The process by which boiled yam is turned into pounded yam may not be complicated. But it is such that by the time it is done, the end product (pounded yam) could only be mildly hot. That then explains why the Yoruba adage that “a pounded yam of three years can still burn to touch” is very deep indeed. And that perhaps is the best way to understand the current ordeal of the former Niger Delta Minister, Elder Godsday Orubebe, who would be arraigned before the Code of Conduct Tribunal next week.
Whatever may be the merit of the case against the former Minister, not a few Nigerians remember that on March 30 this year, Orubebe made a public nuisance of himself at the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) collation centre, in a futile bid to scuttle the announcement of the presidential election result that was going against his candidate and then incumbent, Dr Goodluck Jonathan. Although he failed spectacularly, that “pounded yam” of more than seven months ago may now be too hot for Orubebe’s fingers to handle!
I must make this very clear: I am not in any way exonerating Orubebe of the bribe-for-contract (allegedly to a man who carries the title of Pastor!) charge levelled against him. He has to defend that allegation among other charges. However, the real issue for me is not what Orubebe did or did not do with public money (that is now a subject for the CCT to decide), but rather his comportment in office. There are codes of behaviour for senior public officials that Orubebe serially violated in an era notorious for gross impunity. The message here therefore is that what the former minister did on March 30 was not an isolated incident; it was a culmination of a pattern of bad behaviour that others in similar positions would do well to avoid.
In my column on this page on 15 September, 2011, titled “Bash Ali, Orubebe and Wikileaks”, I used the example of the then Niger Delta Minister to explain why some public officials sell our country cheap by the way they conduct themselves. Going through the piece at the weekend, I concluded that it is worth re-publishing because it is one that would serve the next crop of ministers in a new administration that comes with the mantra of “Change”.
Whenever the Federal Executive Council is eventually inaugurated, what is now clear is that those men and women cannot continue with the template of the past. That is the kernel of the recollection of the column, written on this page more than four years ago. While Orubebe will have his day in court, hopefully next week, there are lessons that the ministers of President Buhari must learn from the piece, especially now that everything in Nigeria revolves around corruption:
Bash Ali:Godsday, we included in the budget the fight and land cost for the 9 sports academies in Nigeria with 3 of your directors at the meeting. And I have always told you that this GWR fight must be done TRANSPARENTLY because apart from the honour and glory that it will bring to Nigeria, there is a lot of PPV fight money which we can all benefit from. Is doing a TRANSPARENT business at your ministry a fake thought that calls for the examination of my head? What happened to the money that was included in the budget? Did you divert it?
Orubebe:I thought you were reasonable but had to withdraw because I realized you are not coordinated, you have a loose and porous mindset and living in the air. (April 23, 2011)
Bash Ali: You withdrew and sent me back to the NSC because I insisted on a TRANSPARENT deal and now have the audacity to insult me. This is the second time you have said I am living in the air for believing a TRANSPARENT deal can be done at your ministry in particular and Nigeria in general. Do you know that out of 150 million Nigerians, I am one out of less than 5,000 Nigerians that have a national honour, do you know that I am an Officer of the Order of the Niger, OON?
Orubebe: OON, a disgrace. I will ensure that you are removed from the honours list. I promise you that. (April 24, 2011)
Bash Ali: That is an empty talk. I got my OON on merit, so a million Godsday cannot take it away. Why are you preventing me from doing more great things for Nigeria and getting the highest national honour possible? Why? Must corruption always win?
Orubebe: There will be no room for your apology and begging when we set up government without you. (April 28, 2011)
Bash Ali: Godsday, it is you that must apologise and beg me to forgive you for being rude and talking trash. Set up government without me? What a joke!! If I am a fool for insisting that the boxing deal must be TRANSPARENT then I don’t want to be wise and above all, I gave Jonathan my mandate, not Godsday.
Orubebe: Big fool. Why can’t you stop deceiving yourself? I am sorry for your children and family for having a stupid father who does not understand the times. (July 9, 2011)
Bash Ali: Godsday, does understanding the times mean you have to be corrupt? I was just thinking, why can’t we do a TRANSPARENT business where we can all come out WINNERS? Let us contribute our quota to make Nigeria great, please. Let us help our brother, Jonathan to succeed, please.
Orubebe: It’s like you are in love with Orubebe, remove shame and come, I will forgive you and teach you to be a responsible man like me. (July 10, 2011)
Bash Ali: I cannot be in love with a man who has an arid vision for Nigeria. What shame? And forgive me for insisting on a TRANSPARENT business? Does being corrupt make a man like you responsible? I feel sorry for Nigerians, Jonathan.
Orubebe: Your foolishness has made you not to know that this is the man that can bail you out of your blindness and frustration. Time is clicking. Don’t make me change my mind again. (July10, 2011)
Bash Ali: You are the foolish and blind man who wants to continue to steal from government because you are in power. I will never again deal with you unless I get instruction from Jonathan. You are right, time is clicking because very soon, I will lead a revolution that will remove corrupt people like you from government and if I die in the process, nothing can be more redemptive.
Orubebe:How can you be afraid to die when you have nothing to offer to Nigeria? (July 10, 2011)
Bash Ali: I have contributed more to the betterment of Nigeria than you. I have spent millions of Naira to promote sports and NEVER asked government for a kobo despite being frustrated by a corrupt man like you.
Orubebe: Come and take one very small contract to survive (July 13, 2011)
Bash Ali: Give the very small contract to survive to your corrupt friends in government.
Orubebe: If you are a fool at this age, am sorry for your children and family. I will tell your children to deny you. Big FOOL. (July 15, 2011)
Bash Ali: From your action and text messages, you have shown Jonathan that he made a big mistake by appointing an idiot like you as a minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. A revolution is coming and it will sweep you out of office.
Orubebe: It’s like you have no job. I would have taken you as an aide but you don’t have the brains. Sorry, too bad. Yours is a hopeless case. (July 15, 2011)
Bash Ali: I am a world boxing champion and a national honour holder but your corrupt government has made me jobless, frustrated and hopeless but my brain is intact for a REVOLUTION that would remove you from office. Mark my word.
Orubebe:I thought your head was getting normal. Oh sorry, I have volunteered to take you to Uselu at my own cost to bring you to normalcy. Foolish man, stupid man, crazy man, nuisance to society. Waste to our generation. Uselu is your rightful home. (Sept 1, 2011)
The foregoing is an abridged version of the text messages between Niger Delta Minister, Elder Godsday Orubebe and renowned boxing champion, Bash Ali beginning from April until the first week of this month (September 2011). It was first published last Thursday in “TheNation” newspaper with an accompanying interview by my friend and one of Nigeria’s best reporters, Yusuf Alli, who spoke with both Orubebe and Bash Ali. The text messages speak volume about the character and temperament of our senior public office holders and help to explain why WikiLeaks reports (of United States’ diplomatic cables) about our country have been so damaging.
Now, what is the story behind this altercation? Even without any investigation, I have an idea about what happened because it is a familiar tale. Since the President Olusegun Obasanjo administration, Bash Ali has been writing any and every Nigerian president that he wants to stage a Guinness book of World Record fight in the country on the basis of the old age which he touts. Whenever a president gets that letter, he minutes it to an appropriate ministry while a standard courtesy letter is written to Bash Ali to liaise with the ministry. With that letter, woe betides whoever he is directed to meet. Of course most officials who get the letter don’t place much premium on it but once you have been unlucky to have given audience to Bash Ali, then you are in trouble. I know many officials who have unpleasant tales to tell after meeting him.
While I am almost certain that is also the experience of Orubebe, what the exchanges show is the immaturity of our officials because not only is the language deployed by the Minister in his text messages shameful, he also should have seen how Bash Ali was cleverly leading him on in the conversation. Consistently, Bash Ali was reinforcing the charge of corruption against Orubebe who was all the while abusing the man oblivious to the fact that in this information age, he was unwittingly putting himself on record without even dismissing the allegation. Now that Ali has put the text messages in the public domain I will not be surprised if one Polsec (whatever that means) at the American embassy writes a dispatch to say “Nigerian Minister demands bribe to stage boxing tournament”!
In their piece, “How Public Officials Can Avoid E-Mail and Texting Liability Landmines”, Patrick J. Harvey and Ballard Spahr warned that public officials should always assume that all e-mails and mobile telephone text messages will eventually become public and that they should never use a text message to rant unless the person is ‘comfortable with it being printed in his/her local newspaper or enlarged on a poster board in court as a litigation exhibit’.
But our public officials have not learnt any lesson in what they put down in writing and what they say some of which is now coming back to haunt many of them given the expose of the United States diplomatic cables that WikiLeaks has put in the public arena. The more I read the cables emanating from the American embassy in Nigeria the more I realise the damage that our officials have done to the image of the country. Now, there are two variants to the cables published by WikiLeaks. Some dispatches were based on the ‘information’ independently sourced by the officials which were not credited to any sources and then there were those based on the subtle debriefing of our important personalities and public officials. The latter is what I am concerned about because from what transpired in most cases, it would seem these officials just let loose without realising they were being recorded.
The main reason why many of our officials become unguarded and irresponsible when discussing corruption in our country with foreign dignitaries is to put on a self-righteous image so as to present themselves as saints. It is then no surprise that whenever you see a top Nigerian official in the midst of Western diplomats and he or she is asked a simple question as to what challenge our nation is facing, the instant response would be ‘corruption’. It doesn’t matter that the person speaking could have houses all over the world and be sitting atop stupendous wealth that cannot be explained. As we can glimpse from the wikiLeak reports, almost all the officials encountered by the diplomats pointed the finger of corruption at others except themselves.
Incidentally, we are a nation where every official from local government to the presidency is ‘fighting corruption’ yet questions remain as to who actually is doing the corruption. In my piece published on October 1 last year to mark Nigeria’s 50th Independence anniversary, I made allusion to this disposition by Nigerian officials and to illustrate my point I used the African folklore of three famished brothers eating from the same plate of food not enough to satiate their hunger. Apparently losing out in the game of greed, the first brother remarked but to no one in particular: ‘you are eating too fast’. To this the second brother responded: ‘so you saw him’. The third brother completed the farce: ‘That was exactly what I wanted to say’!
That kind of posture accounts for most of the negative things we now read about our country based on WikiLeaks reports but if there is any lesson that we can learn it is that officials can no longer afford to be careless with information, and that goes with what they say and what they put down in writing. Letting down their guards and allowing themselves to be used as spies just because they were invited to a cocktail by a clerical staff at the American embassy just shows the character of most of our public officials. But the reason many sold themselves and the nation cheap was because they never in their wildest imagination thought that what they said in secret would ever be out in the open. How naïve they were!
I hope we have all learnt sufficient lessons from the WikiLeaks saga as to how we should comport ourselves when discussing with foreigners just as I believe Orubebe would also have taken note that in this information age, every careless and irresponsible text message will one day be accounted for. And the price for that could be very high.
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