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April 18, 2024

As government weaponises poverty, by Ikechukwu Amaechi

As government weaponises poverty, by Ikechukwu Amaechi

I HAD wanted to comment this week on the feigned surprise by the former Accountant General of the Federation, AG-F, Ahmed Idris, that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, decided to prosecute him in court after he cooperated with the sleuths probing his alleged theft of N109 billion from the public till.

But as I was settling down to write, someone sent me a video clip of one of the North-West governors in an open-roof G-Wagon Mercedes Benz SUV throwing bundles of money, in a Bobrisky fashion, at a surging crowd.

I was not able to independently confirm the authenticity of the video, hence my inability to name the alleged governor. In this era of Artificial Intelligence, AI, and the endless possibilities it spurns in mischief making, utmost circumspection is advised, even when I agree that the spectacle is not beyond Nigerian political leaders.

But it is one video that the EFCC should be interested in now that it is making a show of its new found love of prosecuting those who abuse the Naira in accordance with Section 21(1) of the Central Bank Act 2007.

But the two stories speak to the same issue – absolute disdain of Nigerian leaders for citizens.

Idris, his former Technical Assistant, Godfrey Akindele; a director in the office of the AG-F, Mohammed Usman, and Gezawa Commodity Market and Exchange Limited, which he (Idris) allegedly owns are being tried by the EFCC on a 14-count charge bordering on stealing and criminal breach of trust to the tune of N109 billion.

Now, the Accountant-General of the Federation is the administrative head of the Nigerian treasury, who is charged with the responsibility of ensuring that a proper system of account exists in every department of the nation’s treasury and exercising general supervision over the receipts of public revenue and expenditure of the Federal Government.

Rather than doing that, Idris and his accomplices looted the treasury. But even as he has admitted to his crime, he is not remorseful. He only did so convinced that he would get a pat on the back and allowed to go home and enjoy his loot.

In one of the 13 extra-judicial statements he made to EFCC investigators, dated May 25, 2022, which has now been tendered before a High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, where he is being tried with his co-travellers on the looting boulevard, Idris said: “All along, I have cooperated with the EFCC officials and have volunteered information to demonstrate my commitment to make the investigation easier and speedy.

“Any statement I have made before or I am making now are based on my firm assumption, belief and understanding that by being open and aligning myself with statements made by principal suspects, such statements will not be used against me and eventually lead to my trial or prosecution. In view of foregoing statements, I wish to accept the met figure of N13.2 billion I am confronted with, subject to the reservations expressed in this statement.”

That explains his consternation at the possibility of being confronted with those admissions in court. His lawyer, Chief Chris Uche, SAN, objected at the last hearing in the trial-within-trial last week to the admissibility of the statements, claiming that he was hoodwinked by the investigators to make them with a promise that he would not be prosecuted if he so did.

But EFCC demurs. One of their gumshoes, who interrogated the former AG-F, Mahmoud Tukur, denied claim.

Tukur, who testified as the second prosecution witness on March 20, said: “We did not promise him anything… I never did. And, as the head of the unit, I can answer authoritatively to that. The first defendant was a senior public servant. He knows that it is not within my capacity to make such promises, because my duty is just to investigate and report my findings. In all the statements he wrote, he was cautioned and part of the cautionary words is that whatever he writes may be used as evidence in court.”

Of course, Idris’ assumption was silly. How could any sensible person assume that he will be asked to go home and sin no more simply because he admitted the truth? But he wasn’t stupid. Rather, acting true to character as a bona-fide member of the hardened looters club of Nigeria, with nothing but contempt for the people, he cannot fathom why the EFCC will have the temerity to charge him to court.

After all, he knows of other members of the club who served in the accursed Muhammadu Buhari administration, who probably stole more that he did but are walking the streets free.

And he can afford to be so disdainful because this is Nigeria. In some other climes, he would have been tried, convicted and executed long ago. Just last week, a 67-year-old Vietnamese property developer, Truong My Lan, was sentenced to death for looting one of the country’s largest banks – Saigon Commercial Bank –  over a period of 11 years.

Here, there seems to be a deliberate government policy to impoverish the people and dehumanise them. This act, though not new, has assumed a monstrous dimension since the All Progressives Congress, APC, assumed power in 2015.

The people have been so dehumanised that they have lost every sense of self-worth. Suddenly, an otherwise proud and self-assured people now depend on government handouts for survival and they are subjected to horrendous abuse to get the crumbs.

Penultimate week, nine people were trampled to death and 30 others injured while scrambling for Sallah palliatives at Senator Aliyu Wamakko’s Sokoto home.

Wamakko, who currently represents Sokoto North in the Senate, governed the state for eight years (2007-2015), during which time he ensured that more people were thrown into the poverty loop even as he personally became exponentially richer.

Before then, on February 23, 2024, the Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, embarked on the distribution of 25kg bags of foreign parboiled rice to indigent Nigerians at its zonal headquarters at Harvey Road, Yaba, Lagos. The bags of rice, seized from importers, initially sold for N10,000, a sharp discount from its market price of N35,000. But even at the discounted price, people could not afford them, and the decision to distribute the bags free led to stampede and deaths.

On March 20, two students of the Nasarawa State University died while scrambling to collect 7.5 kg bags of rice distributed by the state government. Seventeen others, mostly females, were injured.

Four days later on Friday, March 24, at least seven females, with ages ranging from eight to 53, were trampled to death, while others sustained injuries in a stampede at the annual Zakat distribution of N10,000 organised by AYM Shafa Foundation in Bauchi. Dr. Ibrahim Disina, one of the leaders of the AYM Shafa Foundation, said the incident was an act of God.

In May 2022, at least 31 persons died in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, following a stampede at the venue of ‘Shop for Free’, a programme organised by The King’s Assembly church.

And make no mistake about it: this act of mass pauperisation by the government of its own citizens is deliberate. And it is not about to stop anytime soon. It is a strategy for the 2027 elections. The idea is to concentrate national wealth in a few hands and ensure that others cannot even afford one square meal. When that happens, the majority becomes so vulnerable and see any crumb that comes their way as an act of kindness from their oppressors.

The strategy is neither new nor original to Nigerian leaders. But the difference is that in other countries, citizens sooner than later, wise up to such diabolical antics. Not in Nigeria where the people, seemingly bewitched and hypnotised, rather than extricate themselves from the spell and fight for their lives dance and clap for their traducers, cynical, wicked and self-serving leaders who have nothing other than contempt for them.  

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