OPINION: Ayo Fayose: Villain, victim, voice


Sonala Olumhense

Ayo Fayose, his second governorship of Ekiti State ended, showed up at the EFCC two weeks ago as he had promised.

It was October 16, and hours after his predecessor also became his successor. By turning himself over to the EFCC to face charges, he was keeping a promise born of bravado, although some would say he was coerced, the anti-graft body having watch-listed him last month.

Anti-corruption trials are a show in Nigeria in which the objective is often the process, and achievement is measured in how many circles you travel.

If that does not explain why there are so many cases in Nigerian courts that began 10 or 14 years ago, it explains why many persons that should at least be in prison custody are running the prison.

So bad is the situation that some of the lawyers involved—on both sides of the game—have learned and earned enough to build mansions and buy luxury cars for themselves and their families wherever they wish.

I do not expect Fayose’s to be one of those. I foresee a quick trial, with few interruptions, and a swift verdict that will include the loss of several of the properties being attributed to him.

Fayose’s engagement with the law dates back to his first governorship. By the time the Peoples Democratic Party rigged him back to office in 2014, he was on trial for murder, and for misappropriating at least N1.2 billion belonging to Ekiti State. It also emerged that he may have authored a killer squad that, among others, was responsible for the murder of five college students in Ikere-Ekiti, in March 2004, and of one Tunde Omojola in May 2005.

Four years ago, the immunity procured by his second governorship intervened in all of that, but when he lost it this month the EFCC immediately charged him with fraud and misappropriation of nearly N31 billion. Among others, he is alleged to have illegally received five million dollars from in 2014 from Musiliu Obanikoro, then the Minister of State for Defence, in connection with his governorship run.

These are vast sums of lucre, and his prospects are not brightened by his admission that the vast sums of money left over from his 2014 election war chest is his, or that the funds were donated by his friends and Zenith Bank.

He will have to tender a longer explanation.

But his bravado, not those funds, is the reason for the corner into which he has painted himself.

For four years, apparently because at the beginning he seemed to believe the PDP could not be dislodged from federal power, he deployed his governorship over the opposing party like a hammer to a nail. Even when that party became the ruling party, Fayose could not find the restraint key on his political dashboard, or summon the wisdom for self-preservation. As the PDP went into bitter division and crisis, he cast himself as its soul and spirit, and was celebrated as the “last man standing.”

I was in that spirit in 2016, as he combatted the EFCC which had frozen his accounts, that he uttered the words that moved him from a fringe irritant in a state to an Abuja hand-to-hand combatant.

“Even the president cannot claim to be an angel,” he chuckled. “The estate he built in Abuja is known to us. His wife was indicted over the Halliburton Scandal. When that American, Jefferson, was being sentenced, the President’s wife was mentioned as having wired $170,000 to Jefferson…”

For a moment, there was disquiet all over Abuja. And then the presidency erupted in a strong denial, insisting that this Aisha Buhari had nothing to do with Halliburton or Jefferson.

This Aisha Buhari came out fighting for herself as well, giving Fayose five days to retract his comment about her or face the law.

Fayose never did, but he had been wrong about at least one thing: there was no relationship between Halliburton and Jefferson. Aisha went on to sue him, a lawsuit that is also now expected to start following Fayose’s loss of immunity.

What will energise his various trials is the spirit of those words he uttered in June 2016, not the words themselves.

Fayose left many deep wounds during his first governorship and failed to take advantage of his second one to make amends. But his biggest failing was that he did not understand the time of day, let alone the length of night.

He invited, dared and nurtured powerful enemies. He did not understand that in politics, offence is good, but a good defence is better. He is at once the villain and victim of his own script.

But he has also been a voice, and in Nigeria’s shifting political sands, has been the only politician of any substance who stood up to President Buhari consistently.

Part of his campaign was about the hollowness of Buhari’s anti-corruption campaign, about which he invoked two images in that June 2016 message: an Abuja mansion allegedly belonging to the president, and Halliburton.

The N2.1billion mansion story was first reported in the first week of the administration by Breaking Times, but nobody paid any attention to it. One year later, the long statement of the presidency denying Aisha Buhari’s involvement with Halliburton spoke far more eloquently about the matter…by not saying a word. That omission appeared to confirm the claim, with important ramifications for the president himself, and the government.

And then, the critical matter of the Halliburton probe. In February 2016, months before Fayose’s statement, the EFCC had re-opened the matter at the instance of Mr. Buhari, reports said. A new panel of investigators set up for the purpose interviewed Damian Dodo, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, for over eight hours, with five other SANs to follow.

The Halliburton challenge is important because nobody can claim to be combating corruption in Nigeria unless and until it is resolved. In other nations that were involved, the key players have been tried and jailed, and restitution has been made.

But not in Nigeria, the scene of the crime and owner of the corpse. Here, the bribe-takers who have made us the laughing stock of the world are among our richest and most powerful. And it is three long years since Buhari renewed his investigation.

The presidency goes on and on about how Buhari is our saviour and is a man of integrity. Does he have the integrity to read the Halliburton reports that are on his desk, both of which were widely reported during the years he plotted to win the presidency and rid Nigeria of its rot? Does he have the integrity to say what his “new” investigation has revealed?

By all means: let us have a speedy trial of Fayose. But he is only a prominent figure publicly raising the same questions as lesser-known Nigerians. He can be shut up by the law, but he has already said important things that cannot be put in handcuffs, on a watch-list, or in jail.


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