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Pandora Papers: Throwing stone in a market place

By Luke Onyekakeyah
20 October 2021   |   2:40 am
The release of the much-talked about and controversial Pandora Papers is akin to throwing stone in a market place, which could fall on an innocent person.
Peter Obi

Former Anambra State governor Peter Obi

The release of the much-talked about and controversial Pandora Papers is akin to throwing stone in a market place, which could fall on an innocent person. The thrower, before releasing the stone (missile), must have made up his mind to cause injury, knowing full well that the stone must fall on somebody’s head who could be innocent. But despite that awareness, he still goes ahead to throw it not minding who the victim might be. The Pandora Papers has caused harm in that perspective.

There are certain fundamentals members of the public must reflect upon about the Pandora Papers, which, for the past weeks, has buzzed the media world for mentioning some high and powerful political leaders from around the world. Understanding the nuances is important in appreciating the essence of the report and what it was set out to achieve.

This is not the first time the world is confronted with this kind of reports that shocked the world’s political and financial systems. Granted that we are operating in a free world of free press where press freedom is the norm, just as everyone is entitled to his opinion, any opinion in the media remains personal to the extent that it carries no weight of any established authority anywhere in the world.

The likes of WikiLeaks, Panama Papers, Paradise Papers, to name but a few, that set out to expose alleged illegal financial deals by individuals and corporate bodies worldwide remain the opinion of those behind them. While they may have succeeded in throwing up smear campaign against the perceived victims, which is bad enough, the fact that their legality is questionable and their credibility doubtful renders them powerless and that explains why no one is incarcerated on account of their revelations. If the opinion of these private watchdogs could be relied upon by any government anywhere to persecute any victim of the reports, then, one’s enemies could sponsor the investigations just to indict him and paint him in bad light.

Today, we are dealing with Pandora Papers, the outcome of an investigative project said to be executed by some 600 journalists from 150 media organizations from around the world, who took it upon themselves to leak secret information in over 11 million confidential files.

After working for no less than two years, according to reports, the investigators were able to sniff through leaked files (not official documentation) from offshore services firms, which revealed the financial dealings of some 35 present and former world leaders, in addition to dealings of more than 330 public officials in more than 91 countries.

The quantum of information leaked revealed how the rich in many countries in Africa, Europe and Asia allegedly made huge financial gains through offshore businesses in the so-called tax havens.

Some of the world leaders listed in the report include the Russian President Vladimir Putin, former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair and King Abdullah II bin Al-Hussien of Jordan who have all denied any wrong doing.

The mention of the former Anambra State Governor, Peter Obi, in the report, has raised much misgiving among Nigerians who hold Peter Obi in high esteem for distinguishing himself among the crop of greedy leaders who have undeveloped Nigeria. Peter Obi seems to be a victim of a stone thrown in a marketplace which has fallen on the head of an innocent man. Thus, by mentioning Peter Obi, a man who is perceived as a model of a leader in Nigeria’s corruption-ridden leadership class, the report, more or less, shot itself in the foot, thereby, raising doubts about its credibility.

Peter Obi is one of the very few individuals who could be called upon to help correct the mounting ills plaguing Nigeria. If every leader in Nigeria behaves like him, Nigeria will be a lot better for all of us. As a viable possible presidential candidate, how do you prove that his political enemies have not been involved in the Pandora Papers project to nail him and smear his hard earned good image?

While the foreign victims of the report may not be known to Nigerians who are the victims of corruption in the country, they certainly know those who have used their exalted political position to rob the public and Peter Obi is nowhere near that group. It was sensational when Premium Times, a Nigerian news medium, carried the uninspiring story in a way that suggests a hatchet job. Since the news broke out, rather than tarnish the reputation of Peter Obi, it has instead burgeoned and re-enforced his integrity among those who see the report as bogey corruption allegation orchestrated by his political enemies to destroy his untainted image.

Peter Obi’s alleged offenses were two: One that he didn’t make a full disclosure of his assets when he became the governor of Anambra State and two, that he owns businesses in offshore tax havens. Obi has explained that he disclosed all his personal assets but left those he jointly owned with members of his family. This is a matter Nigeria’s Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) has jurisdiction to deal with. There is also the anti-corruption agency – the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). All these agencies have the liberty since Peter Obi left office as governor to probe him in accordance with the law. And of course, Peter Obi has passed through their investigative scrutiny and found to carry no baggage.

With regard to having businesses in offshore tax havens, the question is how having business in tax havens constitutes an act of corruption. A tax haven is a country or independent area that levies low tax rate with the aim of attracting foreign investments. The 10 top tax havens include corporate-focused havens like the Netherlands, Singapore, Ireland, and the U.K., while Luxembourg, Hong Kong, the Cayman Islands, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, and Switzerland feature as both major traditional tax havens and major corporate tax havens (Google).

The first sign of a good tax haven is that it is legal. If it is legal, what then is the fuss about having business in tax haven? The only problem is the concern of high tax countries that frown at tax havens. Wikipedia says high-tax countries have increasingly raised concerns that corporate profits are shifted to low-or-no-tax jurisdictions. Tax havens levy fees, charges, and in some cases low tax rates on foreign-sourced capital to raise government revenue.

If one doesn’t commit any crime by investing in tax havens, why then is the like of Pandora Papers sniffing to find out who has invested in tax havens? Rather than engaging in fruitless adventure of trying to find out who has invested what in tax havens to create undue sensation, wouldn’t it have been much more beneficial to investigate the source of fund so invested?

There is no doubt that there are top officials who have stolen public funds and have it invested in tax havens with the aim of hiding it. But there are also honest individuals who have genuinely invested their hard-earned money in tax havens with the sole aim to make profit as in a business. Peter Obi, without doubt belongs to the second group, which is why he has demanded that the source of fund be investigated rather than lumping the thieves together with innocent businessmen.

Governments around the world stand to benefit if Pandora Papers investigators could focus on the source of funds to reveal the real corrupt individuals. Otherwise, the whole project is like a hatchet job designed to blackmail and taint innocent individuals. Because the whole report is based on unproven allegations that were not substantiated, it carries no legal force as none of those mentioned could be docked on the basis of the report. Why must everybody be destroyed in Nigeria? And for what purpose? Does it mean that there are no clean individuals in Nigeria if everybody is seen from the prism of corruption? Based on the foregoing, the reports carry the burden of being out to make mischief, which is morally offensive.

At this juncture, it is pertinent to ask what the world would gain if Pandora Papers and its ilk’s brand everyone corrupt. There are individuals with integrity around the world, why can’t the investigating watchdogs reveal names of people with integrity to serve as sign posts? Nigeria’s Peter Obi is known for honesty and integrity. His personal integrity sets him apart hence the move by his political opponents to bring him down.

How Peter Obi was able to remain clean of corruption puzzles everybody. Since leaving office, he has been an advocate of good governance and accountability. As the 2023 general election are fast approaching and as Peter Obi, in the court of public opinion is adjudged a possible credible candidate for the exalted office, it is not surprising that his political opponents would begin to do everything possible to rubbish him out of the game.

 
 
 
 
 
 

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