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Monday, February 26, 2024

Adoke’s Invisible Billions



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By Odo Precious

The Igbo have a saying that a new wrapper has a tendency to make the  wearer to urinate frequently. That is another way of saying that a new  acquisition has a way of going into the head of the owner.
Nowhere has the truism in this wise saying been demonstrated than in the emergent Nigerian online publishing industry. The mushrooming online  newspapers, most of which are published by Nigerians abroad but devoted  to reporting events about Nigeria, are often owned and run by  non-professional journalists who either do not know anything about the  ethics of journalism or do not care a hoot about them. To worsen  matters, the publishing companies of these online papers are registered  abroad and do not usually have Nigerian branch offices. This invariably  gives the publishers and editors a licence to churn out libelous stories and articles since they know that the chances of their being  successfully sued for such publications are rather slim.
In the circumstances, top government officials who do not meet the  expectations of these online publishers and editors have become hapless  victims of fabricated outlandish publications solely aimed at damaging  their hard-earned reputation. Mr. Mohammed Bello Adoke, the Attorney  General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, is the latest  victim of these hack writers. In the first half of this month, Adoke had the misfortune of being targeted by two of these online newspapers  which fed the unsuspecting public with a cocktail of lies about the  person of the AGF within the period of January 12-14.
The unwarranted harassment was spearheaded by Ireports-ng, which  published a series of ridiculous stories accusing Adoke of stupendous  wealth which, according to the portal, he does not deserve to have. It  named First City Monument Bank, Diamond Bank and Zenith Bank as the  banks where Adoke allegedly stashed billions of dollars, pound sterling  and naira.    In a follow-up report, Ireports-ng alleged that the minister possessed “stupendous wealth hidden in over 25 blue chip companies, some of which  have been sharing in the contentious oil subsidy funds.” It went ahead  to name the companies as Oando Oil, Eterna Oil, Japaul Oil &  Maritime, Novasys Ltd, MTN, UAC Properties, Oceanic Bank, Guaranty Trust Bank, Access Bank, Bank PHB, First Bank, FCMB and Unity Bank. Though no allegation of wrongdoing was pointedly made against Adoke, the motive  of the publications could not be mistaken.
Ireports-ng claimed that it dug up the “facts” after “weeks of  underground investigations.” But despite that claim, the portal did not  quote even one person, publish supporting documents or give the accused  an opportunity to defend himself.
A careful reading of the stories would reveal that they were intended to embarrass Adoke because of the role which he played in the subsidy  withdrawal saga and the attendant week of strikes and protests. “He has  in the last 48 hours issued two statements to threaten protesting  Nigerian workers to sack them and charge civil society activists  involved in the protests with treason,” Ireports-ng wrote in the first  story. This was to be the paper’s refrain in subsequent articles, thus  leaving no doubt about the remote cause of its campaign of calumny  against the AGF.
However, despite the obvious flaws in the stories, Sahara Reporters, a  controversial portal famous for sensational publications, gleefully  reproduced the fabricated lies of Ireports-ng, thus giving them wider  publicity.
After initially ignoring the publications, Adoke was forced to respond  when some journalists approached him with a request for him to defend  himself of the allegations. In one of the interviews which he granted an online newspaper which sought clarifications from him, Adoke admitted  having accounts with FCMB, Diamond and Intercontinental banks, but said  the figures published were far what he had in those accounts and were  aimed at embarrassing him, his family and the Federal Government. “I  have accounts with FCMB and Diamond banks (but not in Zenith Bank). I  have a salary account with Intercontinental bank and this are the only  accounts I have been operating since I was appointed Attorney-General,” he told Pointblanknews.com, adding, “but the accounts in the said banks  are far, far lower that the figures they are peddling.”
“I don’t have that kind of money,” Adoke further said. “Even if I did,  it would be foolish to keep such sums in accounts considering  inflationary trends and other factors. Besides, how come the banks did  not notify the appropriate authorities of the existence of such sums in  line with the laws guiding financial transactions by banks?”
The minister noted that prior to his appointment, he was a successful  lawyer who rose to the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN). “I was  an investment lawyer and arbitrated at a very high level. To the glory  of God I could not by any standard be considered an upstart prior to my  appointment,” he said, adding: “Is it a crime to be a minister? I live  in the same house, use my personal cars as a minister and put in my  best. I challenge any Nigerian or expatriate businessman or lawyer who  has given me a dime to influence the course of my job to speak up. I am a man who is fully aware of the importance of the office I occupy and  would not be stupid to do anything to bring my name and the office to  disrepute.”
Also speaking with another online newspaper which interviewed him on the matter, Adoke said he was ready to spend the rest of his life in jail  if  he is found to operate the secret domiciliary accounts that were  attributed to him. “I have no such resources,” he said. “All they said in that report are  tissues of lies. I am challenging the anti-corruption agencies in our  country to investigate the allegations. If I am found guilty, the money  should be confiscated. I should be tried and sent to jail.”
The AGF also urged Nigerians to take more than a passing interest in the investigations to ensure that the anti-corruption agencies make a good  job of it and make the outcome of their investigations public. He  accused the authors of the publication of trying to intimidate him from  doing his job as the chief law officer of Nigeria. “My offence is that I issued a statement asking Nigerians to protest with decorum, to respect the law,” he stated, noting, however, that in the statement he “recognised the right of the people to protest.” As Adoke rightly asked: “What did they want a responsible Attorney General of the Federation to do?”
As the attacks continued, the AGF had to issue an official statement  refuting the allegations. The statement which was issued on his behalf  by his spokesman, Ambrose Momoh, recalled that the minister had declared his assets including all his accounts on assumption office as Attorney  General of the Federation. “Mr. Adoke further directed that no money  should be paid into all his accounts except the salary account he  maintains with Intercontinental Bank Plc. Consequently, the authentic  balances in the accounts maintained by Mr. Adoke only reflect his  earnings as a legal practitioner/investor before he took public office,” the statement explained.
Adoke did not stop at that but went ahead to lodge a formal complaint  with the Inspector General of Police, requesting him to launch an  investigation into the allegations against him and to make the report  made public.
“This,” according to the statement, “is necessary to prove to Nigerians  that the Attorney General has nothing to hide and can account for his  earnings and wealth. Mr. Adoke has maintained a consistent lifestyle in  the last 15 years and will by the grace of God continue to maintain his  cherished values of honesty, probity and accountability in public  office.”
As someone who often sprang to the defence of Nigerian journalists when  critics accused them of deliberately feeding the public with lies, I am  ashamed that people associated with a profession to which I have given  all the 26 years of my working life could so brazenly launch  mind-boggling lies against a person of Adoke’s standing, thereby causing him needless pain.
This is an unfortunate development which ought to be condemned by all  men of good will. Today it is Adoke’s turn, tomorrow it could be  another; after all, Ireports-ng has promised “to make this the beginning of series of reports on the sleaze by top officials of Jonathan’s  administration.”

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*Odo Precious is a Lagos-based journalist.

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