When the Speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly, Mudashiru Ajayi Obasa, reacted to the allegations of corruption levelled against him, he added a touch of flippancy to the schtick. During a live Instagram interview with the publisher of Ovation Magazine, Dele Momodu, Obasa brazenly stated, “money is meant to be spent.” The rest of his refutation of the allegations suggests he might not be losing too much sleep over those accusations.
Only a court can pronounce Obasa guilty of all the financial rascality he has been accused of, but I am certain of two things: First, there is no politician who would be falsely alleged of corruption that would not be righteously indignant enough to confront their accusers and prove them wrong.
They would present valid receipts, extract an apology, and demand indemnity from their traducers. The second is that there is no society where they already have the habit of accountability that would have been as lukewarm as we have since the whole saga started. That Obasa himself lamely tried to differentiate between “stealing money and “spending money” shows that he understands building a logical and water-tight defence is useless in our present society. Just laugh off the issues, and yes, threaten to sue.
What Obasa is accused of might not be funny, but his self-defence is. Like many a Nigerian politician accused of pen robbery, he pleaded the excuse that he did not do anything without prior budgeting and approval. That does not prove much. In a state where both the legislature and the executive bow before the same idol, how hard can it be to get each other to rubberstamp unscrupulous expenses? In fact, Obasa could have looked directly into the camera and barrack, “Yes, I am guilty of all the charges, but what are you going to do?” and nothing would have happened still.
If there were going to be consequences to such alleged actions, we would have known by now. Aside from organisations like the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission doing us the courtesy of informing us they were already interrogating him on these allegations and would update us on their findings, the All Progressives Congress would, at least, have used the opportunity to reiterate their commitment to their much-touted anti-corruption war.
They would have stridently denounced any corruption by “party stalwarts” and perhaps even activated intra-party mechanisms to at least force Obasa to step down so he could deal with those issues ethically.
Alas, we all know that none of those things is about to happen. The same APC stalwarts that deafened the country’s ears with the raucous noise of the Peoples Democratic Party’s corruption in 2015 have now gone hoarse. They are weary of their own hypocrisy.
The burden of pretending to be the moral and counterbalancing force against corruption in Nigeria has been unduly overwhelming, and they have finally given up the farce. Thankfully, too. Unlike some years ago, they no longer even deploy the nonsense of “corruption is fighting back” to shut down discussions on issues of public concern. They seem to find it far more convenient to act blind, deaf, and mute.
Politicians that get careless enough to be caught with their hands in the public jar have come to know they only need to maintain their composure for a while. In a matter of time, everything would blow over and life would go on.
We saw how that happened in the case of Kano State governor, Abdullahi Ganduje. In a strange twist —although not absurd by Nigerian standards— even Ganduje now warns other public officials against corruption. Why not? Nobody thinks they are corrupt. Corruption is what other people you do not approve of do. They also know that corruption is no sin in Nigeria. You are only punished when you fall out of favour with your political sugar daddy, and even that hardly happens unless the sharing formula goes wrong.
That is why I think Obasa could have raised his middle finger to the camera, confessed to every single thing he was accused of, and he would still walk free.
If nobody is convinced of Obasa’s innocence despite his denials, it is also because allegations of egregious corruption against Lagos elected officials have become established rites of political passages. They come up now and then, but they eventually peter out. This is not surprising considering that the state’s leadership structure is almost entirely in-bred. Lagos APC itself is a congress of hustlers whose incestuous political relationships have become a curse on the destiny of the state. Many “party stalwarts” would not have been promoted to the key offices they occupy if not for their roles in helping to bury bodies.
A cursory look at the character-witnesses Obasa listed while he pleaded his self-justification reveals a lot about his realities. He said we should talk to “(Babatunde) Fashola who was governor, (Akinwunmi) Ambode and the rest. Call any of them any day. Any of those people I just mentioned cannot link anything to me that Obasa when he was a commissioner, he has done this, he has done that, no. I am saying it openly now so people can hear; these people are alive so probably they are watching.”
Why would these two ex-governors be those whom he would call as witnesses? Well, they have things in common with him: they worked together at some point, they have also been accused of corruption, and nothing untoward happened to them. Even the Speaker before Obasa, Adeyemi Ikuforiji, faced a litany of corruption scandals for a while but he has yet to be undone. What would be different this time?
In 2010, as first-term Lagos governor, Fashola was nearly sunk when an organisation, The True Face of Lagos, unfolded some of the most mind-blowing accusations of corruption about him. The battle raged, but despite all that, he still won a second term. The tussle was eventually rested, and forgotten.
In 2015, another round of allegations against Fashola surfaced after Ambode became governor. Not only was Fashola accused of brazen looting, even the APC’s godfather and former governor, Bola Tinubu, was featured in those sordid tales. Again, they have remained unshakeable nevertheless.
Particularly galling to the public then was the case of the website that cost N78 million. Fashola responded to the accusation by saying he would not join the pig to wrestle in the mud. He said he had done his bit in service of the fatherland and he was moving on. The story ended. Those accusations did not disqualify Fashola from being promoted higher up the ranks. He was rewarded with three ministries in the Federal Executive Council after vacating the governorship. The country joined him in moving on to the “next level” as if nothing ever happened.
Ambode tasted the same dose of the medicine availed Fashola when he was slapped with corruption charges and which he, of course, denied. Up till last year, the EFCC still heckled him over some charges. Do not be surprised if nothing comes out of this too – forever. Even before Babajide Sanwo-Olu became governor, he was accused of malfeasance by Ambode.
At some point, it becomes evident that these webbed chains of accusations are not merely about spite but a technique of self-preservation. These men have been colleagues long enough to have something on one another. Naming some of the well-known members of the APC gang as his witnesses is a smart move on Obasa’s part. That is how you corral people towards your eventual exoneration.
Give it a few more weeks and we would have moved on. We are not only inured, but these situations also reveal how much corruption has become a part of our expectations. Unfortunately, we have yet to develop a realistic blueprint towards making accused people step aside from a public office so they could appropriately deal with their scandals. We simply rage and rage, but then we are forced to move on another issue.
Obasa is right about one thing though: money is meant to be spent. Money was created in Lagos State to keep the godfather’s corruption machinery sufficiently oiled. Once you do your part, nothing do you!
Culled from Punch