Peter Obi , the Pandora Papers and Premium Times Low

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Peter Obi

By Clem Aguiyi

In Nigeria, there is this prevalent moral disorder known as the ‘Pull Him Down’ (PHD) Syndrome which runs through the society from within the family to the larger society and to the national level thus making a whole nonsense of African communalism. The ‘Pull Him Down’ Syndrome makes the propagators allergic to one attempting to develop and progress. Those afflicted with the syndrome will rather prevent the rise of someone than support progress. In their crab like manner , the mantra is ‘Progress Never- Backwards Ever’.
Why would Nigerians, nay Africans pull each other down? Why would some people be chronically allergic to light, progress and development? The pull him down syndrome is the reason for the despicable state of affairs in our country and continent at large. The syndrome has made our once thriving nation to become the poverty capital of the world despite being abundantly blessed with rich human and natural resources. It’s the reason why we have unstable polity; communal violence , crime and general insecurities .
Perhaps , it’s this mindset of stupidity and wickedness to pull each other down that informed Premium Times publication titled ‘The Pandora Papers : Inside Obi’s Secret Businesses and How he broke the law’. From the headline, it was obvious that Premium Times was out to target and denigrate Mr. Obi. The organization didn’t mask her intention to sink low by editorializing a news story.
Base on the verbatim ICIJ report, Premium Times need not have defended Mr. Obi or excused him of any infraction but as a reporting news media , it should have reported its findings without offering an opinion or being judgmental. It’s trite that news ought to be neutral and unbiased. You report the facts and allow the public to form their opinion.
It’s disappointing that Premium Times allowed its platform to be used by politicians funding its activities to target political opponents. Premium Times damages her credibility and the credibility of ICIJ when it descended into the arena of witch-hunting by abandoning her duty to render the facts as received and began to form an opinion around a news story.
Premium Times may have thought it was making a big kill when it did everything to sensationalize its report from the headlines to the body of its reportage where it struggled to tar Mr. Obi with a dark brush that refused to stick.
I am certain the paper never reckoned with the backlash it received from its online readers who not only criticized the unprofessionalism of the report but likened it to a hatchet job which is what it was.
The ICIJ Pandora Papers is an exposé of the financial secrets and offshore dealings of dozens of heads of state, public officials and politicians from 91 countries and territories.
Mr. Peter Obi, former governor of Anambra State and Vice-Presidential candidate of the PDP in last presidential election, was mentioned in the report.
Among many Nigerians, Mr. Obi is widely regarded as potential for a shot at the presidency of the country. He has also been speaking out against inefficiencies in government; proffering common sense solutions on how to arrest the decline in accountability in public offices.
With his name allegedly listed in the papers, interest is generated with political opponents baying for blood as Mr. Obi’s head appears on the guillotine. As one of Obi’s admirers and someone who repeatedly called on him to run for president , I was deeply concerned about the report.
I poured through the pages of the report with butterflies in my stomach. I wanted to find allegations that may link Obi’s wealth to public funds. I wanted to find how he may have corruptly enriched himself, how he may have stolen from Anambra State and diverted state resources to himself or family. I wanted to read up something on corruption and money laundering. If I have found any such infraction , I would have walked up to him and landed him a dirty slap to the face for betraying public trust. But instead and to my greatest relief, all I could read were some mumble-jumble of nonsense of how he enlisted the services a foreign firm based in Monaco France to register a company in British Virginia Islands in the names of the daughter Gabriella, how he has a South African business partner, how the directors of the company were paid figure heads, how he later changed the trust name to PMGG Ltd and how he structured the company to avoid payment of exorbitant taxes.
Excuse me! Even our local tax laws recognize the legitimacy of Tax Avoidance as opposed to Tax Evasion. No one likes to pay heavy taxes on their hard- earned wealth, not even the churches filled with saints like to pay exorbitant taxes hence major businesses takes advantage of various tax loopholes to secure their investments from predatory taxation, which includes keeping their investments in tax havens. Holding assets offshore or using shell companies are not illegal in most countries of the world.
There is absolutely no legal wrong doing about Tax Avoidance hence my surprise on the attempt by Premium Times to cast aspersions on Obi’s integrity. There was never a time Obi claimed to be a pauper. If any-thing he demonstrated you can serve in public office without stealing public funds, that you can by wise policy decisions and prudent management of resources build a state from poverty to wealth and that you can hold public office without being corrupted by the office. Obi has been a shinning light of what public officers should be. Rather than being derided , he should be emulated.
I am not out to defend Mr. Obi as he’s capable of clearing himself. However, I am worried that Premium Times went beyond its role to distort facts and pass verdict. It described Obi as a man assumed to be clean and then went ahead to state, “but beyond the facade of priggish speeches and appearances, Premium Times has now shown that Mr. Obi is not entirely transparent in his affairs as he likes Nigerians to believe. Come on PT, how does one taking advantage of legitimate tax loopholes to avoid payment of heavy taxes on his wealth make one less transparent? I think we should stop being mundane.
Premium Times effort is a hatchet job meant to put the ex-governor on the spot without properly establishing he had run afoul of the law. Other news outlets have equally published the Pandora Box Papers and not one was as indicted as Premium Times has done of Mr. Obi. The news organization created the wrong impression of Mr. Obi and one will be right to accuse them, and rightly too, of being a tool in the hands of those rattled by his rising profile.
As far as the ICIJ report goes, there was no-where Mr. Obi was accused of stealing government money and depositing it into the so-called ‘Shell Companies”; the investigation never said that Anambra State money was missing and was found in the account. The investigation never accused him of either corruption or money laundering. So, Mr. Peter should not be so profiled as Premium Times has done. Even if the contrary is the case, it is still not in the place of the news organization to act as judge and jury.
What has Obi’s speeches and appearances got to do with the ICIJ investigation? Rather than the wealth , why is PT less concerned about the source of the wealth? As far as I am concerned, Premium Times saw this report as an opportunity to finally ‘nail’ Obi at all cost by embarrassing him. Why and on whose behalf , we don’t know. But it is in bad taste.
The organization’s despicable attempt to embarrass Obi exposed the stupidity and wickedness of the African mind to dent and destroy what they cannot build. In trying to pull Obi down the print exposed itself like the proverbial crabs in a bucket refusing to allow any one of their number to emerge at the top.

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