By Justus Nwakanma
There is a salient rule in archery, in warfare or combat: Always choose the right arrows when shooting at your target, or he would walk away in swaggering triumphalism.
Sadly, those who shot at Peter Obi recently with the arrow of Pandora Papers, using the spindling bows of Premium Times, an online news platform, failed to adhere to this obvious logic. They chose fragile, blunted arrows embellished with furbelows of lies, deceit and hoodwink. They simply aimed at the wrong target.
The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), claims that its project, Pandora Papers is the largest investigation in journalism history, which exposes a shadow financial system that benefits the world’s most rich and powerful.
The latest report is said to involve
over 600 journalists in 117 countries who thaw through files from 14 sources for months, in what has translated to a leak of almost 12 million documents that reveal hidden wealth, tax evasions and money laundering.
Indeed, widespread corruption among public servants and leaders is an obstacle to social and economic development, particularly in developing countries such as Nigeria. It undermines democracy, destroys the credibility of government and erodes the essence of human living and existence.
Therefore, any intervention at increasing public service transparency, strengthening accountability or totally eliminating graft should be encouraged.
However, such interventions as the Pandora Papers, should not be a misrepresentation of facts. They should not be used as tools for witch hunting or damaging perceived political enemies.
Reading through the report by Premium Times, it is safe to conclude that it was a weaponized narrative shot from the political trenches of 2023; it was a debilitating whiff of conjecture and embellished anecdotes, without value or validity, devoid of substance or sustenance.
In a gale of presumptuous arrogance, it tried to draw legitimacy to its superficiality, even when the facts it presented were obviously hollow and contradictory.
The entire report reeks in suggestiveness and incitement; was judgemental, reproachfully deprecatory, and a well-greased projectile intended to perforate Obi’s personality, destroy his business empire and rubbish his growing political influence.
Its repeated use of the jaundiced phrase, ‘Obi could be charged,’ is a premium trial in which Obi had already been found guilty even before the article was written.
The report enviously quivered at Peter Obi as being widely regarded in Nigeria as an advocate of good governance, openness, and transparency. That’s right. Obi is not just an advocate, he is a template for good governance, openness, financial transparency and prudential management of public and private resources. And here, as the Yorubas say, is the koko. This is exactly what the premium trial by Premium Times set out to discredit.
One had expected to read an exclusive on how Peter Obi dipped his ‘sticky, sleazy’ fingers in the treasury of Anambra State and deprived the people of their Commonwealth and patrimony.
One had expected to read how Peter Obi did not leave 75 billion naira in the coffers of the Anambra State as he normally says, but converted the money to personal use. Readers would have loved to know how Obi illegally amassed so much wealth by duping Anambra and Nigerians; or the contracts he received from the government and converted the money to private use. We didn’t find that.
But the Pandora Papers with the mentality of an archeologist, dragged Obi to the crime field, hoping to excavate the relics and reasons of our failed nationhood strapped to his body.
Is it not ridiculous, that the report took a preposterous swipe at Obi’s speeches, feminine voice and self-effacing plebeian demeanour, then concluded that there is something he is hiding “beyond the facade of priggish speeches and appearances.”
On Obi’s investment in Monaco, the report said “the city does not charge wealth tax, property tax, investment income tax, and capital gains tax,” then it wondered whether it was this mouth-watering tax regime that attracted Obi to Monaco.
The answer is rhetorically affirmative. There is no investor that would not want to invest in countries where tax regimes are favourable and friendly. Did Obi break any law in this regard? No he didn’t.
Given the provisions of Section Six (6) of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act, Obi said he dutifully resigned as a Director of Next. Common reasoning infers that the date a change is effected in the list of trustees or directors of a company is not necessarily the day a member resigned. What would have been in contention is that Obi did not resign. Again, he broke no law in this regard.
Many of the offshore businesses the Pandora Papers call hidden offshore treasures of the rich and the powerful are indeed some legitimate investments some of these people made before they became public servants.
In Peter Obi’s case, Next which the report said birthed his Nexus of hidden businesses was formed in 1991, 16 years before he became governor. The sponsors of the report and their hatchet men did not do a thorough job, but displayed outright ignorance when the report admitted it did not know what businesses Next engaged in. It also did not find anything in the records of the company suggestive of money laundering or fraud. So why the fuss about Next?
Rather, it questioned why a company should be registered with the names of family members, jointly owned or not. It celebrated its loathing for Obi and his accomplishments by questioning why there should even be a change of name or that of the directors. Again, Obi did not break any local or known international law by registering a business using family identities.
On failing to pay his taxes, Obi has also discredited the report. Recently while appearing as a guest at Arise TV, he said he has paid over N1bn tax to Nigeria In 20 Years.
He said: “The money I own here I pay tax. don’t forget I was a subject of a tax probe about two years ago and I showed evidence that in the last 20 years, I have consistently paid my tax and I have never paid less than N50m annually, so I pay my tax.”
Already, the Pandora Papers are bleeding profusely, as world leaders drag them to the slab, faulting every aspect of the reports and denying any wrongdoing.
Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis
said the allegations are an attempt to influence elections in his country.
Russian President Vladimir Putin through Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov who questioned the reliability of the “unsubstantiated” information said they didn’t see any hidden wealth of Putin’s inner circle in there.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, who with six members of his family was linked to 13 offshore companies has denied the report as completely false.
Chile’s President Sebastián Piñera denied the information linked to him.
Interestingly, the Pandora Pandora Papers’ investigations and conclusions are based on three strands: “hidden wealth, tax evasions and money laundering”.
Did the report show any evidence that Peter Obi stole or hid state assets in his offshore companies or evaded tax in Nigeria or engaged in any form of money laundering? The answer is a capital NO.
Earlier, I stated that the Pandora Papers’ report on Obi was just a 2023 arrow disguised as an investigative report.
Who are these hooded marksmen? A convergence of disgruntled politicians obsessed with Obi’s growing stature as one of Nigeria’s finest politicians and entrepreneurial icons.
They were rattled with the success the People’s Democratic Party(PDP) recorded in the 2019 Presidential election with Peter Obi as the Vice Presidential Candidate. They are afraid that with the recent permutations, Peter Obi may likely get the ticket of the PDP as the presidential candidate or return as the vice presidential candidate. They are not comfortable with a man who has been transparent in his acquisitions, frugal in lavishness, theological in thoroughness, dogmatic in merit and
devoted to the Nigerian project.
They simply do not want a competent leader in Aso Rock, so that they can continue, like Eli’s two sons, Phinehas and Hophni, dipping their hands in the national wealth and take to themselves all the prime cuts of meat, leaving us, the flotsam and jetsam with nothing.
An African proverb says when all the water has gone, only the rocks and stones will still remain in the riverbed. Peter Obi bears Okwute (rock) as a traditional title. When all the water has gone, he will still remain one of Nigeria’s brightest pebbles.
*Nwakanma, a journalist, wrote in from Lagos.