INEC, going by attestation at the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal, had no server. This, indeed, leaves a sour taste in the month, as it offers and provides room for easy manipulation of results.
The Tide believes that the governorship elections in the two states, this time around, offer INEC another opportunity to redeem its battered image. The polls are, indeed, another litmus test for the electoral body, as all lapses and mistakes of the past must be corrected, through them.
The truth is that we are not yet satisfied with what is on the ground in both states in terms of preparations for the elections. INEC must be thorough. It must do all within its capacity to restore the confidence of Nigerians in the electoral process. This, it can do by being truly neutral and independent.
Above all, all the institutions, including the Police and other security agencies must be up and doing. They must all provide the enabling environment for violence-free, peaceful, free, fair and credible elections to take place in the two states.
There is the need for politics to develop in the country to the point that the people can have confidence in the electoral system in such a way that the electorate, irrespective of political part affiliations, should be allowed to vote for candidates of their choice.
Again, all stakeholders including political parties must realise that what is at stake is the interest of the two states, as it relates to development and good governance. Elections are only vehicles in actualising the yearnings and aspirations of the people in this regard. Elections are never a do or die affair.
Only the best should be allowed to emerge at the end of the day.
Thus, there should be no room for desperation and manipulations. The people must be allowed to vote with their conscience.
It is also high time INEC gave the electronic voting system a shot. It can experiment this with the governorship elections in the two states. There should be no manual thing, as we experienced in the 2019 General Election. The world is still watching. The most important thing is, let the votes count in Bayelsa and Kogi States.
No To Nationwide OPI
Last week, while deliberating on matters of urgent national importance, the Federal House of Representatives passed a motion suspending a proposed exercise by the Nigerian Army tagged, Operation Positive Identification, OPI.
The exercise which was billed to last between November 1 to December 23, 2019 would require Nigerians to move about with means of identification. According to the Army, the operation would enable them profile Nigerians and identify genuine citizens from aliens, bandits, insurgents, kidnappers and other criminals.
But the Reps members, while unanimously voting against the operation said that the planned exercise was unconstitutional and against the natural rights of Nigerians to free movement.
Also, on Tuesday, Justice Rilwanu Aikawa of Federal High Court, Lagos ordered the Nigerian Army and its Chief of Army Staff (COAS) to suspend the operation, which had already commenced on the first day of the month.
According to Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), who brought the matter before the court, the operation violates his right and that of other Nigerian citizens to liberty, “as encapsulated in Section 35 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, as amended and Article 6 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act, (Cap A10) Laws of Federation of Nigeria, 2004”.
The Tide cannot agree more with the Federal House of Representatives, Justice Aikawa, Mr Falana and indeed many other concerned but silent Nigerians, who would be put through untold hardship if the operation was allowed to live through its schedule.
No matter what may have informed the exercise or the objectives the propounders had hoped to achieve, allowing OPI to be carried out nationwide by the Army would have wrought more agony, tears and complaints on Nigerians.
We think that, apart from being unconstitutional, the Army by their training and operations are not equipped for this kind of operation that is supposed to be civil in nature. It is really undemocratic to over expose the Army to the civilian populace, especially, when there is no war.
It is worrisome that the Federal Government under President Muhammadu Buhari appears to be over-labouring the military with extra responsibilities, most of which are civil in nature, when there are other agencies of government, that should naturally be saddled with such responsibilities. The Army has its roles and responsibilities clearly stated in the Constitution of the country, which mandates them to protect and defend the territorial sovereignty of the nation from external threats and insurrection.
While we are not against the military adopting any measure or tactic, including OPI to check and quell banditry, insurrection and Boko Haram menace, particularly in the North-East and North-West of the country, extending it to all parts of the nation at this time is uncalled for.
Infact, we see OPI as mooted by its sponsors as a high level scam, a kite flown by some highly placed individuals in the corridors of power to rip off the nation, even as it groans under the weight of scarce resources. Therefore, no effort should be spared to discourage and nip the illegality in the bud.
If we must embark on an exercise to profile and identify Nigerians and residents, we believe that the Nigerian Immigration Service, NIS, the Nigerian Police Force, NPF, the Department of State Services DSS and Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, NSCDC are better equipped for the job. The military, we think, should be left to concern themselves with their constitutional duties, particularly, that of checking external aggression against Nigeria.
Apart from being unconstitutional and uncalled for, OPI across the country at this time will not only exacerbate the existing tension and frustrations in Nigeria, the citizens would be downgraded. The country will be militarised while the international community will also view us as an unsecured nation that is not worthy for investment.
That most Nigerians have either rejected or spoken against OPI at the scale that was put forward by the Army shows that it is not in the interest of the people. Moreso, the fact that sources within the military a few days ago recanted on the OPI and denied ownership of the operation suggests that the operation should be treated with suspicion.
That is why we expect the Presidency to pull the plug on the operation, while the Federal High Court and the National Assembly go beyond suspension of the exercise and cancel it outrightly.
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