Is Peter Obi unfairly targeted in ‘Pandora Papers’ expose? By Chris Ukachukwu

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Special to USAfrica magazine (Houston) and USAfricaonline.com, first African-owned, U.S-based newspaper published on the Internet.

Chris Ukachukwu, a software engineer in the U.S Midwest, is a contributor to USAfricaonline.com.

” The Pandora Papers are 11.9 million leaked documents with 2.9 terabytes of data that the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists published beginning on 3 October 2021. The leak exposed the secret offshore accounts of 35 world leaders, including current and former presidents, prime ministers, and heads of state as well as more than 100 billionaires, celebrities, and business leaders. The news organisations of the ICIJ described the document leak as their most expansive exposé of financial secrecy yet, containing documents, images, emails and spreadsheets from 14 financial service companies, in nations including Panama, Switzerland and the UAE, surpassing their previous release of the Panama Papers in 2016, which had 11.5 million confidential documents. At the time of the release of the papers, the ICIJ said it is not identifying its source for the documents.” — Wikipedia

In other words, Deepthroat meets Assange on the world stage across, over and under the waters.
Quite simply, the Pandora Papers is a compilation of detailed transactions that primarily shows how the powerful and rich shield their wealth in hidden accounts and assets offshore. More succinctly, it is a tally of the secrets of the wealthy who take advantage of the loops that exist in hiding their wealth from view. Some are completely legitimate wealth but plenty are of dubious origin.
For starters, it is a well known fact (wink, nod) that anything titled “Papers”, especially when preceded by a P-word, portends perilous piracy. To wit: Pentagon Papers, Panama Papers, Paradise Papers,…and now, Pandora Papers. Although it may sound ominously exotic -or at least mysterious- prima facie, a US publication has characterized it as the “secret spreadsheet” ostensibly of “figures” like Elton John, Shakira, Ringo Starr, and you can include Peter Obi here, Tony Blair, athletes, business people, and last but not the least, world leaders.
While it contains noteworthy exposés on world leaders, it is hardly a treasure trove of earth-shattering shock-inducers. Trudy Rubin, a Philadelphia Inquirer columnist wrote: “My first reaction when I read the secret details from the Pandora Papers about how the world’s rich hide their assets was: What else is new?


“Do we need 11.9 million records leaked from 14 firms in the offshore financial services industries and an international consortium of investigative journalists including media partners like the Washington Post to tell us that Vladimir Putin’s alleged mistress bought a luxury apartment in Monaco? Or that Jordan’s king amassed $100 million in concealed property in Malibu, Calif., London, and Washington? Ditto for Azerbaijan or Kenya?

While Vladimir Putin, Jordan’s King Abdullah II, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis and others lead as headliners, and Donald Trump rightly snagged a well-deserved honorable mention in relation to his involvement in a Panamanian hotel project. For Trump, a repeat offender, who also got an entry in the 2016 Panama Papers, his “nomination” is both confounding and a commentary on the increasing decay in the image and carriage of the United States. As Trudy Rubin stated, “public corruption has not only become the new normal abroad but is ensconced at home, where the Trump presidency made it a central feature of the White House.”  There is that.
Then there is the “African factor” to it; the irresistible allure of corruption even in the reporting on corruption itself. The reader is likely thinking “For sure, there are African heavyweights in the corruption arena heading this list”. And they won’t be wrong. Africans are featured prominently: Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta who “pilfered” and stashed $3.5 billion offshore, closer to home (Nigeria) the list is long, including public servants and business people, mostly. This Pandora’s box was broken open with blaring headlines focused on Peter Obi, a businessman-turned-politician.
However, some have wondered how, out of a list of characters that include the frisky ex-governor, Adam Oshihole;Theophilus Danjuma; Governor Abubakar Sadiq Sani Bello of Niger State; Anambra senator and gubernatorial hopeful Andy Uba ;an ex-CJN (I wonder who!), and the list goes on…, it is ex-governor Peter Obi who is singled out as the prime target of their expose of the scandal. Especially considering the fact that Obi’s violation is a paperwork matter that dates back to his business life before his public life; in other words, it is not at all related to the handling of his public office.
The puzzle about how it is Obi that has become the country’s poster child for financial opacity is a proper one, especially since Obi who posted up an impeccable record in public service as a sparkling clean and ethical governor during his tenure, is widely regarded as a possible contestant in the upcoming presidential election scheduled for 2023. One cannot help but be dismayed at  how The Premium Times jumped on Peter Obi with the vigor they did, ignoring the obvious prolific grifters and embezzlers heading the list. Indeed, one has to wonder the ultimate purpose of the journal’s skewed reporting on the investigation.
The suspicion of unwholesome political motives in the Nigerian press  in the Nigerian press. If the motive is to expose and therefore discourage corruption, one is hard-pressed to see how Peter Obi, whose “crime” is that he allegedly did not declare certain assets to the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) before assuming office as governor.
Yes! Obi did not report secret family business assets to the code of conduct body. In his own defense Obi has explained that he did not have to disclose assets that were not strictly personal assets, that he owned in common with other people.
Our country’s corruption sleuths in journalism chose to go after a paperwork question of a private businessman when the said report contains a school of whales. The language, sanctimony and the
When Premium Times reporter, Mr. Taiwo Adebayo, was confronted in a video interview posted online about the apparent political undertones of his reporting, he rambled for a while and finally waxed sanctimonious about his perceived duty to hold public officers accountable. He also buttressed his defense with the retort that their report included people across all political parties. Such noble standing.
You be the judge of Premium Times’ professionalism, honesty, and most importantly, objectivity based on the primal indulgence they employed in breaking the Pandora Papers story in Nigeria.
Headline: “Pandora Papers: Inside Peter Obi’s secret businesses — and how he broke the law”, followed by the tactless subtitle “Peter Obi serially violated the law by failing to declare to the Code of Conduct Bureau the companies and assets he tucked away in secrecy havens.” Not confident that it has convicted this “hardened criminal” quite enough, the journal followed with the opening lines  “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…
“But beyond the facade of priggish speeches and appearances, an investigation by Premium Times has now shown that Mr Obi is not entirely transparent in his affairs as he likes Nigerians to believe”.
Someone is definitely out for blood. This is comparable to pounding an ant with a sledgehammer. The inelegance of the news outlet’s onslaught on Obi has cast it in dubious light and rendered the reportage suspect and irrelevant.
Dismissing the report which it tagged an “obvious sponsored inquest” which falls far short of expectations by trying to make a mountain out of a molehill, a human rights group, Nigerians For Justice (NFJ) said: “There is nothing in ’ investigations or 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.”
Not to be outdone, Daily Post joined the fray with this sensational line: The ex-Anambra Governor was indicted alongside a former Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), an ex-serving governor, lawmakers, business moguls, a pastor, among others.”
If these hackmasters take such a crude hatchet to Obi who has clearly established a unilateral and unimpeachable reputation as the best governor in the country’s recent history, one can’t wait to see what portrayal they have reserved for the likes of Oshiomhole as well as clearly corrupt governors and lawmakers.
The sad reality is that the irresponsibility displayed by Premium Times, Daily Post and other such rags is the epitome of corruption and bad faith which our society proudly thrives on. These journals not only condone but are in fact complicit in normalizing the physical, psychological and economic brutality of the Nigerian state actors on the hapless civilians. They then spring into action to make a scapegoat of the good citizens they should uphold as models worthy of emulation. Only the Nigerian brand of “fighting corruption” employs corruption in the process. It is really sad and unfortunate.