EDITORIAL: The Moral Burden of Clearing Mr. Obanikoro

Former Minister Musiliu Obanikoro
Former Minister Musiliu Obanikoro

PREMIUM TIMES has watched with consternation the proceedings in the Senate regarding the confirmation of one of President Goodluck Jonathan’s latest nominees for ministerial appointment in his cabinet: Senator Musiliu Obanikoro. Our consternation has to do with the recklessness of the president’s nomination of Senator Obanikoro to be a minister at the present time. We are horrified that the Senate has in its ranks members who are willing to even consider the nomination, not to talk of confirming the nominee.

The whole world is aware of his role in the purported rigging of the Ekiti State gubernatorial election of June 21, 2014. As revealed in the now famous recording by the military intelligence officer, Captain Sagir Koli, Mr. Obanikoro, as Minister of State for Defence, was involved in a June 20 meeting with the Minister of Police Affairs, Jelili Adesiyan, and the then governorship candidate of the PDP in Ekiti State, Ayo Fayose, where the alleged plan to rig the election through illegal means was being considered. Others at the meeting included an erstwhile governorship candidate of the PDP in Osun State, Iyiola Omisore, and Aliyu Momoh, an army general, and military commander in the state.

While some of the personas involved have confirmed their presence at the Ekiti meeting albeit denying the claim that the purpose of the gathering was to manipulate the June 20 gubernatorial polls, Mr. Obanikoro curiously continues to deny his presence in the said meeting. This is despite the availability of the audio-recorded evidence, which some forensic experts have matched to the pattern of his voice. Apparently to push back on criticism, and pave way for his senate clearance, Mr. Obanikoro has even gone ahead to threaten legal action against media organisations reporting on this important matter, claiming the voice attributed to him is not his.

The allegations against Mr. Obanikoro are grave and no serious administration ought to ignore such egregious claims of blatant corruption and wanton criminality of the electoral process. Sadly, President Jonathan added a depressing tone to the debate when he dismissed, without investigations, that the allegations were a frame-up.

We note that the Senate has deferred screening Mr. Obanikoro a second time while four of his fellow nominees have since been cleared. This is due, in part, to the split of the legislature, along partisan lines, and the insistence of opposition Senators in the red chamber to frustrate the return of the former minister to the cabinet of President Jonathan. However, the cautionary, even if reluctant, step of the senate to take a new look at the candidature of Mr. Obanikoro is welcome.

As a newspaper, we take seriously the doctrine of the presumption of innocence of an accused person until proven guilty, and we do not ignore the fact that this remains an allegation. At the same time, we cannot ignore the fact that the allegations involved–election rigging–go to the very root of the legitimacy of our political system. If the president had been as solicitous as he should be of the integrity of our political system, he would have stayed his hand and instructed Mr. Obanikoro to answer, minimally, the charge–beyond blustery and legal attrition–before nominating him. In the circumstance, the president demonstrated untoward recklessness and nominated him nonetheless.

It would have been a tragic day for parliamentary oversight, and democratic accountability, for the Nigerian Senate, in a show of esprit de corps, to allow the former senator to simply ‘Bow and Go’ – which is the tradition, and an expectation in the case of Mr. Obanikoro, a former Senator from Lagos State between 2003 and 2007. Whatever the stated or hidden motives of the APC Senators in blocking the appointment of Mr. Obanikoro, democracy is the ultimate beneficiary, for you do not make flippant such embarrassing conduct he has been accused of, and here we are talking about a former Senator, an erstwhile Ambassador of the Federal Republic, and one-time minister.

As matters stand now, it is a major moral challenge for Mr. Obanikoro himself, who seeks to become a Minister, to first go and clear his name from an allegation that essentially seeks to disparage his integrity, and appears him unworthy of high public office.

President Jonathan will also be well served to invest in the outcome of such an endeavour. It brings no merit for him to ignore that this is a potential ridicule to the integrity of his government. Ignoring the gravity of this case only reinforces the platform of those who continually puncture the claims of the Federal government to accountability. It certainly adds fodder to claimants suggesting that the president is ever so willing to crowd his administration with those lacking in integrity and character.

PREMIUM TIMES believes Mr. Obanikoro should voluntarily reject his nomination until he sufficiently clear himself from the purported rigging of the Ekiti State election or until the matter is resolved through appropriate forensic investigation and his culpability in the situation absolved.

But if the former minister insists on being screened for the appointment, and the president insists on that line of action, evidently in expectation of a modest political reward in an election year, the Senate should take the moral high road to strike down this nomination, and send Mr. Obanikoro home. The allegation levelled at the former Senator and others should not, in a decent society, be a matter of partisan bickering. Loyalty to the constitution should be the only concern here.

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