By Beke Alagoa
"These people give us a bad name. They make Nigeria look ridiculous in the eyes of the international community. It's as if we don't have any laws governing the country".
These were the words of an irate post graduate student at an event in Durham, North Carolina where the issue of corruption in Africa came up in a casual conversation during the schmoozing session of a formal event I was attending. The student, Tunde, was very incensed about the fact that anytime Nigeria was mentioned the first thing anyone thought about was how fearlessly corrupt politicians and their cronies were. I deliberately chipped in that corruption is everywhere; even in the US and the other so-called advanced countries but Tunde immediately countered that this may be so but the impunity in the Nigerian situation is what makes this beautiful country attract attention for all the wrong reasons, after which he continued to give the example of Mr. Stephen Oronsaye. Tunde suggested that the politicians may be corrupt, but they have mastered their trade to the extent that keeping tabs on them alone may not be the answer to fighting the menace. Instead, he said, one should look beyond the politicians to their associates.
Prior to Tunde mentioning his name Mr. Oronsaye was totally unknown to me and so far the debate had been centered on the politicians, so I asked my newfound friend to shed some light on his proposition. This was not the president, not even a governor or a minister of state. So why is Tunde hell-bent on putting so much emphasis on Mr. Stephen Oronsaye? Tunde responded by giving me some leads to start some level of research on the man and what I came up with was truly shocking.
Mr. Oronsaye was onetime head of the civil service in Nigeria. He had joined the Federal Ministry of Finance in 1995 as Director, Special duties. He was subsequently appointed in 1999 as the Principal Private Secretary of former president Olusegun Obasanjo. Prior to this Mr., Oronsaye had had a distinguished career as an accountant. However, his appointment to head the civil service had met with a barrage of complaints from within the organization. Many people thought he was an outsider who had invaded the service with the private sector ideas. These 'dissenting voices' were however quickly hushed, and Mr. Oronsaye went ahead to serve in that position. The confirmation of his appointment as Permanent Secretary at the State House was also deemed somewhat out of the ordinary as he was technically not a civil servant, whereas the position was traditionally reserved for distinguished civil servants.
As the Principal Private Secretary, Tunde believes Mr. Oronsaye was primarily used as a front by Mr. Obasanjo to conduct his devious transactions and was the principal architect of Obasanjo's looting of the Nigerian coffers.
According to Tunde, the stock in trade of Nigerian politicians like Obasanjo is to appoint someone in a position of mid-level authority and hide behind them to loot the country so that when the iron strikes there is no direct connection to them. Such people are not in the political limelight and thus manage to avoid the direct glare of public scrutiny. In the case of Mr. Oronsaye however, he also hides behind others who also hide behind others until an unwitting accomplice comes by who is expected to bear all the brunt when the iron actually strikes, but who knows next to nothing about the schemes in which he or she is only a pawn.
Theoretically Tunde made perfect sense to me but being the critical pragmatic person that I am I asked him to substantiate his claim, to which he referred me to a set of documents and articles to help me in my self-commissioned research.
According to these documents which principally emanate from various sources, Mr. Oronsaye is hardly mentioned directly, and it takes the very meticulous mind to actually find a link between the people who have been charged -some of who have faced or are facing trial- and Mr. Stephen Oronsaye. (and by default ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo).
For example, Mrs. Phina Chidi, Franklin Okey Nwankwo, Computer Plaza etc. have been hauled before the Federal High Court in Abuja on numerous charges relating to illicit transactions and defrauding the state.
In the case, Charge # FHC/ABJ/CR/81/2013, 11 different individuals and businesses were being accused. Mr. Oronsaye, needless to say, is not one of these. However, a critical look at the statements issued by some of the accused pointed a bending finger at the man.
Mrs. Phina Ukamaka Chidi is a former Deputy Director of Finance and Accounts in the Federal office of the Head of Service (Pensions). Giving her statement to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) of Nigeria, Mrs. Chidi made a startling revelation of several instances when she had been used by her boss the former Director of Pension Accounts in the Office of the Head of Civil Service of the Federation, (HCSF) Dr. Sani Teidi Shaibu to sign cheques that she knew little about and to award contracts to questionable entities without the proper tendering procedures.
Even though, going by her own account she cannot possibly be totally absolved of the charges it appears that she was basically a lackey of Dr. Shaibu whose management style- again judging by the statement- is nothing to write home about. "Dr. Shaibu once told me that some signatures were forged including mine but did not show me the mandates involved. As regards the forged signatures that Dr. Shaibu told me about, he said he noticed it and destroyed it", writes Mrs. Chidi in her statement.
She further alleged "I was asked by Dr. Shaibu to source for company names to execute some contracts the proceeds of which should be given to Mr. Stephen Oronsaye as the Head of Service then". She goes on to state that monies were accordingly given to Mr. Oronsaye.
In another instance, she says: "I passed or awarded the ones over N5m because of his (Shaibu) instruction that they were going to Mr. Oronsaye and as a subordinate officer I had to obey".
In a rather befuddling mode of operation, monies stolen from state coffers goes through a series of recipients but ultimately end up with our man Oronsaye (and possibly forwarded onward to the faceless thieving politicians). Mrs. Chidi gives an example of this in her statement when she talks about how monies were given to One Ikenna and a certain Boniface, staff of UBA Bank Plc. who were also used in the operations. "That is to keep the money and later to hand them over to me to give to Dr. Shaibu for onward transmission to Mr. Oronsaye."
Instructively, one notices that in the statement of one Stanley Iwu, who describes himself as a businessman and owner of Computer Plaza, one of the accused entities, Dr. Shaibu is again said to be trying to use him as a front. "I was asked by the Director to give my company's names to Mrs. Chidi, the Deputy Director for the purposes of contract awards".
So here is a direct link to Mrs. Chidi's statement in which she tells how Dr. Shaibu asked her "to source for company names to execute some contracts the proceeds of which should be given to Mr. Stephen Oronsaye".
Also enlightening is the account of one Musa Sadanku who alleged that Dr. Shaibu used him to buy cars for him and other unknown persons. He stated that Dr. Shaibu would ask Mrs. Chidi to pay monies into his bank account. He also alleged that he would be asked to collect cash from the Grand Square branch of Skye Bank after his errand was done. He states: "I have never solicited for these payments as all I do is to buy cars for them, and Dr. Shaibu and Mrs. Chidi will approve the payments into my account".
The cars Mr. Sadanku fronted to purchase for Dr. Shaibu included a black Mercedes Benz CLS 550, a black Mercedes Benz C300 4matic, a black Toyota Prado and a silver Lexus jeep.
After this startling revelation, I called Tunde to tell him what I had discovered. He asked what I knew, and I proudly poured out what I had fished out of a ton of documents. "Is that all?" he asked.
"Pretty much, I responded".
"So why is Stephen Oronsaye, not before the law courts? Why is he still walking around a free man?" he asked rhetorically and added "Well, that leads us to the next phase of what you need to research my friend", laughed Tunde.
Mr. Oronsaye is not only walking around a free man. He has actually suggested that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offenses Commission (ICPC) be done away with and their duties transferred to the Nigerian Police Force. In a report submitted to President Goodluck Jonathan, Mr. Oronsaye argued that the EFCC still had police chiefs as bosses and that the ICPC's methodology of investigating graft was primarily a police template. He thus suggests "One wonders if it was really expedient to dismember the Nigerian police rather than allow it to evolve as a vibrant and effective agency... The fact that an institution is inefficient and ineffective should not be a basis for the creation of new ones" he says.
As flawed as the argument is, it is also quite easy to draw a line of reasoning in what Mr. Oronsaye is saying.
First of all many believe that the EFCC was actually formed in 2003 by former president Olusegun Obasanjo as a knee-jerk reaction to pressure from the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an inter-governmental agency that promotes policies to check money laundering and terrorist funding. It is also a common notion that the agency was used as a tool to witch-hunt political opponents; thus people were prosecuted alright, but only those who were not in the camp of the strongman faced any kind of retribution.
If this notion is to be afforded any level of credibility, then what Mr. Oronsaye is saying is that, it has outlived its usefulness and should thus be done away with. Otherwise, why would any right-thinking person suggest that high profile corruption and graft cases be handled by the Nigerian police force? Especially as he has admitted the police appear to have failed in addressing corruption. As the seasoned technocrat that he is, one would have thought that he would be fully aware that the Nigerian police force is not an independent institution. How can the police conduct any real investigations into the affairs of those that hire and fire them? And what happens in a situation where say, an IGP is the accused? And by the way, can the Nigerian police force which itself is the epitome of bribery and corruption be trusted to check bribery and corruption? Can an agency that has been trained to obey the 'Oga at the top' be trusted not to be compromised? How exactly, does Mr. Oronsaye's claim-apart from the feeble suggestion of police chiefs and methodologies- benefit Nigeria if these bodies are scrapped?
It all appears to be a futile attempt by a desperate man to wriggle out of a tightening grip. After piecing the puzzle together, it becomes clear that Mr. Oronsaye, (possibly acting for a higher-up), had put Dr. Shaibu, Mrs. Chidi and a hierarchy of plunderers on the trail to help him loot Nigeria. After the whistle blew however and his name came up, nothing has been done to bring him to justice even though his name has clearly popped up more than once in the sworn testimonies of some of the suspects. And as if to be proactive about the matter, he now seeks to disband the bodies that have the mandate to investigate him.
Nigeria is a nation of intelligent and hardworking people. In every field of human endeavor Nigerians have made their mark. And the land is blessed with enough resources to make it a paradise for the 168 million people who live in the country and millions more who live abroad. As the Rev. Jesse Jackson said, 'When Nigeria succeeds Africa succeeds". But with the ilk of Mr. Oronsaye on the loose to practice their chicanery without any checks and balances, the only solution some see is a revolution, in whatever form it comes. What we the people of Nigeria would like to see is Mr. Stephen Oronsaye and his likes on trial and our monies retrieved and redirected into social projects. Nigeria deserves better.