by Femi Adesina
Former Kwara State governor and now senator representing Kwara Central, Dr. Bukola Saraki, was guest of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) earlier this week. According to reports, he was quizzed for many hours, and later allowed to go home.
What questions did Saraki have to answer? His role in the collapsed Societe Generale Bank of Nigeria, where he was an Executive Director, and where depositors lost money in billions. Again, he was said to have been grilled on how he managed the finances of Kwara State as a two-term governor.
Naturally, the fact that Saraki was quizzed by the EFCC should not have raised any dust. If he did things that demanded explanations while he held those two former positions, then he should be grilled. No one is above the law, and the fact that he is being questioned does not tantamount to automatic guilt.
But there is this buzz going round about Saraki and his role in the fuel subsidy payments saga. Last year, he had raised a motion in the Senate, seeking an investigation into the N240 billion budgeted in the 2011 Appropriation Act for fuel subsidy. Some people say it has put him permanently in the Black Book of certain powerful forces in government.
Saraki, chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Ecology, had pointed out that the sum of N240 billion had been budgeted to subsidize petroleum products in 2011, but that more than N1.2 trillion was actually spent by the end of that year. The disclosure sparked off spiral effects, leading to the prosecution of a number of oil marketers today.
But in Nigeria, whistleblowers often land in trouble, particularly when the whistling is against the Establishment. Stories making the rounds say Bukola Saraki is now paying the price for not learning to keep his leaking mouth shut. That is why first the Special Fraud Unit (SFU) of the Nigeria Police was first unleashed against him, and now the EFCC.
Now, let’s look at the content of the squeal by Saraki, for which he’s paying dearly today. His motion stated that the sum of N771 billion was spent, which was 700% above the budgeted sum for subsidy in 2011. He added that if the trend continued, N1.2 trillion would have been spent by just one agency of government in one year, exceeding the total capital budget of N1.1 trillion for that fiscal year.
As if determined to talk himself into trouble, Senator Saraki suggested the setting up of a committee to investigate how the excess funds were sourced. He added that although N20 billion was set aside for subsidy on monthly basis in the 2011 Appropriation Act, a total sum of N165 billion was expended in August 2011 alone, out of which NNPC got N88 billion, and independent marketers got N77.6 billion.
Again, he observed that although N240 billion was budgeted for the entire year, N391 billion had been spent at August ending.
Saraki had asked for trouble, and he got it. He had unsettled a colony of wasps, and he was about to be stung till kingdom come.
Based on his motion, civil rights activists and other Nigerians put pressure on the Federal Government, which eventually asked the EFCC to investigate the matter, and prosecute those culpable. A number of those fingered in the shady deals are on trial today.
And did Saraki live happily ever after? The buzz claims that it was when his troubles began. The SFU was first sent after him, and he was declared wanted for his roles in the mismanagement of the Societe Generale Bank of Nigeria (SGBN), which had led to the license of the financial outfit being withdrawn in 2005.
Again, this week, the EFCC struck. After a disquieting lull in the activities of the commission, it suddenly remembered that Saraki was there, and pulled him in for questioning on Monday. Is the EFCC on to something concrete, or is this part of the classic way in which government hounds its opponents?
I admit. Depositors lost billions in SGBN, and I remember that the then Kwara State governor, Mohammed Lawal (now deceased) had said the money was deployed by the Saraki family to unseat him from office, and plant Bukola in power.
But it is now 10 years since the man became governor, and eight years since the bank crumbled. Is it not long enough to put a closure to the matter? How long did it take to investigate Bernard Madoff over his Ponzi scheme, through which he defrauded people of billions of dollars in the U.S?
Why then is the SGBN matter a kind of albatross hung round Saraki’s neck anytime he talks or acts out of turn? Nigeria should really learn to do things differently.
While serving as governor, it was said that Saraki waived his immunity, and allowed himself to be questioned on the SGBN matter. So, why is there nothing conclusive yet?
And if the man fiddled with the money of the state he governed, he has been out of office for more than two full years. Is it not long enough a time to build a watertight case and haul him before the courts?
If Saraki did not talk out of turn on petroleum subsidy, would he not be in the good books of the government today? Or does he have more information on the subsidy scam that some people are afraid of? That is the bane of our country. You are chummy with the powers-that-be only if you don’t rock the boat. If you do, a price is put on your head. This country sef!
Femi Adesina, the current Special Adviser to President Muhammadu Buhari on Media and Publicity was the Editor of The Sun Newspapers as at the time of this publication. This article was first published on The Sun on Friday, August 16, 2013.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.