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General News of Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Source: aL-hAJJ

Was my UDS seed cash also a bribe? - Rawlings hits back

Former President Jerry John Rawlings has hit back at persons accusing him of taking a $5million bribe from late Nigeria Nigerian President, General Sani Abacha, in 1998, questioning, “Was my $50,000 Hunger Project award used in establishing UDS also a bribe?

An overly incensed Rawlings, sources told The aL-hAJJ, could not fathom why critics are taking him to the cleaners after he confessed to having received $2 million instead of $5 million from the former Nigerian dictator after almost 20 years of vehement denial.

With no one defending him after he openly admitted receiving the booty, Mr Rawlings; our source revealed, was planning to hold a press conference to respond directly to persons calling for reopening of investigations into the matter.

The sources, however, told this paper that, some senior aides and elders close to the former president have prevailed on him to shelve the planned press conference.

“The old man (Mr. Rawlings) was not happy that people are accusing him of having taken a bribe from Abacha after he admitted that he received only $2 million from Abacha. He wants to ask those chastising him whether they accused him of similar offence when he accepted and willingly donated his Hunger Project prize for the establishment of the University for Development Studies?” a source told The aL-hAJJ.

In place of the scuttled press conference, Mr Rawlings nevertheless managed to outmanoeuvre those advising him to ‘let sleeping dogs lie’ when he arranged with state-owned Daily Graphic to “grant” the paper an exclusive interview.

He told Kobby Asmah of the Daily Graphic, “We have allowed the $5million lie to run when it was $2million. I am tired of falsehood and liars all over the place. With the pile-up of lies and fabrication, I wanted to set the record straight once and for all. That money did not go for my personal use and was not meant to influence me to whitewash Abacha’s image.”

“…When Mandela was going round the world soliciting for funds and he came here for support we were privileged to contribute $1million. Can this contribution be called bribery?” an incensed Rawlings quizzed.

The Rawlings/Abacha gift scandal resurfaced during a recent interview the former Ghanaian head of State had with Nigeria’s Guardian Newspaper. After almost 18 years of vehement denial, Mr Rawlings, in the interview and for the first time, admitted to receiving [a] gift from the late Nigeria brutal dictator through an aide called Gwarzo.

Mr Rawlings told the Nigerian Guardian that; “when General Abubakar took over, I told him to watch out. That, that report in the papers about $5million was $2million and not $5million. He didn’t make any comment. He didn’t say anything. Obasanjo took over I thought I should straighten it out with him.

The comment he made was: ‘Yes, that is how they behave. When they are given something to take somewhere, they will take the majority, the bigger share.’ That was the comment Obasanjo made,” he said “I wasn’t used to those things. Otherwise, I could have called Abacha. I don’t even think I even called him over that. Maybe I should have called him to say thank you for the $2million and then he would have called his people to order. You see what I mean? I wasn’t used to money being thrown up and down. Money was not my thing. Yes, we were poor enough as a country, but we were working day and night to making sure we put the country on a solid foundation for economic explosion. We had our pride, and our dignity was not out for sale,” he added.

Many, including anti-corruption crusader, Vitus Azeem, have criticised the former President for accepting the loot and are calling for a full-scale investigation into the matter.

“If it is not easy to rush to a conclusion, you will need further questioning or even an investigation to be able to establish whether it was a bribe or a matter of conflict of interest or what,” Vitus Azeem told Accra-based Citi Fm.

Mr. Azeem thus suggested that a further probe will help establish whether the acceptance of the gift constitutes a conflict of interest or bribery.

“Nigerians and Ghanaians should be asking questions. The questions Nigerians should be asking includes, was it Sani Abacha’s private money that he sent to our former president? What was the purpose of giving that money? Were they expecting any benefit for the country Nigeria in sending that money?”

But Mr Rawlings, according to sources, is “struggling to make sense of what his critics are saying, especially when he accepted a similar donation and subsequently gave it out for the establishment of UDS…the irony is that some of the people chastising Rawlings today are beneficiaries of his benevolence; either they had their university education at UDS or their children or siblings are schooling there.”

Former President Rawlings, as part of his desire to expand university education in the country particularly, the North, freely donated US$ 50,000 award from the Hunger Project he won in 1993 to help start the University of Development Studies during his tenure as President.

The Governing Council of the University in 2013 conferred on Mr. Rawlings an honorary doctorate degree.

“If Abacha’s money was a bribe, then the Hunger Project cash for the establishment of the UDS was also a bribe. Why are they criticising the gift from Abacha, but they are not criticising $50,000?” Mr Rawlings reportedly retorted.