President Muhammadu Buhari’s anniversary of his first year in office was, quite rightly, never planned to be flamboyant and this was not necessarily because there was not much to celebrate in a remarkable political showdown, which peacefully exited a provocative status quo. Revelations since then have been jaw-dropping.
With government’s whipping up of public frenzy for dawning sanctions, awaiting those alleged to have abused their official positions, convenient reasons – whether tenable or untenable – were offered to render the whole exercise virtually an anti-climax. Government eventually left itself on the defensive, a humiliating climb down from the erstwhile “never again” pace-setting “never again” posture against the suspects.
Obviously, for doing Nigeria the favour of refunding questionable deposits in their bank accounts, these “patriots” will neither be identified nor prosecuted, contrary to earlier assurances. If others are being prosecuted for carrying out official directive to release the money, why should the recipients/beneficiaries be exempt from being identified to the public and prosecuted? With such soft-landing, how and where will government draw the line without running into avoidable accusations of double standard?
There is even this strange argument that deposit in a suspect’s bank account does not amount to looting. How defensively tenable for a suspect into whose bank account the alleged loot was deposited and (he) did not complain or query or disown the money or the source? Worse still, what if the suspect had been withdrawing from or utilising the deposit, would he not be complicit and should he not be criminally liable, as a looter of public funds? And how could President Buhari, in one vein be assuring everybody at home and abroad of prosecution only to turn round to assure non-prosecution if refunds could be made?
Government might be forced by whatever circumstances to renege on its assurances to the public all along but ridiculous reasons are unacceptable. These suspects, who refunded money either stole or did not steal the money. How could that hinder them from further refunding? If they did not steal the money, why malign them by forcing them to refund and why did they agree to refund? But if they actually stole the money and commenced refunding, why manufacture a reason for them that by publishing their names or prosecuting them they might no longer refund for being thereby humiliated? Nobody is baying for their blood, except that their punishment must match their offence(s).
Laws were there which the suspects broke. Punishing them on their own terms or with some pity weakens government’s position in its battle against corruption. The very fact of refunding or agreeing to return funds to the government is an admission of guilt. And if they are guilty, why the consideration for them that if they are identified, they may stop further refund or that identifying them may prejudice their matter? If a clear case of theft of public fund is established against them and they refuse to refund, they simply fall into the class of those being prosecuted, who are identified daily in the media in the prosecution against them.
For the umpteenth time, it should be stated that the least sanction against these culprits is to steer them clear from public treasury for many years in the future. This is not a military era in which they can be so banned with a decree. There must be a judicial pronouncement to validate their punishment and crime beyond any doubt. Failure to substantiate such crimes in a court of law would enable them to vie for public offices again as early as 2019. Even if those refunding money now don’t vie for public offices in future (there is no such guarantee), the freedom will be there for them to exercise in acquiring assets with the belief that at the worst, they could only be made to return such loot without any risk of tough sanctions.
Unless these suspects are being treated as special ones made to refund their loot and go free, there are convicts in Nigerian prisons, serving time for theft of thousands of naira. Where is the moral or justice for oppressing and permanently stigmatising them when they too could have been made to refund minor proceeds of their crimes and be set free?
It is better to try them in law courts, to be pronounced not guilty and that should be no problem if they are allowed to loot Nigeria through legal technicalities. In the end, Nigerians will be made to know our type of judiciary.
There is every reason to hope that the various amounts said to have been refunded or pledged to be refunded reach government purse in time. This will enable Federal and especially state/local governments to get over the prevailing situation of near bankruptcy in which workers are owed up to six months arrears of salaries or even more in some cases. Not to be left out is the standard federal and state governments’ financial obligation either in paying outstanding debt, resuming capital projects and regular payment of wages and salaries.
There should not be the gamble of exaggerating the amount so far recovered from these suspects or, as in the past, Nigerians would demand explanations for how such fund was utilised.
With the financial crunch in the country, the sensitive and sensible issue of saving for a rainy day will come in for serious consideration if not priority in disbursing the amount recovered from the suspects. As desirable as that may be, of more importance is the bitter truth such rainy day is for able bodied, healthy and regularly remunerated Nigerians, and not for emaciated, dying citizens lacking in standard infrastructure – good roads, medical facilities, job opportunities and mandatory education.
After the bail-out of broke state governments in the past one year, each state should be allowed not only to collect its revenue allocation as and when due, but such state should be allowed to swim or sink. It is not the business of the central government in a federation to be pampering federating units as long as the due revenue allocation has been released on time. Any state, which is financially unviable in such circumstances, should be allowed to go bankrupt. One or two of such examples will make other states sit up and even discourage demand for more states.
As the anniversary was rolling to an end, President Buhari and former President Ibrahim Babangida engulfed in controversial health issues, in a way, not of their own making. Buhari was all but pronounced dead as usual by critics. When Buhari was jetting round the world to salvage Nigeria’s image and economy, nobody doubted his physical fitness. But travelling out to attend to his ear problem made him mincemeat for critics.
Poor presidential spokesman, Femi Adesina, was dragged into the row because he did not say his principal was dying, as the reason for travelling abroad. The first lesson you learn in Adesina’s position is that you are speaking for Nigeria to the entire world. What was wrong when Adesina contradicted critics that Buhari was not ill? Any idea being sick involves mental problem, which was not the case in Buhari’s trip abroad.
If Femi Adesina had, in any way, alluded to illness, the mentality of critics would be that Buhari was not only “very very ill,” but also, in fact, dying. Here was the man (Buhari), who walked unaided on the tarmac at Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport and from there took all the steps still unaided to enter the plane after chatting with reporters. Could such a man be said by his spokesman to be dying or even ill? Until Buhari flew out, he performed his official duties, including hosting former Vice President Alex Ekwueme and former President Olusegun Obasanjo.
Any observer would realise that the cancelation of the proposed trip to Ogoni was on security grounds and there is no apology for that. It took former President Goodluck Jonathan some years before he ventured to Boko Haram’s North east, for the same reasons of security. No head of government would disregard security alert in those circumstances.
One point must, however, be conceded. As long as he is not showing up, Buhari must not allow his name and office to be used to promote programmes of state governments, as was done in Lagos last time and he failed to show up. He was apparently under the pressure or unwilling to reject the Lagos invitation almost so soon after spending three days elaborate official tour of Ogun State. The more he visits one state, the more other states will not like to be left out.
Those criticising Femi Adesina are partly ignorant of the demands of that office.
Travelling abroad for a President for medical treatment? Russia’s late President Boris Yetsin in his last years in office, developed heart problem and had to fly in an American cardiologist to perform the operation in Russia. The difference between Boris Yetsin’s and Buhari’s cases is the same between six and half a dozen.
On his part, former President Babangida, for the second time in about six weeks had to dismiss rumour of his death. The fact of life is that death is not strictly determined by age or even poor health. That was Muhammed Ali, who was seriously ill for more than fifteen of his thirty years of Parkinson disease. Long life is not even strictly due to good health but in most cases, good luck.
IBB must be enjoying reading his “obituary” a couple times in his lifetime, something very rare. Should he be alarmed? At all. These rumours put him in good company; Nnamdi Azikiwe also similarly read his obituaries long before the sad event.
Still on element of luck rather than strictly good health in living long. Middle-aged national football coach, Stephen Keshi, reportedly died suddenly. We were all shocked, as it was claimed he was in good health before his sudden death. As upsetting as that was, Nigeria was as usual at its hypocritical best on Keshi’s death.
After ungratefully sacking Stephen Keshi, as a successful national coach, the same Nigeria (through the Football Federation) now pronounced the man a national hero.
This discussion must end.