By Casmir Igbokwe
Some political enemies of the former governor of Anambra State, Mr. Peter Obi, are poised to cast their first big stones. Already, they are chanting, ‘Crucify him, crucify him!’ The source of their anger is in what has come to be known as the Pandora Papers. These are leaked files, which reportedly contain financial secrets of no fewer than 35 current/former world leaders and over 330 public officials in more than 91 countries and territories.
Quoting the Pandora Papers, an online publication, Premium Times, reported that Obi, who was also the vice-presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the 2019 election, allegedly established secret offshore companies to evade paying tax. And that he did not declare them to the Code of Conduct Bureau on assumption of office as the governor of Anambra State. The other allegation is that he continued to be a director of Next International (UK) Limited for 14 months after becoming governor. He was also said to have operated and maintained foreign accounts while being a public officer.
No doubt, Mr. Obi is among the most credible and brightest Igbo elite who could become President of South-East extraction in 2023. So, it is not surprising that there are serious efforts in some quarters to scandalize him and render him politically impotent. They had conducted all manner of discreet investigations on him but found nothing. Now, the Pandora Papers project has provided them a great opportunity to chant ‘Eureka!’
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) does not fail to act swiftly in moments like this. Penultimate Sunday, the anti-graft agency was reported to have invited Obi to report at its Abuja headquarters on Wednesday, October 27, 2021, to face investigators. Obi said he had not formally received the invitation but would be glad to honour it. As the EFCC prepares to interrogate him, certain salient points are worth noting.
One, the former Anambra State governor is not the only person mentioned in the Pandora Papers. Some others include the acting managing director of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Mohammed Bello-Koko; former minister and now senator, Stella Oduah; Governors Abubakar Bagudu of Kebbi State, Gboyega Oyetola of Osun State, Dapo Abiodun of Ogun State and former Governor Bola Tinubu of Lagos State. So far, it is not certain when the EFCC will begin to interrogate these people.
Two, the report by Premium Times has some loopholes. As has been observed by many analysts, a news story presents the facts as they are without any interjection or editorializing. But the tone of the story in question gives it away as a hatchet job.
In the opening paragraphs, the newspaper wrote: “Peter Obi, the ex-governor of Anambra State in Southeastern Nigeria, is widely regarded in Nigeria as an advocate of good governance, openness, and transparency. In addition to speeches on his governance records and statistics-laden prescriptions for Nigeria’s development, he likes to talk about how hugely successful he became in business before diving into politics.”
Then, the online medium went for the jugular: “But beyond the façade of priggish speeches and appearances, an investigation by PREMIUM TIMES has now shown that Mr. Obi is not entirely transparent in his affairs as he likes Nigerians to believe.”
This is nothing but an attempt to pull a bright star down. I was itching to read how Obi used Anambra money to establish those offshore companies or how he made himself richer by stealing public funds and stashing them away in his foreign accounts. I thought I would hear that he bought mansions in different parts of the country and abroad with proceeds of the offshore companies. He did none of that. Whatever he invested in the so-called tax havens was his personal wealth and the aim, perhaps, was to avoid excessive taxation. Even then, he is probably the highest taxpayer in Anambra and Enugu states.
He told Arise TV in a recent interview: “I am a faithful citizen of anywhere I have passed through, I cannot evade tax; it will never happen. Every investment I have done globally is legitimate and pays tax. If you are a black man in London, you are a suspect. If you are a Nigerian, you are a double suspect. If I earn anything in the UK, I pay their taxes. I cannot pay property tax in Nigeria for property in the UK. I have never paid less than N50 million in taxes annually over the years.”
Obi added that he did not breach any law and nowhere in the article was he accused of any form of corruption during and after his stewardship as governor of Anambra State. According to him, the authors of the publication displayed ignorance on matters of trust and international investment practices by alleging that he violated the Nigerian Constitution by not declaring his alleged assets in companies registered outside Nigeria.
Obi’s alleged ‘sins’ are nothing compared to what Nigerian public officials commit. Even many of those currently angling to take over from President Muhammadu Buhari in 2023 are corruption personified. When some of them were governors, they pillaged the resources of their states with swagger. Now, they are the ones pontificating and getting ready to go to the centre and continue their looting.
On the contrary, Mr. Obi did marvelously well as governor of Anambra State. He not only touched every facet of life in the state, he did not leave any baggage or debt for his successor. He also left N75 billion in savings for the state. No governor has achieved this feat in the history of Nigeria.
Part of what the former governor has been doing after leaving office is impacting on the lives of individuals and some of our institutions. The other day, he donated N100 million to Bishop Shanahan Specialist Hospital, Nsukka, Enugu State, to upgrade its School of Nursing, Midwifery and Health Technology. He has visited many schools in different parts of Nigeria and committed his personal resources towards improving the lot of those schools.
Currently, the country is drifting seriously. The spate of insecurity is unbearable. Corruption is endemic. Unemployment is high. Economy is in a very bad shape. The rate of poverty in the country is second to none in the world. Nigeria lags behind in almost all indices of development.
A person like Obi is what the country needs now to fix its myriads of problems, especially the wobbling economy. He is a rare gem who should be celebrated and not vilified. In saner societies, these are the type of people the system throws up as leaders. But in our own environment, the reverse is the case. He helped to fix Anambra. He can also fix Nigeria, Pandora or no Pandora. But, if you are among those who enjoy paying heavy taxes on their personal income; if you feel Obi has sinned and should be crucified, please, raise your hand and cast the first stone.
Also published in the Daily Sun of Monday, October 25, 2021