A peep into Peter Obi’s Pandora Box, By Steve Nwosu
Under normal Nigerian circumstances, Peter Obi, former governor of Anambra State and Vice Presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), should be embattled by now. Other things being equal, he should be sweating profusely, even inside his air-conditioned office. Why? Pandora Papers!!
Obi should be battling to save not only whatever is left of his political life, but to keep his hide away from prison.
On the contrary, however, Obi has remained the exact opposite. Unruffled. Confident. A little distracted, alright, but largely unswayed. Rock-solid. True to his Okwute alias.
And, listening to him last week on Arise TV, as he comprehensively and sure-footedly broke down the ABC of offshore investments and the tax haven phenomenon, one almost felt foolish for making a big news feast of the Pandora Papers scandal that broke penultimate week.
Since the story of the Pandora Papers scandal broke, with Obi’s name being the first out of the evil box, I have read a handful of interviews granted by the former governor granted to that effect. I have also watched him on live TV fielding questions on the issue.
In all, I’ve come away with one conclusion: if I ever had any doubts that Peter Obi was the right man for the presidency of Nigeria, those doubts have since disappeared.
And it is not because I have arrogated myself the powers to discharge and acquit him of any wrongdoing. Okay, let’s just say I haven’t acquitted him. But I have definitely discharged him. The lawyers can continue to argue with their wigs and law books.
I’m particularly impressed with the way Obi has not shied away from the issues. How he has come out clean on every question and every issue on the matter. That is not the usual disposition of someone who has anything to hide.
Many others mentioned in the Pandora papers, as well as those mentioned in the Panama and Paradise Papers before it, have either ignored us, or been too scared to face the public, or the press, about their involvements. At best, they have hired all manner of spin doctors and image drycleaners to help make the matter disappear.
In other instances, ‘indicted’ politicians and public figures have muddied up the water, by throwing partisan politics into it. The narrative soon became that the revelations are a further manifestation of the political persecution of their persons. We soon begin to discuss political persecution of real and perceived opponents of government, and take our eyes off the ball – the fact that they dipped their stinking paws into the public till and spirited the loot to secret bank accounts in notorious tax havens is cleverly forgotten.
We forget that we are often dealing with overnight millionaires whose only businesses were simply occupying public office -offices which salaries and emoluments are public knowledge, and nowhere near the eye-popping figures linked to their names. Private jet-owning billionaires whose only business is knowing someone who knows somebody in government. Rentee moneybags who manufacture absolutely nothing, but rather prey on the public treasury.
Of course, one can’t resist the temptation to see the generous dose of politics involved in this Pandora Papers palaver. It probably offers Obi’s opponents a rare opportunity to have some tar to splash on Okwute’s largely untainted image, especially as the build-up to the 2023 presidential election begins to gather momentum.
Even though the former governor and PDP’s vice presidential candidate in 2019 has not told anyone he wants to run in 2023, there is a seeming consensus that he remains a most credible alternative, and South-east’s best choice, for the top job. It is, therefore, not out of place to buy into the conspiracy theory that other interests are bent on destroying him politically, to pave the way for their emergence.
This conspiracy theory is further underscored by the fact Obi’s name was initially singled out for focus in a report said to have either directly or tangentially indicted about 110 other Nigerians.
It was probably an afterthought that other names began to be mentioned.
But that is not taking anything away from the triumph of investigative journalism and cross-media collaboration which the Pandora Papers represent.
As a journalist and media manager, I refuse to join those accusing Premium Times of having a beyond-altruistic agenda in its handling of the findings, especially as it relates to Peter Obi.
For one, I appreciate the huge investment – in both human and material resources. That is not exactly the kind of investment a media house would undertake, just to run down a Peter Obi. Secondly, as an editor, when such a massive document lands on your desk, you’re not likely to give out everything in just one story. You’d probably be looking at several potential cover stories, especially if it is reasonably exclusive to you. You look for a strong angle to break the story with – an angle that would not only ‘sell’, but also not jeopardize your own proprietary interests. Peter Obi was a strong angle for any such story. Although it is debatable if it is a stronger angle than the Gboyega Oyetola angle – especially when the latter angle had the potential of bringing Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and a certain London mansion into the mix.
Most of the subsequent discussions about the Pandora papers have inevitably been about Peter Obi and possible infractions that should draw the attention of the Nigerian government and such relevant agencies as the Code of Conduct Bureau, the FIRS, ICPC, EFCC, etc.
What is playing about Obi right now is similar to the drama we were served about Sen. Bukola Saraki in 2016, during the Panama Papers scandal. We all got so carried away about Saraki and the seeming desperation to nail him, that we forgot that the Mossack Fonseca files had such other names as David Mark, T.Y. Danjuma, James Ibori, Aliko Dangote, his cousin Sayyu Dantata, Andy Uba, David Umaru, Ibrahim Gobir and scores of other Nigerian companies and individuals.
Many of these names again came up in the Paradise Papers scam a year later, in 2017.
Of course, we are quick to point to Scandinavian countries where some of those mentioned in the controversial documents resigned from office, but we ignore the government officials, like Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump, who refused to be bothered by any direct or indirect mention of their names in the secret files. And there are thousands of them.
For, while the Panama papers rummaged through some 11.5 million files, unmasking over 214,000 companies incorporated by Mossack Fonseca in secret tax havens, Paradise Papers unearthed over 120,000 persons and companies hidden in some 13.4 million files. Pandora, on the other hand, investigated about 11.9 million files, involving officials from about 200 different countries.
Incidentally, before Pandora and Paradise and Panama, there were Halliburton, Siemens and other such scandals, most of which came to nought in Nigeria, even though the foreign accomplices were tried, convicted, fined, jailed or given other sanctions in their respective countries. Their local accomplices here in Nigeria didn’t even think it worth the while to humour us with any credible explanation of their roles in the scams. Everything was immediately swept under the carpet as soon as the alleged felons became politically correct.
So, it is no surprise that we continue to move from Panama to Paradise, Pandora, and then, paralysis – never pandemonium. That is the way we roll.
But Peter Obi is not cut from the same cloth as all these other politicians. Rather than pay a PR company, to help bury the matter, or engage an army of social media hirelings to distract us from the issue at hand, Obi is not afraid to face scrutiny on his involvement. That can only come from a man who has nothing to hide. A man who can, with pride, explain the source of every kobo he has to his name. A man who is not reluctant to throw open his books for scrutiny. We cannot say the same for all those who have either governed Nigeria or are still angling to do so.
It was only in Seriake Dickson, the immediate past governor of Bayelsa State, that I have seen this confidence that Peter Obi exudes in recent times. When you’ve lived above board, and are sure of yourself, especially as it relates to how you handled the public funds entrusted to you, you’ll always remain unshaken in the face of any likely prosecution – or even persecution. That was what I gleaned from Dickson’s recent invitation by the EFCC, and in Peter Obi’s reaction to the Pandora Papers controversy.
But in all this Pandora mess, I remain convinced that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. My conviction derives from the very concept of the mythical Pandora’s Box. I recall that, by the time all the evils were unleashed on mankind from Pandora’s box, there was still something of value left at the bottom of the evil box: Hope.