Babalakin as a distraction

Like most Nigerians who know Dr Wale Babalakin only through his celebration by PDP, I cannot also claim to know him beyond the positive picture of a brilliant lawyer, an astute businessman, a hard taskmaster in pursuit of excellence, painted in our heads by the media. If there were doubts about those positive attributes, they disappeared at the site of MM2 masterpiece he built on concessionary basis. If there were still other cynics, PDP, his current nemesis, took care of them by forcing him on the public consciousness.

It was Obasanjo’s government that first appointed him Chairman of the Constitutional Drafting Sub-Committee of the National Political Reforms Conference in 2005. He moved up in 2007 to become an Honorary Special Adviser on Legal Matters and General Counsel to late President Musa Yar’Adua. In February 2008, he was conferred with the National Honour of Officer of the Federal Republic (OFR). He was later appointed Pro-chancellor of the University of Maiduguri and Chairman, Committee of Pro-Chancellors of Nigeria Federal Universities.

PDP presented him as a national icon and role model that represents ‘the new Nigerian spirit of enterprise, scholarship, courage and consistency’. But all that changed when Obasanjo, in spite of fraudulent ‘due-process’ policy his administration introduced, unduly influenced the choice of Babalakin’s Bi-Courtney above other PDP warring contenders for the reconstruction of the 106 kilometres Lagos Ibadan express way at N89.53 billion on “Built, Operate and Transfer Concession Agreement over a period of twenty five years.

The project like many derailed basanjo lofty initiatives became a victim of internal PDP wrangling while Nigerian users of the road suffered untold hardship. Babalakin’s name became a metaphor for all that is wrong with PDP; graft, corruption, inefficiency, ‘I don’t give a damn’ attitude’ of its office holders who squandered billions on rehabilitation of roads year after year, while the nation’s network of roads remain in state of near collapse,

Babalakin’s name also took on the imagery of: death of thousands of motorist as a result of accidents, wasted man hours of motorists caught in the traffic grid lucks, unruly truck drivers, who cannot be tamed by an undisciplined PDP administration interested only in squabbles over contracts, the shame of Ogere where motorists crawl for over five kilometers due to indiscriminate parking of trailers at both sides of the roads and more.

Yet Babalakin has chosen to leak his wounds quietly. He has refused to talk about his many wars with government officials, the tanker drivers in Ibafo, and above all, his battles with demons, witches and other evil forces that drove this well educated man to seek spiritual help from churches that dotted both sides of the express road.

But as a detached observer, I sympathise with Babalakin solely on account of the double jeopardy he has now suffered. While Nigerians blamed him for the tragedy of the failed Lagos Ibadan derailed project, he is presently being hounded by EFCC. It alleged his companies- ‘Stabilini Visioni Limited and Bi-Courtney Limited, between May 2006 and December 2006 laundered N3.4b for Ibori through Mauritus to buy an aircraft. It has also claimed that Babalakin knew the money to be as a result of criminal conduct by the said James Ibori. It did not however say how.

Owning an aircraft in Nigeria has become a status symbol. The president has a fleet of nine. Between 2000 and 2012, PDP years of locust, the number of private aircrafts grew from 20 to about 150. They are mainly owned by ‘members of the political class, business organisations, religious leaders, business persons, and a number of state governments, including Rivers State, Lagos State, Taraba State and Akwa Ibom State’. Why is EFCC not showing interest in how serving political office holders and private individuals channel the funds used in purchasing their private jets?

And Since EFCC expects Babalakin to know or care about the source of money for contracts awarded by governors, shouldn’t the organization extend the probe to all those who got contracts from Ibori as well as from other indicted ex PDP governors?

What we have been told is that Delta state government awarded contract to Babalakin’s firms along with some others who transferred the money to Mauritius to purchase an aircraft

We have not been told that Babalakin’s companies involved in this transaction collected money without executing the contract. Even if it is thus established, when did EFCC start running after failed contractors? Is this not the same PDP that defended President Jonathan’s appointment of Dr. Doyin Okupe as presidential adviser on Public Affairs in spite of his alleged shoddy implementation or non implementation of contracts from Imo and Benue states? In the two cases, all the PDP men agreed money exchanged hand. In fact Benue and EFCC went to court demanding for a refund of N600m for contracts not fully implemented.

As it is often the case, it would appear we are being entertained by government and EFCC, once again to divert attention from other national issues. First, even if the involvement of Babalakin’s companies in contract to purchase air craft for Ibori has suddenly become an offence, what can Lamorde’s EFCC do about it? Was it not only last week he informed the senate that ‘several cases involving top politicians, accused of stealing public funds, have lingered for years after an initial public fanfare with’ some of the indicted officials still roaming the country as kingmakers, lawmakers, and political gladiators.’ Did the alleged laundering of money to buy aircraft by Ibori and Babalakin’s companies fall under the category of ‘small petty thieves, 419 and yahoo yahoo boys’ he claimed his agency has capacity for?

Besides, we have witnessed this theatre of the absurd before. EFCC once chased Dimeji Bankole the former Speaker of the Lower House from Abuja to Abeokuta in the middle of the night to execute his arrest for alleged fraud. There were even some temporarily chased out of the country. The former EFCC helmswoman once assaulted us for weeks through daily press briefings about the sins of those Sanusi, the CBN governor claimed contributed to the collapse of banks due to their non performing debts. To the shame of EFCC and Sanusi, some of those names have become pillars of Nigerian economy after buying some of the banks following government injection of tax payers’ money. Others have become government advisers while many leading light of PDP on Sanusi’s list are now law makers working feverishly to curb corruption in Nigeria.

Without the distractions of Babalakin and Ibori who has proved to be bigger than Nigeria until the intervention by the British judiciary, this government and its EFCC have their cups full. Only last week, the world acclaimed audit firm, KPMG in its report. rated Nigeria as the ‘most fraudulent country in Africa, with the cost of fraud during the first half of 2012 estimated at N225 billion ($1.5 billion)’.The Africa Fraud Barometer only last Wednesday identified ‘Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa as accounting for 74% of the total number of cases of fraud on the African continent, with Nigeria recording the highest overall value of fraud in the first half of the2012’. The Punch newspaper, putting together reports of various probe committees set up by the President says ‘over N5tn in government funds have been stolen through frauds, embezzlements and theft since president Jonathan assumed office in May 6,2010’

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