By Ochereome Nnanna
“Nigeria is awaiting receipt from Swiss Govt. of $320 million, identified as illegally taken from Nigeria under Abacha” – Buhari @NGR President, 5:09 PM – 27 APR 2016
WHEN Twitter-addicted Nigerians stumbled on this posting on President Muhammadu Buhari’s Twitter handle last week, the whole Internet went abuzz, with most people expressing their dismay at Buhari’s refusal to call a spade by its correct name.
Before we go on, let us try to reason out the meaning of this statement, especially against the backdrop of its nexus to our history where Abacha and Buhari’s paths crossed.
It is obvious why the President or the operator of his Twitter handle chose to describe this amount (which is over N100 billion, a third of what the Federal, State Local governments shared in February 2016) as money “identified as illegally taken from Nigeria under Abacha”, rather than the usual “Abacha loot”. The answer is simple.
Buhari, long before he was elected president, stubbornly insisted that Abacha “never stole”, and that he was not corrupt. “Illegally taken from Nigeria” is a ploy to sidestep the word: “stolen”. “Under Abacha” portrays it as if other people, not Abacha himself, committed the “illegality” without Abacha’s knowledge.
Some unknown individuals were taking money from Nigeria and lodging it in Abacha’s Swiss bank accounts? For what purpose? Perhaps, they knew that our economy would be in trouble in the future and decided to “save” for this rainy day for us? If that is what President Buhari wants to say, let him say so openly, so that we all will join him in congratulating the Abacha family for the sacrifices their patriarch made for Nigeria.
In the past sixteen years, series of sums of money in foreign currency have been brought back from Western countries, especially Switzerland, where former military Head of State, the late General Sani Abacha stashed funds which he looted from the Nigerian treasury. These monies have always been called “Abacha loot”. Abacha is the only former ruler boldly ascribed, even in official circles, to have “stolen” or “looted” our public funds. He certainly was not the only one who did so. And most of us believe that he was probably not the biggest looter. Then, how come it is only his loots that are being “identified” and repatriated? Is it because he is dead?
If he were still alive like most of his fellow former rulers, would there be any such thing as “Abacha loot”? I doubt it, since his predecessors and successors who probably took more have never even been officially accused or made to return their own “loots”. In fact, one of them majestically struts over the landscape calling other people corrupt without justifying his own obvious affluence after his long stint in the Presidency. Are we a nation of cowards and dastards, mobbing Abacha and his estate simply because he is dead?
More questions: if Abacha had not arrested, tried and jailed General Olusegun Obasanjo for his part in the 1995 coup attempt to unseat him, would Obasanjo have launched the campaign to recover Abacha loot? If Abacha had not died and he played a role in the election of Obasanjo as President in 1999 as Generals Ibrahim Babangida, Abdulsalami Abubakar, Theophilus Danjuma and their civilian Northern cohorts had done, would Obasanjo have started the campaign to retrieve the Abacha loot?
Still more questions: if Buhari had been the one elected as the civilian president of Nigeria in 1999, would he even be talking about receiving money from Swiss Government “illegally taken away” under his regime since he maintains, against all concrete evidence, that Abacha never stole our money? So, is it only when a person deals with us and dies that he becomes corrupt, but when he treats us nicely (as Abacha did to Buhari) he becomes a “saint”? If Abacha had not rehabilitated Buhari after being jailed by Babangida; If Abacha had not appointed him as the Executive Chairman of the defunct Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF), where he was given unlimited powers to spend billions of Naira between 1996 and 1998, would Buhari have stuck out his neck for him and say he was not corrupt?
Is this the mentality we take with us in fighting corruption, making sure that those who helped us are regarded as clean, while those who wronged us are pursued with a single-minded quest to retrieve their loot and sent to jail? Is this our national standard for integrity? How are we sure that retired Col. Ja’afaru Isa, a close Buhari acolyte who was reluctantly arrested, briefly detained by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission,EFCC, and released after a couple of days for allegedly returning part of his share of Col. Sambo Dasuki’s bonanza, actually returned anything?
Everybody calls President Buhari a “man of integrity”, in spite of certain things we read and hear which do not add up to conclusively justify that branding. Buhari made his declared assets public. But he never disclosed their financial worth, nor did he let us know where they could be found as late President Umaru Yar’Adua voluntarily did. He never followed Yar’ Adua’s exemplary footsteps of including the assets of his wife. And from the look of things, ever-smiling Madam Aisha Buhari is very well-to-do, what with her reported donation of N135 million to displaced persons in Adamawa during the campaigns last year, which has not been denied.
I still cannot reconcile the fact that Buhari, as the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) had to borrow N25 million from banks to pay for his form in October, 2014 when his wife could so easily have given it to him from her own resources. There were even some reports that Buhari was once ejected from his “rented” mansion, No 11, Queen Elizabeth Drive, Asokoro, Abuja in 2012. That report was never debunked. Elaborate efforts have always been made to brand Buhari as a retired general who lived on his military pension before he became elected President.
Yet, when he became President and the foreign exchange crunch set in, he told parents who have their children in foreign schools that they should look for forex wherever they could find it as the Federal Government could no longer afford to provide it. When reminded that he had his own children in foreign schools, he simply retorted:
“I can afford it”.
These conflicting signals about our President and his true mindset on corruption as well as his real standing financially, is being noticed, and nobody is a dummy. Even the younger generation of Nigerians are watching, reading and taking note of this confusion and wondering what “integrity” actually means here in Nigeria.
It is not only the youth that are confused. I am certainly no longer a youth, but I am confused!