Editor's note: Public affairs commentator, Chidiebere Nwobodo, writes on the recent invitation, detention, and subsequent release of Obi Iyiegbu, popularly known as Obi Cubana by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and later the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency on allegations of cybercrime, money laundering, tax issues, and drug-related offences.
When Obi Iyiegbu, popularly known as Obi Cubana, was perfecting plans to gift his beloved mother a befitting burial, little did he know that such a sincere honour to his mom would shoot his fame to a crescendo and later open him up for barrages of needless scrutiny and vile propaganda.
The recent invitation, detention, and subsequent release of Obi Cubana by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, and later the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, NDLEA, on allegations of cybercrime, money laundering, tax issues, and drug-related offences, did not come as a surprise to many, including me. I saw it coming. Being a hitherto silent successful entrepreneur, whose mother's funeral ceremony brought to the limelight, I knew the powers-that-be would want to vet the source(s) of his wealth.
There is absolutely nothing wrong if law enforcement agencies decide to probe an individual or a business entity, provided it is done within the confines of the law, where the suspect's fundamental human right of "innocent until proven guilty" is respected in the entire process. After all, no one is above the law. No nation can prosper if some of its citizens are treated as sacred cows. I commend EFCC and NDLEA for being steadfast in their constitutional responsibilities.
Meanwhile, Obi Cubana has vehemently denied all the allegations against him. We have to give him the benefit of the doubt as being innocent of all the accusations while the appropriate law enforcement agencies do their work. Iyiegbu has verifiable businesses commensurate to his net worth.
But beyond the ongoing scrutiny by the law enforcement agencies, it is clear that Obi Cubana is currently standing trial in the court of public opinion. Though no one is a saint, people like us, who knew Obi Cubana's startup cum success stories have no reason to believe the allegations. Yet we uphold the right of others who choose to believe otherwise.
However, whatever anyone believes does not justify what has become a full-scale propaganda attack on Obi Cubana. Yes, there has been a deliberate and sustained campaign of calumny to profile Obi Cubana with either internet scams or drug trafficking and related offences. It is a well-oiled vicious onslaught against him and his brand. It has become obvious even to the blind that there is a thickening conspiracy to stereotype and tag one of Nigeria's rising stars of entrepreneurship and philanthropists along with dirty businesses of drugs and economic crimes.
I have seen, read and dismissed a lot of conjectures, innuendoes, and prejudiced narratives wickedly put together to damage the hard-earned reputation of Obi Cubana.
As someone who understood this man's early struggles and followed up on his entrepreneurial voyage; beginning in Nigeria's Federal Capital Territory, FCT, I am as heartbroken as Obi Cubana on how some sadists and fifth columnists could be peddling barefaced lies and falsehood just to convict him in the court of public opinion and make him easy prey to malevolent tendencies.
This is not only injustice and wickedness being meted out to Obi Cubana, but every hardworking Nigerian youth, who believes in entrepreneurship as the ultimate escape from poverty and self-actualisation. Why the media trial? If anyone has pieces of evidence against him, why not wait to present it in the court of law or even take them to one of the investigating agencies instead of rushing to the court of public opinion where jungle justice of vile propaganda and bile falsehood thrive?
Imagine such sensational and wicked profiling headlines and titles as: "NDLEA links Obi Cubana to drugs", "Obi Cubana and drug pushers", "Is Obi Cubana the king of nightlife or a drug kingpin?", etcetera, being splashed all over the world by some Nigerian media and columnists not minding that it is someone's reputation they are dragging in the mud. Without being reminded, crafters of such prejudiced stories and vile articles have one goal in mind—to destroy the credibility of Obi Cubana and his businesses. It is not about crime-fighting, but to pull down a perceived entrepreneurial enigma. It is predetermined.
Let us do diagnosis and prognosis on one of the weighty accusations. From media reports, NDLEA alleged that a drug convict in Asia paid money into Cubana's account. An allegation he has since denied. Juxtapose with Obi's nature of business—clubs, hotels, and entertainment, a discerning mind will wonder how Obi is supposed to know the sources of income of his customers and potential clients.
If a customer visits one of Cubana's clubs, after drinking expensive wines and whiskeys, probably with his friends, and wants to pay with PoS, where else will the money go if not into Cubana's bank account? Tomorrow if it is discovered that the said customer is a drug pusher, checking his financial transactions, Obi Cubana—the owner of one of the clubs he visited will be maligned for being a drug baron. What imprudence!
In the foregoing context, if a married man decides to cheat on his wife, and because of the exquisite nature of Cubana Hotels, makes up his mind to lodge there, should women activists allege that Obi Cubana is promoting infidelity—just for running a hospitality business? Should Obi Cubana mandate his members of staff to vet sources of income of their potential customers before attending to them? where is it done across the world?
After a lot of media trials, EFCC lost its case against media mogul Raymond Dokpesi. The Court of Appeal quashed the N2.1 billion money laundering charges against him because the prosecuting team could not substantiate its case. The founder of DAAR Communications was accused of receiving part of arms funds allegedly diverting under then National Security Adviser (NSA), Sambo Dasuki.
One of the strong points of argument made by Dokpesi's defense counsel, was that he got paid for services rendered by his media conglomerate to the Jonathan administration. It was not his duty to question the source of funds used to pay for the services his company rendered. The case died a natural death. If a media company couldn't be held liable for the source of funds a client paid for a job, can a hospitality company like Cubana Group, let alone its owner, be held responsible for how any of its customers chose to make his money?
While we must collectively uphold the right of law enforcement agencies to do their work, we must also collectively rebuke the resort to media trials. It was not a crime that Obi Cubana chose to bid his mother farewell in the manner that he did. It was his choice. What was displayed at Oba was an outpour of massive goodwill invested in the youth over the years by this entrepreneurial colossus.
Obi Cubana should be commended for popularising entrepreneurship amongst graduates and for promoting the nation's entertainment industry, instead of this sadistic propaganda targeted at his reputation.
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