by Moses Ochonu
I am a huge fan of Obiageli ‘Oby’ Ezekwesili, but I have said elsewhere that my problem with her loud, anti-corruption activism is that it is strangely amnesiac and hypocritical. Even as she proclaims herself a one woman transparency police, she inadvertently advertises the contradictions of the OBJ government, in which she served.
I admire her personal integrity and sincerely believe that she is incorruptible. However, when you go around castigating the corruption of the present government without even a perfunctory acknowledgement of, or an effort to explain your failure to prevent or punish, the corruption of the government for which you were supposed to act as gatekeeper for public procurement (the primary conduit for political and bureaucratic corruption in Nigeria), your rhetoric rings hollow and raises questions about the sincerity and consistency of your moral indignation at malfeasance.
It was under her superintending eyes that many corruption scandals occurred, including the grand larceny of expending $18 billion or $10 billion (depending on who you believe) on contracts in the power sector only to have the contracts abandoned or left undone while the contractors, connected to OBJ and other politicians of his government, pocketed their loots.
It was under her watch as enforcer of transparency in the due process office that OBJ acquired his 600 million Naira shares in Transcorp as a sitting president, that he smuggled dollars in Andy Ubah’s private jet into the USA, that he fraudulently and corruptly raised billions of Naira for his presidential library project, for which the late Gani Fawehinmi took him to court, that he started building his multi-billion Naira Bells University, that his bankrupt farm experienced a miraculous turnaround and started generating $30 million monthly according to one of his aides.
It was under her watch as czar of transparency that corruption in high places blossomed, including the curious case of OBJ, who, from having only 15,000 Naira in his bank account in 1999 according to el-Rufai (information which has never been contradicted), transformed into a billionaire and one of the wealthiest Nigerians alive.
Yet when she was asked a simple question in the al-jazeera interview that has now gone viral about whether she believes OBJ was corrupt, as Nuhu Ribadu, his EFCC chairman and most Nigerian do, she prevaricated and resorted to sophistry and obfuscation, requesting for evidence and facts. Evidence? For OBJ’s corruption? Wow.
This is extremely disappointing coming from Madam Due Process. Oby should realize that defensiveness on the corruption of OBJ and his government will, rather than preserve her reputation for personal integrity, erode it.
Most Nigerians applaud her for serving in a corrupt government and in a political environment riddled with graft but successfully resisting the allure of illicit riches, and she should realize that we all know that one cannot control the moral choices of one’s friends and associates.
However, what many Nigerians, including me, find offensive, is the penchant of Ezekwesili to slyly defend patently corrupt individuals or to parry questions on their corruption by ingeniously requesting for facts. We get it.
She is beholden to OBJ, who gave her political prominence in Nigeria by appointing her into two important posts in his government, which she then parlayed into other gigs nationally and internationally. But the least she can do is to not insult our intelligence when it comes to the man’s corruption and well known hypocrisy in matters of corruption and malfeasance.
You do not have to publicly condemn or chastise your corrupt friend, benefactor, or mentor, and most people understand that. But you do not have to defend them them either or engage in unconvincing pretense. We all have friends and associates whose moral choices embarrass us, but we don’t have to defend their choices to demonstrate our continued loyalty as friends and associates.
Perhaps Oby should take a cue from Mallam Nasir -elRufai, the governor-elect of Kaduna State, who got ahead of the curve by publishing a memoir in which he documents gargantuan corruption in the OBJ government, in which he served with Oby. For further exculpatory effect on his image, he critiqued the former president in the book. Moreover, in several interviews, he made it clear that the former president’s aides and technocratic team were “not proud of some of the things he did,” a very clever, euphemistic, and diplomatic acknowledgement of OBJ’s corruption.
The statement does not specify the man’s misdeeds but aligns with what Nigerians already know about the former president. It does not offend Nigerians’ intelligence like Oby’s pronouncement in that interview does. We can understand the reluctance to publicly acknowledge OBJ’s outsized reputation for corruption, but playing dumb and refusing to give an opinion about that well documented corruption is unacceptable. Evasion will not cut it.
She can’t have it both ways, proclaiming intolerance for corruption and lack of transparency and at the same time refusing to acknowledge a basic truth such as OBJ’s monumental corruption, the crowning edifice of which is his multi billion Naira hilltop mansion in Abeokuta.
There is a language for talking about the misdeeds of friends and mentors without destroying or jeopardizing the relationship. Oby needs to find that language and stop the shameful Oscar-worthy performance of pretending not to know if OBJ was/is corrupt. We, her admirers, are embarrassed on her behalf. Finally, I hope she takes this post in the spirit of friendly critique in which I am offering it.
Moses Ochonu is the Professor of African History at Vanderbilt University, USA. He published this article on his Facebook page.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.