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Beyond Muhammadu Buhari’s anti-corruption rhetoric: return of the fifth columnists?

BEFORE the nation is again treated to lurid tales of skulduggery and conspiracy theories, it is pertinent to ask minders of the Buhari administration or, in fact, President Muhammadu Buhari himself whether he is still in charge of his administration. Or shall we, like it was the case one time with Goodluck Jonathan, believe that this administration has been infiltrated by saboteurs and opponents hoping to portray him before the Nigerian public in a bad light? And this is coming just over a year since he was elected into office with great expectations from Nigerians. I shall return to this point shortly, but first let’s consider one of the more glaring violations that give one that feeling of déjà vu and a sense that this administration is fast running down the slope of destruction.

This past weekend was a particularly gruesome one for some categories of judicial officers in the country. A number of high court justices were rounded up in their homes across the country. These Gestapo-style arrests masterminded by officers of the Department of State Service took place in the small hours of the morning, leading in one instance to a stand-off between the Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike, and the armed operatives.

The operatives had surrounded the house of an unnamed judge at about 1:00 in the morning in a bid to effect his ‘arrest’. The governor who must have been alerted by the judge or some people sympathetic to him rallied members of his administration and others who joined him to foil the arrest.

Wike’s explanation for intervening in the matter can hardly be faulted given the time of the morning and manner the DSS officers went about their task. As the ‘chief security officer’ of his state, Wike disagreed with the DSS’s mode of operation and he was quoted as saying that the arrest of that judge could only happen over his dead body. He, according to some accounts, was manhandled by the DSS operatives. Over the weekend it would emerge that similar operations against judges were successfully executed by the DSS, prompting the Nigerian Bar Association with the imprimatur of at least four past presidents of the body to demand the immediate and unconditional release of the abducted judges.

 President Muhammadu Buhar
President Muhammadu Buhar

Without holding brief for these judges or in fact members of the judiciary as a whole, many of whom like other Nigerians are notorious for their corrupt ways, what happened to a number of them over the course of two days last weekend were clear cases of abduction. That a so-called security agency would resort to this mode of operation at a time when all kinds of criminal abductions of ordinary Nigerians for huge sums of money is increasingly rife is really disturbing. It calls for serious explanation.

Just about the same time the DSS was staging its own abduction of legal officers, families and relations of several schools girls, of their teachers and principals, were negotiating their release from kidnappers who had invaded their school in Epe in Lagos State. They were taken away much in the same manner that the DSS officers went after the judges it arrested. This is simply despicable and unacceptable. And it is the reason why I started this piece by asking if President Buhari is still in control of his administration.

Many who opposed his candidature as president in previous elections and during the 2015 election did so because of his brutal record as a military dictator and his extremely narrow apprehension of the Nigerian national space. He harboured a bias for northerners and muslims that defeated his claims to a pan-Nigerian vision. This grievous affliction has conspired to skew the spread of his appointees into important national positions since last year.

Even though some of us realised these limitations (and have reminded him of them again in pieces like this after the series of false steps he took in the months after his election), the greater and immediate danger of political implosion that corruption represented under the Jonathan administration persuaded us to suspend our misgivings.

Moreover, Buhari gave his words that he was a different man. There surely can’t be a crime in giving someone, even one as advanced in age as Buhari, a second chance. He said he was a changed man, one who would respect the law even while fighting corruption. He appeared to have started well in his anti-corruption stance. But there is now a big BUT about this given the series of reversals and somersaults that have resulted in the inconclusive prosecution of persons suspected of corrupt enrichment.

But I return to my question on whether Buhari is in charge of this government- or whether the fifth columnists he said derailed his government in 1985 are again at work. We must all remember that many years after he was booted out of power Buhari, in an interview with the The News, attributed some of the steps he took that were inimical to democracy and good governance to ‘fifth columnists’ within his regime. The invasion of the homes of opposition politicians including revered leaders like Chief Obafemi Awolowo in the wake of the coup that ousted Shagari from power Buhari attributed to these fifth columnists. This sounded then like a euphemism for Ibrahim Babangida and his lieutenants.

Buhari in that interview represented himself as a wronged man, one more sinned against than he sinned and one whose naivety was exploited by his more devious colleagues. Like with these judges and a few others before them, the officers detailed to search/arrest the Second Republic politicians carried out their remit selectively, in full violation of the law and, which is very telling, in the early hours of the morning. Does something sound familiar here? Which leads me to ask once more, is Buhari still in charge of his administration or are the fifth columnists back?

Nigerian leaders often find sympathetic ears to stories and explanations directed at justifying their failures when still in office. The typical thing is to weave long yarns of moles and supposed insiders planted to undermine their vision and sow confusion in their affairs. Nigerians may recall how such conspiracy tales were retailed at the height of the Boko Haram insurgency when President Jonathan appeared completely at his wit’s end finding any solution to the problem.

The president then famously said his government had been infiltrated by Boko Haram sympathisers in the manner Buhari, in hand-wringing fashion, said others did in his regime. And what type of corruption is Buhari fighting when he shut his eyes to allegations of budget padding, gets cosy with the ‘budget rats’ and ‘padders’, gets reprieve for those he wanted prosecuted for forging house rules but keeps Sambo Dasuki in jail?


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