I do not know if the government of has noticed the crying question awaiting its attention: Who are Ogueri Ugochukwu Pascal and Olasehinde Micah?

The government’s new Open Treasury Portal shows that late in 2019, it paid to the first man in 306 tranches, an astounding ₦1.6bn, and to the second in 34, ₦1.4bn.  The payments are part of an astounding N4.6bn paid—in various shades of opaqueness—to 21 private citizens, including Mr. Paschal and Mr. Micah.

The revelation is contained in an investigation of the portal published by Premium Times on Monday.  The Ministry of Power, Works and Housing, which was headed by former Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Fashola, made the payments.

The Ministry of Power was taken from Mr. Fashola at the beginning of Mr. Buhari’s second term and is now headed by Saleh Mamman.  Mr. Fashola retained Works and Housing.

The Open Treasury Portal was launched by Mr. Buhari on December 9, 2019 ostensibly to advance the government’s “financial transparency policy” and “in fulfillment of the President’s promise to Nigerians in an effort to build public trust in government.”

In a tweet on that day, the Executive Secretary of the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, Mr. Waziri Adio, said all Ministries, Departments and Agencies of the government would publish: “daily reports of payments from N5m; monthly budget performance; quarterly financial statements; and annual financial statements…within stipulated deadlines…” on the portal.

Some of the records date from 2018, but the links are often broken, often returning Error 404 reports: “Oops… Page Not Found!  We’re sorry, but the page you were looking for doesn’t exist.”

But Premium Times found enough to establish that an incredible ₦4.6bn was “illegally paid into the private accounts of some directors and employees” of Mr. Fashola’s former ministry.

In a similar review last June, civic advocacy group, BudgIT, discovered that between January and July 2019, various large and suspicious sums totalling about N51bn were paid into personal accounts, many of them impossible to trace to anyone.

“Over 2,900 payments to individuals were recorded at an aggregate value of ₦51bn,” it said.

It reported such sums as “₦2.04bn, ₦2.04bn and ₦1bn paid into personal accounts on the 21st of June, 2019 without any payment description.”  It also found an entry of ₦68m payment to someone merely identified as “Ogunsuyi,” and yet another for the sum of ₦15.8m to “international”.

BudgIt also said: “At least 5,000 payment records valued at ₦278bn were without descriptions and 275 payment records with a value of ₦43bn were without beneficiary name.”

You read that right: N278bn.

Premium Times observed the same, apparently deliberate obfuscation.  Referring to entries in the portal on October 26, 2019, for instance, the newspaper noted that “Mr Pascal was paid a total of ₦159m under such descriptions as “zonal revenue tour,” “disbursement of funds for right of way,” “verification exercise,” “quarterly budget implementation,” the “2019 senior staff promotion exercise,” and “junior staff promotion in the housing sector.”

That report appeared on Monday.  The presidency did not utter a word. Minister (Lai) Mohammed did not. Minister Fashola did not.

CNN happened two days later.

Its story, “How a bloody night of bullets and brutality quashed a young protest movement,” investigated the scandal involving how the Nigerian military inconceivably aimed Nigerian bullets at peaceful Nigerian protesters on a Nigerian street on the night of October 20, 2020.

To that one, Minister Mohammed appeared without delay in front of cameras and microphones to denounce the report as “a poor piece of journalistic work by a reputable international news organisation.”

“This is very serious and CNN should be sanctioned for that,” he declared, offering no material contradiction of the story.

The trouble with governance in Nigeria is that powerful officials are often far more powerful than the facts, which—in exercise of their power—they do not bother with.

There is additional irony here: only in February, Mr. Mohammed was agitating for a massive $500m slice of Buhari’s projected $29.96bn foreign loan to make the Nigerian Television Authority another CNN. But this CNN story is a reminder that the media is not infrastructure and not propaganda: it is work and professional values.

Were there shootings and killing of peaceful protesters at the Lekki toll gates on October 20?  All the evidence: videos, bullets, photos, injuries, affirm that there were. And circumstantial evidence such as the removal of area cameras and the switching-off of streetlights prior to the shootings indicated a level of official complicity.

It would be recalled that the Nigerian army first denied that it was even at the scene, describing reports of it as “fake news” only to change its narrative as evidence began to emerge.  It then said it was Lagos Governor, Babajide Sanwa-Olu, who had invited soldiers to the protest on the grounds that the police could not cope, but still maintained that its men fired no live rounds.

CNN’s reporting, including the mining of metadata, location and time-stamping of videos and expert identification of bullets found at the scene, punctured holes into the government’s shifting tales.

But Mr. Mohammed was too powerful to challenge “a poor piece of journalistic work” which, for that reason, ought to have been easy to disprove.  As a result, he achieved what he evidently feared the most: advertising to the world the ad hoc and ramshackle nature of a government the allegiance of which is to endless assertions and propaganda, not service. On the CNN website on Thursday evening, the Nigeria shooting cover-up story was trending, the broadcaster asserting that its reporting having been dutifully researched, it was standing by it.

What follows?  Perhaps Buhari, being the African Union’s anti-corruption hero, will ban CNN from every inch of Africa!

But his government should tread with care: last week Buhari warned that he will not allow another #EndSARS protest, as if his permission were sought the first time. As difficult as its analogue impulses are, the Nigerian government must understand that this is a different age, and that you do not need to lick a stamp to mail a letter.

Last month, Amnesty International published a timeline of the Nigerian army team leaving Bonny Camp at 6.29 pm local time on October 20, arriving at the Lekki toll gates at 6.45pm, when it opened fire on the protesters.

About 10 days ago, 81 scholars of African Studies asked the incoming United States administration of President-elect to impose a travel ban on Nigerian officials culpable in the Lekki attack.

And tomorrow, November 23, the British Parliament will debate sanctions against the same officials.

Last week, the Buhari government was continuing its malicious witch-hunt of the protesters rather than confronting the problems which led to the protests, such as a government department paying billions into the private accounts of officials.

CNN did not say that.  The government itself did.

So: who are Messrs. Pascal and Micah, and how are Nigerian officials making away with billions meant for the public interest?

[This column welcomes rebuttals from interested government officials.]

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As the Nigerian government combats CNN
As the Nigerian government combats CNN

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