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Obanikoro in the storm

Nigerians are, on a daily basis, treated to a dosage of intriguing expose in the ongoing effort to rid the country of corruption and its tendencies, which have, undoubtedly, eaten deep into the fabrics of the national life. There has been series of startling report that have kept the populace busy in this hard time: from the commando-like raid of the homes of judges by security operatives, to the release of 21 Chibok girls held captive by Boko Haram insurgents, the latest being the ongoing revelations by a former Minister of State for Defence, Senator Musiliu Obanikoro.

After initial vehement denials of his alleged involvement in the N4.75 billion, being part of the $2.1billion arms deal, allegedly wired to a company, Sylva McNamara Limited, by the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) and his subsequent investigations by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Obanikoro allegedly made a dramatic U-turn concerning the purported multi-billion naira sleaze relating to the 2014 governorship election in Ekiti State.

Having announced his willingness to submit himself to the anti-graft body for investigation, Obanikoro returned from his US base on Monday and went to the EFCC office in Abuja in the afternoon. Under grilling, he allegedly made  some damning statements, implicating prominent politicians from the South-West, including Governor Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti State and Senator Iyiola Omisore, a former chairman of the Senate Appropriation Committee.

Obanikoro allegedly said he gave both Fayose and Omisore N3.8 billion in cash from the arms deal. On Tuesday, it was reported that he allegedly  said he gave Fayose the sum of N2.1 billion for the election. Also, the ex-minister purportedly said the money was meant to ward off an alleged plot by Boko Haram to attack Lagos and the South-West.

Who is this man presently going through the eye of the storm? What are his antecedents?

Born of Lagos parentage, the foray of Obanikoro (popularly known as Koro) into politics started in 1989, shortly after he returned to Nigeria from the United States of America (USA) where he had his first degree and Master’s Degree in Public Affairs and Public Administration respectively.

He was appointed the Caretaker Committee Chairman of Surulere Local Government Area of Lagos State on the platform of the defunct National Republican Convention (NRC) and was also elected the state deputy chairman of the party. The administration of the late former Governor Michael Otedola appointed him as the Director, Lagos State Bulk Purchasing Corporation (LASBULK) and he was variously a member of the Lagos State Football Association and delegate to the NRC conventions, both at the local government and national levels.

Obanikoro, who was once the chairman of Lagos Island Local Government Area, was a national executive member of the octopoidal Grassroots Democratic Movement (GDM) during the failed political arrangement put together by the late Head of State, General Sani Abacha. He was later appointed the Lagos State Commissioner for Home Affairs and Culture in 1999, a position he held till 2003 when he was elected a senator on the ticket of the Alliance for Democracy (AD) and defected to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) thereafter.

At the Senate, he moved several motions, some of which were to stop the surge and overflow of the Atlantic Ocean along the Bar Beach shoreline; stopping of incessant increment of pump price of petroleum products; protecting Lagos State from menace of flood and probe into the condition of the velodrome at the Abuja National Stadium, among others.

His first well-known brush with the law enforcement agency was when he was arrested, along with all other PDP governorship aspirants during an investigation into the brutal murder of another aspirant of the party, Mr Funsho Williams, in his Lagos residence in July, 2006. However, Obanikoro later regain his freedom because of his non-involvement in the dastardly killing of the popular Lagos politician.

Senator Obanikoro got the PDP’s nod, albeit controversially, to contest the 2007 governorship election in Lagos State. The controversy was because Hilda, the widow of Williams, had been initially declared the winner of the PDP primary. However, the PDP National Executive Committee (NEC), then led by Senator Ahmadu Ali, thought otherwise and gave the ticket to Obanikoro. He contested the election but lost to Babatunde Raji Fashola, now a serving minister in the President Muhammadu Buhari administration.

A deft player in the nation’s political circle, Obanikoro was appointed as Nigeria’s High Commissioner to Ghana in 2008 by the late President Umaru Yar’ Adua, while the immediate past President Goodluck Jonathan, appointed him as the Minister of State for Defence in 2014. As a major player in the build-up to the 2015 general election, his capacity as a federal minister in the Jonathan administration signaled his ongoing travail, once again, with the law enforcement agency but this time round, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

In line with the promise by the Buhari administratio to tackle corruption headlong, the anti-graft body went after (and is still after) those elements perceived to have some outstanding issues in relation to the 2015 elections. EFCC fingered Obanikoro had some clarifications to make on the $2.1 billion arms deal, allegedly coordinated by the former National Security Adviser (NSA), Colonel Sambo Dasuki (rtd). He and firm belonging said to belong to two of his sons, Sylvan McNamara, were specifically under investigation for allegedly receiving the sum of N4.75 billion from the former NSA between April 4 and December 15, 2014.

Obanikoro was in far away US when the Dasukigate blues began to pan out. But, the EFCC was undeterred, as the agency stormed two of his houses last June and allegedly took away some of his property, including cars, trucks and wristwatches, allegedly without any warrant.

Speaking from the US, Koro, on June 15, 2016, threatened to sue the anti-graft agency for the alleged unlawful break into his houses, claiming he was not aware that the agency had any warrant from the court. He also said EFCC officials intimidated and harassed occupants of the buildings, including young children.

Speaking in an interview with an online newspaper, Premium Times, the embattled former federal lawmaker was vehement in his denial of the allegation leveled against him, even as he dared EFCC and President Buhari to initiate the process of his extradition from the US. He also accused EFCC of waging media war against him and challenged the agency to produce the account details of his alleged involvement in the N4.75 billion arms deal sleaze.

“They will never attempt any extradition. I, Musiliu Olatunde Obanikoro, am inviting EFCC to petition America to extradite me to Nigeria. The whole world would now see their charade for what it is. It is even good for everyone to know the truth, including those who are sympathisers to APC…Do, let them bring the tissue of lies that they have put together and submit everything to serious judicial scrutiny and let us see whether it will fly. I am inviting them to do that,” he had said.

Obanikoro challenged EFCC to make public its findings “since they have decided to try this matter in the court of public opinion. Let them publish the account numbers publicly…Tell EFCC to give you [the media] all the documents of the company [Sylva McNamara] and account statements from the bank. Let them publish everything in the papers. And anywhere you see Obanikoro, you should crucify me.”

While Nigerians appear to be getting used to shocking reports about the public offices held by previous holders, the unfolding situation concerning Obanikoro can be seen from many perspectives. Governor Fayose has described his return as dramatic and allegedly compromised.

However, some observers have raised pertinent questions on the current theatrics: At what point did Obanikoro made up his mind to submit himself to EFCC for investigation? Did he really make a voluntary return as Nigerians are being made to believe? What transpired between June and October, 2016 to have made him to change his mind from his initial stance? Put differently, what are the undercurrents of the ongoing drama?

Reacting to the allegations against him, Governor Fayose said: “I wouldn’t want to join issues with EFCC and Obanikoro. But I remembered very well that Obanikoro was firing very serious salvos at the EFCC before now. I remember all his statements in the press. But this dramatic return; he was not stopped at the airport and there was a clear entrance straight to the EFCC’s office, simply shows that there is a hand of Esau in the voice of Jacob.”