By Femi Aribisala
In just six months, the government’s anti-corruption policy has gone off the rail. During the election, candidate Buhari made this pledge: “Whoever that is indicted of corruption between 1999 to the time of swearing-in, would be pardoned. I am going to draw a line, anybody who involved himself in corruption after I assume office, will face the music.”
At the time, cynical observers insisted this was designed to reassure corrupt members of his APC party who were campaigning for him that he would not come after them after the election but would let sleeping dogs lie.
But once in office, the president dropped this pledge the same way he and his party have conveniently jettisoned a number of their campaign promises. Speaking on his official trip to the United States, the president declared he would arrest and prosecute past ministers and other officials who stole Nigeria’s oil and diverted government money into personal accounts.
Excluding the military
CNN iReport maintains Buhari’s new position to probe and prosecute his predecessors prompted tete-a-tete among former military rulers. The outcome of this was the warning that it would not be in the president’s interest to pursue that line of action. Prince Kassim Afegbua, Babangida’s media adviser, released a statement on behalf of his boss that reads:
“On General Buhari, it is not in IBB’s tradition to take up issues with his colleague former President. But for the purpose of record, we are conversant with General Buhari’s so-called holier-than-thou attitude. He is a one-time Minister of Petroleum and we have good records of his tenure as minister. Secondly, he also presided over the Petroleum Trust Fund, PTF, which records we also have.
“We challenge him to come out with clean hands in those two portfolios he headed. Or, we will help him to expose his records of performance during those periods. Those who live in glass houses do not throw stones. General Buhari should be properly guided.”
Immediately thereafter Femi Adesina, President Buhari’s Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, hastened to declare that the government’s probes would be limited to the Jonathan administration. He claimed it would be “a waste of time” to go beyond that.
This was the first curious exclusion in the government’s anti-corruption policy: former generals who became heads of state are untouchables. As a result, the CNN maintained the American government concluded the Nigerian government is not serious about anti-corruption. American businessmen who bribed Nigerian officials in the Halliburton scandal have been sent to jail in the United States. However, the more culpable Nigerian politicians who demanded and received the bribes are allowed to go scot-free in Nigeria.
Excluding APC kingpins
Another exclusion from prosecution in the government’s anti-corruption policy is APC big-guns. Even when they are substantively accused of corruption, they are seemingly immune from EFCC harassment and prosecution. On the contrary, some of them are even rewarded with APC governorship nominations and ministerial positions. However, PDP members accused of corruption are harassed, grilled by the EFCC and excoriated by government officials in the press.
A judicial commission of enquiry set up by the Rivers State government maintained that, under former governor Rotimi Amaechi, a whopping N53 billion disappeared from the Rivers State Reserve Fund. Similarly, Babatunde Fashola was accused of spending N78 million of government money upgrading his personal website.
Nevertheless, the EFCC has not picked up the gauntlet on any of these allegations. Neither have Amaechi and Fashola even been summoned for questioning. Instead, Amaechi has been awarded the “juicy” new super-ministry of Transport which now includes road, rail, maritime and aviation. Fashola, on the other hand, has been awarded with the “juicy” new super-ministry of Power, Works and Housing.
Since the two states most able to provide funding for the APC’s election campaign were Amaechi’s Rivers and Fashola’s Lagos, it would appear that their governors are now being provided the opportunity to recoup under the guise of merged “super-ministries.”
This kind of conclusion might seem unfair, except that while the government is preaching anti-corruption, APC legislators are fighting over “juicy” committee positions in the House and Senate. “Juicy” legislative committees are anathema to anti-corruption. What makes a committee “juicy” is precisely its scope for providing the avenues for corrupt enrichment.
While the APC in the Senate insists Amaechi and Fashola must be presumed innocent until proven guilty, the government has declared PDP ministers accused of corruption guilty until proven innocent. For example, without taking Diezani Alison-Madueke, the former Minister of Petroleum Resources, to court and prosecuting her, the government has made itself judge and jury and declared her guilty on the pages of newspapers.
Repeatedly, government officials cast aspersions on her integrity, so much so that it can be argued that it will be well-nigh impossible for her to have a free and fair trial again in Nigeria. The Nigerian press has not helped matters but has gone ahead to write all kinds of sensational things against her without proof. As a result, she has practically become the most hated woman in Nigeria. Many even refused to believe she was suffering from cancer.
She was reported to have been arrested in London, whereas she was not. Neither was her passport seized, as reported in the press. Her family has come out to contest a number of the allegations made against her. She has also come out to insist on her innocence and to challenge the government to prosecute her.
But instead, the government has declared Diezani guilty without trial, while declaring Amaechi and Fashola innocent without trial. This double-standard does not bode well for the administration of justice in Nigeria.
Violation of human rights
The case of retired Colonel Sambo Dasuki, the former National Security Adviser to President Jonathan, is also cause for worry by all freedom-loving Nigerians. It was Dasuki’s security report that led to the postponement of the February 2015 presidential election, buying valuable time for the PDP.
This makes the prosecution of Dasuki immediately President Buhari came to power seem very worrisome. It is difficult to convince Nigerians that within a matter of months of the Buhari administration, the former National Security Adviser was already guilty of the treasonable felony and conspiracy as the government is now alleging. Even more baffling is the request of the government that he should be tried in a secret court with witnesses whose identities are to be hidden.
Dasuki claims to be suffering from cancer. He appealed to the court to be allowed to travel abroad for medical treatment. Surprisingly, this appeal was granted and the court ruled that Dasuki’s passport should be released to him. However, he was required to bring a surety who will stand for him and suffer the consequences should he abscond.
Nevertheless, the government has flouted the court ruling by preventing Dasuki from traveling and placing him again under house arrest. In effect, the same government that has been making a case against impunity is now clearly guilty of the same. The right of Dasuki to receive urgent attention is being denied him by government agents. This violation of Dasuki’s rights is a violation of the rights of all Nigerians.
We must be careful that history should not be allowed to repeat itself here. In the president’s first coming between 1984 and 1985, similar rights of some Nigerians were infringed, sometimes to fatal effects. Ayo Oyewunmi was not allowed to get medical treatment while in detention, with the result that he became blind and died soon after his release. Busari Adelakun developed chronic ulcer complications after he was arrested by the Buhari regime and was not allowed to get treatment. The ailment eventually killed him.
The president promised in his Chatham House speech that the protocols of a military regime are inappropriate under civilian administrations. He needs to be reminded of this pledge.
The contempt of DSS operatives for the rule of law was further laid bare when they harassed and tried to arrest former Adamawa governor, Boni Haruna, who had gone to court to stand surety for Dasuki. Haruna, a former minister in the cabinet of President Goodluck Jonathan, was reportedly questioned on how he knew that Dasuki would be granted bail and why he went to the court as a surety. This is preposterous. Going to court as a surety is not against the law.
The case of Godsday Orubebe is equally worrisome. Orubebe disrupted INEC’s official declaration of the results of the presidential elections in favour of President Buhari; alleging that Attahiru Jega, chairman of INEC, was biased. It took the intervention of President Jonathan for him to give up his protest. It is therefore curious that while many cases have yet to be attended to by the Code of Conduct Bureau, Orubebe has been singled out and charged to court for false declaration of assets and for receiving bribes.
When the case came to court for hearing, the judge was constrained to berate the government prosecution for failure to produce a single witness to back up its allegations against Orubebe. This lends itself to the conclusion that Orubebe is merely being prosecuted as a vendetta for the action he took during the election. If the case against Orubebe had not been fully established, why bring him to court prematurely. What is the hurry all about?
In short, what we have today is a situation where the government is becoming a law unto itself. Under the guise of fighting corruption, the rule of law is negated and security agents act with impunity; even ignoring court orders. Jonathan administration officials are hounded, harassed and molested, sometimes to untimely death; as happened with Diepreye Alamieyeseigha. They are tried in the press and declared guilty without the benefit of prosecution or trial.
This must not be allowed to continue. It certainly does not represent the change Nigerians were promised by the APC during the election. Neither can it be excused in the name of anti-corruption. The persecution and violation of the fundamental rights of APC’s political opponents is itself evidence of corruption.