Atiku Vs Buhari: Who will run away from this great debate?

By Shuaib I. Shuaib

Maybe it is time for Nigerians to start asking questions. Atiku has opened the door for the demand for answers. And if the Atiku allegations about Buhari’s family are an indication of what is to come in identifying the true faces behind the biggest conglomerates in the country, the voters are in for a very interesting 50 days to come.

Whatever their differences, the military men who have dominated politics and governance in Nigeria for the last four to five decades, had something like a code of honour among them. In their quest for money, power and influence, they left each other’s families alone.

It was the only guarantee that the people they cared about the most wouldn’t be drawn into their struggles. But as with everything in life, there is always a first. And in October 1999, President Olusegun Obasanjo had Mohammed Abacha, son of the late dictator, arrested on a murder charge. It was a charge he was later acquitted of.

Obasanjo, then president, made it no secret that his primary purpose was to extract what has today come to be known as the Abacha loot from Mohammed, who eventually spent a number of years behind bars. Still, his was an arrest that set the precedent for what was to come in later years.

A number of political watchers blamed General Ibrahim Babangida, not for instigating the arrest but for not speaking out against it when it happened. He was key to bringing Obasanjo to power after the sudden death of General Sani Abacha and it was to him everyone ran when trouble came calling.

Seven years later, it was Babangida’s son, Mohammed, who Obasanjo went after. In August 2006, Obasanjo had Mohammed arrested by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) over his suspected ownership of a considerable amount of shares in telecommunications giant, Globacom.

EFCC had not only tied Babangida’s family, but also Vice President Atiku Abubakar, to the telecommunications company. While Babangida was reported to own 24 per cent of the company, Atiku was said to have a 12.5 per cent stake in it. Obasanjo was driven by his determination to cripple both Babangida and Atiku politically and shut them out of the 2007 presidential election. He succeeded in his quest, but the story didn’t end there. It was May 2008.

Obasanjo had barely been out of office for a year when his daughter, Iyabo, was then the one faced with the threat of arrest. After playing hide-and-seek for some weeks, she was finally detained for a few days. In a way, her arrest settled scores with Obasanjo over his willingness to cross the line and go after the families of his rivals.

But it also brought a sense of closure to the push to reveal the ownership structures of some of the corporate giants many of his political rivals are rumored to have stakes in. Or so it seemed. Years later, the Awujale of Ijebuland, Oba Sikiru Adetona, in his autobiography, raised questions about Obasanjo being a part owner of the massive Obajana Cement company; questions that have remained unanswered till date.

If there are hidden hands behind the Etisalat acquisition, Atiku and his campaign team shouldn’t play games. If the former vice president means to clean up Nigeria if elected as president, there is no reason for him not to start now. He should call out names and reveal all that he knows about corruption in high places, instead of going around in circles.

Coming to the present and how the highest office in the land is still being used to take control of some of the most prized private companies: The 2019 presidential election is less than two months away and the Atiku campaign has come out with what, by any standard, should be an earthshaking revelation.

It centres around a family member of President Muhammadu Buhari who today is alleged to be the new part owner of Etisalat Nigeria, now 9moblie, and Keystone Bank. The revelations or allegations are clearly the first step in what the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) hopes will put an end to perceptions that President Buhari is incorruptible or a man of integrity.

The party is also putting the onus on the president to prove to the world that he is not corrupt. What Atiku is telling us is that under the Buhari presidency, nothing has changed. Friends and families of those in high places are still using their access to power and public office to enrich themselves and gain advantages with privately owned businesses.

According the Atiku campaign, it took at least N1 trillion for the family to acquire the Etisalat shares. From the point of view of an electorate, this is exactly what should be happening. More revelations need to be made. If proxies are being used to acquire public and private asset, Nigerians should know about these.

Based on available information, the telecommunications company was bought by Teleology Holdings Limited, which has Nasiru Ado Bayero as chairman and six other people serving as executive or non-executive directors. One of them is Adrian Wood, a former CEO of MTN Nigeria.

If there are hidden hands behind the Etisalat acquisition, Atiku and his campaign team shouldn’t play games. If the former vice president means to clean up Nigeria if elected as president, there is no reason for him not to start now. He should call out names and reveal all that he knows about corruption in high places, instead of going around in circles.

Who is he referring to as a family member of the president? It will be in the best interest of Nigerians for him to reveal the name of the individual. And in the age we are living in, it is information the public can handle without losing sight of what is in its best interest, come February 2019.

The Keystone Bank acquisition doesn’t appear to be as straight forward as the Etisalat acquisition. First, there could be a slight conflict of interest in the allegation made by Atiku. At least when it comes to the former Habib Bank, which merged with Platinum Bank and later became Keystone Bank, Atiku was known to have been the biggest shareholder.

A good place to kickoff the revelations would be to have the PDP presidential candidate publicly declare his asset and the periods he acquired them. He doesn’t hide the fact from anyone that he has properties all around the world. In seeking votes from Nigerians, it shouldn’t be too much to ask him how much he was worth in 1999, in 2007 and in 2019.

While he was vice president, he left a number of close associates, including Koiranga Jada, Shehu Yar’Adua’s family and that of Babatunde Jose, disgruntled by muscling his way to emerge as majority shareholder in the bank. Funny enough and in spite of his much-touted wizardry in business, the bank still failed.

Naturally, the subsequent mergers and acquisitions would have greatly changed the ownership structures of the evolving banks. The most recent, which the former vice president is obviously referring to, suggests the bank was bought by Sigma Golf Nigeria Limited and Riverbank Investment Resources Limited.

Again, the PDP presidential campaign team would be doing Nigerians an invaluable public service by revealing the real people behind the acquisition and any criminal activity they have engaged in. The names that have so far been linked to Sigma Golf Nigeria are those of Umaru Modibbo and Adamu Modibbo, who founded Sigma Pension Fund.

If the bank was bought by those close to the president under false representations or proxies, it shouldn’t remain buried while we are heading towards an election. The PDP has a duty to report this.

Should Atiku be elected president today, it probably won’t come as a surprise to many people if he ends up owning half of Nigeria. But it would definitely be incredible should anyone even insinuate that Buhari would own half of Daura after his term in office. Yet, it is a possibility, even if a lot of people do not think so.

Over the years, a lot of allegations have been made against both Obasanjo and Atiku regarding their acquisition of publicly owned asset and the concessioning of seaports, airports and a host of other asset. The role of the logistics company, Intels, in the Nigerian ports is well known. So also have there been questions pertaining to the person really behind the Murtala Muhammed Domestic Airport 2 (MM2) concession. However, there is very little focus on the acquisition of privately-owned asset in the banking and telecommunications sectors.

Maybe it is time for Nigerians to start asking questions. Atiku has opened the door for the demand for answers. And if the Atiku allegations about Buhari’s family are an indication of what is to come in identifying the true faces behind the biggest conglomerates in the country, the voters are in for a very interesting 50 days to come.

A good place to kickoff the revelations would be to have the PDP presidential candidate publicly declare his asset and the periods he acquired them. He doesn’t hide the fact from anyone that he has properties all around the world. In seeking votes from Nigerians, it shouldn’t be too much to ask him how much he was worth in 1999, in 2007 and in 2019.

Shuaib I. Shuaib, a former Editor of LEADERSHIP newspaper, writes from Abuja.