On Monday in Accra, President Nana Akufo-Addo sacked his Minister of State for Finance, Charles Adu Boahen, following sordid revelations from a renowned Ghanaian investigative journalist, Anas Aremeyaw Anas. “After being made aware of the allegations levelled against the minister in an exposé, ‘Galamsey Economy’”, according to the director of communications, Eugene Arhin, “the President spoke to Mr Adu Boahen, after which he took the decision to terminate the appointment, and also to refer the matter to the Special Prosecutor for further investigations.”
Shortly before that decision was announced, Vice-President Mahamudu Bawumia—whose name was used to “peddle influence and collect money from supposed investors”—had also released a public statement that “if what the minister is alleged to have said is accurately captured in the video, then his position as minister of state is untenable. He should be dismissed summarily and investigated.”
Before I proceed, let me state that those Nigerians who believed the fantasy that Ghana is an Eldorado have had to review their position in light of recent economic disruptions in the country. Runaway inflation is pricing essential basic commodities beyond the reach of most citizens and the national currency Cedi was last month described by Bloomberg as “the world’s worst performing currency.” So bad is the situation that Ghana is already receiving a lifeline from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to stay afloat.
Since when it rains, it pours for African countries, Ghana is also now in the news for grand corruption. The cameras of Anas have “infiltrated the impermeable underworld of the handlers whose seals make the deals that make Ghana attractive for investors or not…the handlers who cut deals at the expense of the state,” according to the iconic undercover reporter.
In the scandal that has engulfed the country in recent days, Boahen was caught on tape in a hotel room in the United Arab Emirates negotiating with a supposed investor the sum of (US)$200,000 as ‘an appearance fee’ and positions for siblings of the vice president to secure official backing in establishing a business in Ghana. The incident in question happened in 2018. “You mean, like appearance fees and stuff? I mean he, himself (vice president), if you give him some (US)$200,000 or something as a token, as thank you, appreciation, that’s fine. He’s not really, he’s not really (like) that. All he needs is to worry about his campaign money in 2020,” Boahen revealed, oblivious to the fact that he was an object of a reportorial sting operation.
With bundles of dollars before him “for shopping”, Boahen’s mouth became an open tap as he babbled with little prompting from journalists posing as investors: “So, if you come with three or four projects and you say, we are doing this, we are doing that, (and) we are prepared to write a cheque for this, write a cheque (for that). You see, he has a big family. (The) vice president has about five or six brothers and sisters. So, what may be, will happen is; if you tell him (vice president) that, ‘hey, look, I want to do this project, do you have somebody that I can work with that you will introduce me to?’ And then, you know, he (vice president) will use that to immediately put his brother to work with us on a particular project. That’s how we would be able to work with him (vice president).”
Boahen went on to disclose his own modus operandi when it comes to illicit dealings and the percentage he normally takes. He claims closeness to the president, though he was quick to say that the real go-to man when it comes to business dealings in Ghana is the vice president. Boahen said many other things that expose official corruption on a continent now enmeshed in another infamy that also has a Nigerian angle.
The 22nd FIFA World Cup commences in Qatar on Sunday without Nigeria. Yet, our country has hit the global headlines with the just released ‘FIFA Uncovered’ documentary detailing behind-the-scenes deals that preceded voting for the 2022 World Cup hosting rights that Qatar won 12 years ago.
It all started in December 2010 when FIFA’s executive committee members voted 14-8 for Qatar to host this year’s edition of the tournament, ahead of the United States that had been considered favourite to win the bid. It was a decision that shook the footballing world. In a fightback, American authorities launched an investigation into FIFA, resulting in several prosecutions. The four-part Netflix series is not only revealing, but also a sad reminder of the way public trust is often abused in Africa for private gain.
Nobody has captured the tragedy better than the Group Managing Director of DAAR Communication PLC, Tony Akiotu. “Qatar basically won the hosting right for the World Cup by buying up majority of the members in the 22-man committee…Michele Platini in return for his vote forced the Qataris to enter into arms deal with France worth billions of dollars, plus buy their aircraft, and a football club in France (Yeah, that’s how they came about PSG),” wrote Akiotu, based on revelations in the documentary which Nigerian authorities must watch. “The Brazilians traded their vote for a gas deal which saw the setting up of a fully functional mega gas plant in the Amazon nation. The Africans among them asked for 1.5 MILLION DOLLARS wired straight to their personal accounts.” Nigeria of course is one of the African countries involved because we had a member in the FIFA executive committee who voted for Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup which paradoxically the Super Eagles failed to qualify for. Interested readers can watch the documentary on Netflix for the rest of the story.
The emergence of high-level official corruption as an axiomatic feature of African public life is ultimately a failure of signal leadership. After all, there is nothing immutable or ‘cultural’ about corruption in any society. Yet, the FIFA scandal which delivered the World Cup to Qatar indicates the sad reality that high level corruption is regrettably a feature of global public affairs, especially in situations where the victims of corruption are not an immediate public.
In the ‘Galamsey Economy’ scandal in Ghana, the victims are the hapless citizens of the country who were betrayed by a serving minister. Meanwhile, I started from the premise that if there is a country many Nigerians cite as example of where things work, it is Ghana. Even when many of us know that the reality in that country is different from the rosy picture often painted by our people since the grass is always greener on the other side. But that is not my point today. What is at issue is the difference between Ghana and Nigeria in the manner their authorities have dealt with the current scandal.
The moment the report became public, concerned parties acted with dispatch. The vice president issued a public statement to exonerate himself and demanded that the minister be dismissed and prosecuted. The president invited the minister and fired him before calling for investigation. There was no drama of setting up any cover-up committees that would be given an elastic time limit. Neither was the burden of proof directed at the reporter. The president was AWARE the moment the scandal broke. And he acted promptly on the side of probity and public good.
The significant lesson we should take from Ghana is that we cannot advance as a nation unless there are consequences for breaches of accountability, public trust, conflict of interest etc. We have had similar cases of senior public officials caught in such acts of impropriety without being held accountable because we run a system that makes allowances for bad behaviour. Even though one can argue that the ‘Galamsey Economy’ report remains mere allegation in the eyes of the law, the Ghanaian President knew the reputational damage that inaction could do to the country.
One of the most tragic reversals of the outgoing dispensation of President Muhammadu Buhari is perhaps the palpable failure to address corruption from the top. Nigerians recall with a sense of regret that one of the strongest points of the Buhari myth in 2015 was the belief that the president was strong on anti-corruption. Seven and a half years down the road, hardly any spectacular lesson has been delivered on that score. What the Ghanaian President has done in the sacking of his compromised Minister of State for Finance is far more significant than the routine reflexes of the many anti-corruption agencies that we have in Nigeria.
When in March 2017 a medical doctor later identified as Allwell Orji jumped headlong into the lagoon off Third Mainland Bridge in Lagos, I wrote on ‘The Silent Battles of Life’. I referenced the thesis by the late American religious leader and educator, David Oman Mckay, that “the most important of life’s battles is the one we fight daily in the silent chambers of the soul.”
I see a replay of that tragic episode in the recent death in similar circumstance of Adetutu Adedokun, identified as a staff of the Department of State Services (DSS). I commiserate with her family and friends as I pray God to comfort them at this most difficult period. However, what I find most shocking is that since her death, media obsession has focused on the conversation she was supposed to be having with her fiancée, reportedly recounted by the Uber driver who witnessed the tragic drama. Whatever may have been the content of such conversation, people don’t just jump into the lagoon after speaking to someone on phone. I may not be a medical expert, but I suspect a mental health issue here. And as I wrote in the past, because not all wounds are visible, we do not always know what people around us are going through or what action they might take when pushed to the edge.
A major social problem in Nigeria today is suicide, and the authorities are not paying sufficient attention. The fact that there is no credible data to work with compounds the problem. Last month, the World Health Organization (WHO) launched a suicide prevention campaign in Africa. “About 11 people per 100,000 die in the African region, which is higher than the global average of nine cases of suicide per 100,000 people,” according to WHO statement. Africa “is home to six of the ten countries with the highest suicide rates in the world,” the statement continued. The most common methods used are “hanging, pesticide poisoning and, to a lesser extent, drowning, use of a firearm, plunging into a void or overdosing on drugs”. The continent, according to the statement, “has one psychiatrist for every 500,000 inhabitants, which is 100 times less than the WHO recommendation.”
While the authorities must deal with that challenge, we also need a more compassionate society. In his piece ‘Silent battles that cannot be won alone’, Robert Brandt wrote that there are no quick fixes or easy cures for depression. “I know from multiple friends who have been in that dark place that healing often starts with finding a person who will listen to them. Spouting advice and saying ‘just get over it’ cures nothing. Be kind and listen, truly listen. It can be the start of the healing process” wrote Brandt.
What the foregoing suggests is that we must destigmatise mental health in Nigeria. That will make it easier for people to seek help before they decide to take their own lives.
Olusegun Adeniyi is a journalist, writer, former presidential spokesman and Fellow of the Nigerian Academy of Letters. You can follow me on my Twitter handle, @Olusegunverdict and on www.olusegunadeniyi.com.