The ‘scam’ called Halliburton scam probe

By Casmir Igbokwe

First published Sunday, July 12, 2009 

I READ the story of Nollywood actress, Eucharia Anunobi, with pity. The buxom lady had reportedly sued for the dissolution of her marriage to Mr. Charles Ekwu. And she is asking for a N100m compensation. Her grouse, according to reports, is that she has spent so much to maintain their seven-year-old son, Raymond.

She stressed, ”I have always been responsible financially for the marriage. We have been living in the house that I secured as a spinster, even after we got married.”

The agony of this actress reminds me of the atrocities some Nigerians commit abroad in the name of cross-cultural marriages. As you know, many of us want the Green Card or permanent residency in Europe or America. To achieve this aim, some usually enter into fake marriage contracts with their white partners. Some ladies endorse the contract with full knowledge of what they are going into. Some do not. When the men get what they want and abandon them, some of them fret and sometimes commit suicide.

As it is in marriage, so it is in business, in government, and most endeavours in life. In our country, it goes by different names: ABC Company‘s fertiliser scam; Amadioha local government council in N40m fraud; top Lagos socialite in N10bn contract scandal; Chibuzo oil company in $10bn bribery saga; Ocean State lawmakers in N25m constituency project scam, and so on.

We have short memories. And so, we tend to forget most of these scandals after a few weeks of noise making. But largely due to the efforts of the media, the Halliburton scam has refused to fade. The $180m deal occurred between 1993 and 2002. The company had accepted offering bribes to win the multibillion dollar Liquefied Natural Gas contract in Bonny. But the outcry of Nigerians has literally forced the Federal Government to look for ways of solving the riddle behind the fraud.

Part of the ways was the setting up of the Mike Okiro-panel to investigate the bribery scandal. Last week, the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mike Aondoakaa, told Nigerians that the FG actually set up the panel to test the capacity of our security agencies.

The first question is: Why do we need to test the capacity of our security agencies? From the murder of Bola Ige to the assassination of Marshal Harry; from Wilbros scandal to Siemens scam, our security agencies could not do much to either unravel the mysteries surrounding these crimes or prosecute those involved. What makes Aondoakaa or his principals to think that this particular test will yield a positive result?

Now the FG has reportedly approved the sum of N42m for the Okiro panel to travel to France and some European countries to obtain evidence on those behind the scam. Again the question is: Why does the panel need such an amount of money to travel to Europe? Can‘t one or two of them embark on this trip if it is absolutely necessary? And why can‘t Nigerian embassy officials obtain these documents from their host countries and then pass them on to the panel? How are we sure that by the time this probe ends, Nigeria will not have spent more than the $180m bribe money it is investigating?

Aondoakaa also travelled to the United States and the United Kingdom for the same purpose a few months ago. The major result of his travels was a letter from the US rejecting Nigeria‘s request to provide it with evidence against some of the principal suspects. The same Aondoakaa that went seeking evidence abroad could not honour invitations extended to him by the joint Senate committee investigating the scandal.

Much of what the two Mikes (Okiro and Aondoakaa) are looking for is already public knowledge. US investigators had actually confirmed that Halliburton paid bribes to Nigerian government officials. These bribes came in instalments. The fingered officials collected some $60m in 1995, $47.5m in 1999, $51m in 2001 and $23m in 2002. Perhaps, the two Mikes need concrete evidence from the US or Europe to prove their case beyond reasonable doubt in Nigerian courts.

In a country where sincerity and transparency thrive, nobody may raise any eyebrows about travelling to get evidence abroad. But ours is a unique system. The more you look, the less you see.

From the way things are going, I have a feeling that the probes of some of these scams are becoming a scam in themselves. The House of Reps Committee on Power spent millions of naira going round the country in the name of probing the mismanagement of funds meant for some power projects. The outcome of the probe was the prosecution of the chairman of the committee for scams of a different hue.

Just as I was about to conclude this piece, I got a report that the chairman of the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission, Justice Emmanuel Ayoola, has suggested taxing Nigerians to raise funds to fight corruption. He calls it integrity tax. And he wants every tier of government to be involved in collecting the tax in order to have adequate funds to fight corruption.

This is laughable. Ayoola wants the same people traumatised by the effects of corruption, caused largely by public officials, to contribute more money for the same public officials to embezzle. I may not be a good boxer, but I shall be waiting for the day anybody will come and ask me to pay integrity tax.

As for Okiro and his committee, let’s wait and see if their so-called trip is for good or to woo us and elope like a man who marries a woman not for love, but for some material gains.

 

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