Between Panama Rats & The Ekiti Fool – Louis Odion

Gov Fayose
Beside its entertainment
value, another use the unfolding Panama Papers scandal evidently serves is
provide us a barometer to gauge the shame index across the universe. Shame is
no sign of weakness, mind you. When evinced timeously, it brings out honour.
Shame speaks to an inner strength to recoil in admission that violence had been
done to the normative value that defines society; hence the penitent cessation
of that course of action. 
What is despicable, let
it be noted, is shamelessness. To become dishonorable is to lose the sense of
shame. The freer a society is, the more leaders would then appear predisposed
to show shame when caught pants down.

But in a closed society,
they live in denial, thus forfeiting the chance of self-redemption.
The nobility in shame
would be demonstrated Tuesday when Iceland’s Prime Minister, Sigmundur
Gunnlaugsson, resigned once leaks linked him to the infamy of Mossack Fonseca,
a Panama-based law firm specializing in helping world celebrities and
politically-exposed persons to either launder fortunes or shield investments
from tax. The PM and his wife owned an offshore company registered by the
Panamanian firm to conceal million dollars worth of family assets. Their shell
company, Wintris, had significant investments in the bonds of three major
Icelandic banks that collapsed during the 2008 financial crisis.
Louis Odion
Long before an angry mob
of Icelanders began to occupy the parliament’s gate, Gunnlaugsson did the honorable
thing in the circumstance by throwing in the towel.
Elsewhere in London,
Prime Minister David Cameron practically turned himself in for thorough body
search at the British parliament Tuesday. He had to reveal personal secrets to
prove he had nothing to do with his dad’s shell company exposed by the Panama
Addressing a charged
chamber, he listed all his earthly possessions to include “My salary, of
course the house we lived in before moving to 10 Downing Street (which now
yields additional income as rent) and savings I’ve from which I earn
Though the details of
their own dealing are no more graphic than those of the Icelandic and British
leaders, Russian and Chinese authorities have expectedly been in denial. The
Panama Papers listed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s friends as operating
dozens of companies through which billions of dollars had been laundered.
Moscow’s response? It conveniently dismissed the reports as another show of
“Putin-phobia”! No further comment.
In Beijing, official
response to reports linking Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s brother-in-law to the
malfeasance was in fact brusque. Little was done to hide official hand in open
censorship. Anywhere Panama Papers was as much as whispered or mentioned since
Monday – on foreign television channels viewed locally on cable – grainy
blackout quickly followed. Ditto the social media.
Back home, the drama is
simply comical. On his own, already embattled senate president Bukola Saraki
put up a robust defense by denying responsibility for the shell company linked
to his wife. He insists that his wife, Toyin, comes from a wealthy family with
independent and verifiable source of income. 
His predecessor, David
Mark, simply resorted to the familiar tactic of drawing red herring across the
way. He chose to politicize the issue. To the ordinarily earth-shaking
allegations of engaging Fonseca to register record eight firms for the sole
purpose of money-laundering, all Nigeria’s longest-serving senator could say
through his aide is “I’m not sure about the accuracy of your claims. We
know where that may be coming from. It is political.”
Perhaps to be on a safe
side, Mark even had to allegedly involve a member of his harem in these
offshore ventures. They bear assorted romantic-sounding names like Marlin,
Medley and Quetta. So frenetic, it would seem, were their activities that a
special secret code had to be invented to differentiate a particularly bulky
account at the Swiss branch of HSBC entered in his wife’s name.
Worse is the suggestion
that part of these illicit transactions actually transpired while Mark presided
over the National Assembly as president of the senate, the elite law-making
chamber in the land.
But again, in the face
of  the proverbial smoking gun, all Mark says is “It’s
political”. To say nothing of Nigeria’s existing political folklore which
effusively lists the Benue Big Man among lucky soldiers who left the Nigerian
Army with bulging pockets as even though they were not known to have inherited
any family wealth nor earned other known income outside their official
Now, to find where
Iceland and Nigeria stand on the global shame index, simply contrast
Gunnlaugsson’s graceful bow with Mark’s infantile subterfuge. 
Overall, the exposition
of this humongous infamy should be recognized as a monument to a transnational
activist vigilante committed to common good. Not since Wikileak(s) have we
witnessed this sort of sweeping meltdown among the rich and the powerful. The
tidal gale swept a whopping 11 million documents into the open. The consortium
of journalists/media agencies (including our own wave-making Premium Times,
irrepressible Sahara Reporters and TheCable) shared the intelligence across the
continents. Fonseca’s rump was thus exposed. Ever since, all its hordes of
nocturnal clients no longer sleep at night. 
Beyond the cult of the
high and the mighty clinically unmasked, it is a mark of shamelessness on her
own part that Panamanian nation will still be featuring in narrative of this
sordid kind at this point. Decades ago, the Latin American country served the
global underworld well as the poster-boy of rogue states. Its then military
strongman, Manuel Noriega, was fingered as former drug-pusher. As head of
Panama’s army, he secretly doubled as CIA informant in the 70s. The Panama
Canal was of strategic and economic importance to the U.S. as it straddles the
two great oceans on the narrow isthmus linking the Americas. That was all that
mattered to Washington then. So, Noriega would enjoy protection from United States
which looked the other way while his illicit cargoes cross-crossed the Atlantic
and Pacific oceans.
Later as
commander-in-chief in the 1980s, Noriega was accused of providing cover for
Mexican drug cartels to launder their loot. Having outlived his usefulness to
Uncle Sam, American marines eventually invaded Panama in December 1989. With
tail between his legs, the sitting president had to scurry from the
Presidential Palace into the Vatican Embassy in Panama City for political
asylum. After weeks of being holed there, he eventually surrendered in January
1990 and was immediately whisked off to Miami to face trial that culminated in
a twenty-five-year jail term in U.S. prison.
After Noriega,
successive Panamanian leaders have tried to launder their country off its
shameful history. But they failed to change national laws which entrench
corporate and individual financial secrecy. Existing strict confidentiality
laws and regulations prescribe severe civil and criminal penalties for
violations. The names of corporate shareholders are not required to be publicly
registered. The country also has strict banking secrecy laws. Financial
institutions are prohibited from giving information about offshore bank
accounts or account-holders. 
So, for Panama,
post-Noriega efforts at self-deodorizing in the past quarter of a century seem
to have come to grief with Fonseca’s unravelling last week.
And from Ekiti State
came something no less melodramatic few days ago. Though the year is hardly
half-spent, Tope Aluko is undoubtedly already leading the nomination list for
the “Biggest Fool of Year 2016”. Weeks back, the Ekiti-born political
chameleon caused national sensation with a graphic account of how Ekiti guber
poll was allegedly rigged in 2014 to usher in Ayo Fayose as governor. Many were
persuaded to believe given his status as the “operations director” in
the PDP campaign then.
Like the proverbial
canary, Aluko went into lurid details of how millions of dollars was trucked
into Ekiti before the election to compromise opponents, security agencies and
public institutions to dislodge incumbent Governor Kayode Fayemi.
His reason for spilling
the beans? Aluko cried betrayal by Fayose and the overarching need to clear his
conscience. But just when the nation was still struggling to come to terms with
Aluko’s revelations came a rude shock Monday morning. The media was awash with
reports and photographs of Aluko and his supposed “estranged
godfather” fielding questions at the lobby of a Lagos five-star hotel,
crowing to the world that the hatchet had been buried.
But following media
backlash, Aluko Tuesday made yet another U-turn. He denied ever making peace
with Fayose. He would have us believe he was lured to a “peace
meeting” by a serving senator from the state and a former governor.
By still affecting the
toga of honour today and expecting to be taken seriously, Aluko is only
deceiving himself. Let us be charitable by even accepting his plea that he made
a “tactical blunder” by honoring the invitation in the first place. But
we didn’t see any gun being put to his head when he said before television
cameras at the hotel lobby that the beef with Fayose was instigated by
“external forces”. (No prize for guessing “the external
forces” Aluko alluded to.) Or would that footage also be a “film
trick”? By even admitting he came for a “peace meeting”, Aluko
had already given himself away. “Peace meeting” with who? As a
supposedly educated man, he ought to know “peace meeting” could only
be in the context of the “enemy” being present.
If we make some
allowance for Aluko’s obvious creative after-thought, even a kid would not have
much difficulty reconstructing the probable sequence of events that led him to
shame that Sunday evening in Lagos. Apparently unsatisfied by the
“accommodation” offered him outside (by the so-called “external
forces”), he sheepishly fell for the bait threw at him by honoring an
invitation to meet with Fayose to talk things over. Possibly because of the
fabled “stomach infrastructure” (or what he would eat), Aluko sneaked
into the hotel under the cover of darkness. He must have calculated everything
would remain confidential.
But he obviously
under-estimated Fayose’s capacity for cunning. Unknown to Aluko, as the
“negotiation” was ongoing, his more street-wise quarry was itching to
land the killer blow. A battery of journalists (most likely from the press
corps normally embedded in the governor’s entourage) had been tipped off
discreetly. When the swivel door finally swung open around midnight, Aluko
inevitably walked into the ambush. As television cameras began to roll, a
visibly disoriented Aluko could only mutter some nonsense in response to
reporters’ questions, looking more like a famished rabbit caught in blinding
Trust Fayose, he didn’t
allow the golden moment slip without seizing it to further bruise Aluko’s
already bloodied nose on the cold asphalt. A wry, triumphant smile on his lips,
the Ekiti governor described the greying, avuncular pensioner as “My boy,
my son. I’ve forgiven him.”
It would take 24 hours
for Aluko to recover from the shock of being set up; hence his Tuesday’s fairy
tale. The morale of Aluko’s disgraceful showing: there is no substitute for
politics of principle. But what some people will eat will not let them keep
their honour. 


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