Premium Times Report On Obi: A Hatchet Job ‘Lacking In Substance’ And ‘Purity Of Motive,’ Says Group
As the 2023 elections draw closer and politicians jostle openly and behind the scenes for positions, some are throwing the kitchen sink at their perceived opponents.
This is the position of a human rights group, Nigerians For Justice (NFJ), which on Monday dismissed what it called an “obvious sponsored inquest” against Mr. Peter Obi, former Governor of Anambra State and Vice Presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the 2019 elections, by Nigeria’s online newspaper, Premium Times.
In a report on Monday titled, “Pandora Papers: Inside Peter Obi’s secret businesses — and how he broke the law,” Premium Times alleged that the former governor and business mogul “serially violated the law by failing to declare to the Code of Conduct Bureau the companies and assets he tucked away in secrecy havens.”
But in what read more like an editorial comment rather than a news report, Premium Times said, “Peter Obi, the ex-governor of Anambra State in Southeastern Nigeria, is widely regarded in Nigeria as an advocate of good governance, openness, and transparency.
“In addition to speeches on his governance records and statistics-laden prescriptions for Nigeria’s development, he likes to talk about how hugely successful he became in business before diving into politics.
“In speeches and in printed literature, Mr. Obi is never shy, reeling out his numerous business affiliations and accomplishments.”
NFJ in a statement on Monday in Asaba, Delta State capital, faulted the report, which it dismissed as lacking in both substance and style.
The group insisted that the Premium Times report on Obi’s alleged foreign business activities only tried to create a wrong impression about him.
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The statement signed by NFJ’s Chairman, Mr. Francis Ezeoka, accused the newspaper of bad faith and of doing a hatchet job “lacking in substance” and “purity of motive.”
The statement linked the report to desperate political forces afraid of Obi’s rising political profile ahead of the 2023 elections.
NFJ said the online newspaper betrayed its motive right from its opening paragraph where, without even the benefit of the said reports, it started passing judgement, thus betraying the fact that they were on a sponsored mission targeted at tarnishing Obi’s reputation.
NFJ, which described Nigerians as very intelligent and discerning people, said it was confident that they would ask Premium Times the ultimate questions: “Did you trace any missing government money to any company Obi has real or imaginary interest? Is any public money missing in any public establishment Obi has had contact with, such as Anambra State, Security and Exchange Commission?”
The group also wondered the nexus between Obi’s numerous speeches the report referred to and the actual issue the newspaper pretended to be investigating.
Dismissing the report as failing short of expectations by trying to make a mountain out of a molehill, NFJ said: “There is nothing in the Premium Times report that impeaches Obi’s integrity. It provides no proof of corruption by Obi but merely alleges failure to declare his foreign assets.
“To prove that he has nothing to hide, we learnt that Obi made himself available to Premium Times and honestly answered all their questions. Apparently disappointed that they could not establish a case of corruption against him, the newspaper resorted to editorialising and playing the prosecutor contrary to the journalism tenet of fair reporting.
“We know many fantastically corrupt Nigerians and the property they acquired while in government, as well as how they stole the money of their states and ended up plunging their states into debt and yet Premium Times did not consider them objects of investigations,” NFJ further said.
In the same vein, a former bank chief who spoke to TheNiche anonymously said the story was sponsored.
“In this silly season of politics as Americans will say, we should expect more of these sponsored reports. Politicians who are scared of Obi’s political profile and knowing how popular he is with the ordinary Nigerians have started throwing the kitchen sink at him.
“They will stop at nothing. Those who know are aware that Obi is one of the most investigated politicians in Nigeria in the last eight years. They went to every length in 2019 when he ran as the Vice Presidential candidate of the PDP but they found nothing.
“That Premium Times report is an act of desperation. It did not establish any case of corruption. It is sheer witch-hunt but it will fail. While fighting corruption is good, it must be differentiated from witch-hunt,” he said.
Coincidentally, in an exclusive interview with TheNiche on Thursday, Obi, who insisted that he was never a pauper before he became governor of Anambra State, said he can explain every wealth he has.
Pushing back against some allegations that he may have run afoul of the law when he was governor, Obi who has never had any encounter with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) since he left office eight years ago said he was not bothered by the allegations.
“Before I became governor, I was a director in several financial institutions and some other quoted companies by virtue of my investments,” he told TheNiche.
“I had thriving businesses and the businesses were not folded up because I wanted to be governor. They were there. They were all going concerns. All people need to know is that if there is anything you have seen, investigate it properly, ask valid questions and you will be provided with the right answers.”
Rather than throwing stones, the former governor advised: “What I want people to concentrate on is this: if you see anything that you think is suspicious that belongs to Peter Obi, investigate it properly, most especially, get to the source of the wealth. So, if you see an account belonging to Peter Obi, please investigate the source of the wealth. That’s most important.
“For me, it is not a question of throwing tantrums and saying he did this; he did that. Yes, Peter Obi before coming back to be a governor had a very thriving business in the United Kingdom (UK). A private company was there, supported by borrowings and everything from the Western world. And the business was doing well. When I became governor, I should not throw those things away or throw my businesses here in Nigeria, away.”
Obi said he can explain his wealth and the source and anyone who is not satisfied can investigate.
“Rather than scandalizing someone, check the source of wealth. Then, go to where the person served and see if there was any missing link. For example, if I have an account, say, in the UK (just assuming), when I was in government, can you check whether there was any payment, credit into it within that period?
“If I have accounts in Nigeria, can you check credits that went into it? If I had business with a group of people, can you ask them the growth of the business within that time? And if you want, you can come and ask me the source of the wealth.
“I can explain every wealth that I have and everybody knows that I am not an extravagant fellow. I am not somebody who earns money and throws it away. I am a business man. Even as we speak, I am creating wealth and the wealth is multiplying. But what you notice is that some people are looking for what to say about Peter Obi.”
Insisting that he was not worried by the allegations, Obi wondered why those peddling the rumour are only doing so now, eight years after he left office.
“So, eight years after leaving office, they have not found anything. They are now saying ‘oh, he owns a house in London’. I wasn’t living in the streets in London. I owned my house in London. I had a business that was being run effectively and had overdraft of several million dollars.
“Being a black man and being a Nigerian in London, was double challenge. Being a Nigerian made you a suspect and being a black man compounded the situation. Yet, I had a business of several millions of dollars. And the evidence is there.
“I challenge those accusing me to please show me those who left the record I did in office so that we can compare.”