Friday, May 14, 2021

Beneath Ganduje’s Babaringa, by Dele Agekameh


tiamin rice

A shameful video surfaced online recently, purportedly showing the governor of a key northern state engaging in a disgraceful act of corruption. The individual in the video bears the unmistakable features of Abdullahi Ganduje, Kano State governor. In the video, he is seen receiving bundle after bundle of well packed United States dollars, smiling contentedly, while stashing a large portion of the cash somewhere beneath his babanriga, before depositing the rest in a brown envelope. The audio was cut off and no one else can be seen, except the hand of at least one person handing the smiling governor the bales of cash.

Ganduje has denied the video, stating through a spokesperson that he believes that the video was “cloned” (whatever that means), while threatening to sue the outlet that published the video online. However, other trusted journalists and experts who were privileged to view the full video, with audio, have since examined the video and have authenticated it. Not only that, the video is said to be part of a series of about 11 similar videos recorded over a period of time, in a sting operation that lasted about two years and saw the governor receive a combined sum of five million dollars.

It is now left for the Nigerian system – which, here, includes the general public, civil society, judicial authorities and, most importantly at this point, the Kano State House of Assembly – to decide how to respond to this moral challenge. The Ganduje video calls to mind the Farouk Lawan bribery scandal, involving oil magnate Femi Otedola, where both men claimed to have masterminded the “sting” operation that led to the video. Most members of the general public do not now know the status of that case, as it has been passed from court to court since prosecution of the matter began.

From the emerging story in this Ganduje video, the secret camera that recorded the incident had been planted on a government contractor who had been forced to pay a percentage of a project sum to Governor Ganduje. The contractor had reportedly been fed up with the back payments and had agreed with journalists to plant a recording device on his person.

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Now, the question of whether the back story emerging from the leaked video is true or not is inconsequential. There is absolutely no reason for a sitting governor to handle the amount of cash seen in that video, for whatever reason, based on money laundering regulations and mere moral obligations of a law abiding citizen. In the least, the governor, or his alleged clone, need to be put to question and a credible explanation should be provided for the video, with punishment applied where due.

It does not escape the mind that this video is coming out in the thick of election season. Whether or not its release has been engineered by the political foes of the governor is also inconsequential at this point. Where corruption is exposed, any consequential political gains by specific people pales in comparison to the significance of public knowledge and official action on the matter.

Too often, we have been at this juncture, with audio and video tapes of governors ordering electoral malpractice, demanding bribes and even conspiring to murder, and these allegations have been denied by the purported perpetrators and discountenanced by the general public and government authorities after brief publicity. Those episodes have been resigned to the back bench of memory, invoked only by political foes at sensitive times, to little or no effect. That Ganduje has not tendered his resignation by now is evidence of the cancer of corruption that has taken over our national consciousness, assuming that the video is really authentic.

Beyond Ganduje and the many videos, audios and other evidence of official misconduct that have emerged and been buried, we need to have a frank discussion amongst ourselves on the limits of our tolerance and where the moral line falls in Nigeria, and particularly, in public office. Many investors come to this country with their cash vaults ready to disburse bribes on demand, not because it is the way they do business elsewhere, but because there is a sense and understanding that this is how things work in Nigeria. Leaders like Ganduje preach the fight against corruption in public and turn around to sink the country into disrepute in private, through the kind of backroom dealing that was seen in the video.

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When David Cameron, former British Prime Minister, said in a private conversation that Nigeria is fantastically corrupt, there was uproar from many quarters, including in government, amongst the very individuals that orchestrate the fantastic corruption that plagues us in the international community. The horror of this corruption is the lack of finesse employed in its conduct, and the insult on our intelligence adopted in denials when these cases manage to come out in the open.

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If Ganduje were an ordinary citizen, there is actionable evidence for an arrest and cursory questioning in the least. In this case, however, he is covered by executive immunity, which means that action cannot be taken against him until such a time as the Kano State House of Assembly has invoked their right to impeach the governor or until he serves out his tenure, which is more likely to happen this close to general elections next year. In the interim, if Ganduje insists on his innocence, the people deserve a more robust response and denial than the flimsy ‘cloning’ excuse that remains the only official response from the governor’s reps.

Like one presidential hopeful said in a recent interview, the fight against corruption needs to go beyond punitive and reactionary measures against perpetrators alone. Corruption exists in many forms that are still openly being practiced in this government, knowingly and unknowingly. Any favour or reward for a process of government that has not been prescribed in the rule books is corruption, even to the extent of monetization of access to the president and other key government officials. If we do not understand corruption, we cannot eradicate it or bring it to the bare minimum level that is required for a just society.

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One would expect that the Kano State House of Assembly has already instituted a panel of enquiry to investigate the video, which may lead to a summons of the governor to answer questions before the house. That is the next logical step for a mature democracy where the rule of law is not encumbered by the politics of allegiance and party alliances. There should be no sacred cows when it comes to the image of the country or accountability to the people who have voted individuals into office or, more importantly, accountability and submission to the law.

In a country where politics is the biggest industry, it is sad to say that there is no telling how this can play out in the next couple of weeks or months, because political exigency – not respect for law and the processes of government and society – may be the critical factor in determining the outcome of this case, or the speed at which any obvious outcomes will be reached.

That is why civil society, pressure groups of all kinds and the citizen needs to take responsibility for moving the authorities to act. There is such a thing as a writ of mandamus in our law, which allows a court order to be made, at the instance of anyone, to compel a person or body in lawful authority to perform their duty. Let us begin to take advantage of the existing tools we have, to achieve the outcomes we want in society, rather than wait for the authorities to act.

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Our attitude to corruption should go beyond mere outrage. The hash-tag of #BabaringaMobileBanking has now gathered speed online as a joke, started by a sitting senator of the federal republic. We should not laugh at our shame, but resist the image that a few individuals have placed on our name in the international community. However, in keeping to the oldest traditions of law, Ganduje remains innocent until proven otherwise.

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