Some topical issues invite episodic interventions this week, and here goes:
The cash fest
Money, money everywhere and none to spend! That, obviously, is adapted from the stranded sailor in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, who was surrounded by salty water he couldn’t drink from. If you are an ‘ordinary Nigerian’ like the rest of us, you wouldn’t help feeling like this sailor amidst flagrant cash hauls that were made lately in the anti-graft efforts of the present administration.
Early last week, security operatives intercepted undeclared N49million mint notes stashed in five 150-kilogramme sacks at the Kaduna International Airport. The haul comprised crispy N200 notes in 200 packs totalling N40million, and N50 mint notes in 180 packs amounting to N9million. All packs were sealed and labelled as issuing from the Nigerian Security Printing and Minting (NSPM) Plc.
Latest reports indicated an ego war between the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and Aviation Security operatives as to who really intercepted the loot. But EFCC head in Kaduna, Ibrahim Bappa, earlier told journalists that the zonal office was tipped-off Monday night that during routine screening of checked-in baggage, the five sacks were found without tags, and “containing bulk items suspected to be fresh money from the aroma perceived.” He reportedly said: “The owner of the money later showed up, but couldn’t state the exact amount in the sack or present any document authenticating the origin of the money. His inability to give any concrete explanation made him become uncomfortable, and he disappeared into thin air before the arrival of EFCC operatives.”
Cash hauls aren’t new in the ongoing anti-corruption drive. Sometime last February, the EFCC announced the recovery of a foreign currency stockpile comprising over 9.7million United States dollars and 74,000 pounds sterling from a fireproof safe hidden in a decrepit building belonging to former Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) chieftain Andrew Yakubu in the suburbs of Kaduna. Earlier that same week, a Police panel that probed the December 2016 legislative elections in Rivers State displayed for media cameras tons of cash said to be part of N111.3million recovered from funds that the state government had allegedly used to bribe electoral officials.
And about the close of last year, the Department of State Security (DSS) cited mind-boggling sums allegedly recovered in cash from some Justices now being prosecuted for graft during sting operations on their Lordships’ homes.
It is noteworthy that many of the cash recoveries resulted from whistleblowing – a new trend that you could say vindicates the Muhammadu Buhari presidency’s strategy in the anti-graft war. But there is an elephant in the room: and I made the same point in a recent piece on the heels of the Yakubu haul that while it could be understood that these cash piles weren’t domiciled in bank vaults apparently for the very reason that they were allegedly proceeds of graft, it was curious how such quantum of cash exited bank vaults in the first place. I concluded in that recent piece that monetary authorities needed soul searching.
This latest haul at the Kaduna airport reinforces the suspicion of insider abuse in the financial system, because crispy notes notching N49million aren’t the stuff that anyone picks off the street economy. Besides, the intercepted cash packs were sealed with Mint labels and have yet to be proven counterfeited, and these couldn’t have issued from the official money mill without complicity by some staff.
The Senate hit on this same point in November, last year, when it accused the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and deposit money banks of promoting illegality by sponsoring mint hawking on the streets. The red chamber also challenged the CBN to tighten its audit system regarding collation, processing and disposal of mutilated notes. Arguing the motion, Senator Mao Ohuanbuwa (Abia North) decried “a huge illicit industry (that) has been built around trading in freshly minted naira notes by certain individuals who engage in touting and hawking of the nation’s legal tender.”
Noting that the practice violated Section 21(4) of the CBN Act 2007, the senator had said: “New notes that are scarce in banking halls readily get into the hands of illegal hawkers, even as Money Deposit Banks and Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) continue to dispense dirty and mutilated naira notes to legitimate account holders. These acts cast the CBN and money deposit banks in bad light as the illegal sources of the naira notes in this illegal trade.”
Bottom line: it will be a shame if EFCC investigation of this latest haul omits interrogating apparent lapses in the whole financial system. But then, the issue with cash hauls isn’t all about the system out-routing mints while dispensing defaced notes, it is indeed that there is extremely little money to spend in the hands of many Nigerians undertaking legit transactions whereas illicit cash piles are repeatedly being unearthed. It’s money, money everywhere and none to spend!
Twice beaten, never shy?
EFCC Acting Chair Ibrahim Magu was for a second consecutive time thumbed down last week by the Senate in confirmation hearing. Just as with the first encounter, the chamber anchored its decision on a security report by the Department of State Services (DSS).
Talking conspiracies, the senators apparently had a head-up on where the process was headed, and so arranged for the plenary session to be transmitted live on television. But I think the theories placing the blame for that outcome on the chamber fall off the mark. Some senators wanted Magu hanged – perhaps so, but it was the DSS, a Presidency organ, that provided the rope.
Magu’s ordeal highlights a sustained dysfunction in the Presidency. Because having been rejected the first time on account of the DSS’ report, the least expected was that the Presidency would reconcile its internal contradictions before Mr. President resubmitted Magu’s name to the Senate. That, apparently, didn’t happen. Now there’s already talk of Magu’s name being returned a third time…well, without reality check?
Fake news’ ambush
Tanzania’s public broadcaster last week suspended nine staff members after it aired a false story that United States President Donald Trump had praised President John Magufuli’s performance.
The station had picked the story, to the effect that Trump called Tanzania’s Magufuli an “African hero” compared to other leaders who are “doing nothing,” off a news site called Fox Channel. The site reported that Mr. Trump made the comment while signing an executive order excluding Tanzanians from a travel ban on African nationals “from countries where presidents are doing nothing and those (that) have declined to leave power.”
A statement by the Tanzanian Broadcasting Corporation (TBC) said editorial procedures were not followed, and hence axed liable staff. Director-General Ayub Chacha said the affected officials should have double-checked the information before broadcasting.
I think we have some lesson to learn from this incident in Nigeria. Remember the viral story last year about Trump saying Africans were a lazy lot only good at making love? It’s not news just because some funny site reported it.
credit: the nation
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