South African authorities recently impounded a plane that arrived from Nigeria, loaded with $9.3 million, in fresh notes. On board were two Nigerians and an Israeli. The national leader of the Nigerian Christian community, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, is believed to be the owner of the plane. He was suspected of being a front for the Nigerian government.
When the scam broke, the Jonathan federal government reportedly said it sent the plane with its illegal cargo to purchase arms with which to put down the Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria’s semi-arid north-east region. Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) President Oritsejafor agreed his church owned the aircraft, but denied any direct involvement in the scam. He said at the time of the sleaze was discovered the plane was on a lease to someone else.
Incidentally, the discovery was made at the same time as that federal lawmakers were returning from a long recess. On Tuesday, the Federal House of Representatives was split down the middle on whether or not to debate the matter. House Deputy Speaker, Mr. Emeka Ihedioha, of the governing Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) which as a comfortable majority in the green chamber, refused to entertain a motion brought by a member of the main opposition party, the All Progressives Congress (APC). The Senate was billed to take the matter, subsequently, on its floor.
To say that the scandal has shown Nigeria in bad light is to put it mildly. Outside, we are called a lawless country. The South Africa debacle removes any lingering doubt about our lack of respectability in the comity of nations. More than that, we align with concerned Nigerians in questioning the sense in the FG’s actions such as the South Africa trip. One, if it was true that the government wanted to buy arms in South Africa, why did it not bring that country’s authorities into the picture? Two, was it necessary to transport physical cash when it was easier to wire it electronically? Three, why was the team not accompanied by officials of the NSA’s office or the Department of State Security (DSS)? Four, if the arms manufacturer or dealer had been expecting cash payment, why was the money not declared on arrival? Under South African law, you must declare any amount in excess of 2,500 dollars.
Five, why was money belonging to the federal government and meant for the purchase of weapons moved by a private jet instead of one of the six airplanes in the presidential air fleet? Why would a government that says it is promoting cashless culture be the chief breaker of that policy? There are many more questions to raiseover this failed venture – questions that the government will not answer because it cannot.
The government has claimed that it wanted to import arms from South Africa to prosecute the war against insurgents. Why did it want to do so clandestinely? When it wanted to borrow money ($1 billion) to re-kit Nigeria’s ill-armed military, it did send a formal request for approval to the Senate. What was different this time? We can hazard two guesses. For one, Boko Haram has become a franchise under which all kinds of illegality are committed by the government and individuals connected to it. Secondly, the attempted secret arms purchase can only be linked to the 2015 elections which the President and his party want to win by all means foul.
The role of the CAN president, Oritsejafor, in the matter was not altogether strange. Under him and Jonathan, faith and politics are conjoined twins. Never before had this happened in this country. And Nigeria can only be worse for it.
We at Peoples Daily urge a careful and sustained investigation of what happened by the National Assembly. Opposition lawmakers must refuse to be bribed by the government to sweep this scam under the carpet.