Sen. Melaye means different things to different people—a hunk, a firebrand, and a right-on leftist who knows where to make money, and could use some of it
By Segun Elijah
If you are a fatalist, there are certain Nigerians whose shimmering stars you can’t help coveting. And you get greener with envy realizing these lucky ones are 7-feet tall, on the right side of 40, and upward-moving politicians, especially the muckraker type. Like Dino Melaye.
The Kogi West senator lives in the lap of luxury. On the face of it, two things make life a cushy number for him—two things many Nigerians viewing activism with the self-sacrificing spectacles don’t seem to cotton on to. And he, too, knows, from his gut, the two are the reasons his bread is buttered.
One: Melaye is destined to fighting. His website bio claims he began his life’s struggle from his boyhood—when he had to stave off his “nearest kinsman” -poverty. He kept up the fight while studying geography at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, as student union leader daring the late Gen. Sani Abacha. And he fought all the way till 2005 before he got his first payoff: N1.4 million (he told Sahara TV). He had former President Olusegun Obasanjo to thank for transplanting him to Aso Rock as youth affairs adviser. It was a token of camaraderie. Obasanjo was his next-door neighbour at the Yola Prison where Abacha caged them in 1997.
Two: Melaye presses home his fight so well in Nigeria’s politics that he now believes politics is his home turf. “I will say it is inborn and I have been indoctrinated and imbibed (sic) with the rudiments for a while,” he told a blogger. By 2007, he’d already fought his way into politics, making straight for the House of Reps on the platform of the PDP. And he had a nice showing there: he moved the highest number of motions in Nigeria’ history of lawmaking, according to Ayobami Oyalowo, his childhood friend doing damage control after one of the senator’s litany of controversies. Melaye so threw his hulking frame into lawmaking that he earned himself a nickname: Political Machine.
By 2011, his sugar rush got so high he fought himself into suspension in a free-for-all on the floor of the green chamber. In need of a stop-gap between 2011 and 2015, Melaye returned to activism. He founded the Anti-corruption Network. The NGO became a pain in the neck of ex-President Goodluck Jonathan who, Melaye claims, arrested him 14 times in one year. Up till 2014, the former rep described himself as an “unemployed social worker”. In plain terms, it means somebody good at pitching George Soros, Bill and Melinda Gates, the Ford Foundation, and other do-gooders to get thousands of dollars to heckle the government. They call it deepening democracy. And the Department for International Development in the UK, Development Tracker (UKaid) reveals, handed out E2.9 million as grants to NGOs like Melaye’s in Nigeria between 2013 and 2014. So you can’t be poor as a founder of an NGO in Nigeria—though Melaye believed he was not yet made of money then. “I will say I am not a waster. I am comfortable. I wouldn’t regard myself as rich,” he said in an interview. And when the auguries seemed promising in 2013, he switched from activism to politics, joining the APC bandwagon where he grabbed a seat in the Senate in April. In all the fighting and politicking, the bottom line, for Melaye, remains the good life politics offers those who play right in Nigeria. And he knows how to lap it all up.
As a Blackberry-generation politico, he loves splashing on the social media some of his acquisitions: posh wheels, including one Lamborghini, a Rolls Royce, and one Harley Davidson; a couple of lush cribs around Abuja; and some well-fleshed cuddle bunnies. His disenchanted fans usually gripe over such flamboyance of their ghetto-famous champion of the down-trodden. But Melaye doesn’t give a damn. “Those hating on my cars you ain’t seen nothing yet,’ he replied his angry Facebook fans calling him corrupt in 2013. “A poor man cannot deliver a poor man.”
But as the Kano-born politician fights to feather his own nest so he can free Nigerians still in the hug of poverty, he sometimes picks the wrong fight. He and the Senate pitched into President Muhammadu Buhari’s Treasury Single Account policy recently. And, as chairman of the Senate committee on information then, Melaye had the dirty job of telling Nigerians the outcome of their investigation.
Because his fight instinct got the better of him, the Senate former spokesman began to shoot from the hip. With an air of a constitutional lawyer, Melaye described how one phantom company called REMITA, engaged by the CBN, grossed in N25 billion as 1 percent commission of the N1.5 trillion of government money recovered from banks. He said “the appointment of REMITA “negates and contravenes sections 162 91) of the 1999 Constitution”. REMITA, however, is a software application from SystemSpecs, a digital financial solution provider ex-Amb. Chris Kolade chairs. The company was registered in Nigeria in 1991. According to CBN sources, President Goodluck Jonathan’s government endorsed the 1 percent commission as part of the contract terms for SystemSpecs to build the app in 2012. Had Melaye had a clear head while spoiling for the fight, he might have got his math right—that 1 percent of the total fund recovered is N150 billion. That’s about the annual budget of the National Assembly since 2011.
That Sen. Melaye couldn’t discern a product from its company, and that he muddied the waters while working out REMITA’s commission could be a blunder. Nigerians can, however, bear with him because he’s not a bean counter. They can understand he’s just a gasbag that loves sputtering figures to prove he’s fighting for the masses.
But what worry many are his sympathies for certain of his chums, especially those sleaze balls the anti-graft agencies have been grilling. Melaye shadowed Toyin Saraki, the wife of Senate President Bukola Saraki, down to the EFCC when it invited her for questioning in June. In July, he was among the scores of unruly senators cheering when the Senate president himself got in the dock at the Code of Conduct Tribunal over allegations of anticipatory asset declaration when Saraki was Kwara’s governor. He has been pulling out all the stops to save the Senate president from facing trial. Melaye’s Anti-corruption Network has gone ahead to do the dirty on the CCT chairman Danladi Umar. The judge was smeared with a N32-million corruption allegation in a petition the NGO submitted to the House of Reps November 10. It’s a move that has got Saraki more weeks to kill before his trial begins.
Melaye also did a one-off image laundry campaign for the late Abubakar Audu. The EFCC prosecuted the former governor for looting N11 billion of Kogi’s monies when he was in office between 2003 and 2007. The senator said it was all a wild-goose chase. “This was a man who paid pensioners, did not owe workers, and carried out a big infrastructural development in the state. What has the EFCC been investigating since 2003?” He told the AIT viewers during a late night show after Audu’s death.
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Melaye should have had some blushes as Nigerians see through his pro-corruption pantomime whenever his cronies get a shakedown. He’d rather bluff his way out. “I cannot control what my friends will do, but they remain my friends,” he said late July while defending his loyalty to the Sarakis. “I have no regret following my friend and sister to the EFCC.”
That pig-headedness was not unexpected of an activist turned politician. “You either love him or loathe him,” wrote Oyalowo. The rank of those who loathe him is, however, swelling: his PDP rival Smart Adeyemi, APC leader Bola Tinubu, and all the big toes he has ever trodden. And the love-hate ratio, widening, could eventually give his budding political career a kiss of death. Rt. Hon. Dimeji Bankole, an upstart like Melaye, now in Siberia, would know better. The former Speaker had believed telling the masses he got their back was all that mattered—borrowing N10 billion to keep the House sweet didn’t—until they left him on the shelf.
Melaye, too, has been giving the poor he fights to deliver a garbled explanation of his rock-star lifestyle. If he ever believes his line—I’m not rich but-just comfortable—washes with Nigerians, he can as well believe pigs fly.