FEATURE ARTICLE

Friday, December 6, 2019
chrisekiyor@yahoo.com

THE CONSPIRACY AGAINST ONYEMA

Allen Onyema, CEO of Air Peace

he recent US indictment of Allen Onyema and his business transactions came as a big shock to me. Allen and I have known each other since 2005. An eminent senior citizen called Kola introduced us in Port Harcourt at a time when militancy was at its worst and wildest. There were kidnappings and killings everywhere but we talked about bringing peace back to the Niger Delta.

My immediate impression was that Allen was a man who had my type of gene for great ideas. I was already aspiring to become the president of the Ijaw Youth Council, IYC. Allen immediately saw the transformative opportunity of converting me to the Kingian non-violence approach to social change. He rightly calculated that a pro-dialogue IYC president was all that was needed to transform the council as a necessary step to transforming the region.

Allen asked me about the IYC motto and I told him it was "By Any Means Necessary." He set about, using his immense influence and wealth, transforming me and a handful of other youth leaders from Ijawland. Under his tutelage we successfully underwent the first two stages of the Kingian non-violence programme in Nigeria and South Africa. But he only took some ten of us to the US for the stage three. Back from the US we set about deradicalising our youths. Allen was there for us. Shell, Chevron and the other oil companies paid for the programmes making it possible for us to take the beneficiaries to Lagos, South Africa and America.

It has often been suggested that the North shot itself in the foot sponsoring our youths to Abuja to campaign for General Sani Abacha's transmutation from dictator to democrat. The campaigners left the Niger Delta innocent and returned from Abuja radicalized: What they saw there made them completely dissatisfied with the squalor back home.

Likewise, Allen was smart exposing our youths to the splendors of foreign capitals. He showed them the wonders that could be replicated in the Niger Delta if only they stopped fighting and embraced dialogue. He changed their mindset and it was only a matter of months before they began to desert their camps to seek us out in the city. That enraged a couple of the commanders who then targeted me.

I escape multiple attempts on my life. But somewhere in Bayelsa State my voyage on this earth almost came to a sudden end as I was shot at by my own brothers who were fellow Ijaws. Their bullets missed me. As for Allen, they are those who still believe he was a CIA agent sent to destroy our struggle through non-violence. He was the one preaching to our boys to engage their minds rather than their guns in the pursuit of social change. Things were not helped as Shell and Chevron continued to pay for the deradicalisation programmes; knowing they stood to benefit if peace returned to the region.

I eventually became IYC president in 2007 with the support of many friends. Tompolo supported me. Timi Alaibe was one of them. Allen was another. Asari Dokubo supported me from prison. Jonathan Lokpobiri and Carol Bakumo, who later married Asari, were among those that made my election possible. These were people who believed I was pro-intellectual and non-violent in my approach to the struggle. Asari was at war with the Nigerian state. His armed struggle ideology was the order of the day and I had to preach endlessly for non-violence.

On winning the election I immediately sold the Kingian non-violence to Timi who was the Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC. I then introduced Allen to Timi and the region never remained the same again. The IYC, NDDC and Allen's Foundation for Ethnic Harmony in Nigeria, FEHN, began to decongest the creeks in piece meal. A batch of 600 youths were pulled out and deradicalised.

Kingsley Kuku was Timi's aide. That was how Allen met him. So the hues and cries about Kuku and Allen makes no meaning if we can remember that Kuku was working for Timi when I introduced Allen and Timi. Furthermore, Allen was already being contacted by General Godwin Abbe to be part of the envisaged amnesty programme. Timi eventually consolidated the relationship as General Abbe's successor at the Amnesty Office.

At a point the Presidency queried Timi on the rationale of using government funds to train militants. We went to Aso Rock and explained what the programmed entailed. Yar'Adua listened and gave his approval. It was our approach to peace building that eventually led to the amnesty programme as we know it today. Allen played a big role in bringing the Oil War of 2009 to an end. He worked with us in saving American lives and businesses in the Niger Delta.

The Presidential Amnesty Programme was pronounced in 2009. Allen was perhaps the most qualified among us with the requisite experience and exposure, having trained more than 600 successfully out of the radar. The Federal Government paid a huge sum per youth based on international best practices as Allen brought in experts from America to do the job. Over 30,000 ex-militants were for training. We set up camps in Akodo for months and Obubra for one year. As a contractor Allen was the major player. His FEHN was an NGO but he actually used it for consultancy, was paid by Shell and the Federal Government and he paid tax.

The Nigerian business environment is at variance with that of America. Here if you give quotation to government and they find your price acceptable, they award you the contract. Whether it is inflated or not, if government approves your quotation, it becomes legally binding. That is no fraud. It is pure business.

For instance, you could prefer to sell a bottle of water for N500 to government, probably because of the way you packaged and promoted it, even though the public is buying it for N150. If the government pays you what you asked for then the transaction is very much in order! I do not know if Allen's transactions were inflated or not. The question is, did he deliver what he was contracted for? The overwhelming answer is affirmatively yes to the letter. He is a wise businessman who invested heavily in real estate. Allen told me about his investments even before diversifying into aviation. I think he got the idea from training our boys as aviators. Anyone doubting his integrity should investigate if he bought his planes cash or he's owing banks.

America must understand that Allen made his money legitimately. He was a very successful man when I first met him. He was in real estate big time, lived in a comfortable home, frequented South Africa and funded non-violence programmes with his own money or with funds provided by Shell. None of his NGOs has ever received grants. FEHN paid tax from legitimate jobs.

Nigerian NGOs resort to contract and consultancy to survive in the absence of grants. A percentage of their profit goes to charity while a percentage goes to the owners. Allen was the sole owner and administrator of his foundation. But if the charge against him is that he moved millions of dollars to America, his accusers should also realize there was no way he could have possibly carried that kind of money in a briefcase. Allen legitimately transferred his money overseas through the Nigerian Central Bank that cleared him. He also used the monies for the very transactions he applied for.

In America you can never open a bank account as an alien since you have no social security number. Your only option is to open a business account so as to be issued a tax identity number. Most foreign businesses do that and I am sure that is why Allen registered his aviation company in America and paid tax to secure his liquidity.

There are hazards transferring huge sums through someone else's account. People have been known to pay money into the accounts of investments firms only to lose their deposits. America will always protect Americans against foreigners in any dispute. So it was safer for Allen to open his own company in America and from there pay a third party to supply him the aircraft he needed. His was good thinking.

I do not know what the US law says in this kind of arrangement. Perhaps the US is in a better position to tell us where and how Allen violated their banking system. But where goodwill exists, an honest mistake is never blown out of proportion like what we have here. Allen has been maliciously blanketed as money launderer. But I make haste to declare that those monies were not American monies. Those monies were not missing Nigerian monies in any office. Those monies were not from dubious Yahoo business. Those monies were monies earned legitimately by a hardworking businessman. Anyone thinking that Allen would deliberately endanger his reputation by doing something stupid does not really know him.

Here is an Allen who dared trod where even angels fear to walk and America he once projected as the standard bearer of Kingian non-violence is up in arms against him. In my opinion some powerful foreign monopolists feel threatened by his meteoric rise in the aviation industry. With the way he's going, if they don't stop him now, he may eventually give them a run for their flight into Nigeria under the Bilateral Aviation Safety Agreement, BASA.

But there is no stopping him as his hands are clean. He's a cool-headed researcher who invests only after test-running. Allen has never failed in any venture. He is our brother, pride and mentor. The Federal Government must protect him. The conspiracy against Air Peace is a conspiracy against Nigerian businesses everywhere.

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