By Babatunde Jose
Political sophomores were in the First Republic, learning the art of bribery and election rigging. They graduated in the Military Government of Yakubu Gowon and post-graduated in the Second Republic. We now know of ex-political office holders living from hand to mouth. Any ex-top military officers in the same situation? – Babatunde Jose; Walking A Tightrope, 1985.
No doubt, if Alhaji José were alive today to witness the unbridled corruption ravaging the land with impunity and government’s lackadaisical attitude to it, he would have been forced to review his statement to give the ‘victor ludorum’ to the civilian governments of the 3rd Republic.
It is even possible that God has seen our iniquities and abandoned us to our fate. After all, he did not ordain us to loot our treasuries nor did he ask us to vote for treasury looters and gangsters. As far as the Lord is concerned, we are on our own. We can cry ‘Eli Eli Lama Sabachthani? Matthew 27:45-46 for as long as we like. Our level of corruption in the last two decades is enough to drive a man into the warm embrace of atheism. Yet we know that God has not forsaken his people. We created this mess and we shall all have to find a ‘final solution to it. The bottom line is that we are not doing enough to fight corruption: That is the naked truth!
All reasonable laws against corruption are in our status books, anti-corruption agencies are all there some with overlapping functions, there is a national assembly of lawmakers with oversight functions but they have turned against the people who elected them. Corruption goes on with impunity and careless abandon.
Under Gowon in 1975, a corruption scandal surrounding the importation of cement engulfed many officials of the defense ministry and the Central Bank of Nigeria. Officials were later accused of falsifying ship manifestos and inflating the amount of cement to be purchased. The Cement Armada!!!
During the same administration, two individuals from the middle belt of the country were accused of corruption. The Daily Times gave great publicity to denunciations of the administration of Gomwalk, and Federal Commissioner Joseph Tarka by Aper Aku and Godwin Daboh respectively. It was a classic crusade against corruption in high places which we do not see these days: A situation where the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Estates of the Realm have gone into an unholy alliance. At that time the press was a bastion against corruption in government as the Tarka case will elucidate.
The following is a summary of the allegations made by Daboh against Tarka:
“That sometime between 1968 and 1974, Tarka caused a company known as Nigerian Investment Quest Limited, to be incorporated. The managing director of the company was Mr. Simon Ikowe, a personal secretary of Tarka.
”That in spite of the fact that Mr. Ikowe was not a civil servant, Tarka provided him with an office at the General Post Office, Marina.”
“That the Nigerian Investment Quest Limited operated an account with the United Bank for Africa Limited, to which Mr. Ikowe was the sole signatory.
“That Daboh had documentary evidence, including the tape-recorded voice of Tarka demanding six percent commission from a company working for the Ministry of Communications.
The Daily Times waged a crusade against Tarka and the government in which their front page editorial below captures the moment of the time: The Daily Times of August 3, in a front page editorial titled: “TARKA VERSUS THE PEOPLE said:
“Sixteen days ago, this newspaper published stories concerning the allegations of improprieties brought against the Commissioner for Communications, Joseph Tarka by a Lagos businessman, Mr. Godwin Daboh. Since then, newspapers, students’ organizations and members of the public have called on Joseph Tarka to take the honorable path and resign his office.
“. . . . . . But to his tragic discredit, Joseph Tarka has refused to take that honorable path.
“The Federal Government, which we strongly believe should not, for one moment tolerate within its rank, a commissioner whose integrity has been called to question, has also been called upon to suspend Joseph Tarka, pending the time he would have clearly and satisfactorily been proven innocent.
“It is a matter for deep regret that so far, there has been no official reaction to these allegations against an appointed officer of the government. It is sad for the country as a whole and for the government in particular, which came in as a corrective body with an avowed commitment to the maintenance of unimpeachable standard in public life.
“The failure, thus far, to comment or take any known action against Joseph Tarka is an indication that the government merely pays lip service to probity and uprightness in our public life.
“There is also a deep contradiction between the present inaction and what the government professes to stand for.
“Meanwhile, as the government continues to delay positive action, the possibility of necessary documents and papers being tampered with becomes real. For example, in our editorial of Saturday, July 20, on the Joseph Tarka affair, we raised, among other questions, the issue of the propriety or otherwise of an official government telephone in Lagos No. 22140, being assigned to a girl-friend of the commissioner who is neither a civil servant nor otherwise entitled to the privilege of such free use of a government telephone service.
“A few hours after Mr. Daboh filed his affidavit, the telephone No. 22140 was changed by a cowardly and frightened bunch of saboteurs with a guilty conscience. The change was effected with advice No. ANL/1042/74. The telephone was replaced with a Lagos one, 52279, said to have been removed from 13B, Kingsway Road, Ikoyi.
“The rental of telephone 52279 was changed from A. H. Anthony, to J. S. Tarka of 42, Norman Williams Street, Ikoyi, the same day. And Miss Francisca Hadejia Afegbua lives in the 42, Norman Williams Street house.
“The question then arises: What is the relationship between Joseph Tarka and Francisca Afegbua to the extent that she had been, for so long, enjoying the uninterrupted free use of government telephone, Lagos No. 22140 which has now been converted to 52279 in J. S. Tarka’s name?
“It is our well-considered view that no individual Nigerian citizen no matter how highly placed, should be above the law of the land. It, therefore, logically follows that any-public official, appointed or elected, must be accountable to the people of Nigeria.
“Any responsible government must never allow a gap to develop between what it professes to believe in and what it actually does. If such credibility gap is allowed to develop and widen, as we believe is happening now, the generality of the governed will begin to lose confidence in the government.
“We, therefore, feel that there is no substitute to an immediate open judicial inquiry. This inquiry will help put a stop to the deepening frustration of our citizens who see our nation as one without conscience or bearing. It is a judicial inquiry that will offer Tarka the opportunity to defend himself against grave allegations of impropriety. It will also satisfy the public’s widespread outcry for justice.
“So, in the interest of this nation. TARKA MUST BE REMOVED and a high-powered probe instituted TODAY.
The following day, August 4, the Daily Times published another front page editorial titled “EXIT JOSEPH TARKA”. Tarka resigned but our own Akpabio is yet to resign; Magu did not resign and a host of other public officers caught with their pants down in corruption. Neither had any minister of the Republic ever been interdicted or dismissed from office.
The above Times editorial might have been speaking to our government today: It is not only very apt, but poignantly so!
It is instructive to know that after Tarka resigned and sued the Daily Times, the paper went to all lengths to fight him, something our media these days would not have done. The Times did not shy from any expense to get its facts: For its defense in the alleged libel case, a number of lawyers, Mr. Afe BabaIola, Mr. Jaiyelola Faloye and many others offered their services free. The Daily Times had for several weeks mounted the most intensive exposure of improprieties unparalleled in the history of press crusade in Nigeria. Godwin Daboh gave very useful information. The Times sent him and its legal adviser, Dr. Olu Onogoruwa to London, New York, Geneva, Zurich, Milan and Bonn to obtain at any price, materials to prove their allegations. By the time the paper filed its defense Tarka knew enough to know that they knew too much about him.
Why is our press not in the vanguard against corruption? There are suggestions that many of them have been compromised. This is one of the reasons corruption has grown wings and is becoming near impossible to tame. When the Newspaper Association of Nigeria could collect N120Milion from Dasuki; Raymond Dokpesi, owner of RayPower and AIT Television could collect N2.1Billion from Dasuki and Nduka Obaigbena, a foremost Publisher could also collect N670Million from Dasuki, all out of the Security Fund, and then we can understand why there is no outcry against the current spate of corruption.
Shortly after the Tarka, Gomwalk scandals, Yakubu Gowon was overthrown by Murtala Mohammed. A fiery, firebrand of a military leader, Murtala too was not without his flaws. Murtala Mohammed had been saved by death and today he is on the positive side of history. But has not always been like that. In the good old days before becoming Head of State, he was noted for his hard drinking, ‘smoking’, a frequent patron of Fela’s Shrine and a ruthless soldier whose troops were said to have emptied the Central Bank in Benin during the Civil War. He was also alleged to have amassed property in Kano. However, as soon as he became Head of State he met the ‘Holy Prophet’ on ‘the road to Mount Arafat’ and became a changed man. My late father had this entry of the man in his book ‘Walking a Tightrope’: “When he was a Brigadier and Federal Commissioner for Communications, he had a disagreement with the Director-General of Telecommunications, Chief Theo. Akindele over an offer from a company to equip some telephone exchanges. Akindele had refused to consider the proposal from his commissioner not only on the ground that the company’s offer was unsolicited, but that the price was out of the way and the completion time was impossible. A committee of technical experts in the Ministry valued the project at N32m as against N197m by the company. The disagreement between Murtala and Akindele went to the Cabinet. Akindele could not be faulted and Murtala almost said Gowon should choose between him and Akindele. Gowon ruled in favor of Murtala that he should take a final decision on the contract. Murtala decided that Akindele should go on indefinite leave with effect from November 12, 1974. Before Akindele resumed duty in February 1975, the contract was awarded for N197m.
Five months after, July 1975 Murtala Mohammed became Head of State and Akindele was retired with what he himself described as “very generous” benefits paid inside 48 hours.
“At about the same time, Murtala as Commissioner for Communication had open disagreement in the cabinet with Imeh Ebong, Permanent Secretary Federal Ministry of Economic Development over the N100m Aerostat Balloon telecommunication project. Ebong wrote strongly against the project that it had not been successfully operated in any other country. Again Gowon ruled in favor of Murtala
“Today, twelve years after, time has proved Akindele and Ebong right. The balloon system is not working. When the Nigerian Television Authority was setup in 1977 with the promise that viewers would have six channels, it was on the false assumption that the aerostat balloon would work. The telephone exchange project too was completed much later than scheduled and the attendant escalation of cost.”
There is no doubt, corruption is here to stay. Our press needs to do more than they have hitherto been doing. We need more investigative approach to allegations of corruption. Marshaling of incontrovertible facts, unlike the ghost allegations we see every time by so-called concerned citizens of Lagos and the like. Corruption is not all about allegations, there are compelling reasons to get the facts right because when they are frivolous, people’s character will be at stake. However, there is ‘darkness visible’ when the voice of the people is attenuated and the voiceless are cheated and trampled upon. What has become of the labor unions with their compromised leadership, organized civil society, students’ body and other mouthpiece of the oppressed? If the situation is not arrested, we would be walking with eyes wide open towards an insurrection: And that would be very fatal indeed.
Barka Juma’at and Eid Mubarak