by Hakeem Babalola
I received the news with opposing mixed emotions: joy and sadness; fellow feeling and impassiveness; certainty and uncertainty; to be or not to be; reasonable and unreasonable. In fact, contradictory attributes of unjust justice and loving vindictiveness refused to leave me alone.
Perhaps the above is not paradoxical, for there’s an intensity of imagination in me that yearns after what is absent, and which grasps at any fleeting image of what I lack. It’s a pity, even a shame because I cannot make the reader understand my exact thoughts.
Confused or not, that’s my state of mind when I read the headline: Okonjo-Iweala, Adeniji to Refund #205m to FG. Okonja-Iweala was Nigeria’s former Finance Minister and briefly Foreign Affairs Minister while Olufemi Adeniji was in the External Affairs Ministry and later Minister of Internal Affairs.
According to reports, Okonjo Iweala was ordered by the Court of Appeal in Abuja to refund over #140m to the federal coffers being excess salary paid to her in dollars during the last regime of Olusegun Obasanjo. Adeniji in a similar manner must cough #64m. No doubt the duo are on the horns of a dilemma, because this is a huge amount especially as a salary refund.
The court held that the two former ministers were not eligible to earn wages above those prescribed by the Certain Political, Public and Judicial Office Holders (Salaries and Allowances) Act No.6 of 2002 made on December 13, 2002 but which is deemed to have come into force on May 29, 1999. Both were paid in dollars in contravention of the existing law that prescribes only naira as currency of payment for every Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
My question is this: is it their fault? Whose fault is it then? Because Okonjo-Iweala and Adeniji have to cough up a huge amount of money unless the Supreme Court comes to their immediate rescue. Damn it, it’s a chicken change for Nigerian ministers.
The man in charge of everything, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, authorized the payment even though he knew it was in violation of the law. Why did this man abuse such power contrary to Section 15 (5) of the 1999 Constitution and Section 153, which empowered Revenue Mobilization Allocation and fiscal Commission (RMAFC) to determine the remuneration appropriate for political office holders?
Did Obasanjo do it deliberately? Was it sadism and masochism on the part of OBJ to have bribed and, or enticed Okonjo-Iweala and Adeniji by paying them in foreign currency? Or what exactly transpired between Obasanjo and these ex-ministers? Listen to what David Jemibewon, a retired general and a former Minister of Police Affairs, says about the Owu man in this regard.
"Obasanjo probably enjoys or derives some enjoyment when he thinks somebody is injured. The closer you are to him, the more he knows you, the more he derives enjoyment from your injury. That’s the way I would put it."
Perhaps in his quest to recruit the best Nigerians, Obasanjo in his resplendent brand abused the Section to quench his thirst or inflame his ego, knowing in advance that the law would soon catch up with the two ministers post his administration.
Now that Obasanjo has put the two ministers in debt, what should be done? Although I wonder why lawyers of the two ministers did not advice them against the consequences of getting their salaries in hard currency in violation of Nigerian law, the truth is how many Nigerians would question such issue if they were in Okonjo-Iweala and Adeniji’s shoes!
I remember this issue generated a lot of controversy back then. It was, in retrospect, one of the worst mistakes Obasanjo and the two ministers ever made. Since the two ministers were there to serve their nation, they should have known the wise thing in this circumstance. It didn’t matter they had left a plum job to be ministers. Service is service. But how would they when the President himself succumbed to financial temptations during his eight-year reign?
If the two ex-ministers must refund #205.6 million paid to them as salaries while they were in office, how much should Obasanjo himself refund as an accomplice or instigator of the crime? What should be done to this man who messed up virtually everything during the period he occupied the seat of his ancestors. It won’t be fair to Okonjo-Iweala and Adeniji if Obasanjo is left in peace at his Ota chicken ranch.
More importantly, this is a virtuous and instructive lesson for all of us. Let’s play it according to the law of the land. Let’s respect the Constitution as we embark on its amendment. We should put our trust on the Constitution rather than the caprice of a President who may not be there for us when the law bangs the false.
Though the fault is that of the President who intentionally violated the Constitution in order to lure the two ex-ministers into his cabinets, I entreat them to refund the money irrespective of whether the Supreme Court upholds the decision or not. By doing this, the two ex-ministers, and especially Okonjo-Iweala would still command our respect. En, let them appease us.
It’s unfortunate turn of events if Okonjo-Iweala who had performed satisfactorily to the admiration of most Nigerians would have to end it all in this manner, because of one man’s malicious satisfaction. I’d like to believe that Okonjo-Iwela and Adeniji are hapless victims of Obasanjo’s inauspicious thunderings which shook heaven during his reign of blustery.
To use Prof. Bolaji Aluko’s words, this is "another nail in the coffin of impunity, another feather in the cap of our judiciary, and an admirable testimony to the doggedness of Fawehinmi in this case..."