Ndubuisi Orji, Abuja
There are periods in the life of an individual, group or nation that come with so much headaches. For Nigeria’s major opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the last week of March was one of such weeks. From a blistering attack by the All Progressives Congress (APC) controlled Federal Government to a blow below the belt by its own member, the week gave the opposition party so much to chew.
In a move akin to taking the fight straight to the enemy, the government launched a big onslaught against the PDP, accusing its members of looting the nation’s treasury dry. While the PDP was still trying to contend with the allegations, one of its leaders and former deputy Senate President, Ibrahim Mantu, gave the party a blow below the belt, as he confessed to rigging elections for the party in the past.
The week before, the PDP had offered an apology to Nigerians on what it considered its mistakes in the 16 years it governed the country. In tendering the public apology at an event in Abuja the national chairman of the party, Prince Uche Secondus said: “in the past, there were impunity and imposition; we are not spirit. We have to be humble to apologise for imposition, impunity and other wrong doing. While in government, there was no nepotism, but today nepotism has been taken to the highest level by this government of APC.
“We have to stand before the people and apologise. We made mistakes. Unlike APC that will lie and use another lie to cover it, we will apologise to Nigerians for our past mistakes. We are human that are bound to make mistakes. How long are we going to lie to our children?”
FG’s alleged looters list
However, the PDP was still savouring whatever political capital it may have gained from its public apology, when the federal government launched an onslaught against it. Speaking at a press briefing in Lagos, the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed released what he titled a list of “looters.” Top on the list, which consists only of PDP top shots was Secondus, who the government accused of allegedly receiving N200 million from the former National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki (retd), former PDP National Publicity Secretary, Chief Olisa Metuh, Chief Raymond Dokpesi among others. The PDP chairman has however given the government a 48-hour ultimatum to withdraw the statement and offer an apology to him or risk a libel suit.
The government was to release a second batch few days later. Like the first batch, the second batch contained the names of PDP chieftains, who allegedly collected money from the Office of the NSA.
The Information and Culture Minister said the apology by the opposition party to Nigerians would not be complete unless, it returns the funds allegedly looted by its members from the public treasury.
“Well, I am sure they know that the treasury was looted dry under their watch. Yet they decided to grandstand. This shows the hollowness of their apology to Nigerians. This list is just a tip of the iceberg, and the PDP is aware of this. We did not make these cases up. Many of these cases are in court and the records are available.
“Some of the people on this list are seeking to plea bargain, and that is a fact. We insist that Nigeria was looted blind under the watch of the PDP, and that the starting point in tendering an apology is for them to return the loot.
“It’s like a robber admitting to stealing your car and apologising, but then saying he will keep the car anyway. It doesn’t work that way. The PDP is a hypocrite,” Mohammed said.
However, the PDP National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan said the government was merely trying to divert attention from its own failures and scandals. The PDP spokesman may be right.
In recent time, the opposition party has put the government and APC on the spot, as it highlights the failures and gaffes of the ruling party and its government.
Ologbondiyan told Daily Sun that there is nothing new on the list as some of those on the list are accused persons standing trials before various courts. “Nigerians are already aware of all these allegations concerning these individuals. Some of them are in court. No singular conviction has been secured. “
He challenged the Minister to tell Nigerians how the 2015 presidential campaign of President Muhammadu Buhari was funded.
Ologbondiyan said:”Lai Mohammed is being dodgy. He should respond to how Buhari’s election was funded. He should address issues and stop being dodgy. We are asking question about the election of President Buhari, how did they raise the money to fund the campaign? What Nigerians are asking is how the 2015 election of Mr. Integrity Buhari was sponsored. That is all we are asking. That is all we request for. They should tell us how the 2015 election campaign of President Buhari was funded. He should respond to that question. He is being dodgy. “
For Metuh, who is currently standing trial for alleged corruption, the sole objective of the government in coming up with the “looters’ list” is to “ensure that the PDP is tainted before the (2019) election.”
Cambridge Analytica probe
Few days later, the government put the PDP on the defensive again as indications emerged that the government has instituted a probe into the role of the opposition party in the alleged hacking of the personal email of President Buhari prior to the 2015 general elections.
Cambridge Analytica, a data mining firm, had reportedly hacked into the data of about 50 million Facebook users, with the aim of swaying election results. Among those whose account was hacked prior to the 2015 presidential election was Buhari, who was candidate of the then opposition APC.
The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu, said Nigerians deserved answers immediately from the PDP administration, Facebook and Cambridge Analytica on how and why they improperly obtained and used data to interfere in Nigerian elections.
Regardless, Ologbondiyan said the opposition party has nothing to fear about the probe, noting that it is public knowledge that neither it nor any of its officials or members were ever linked or indicted in the hacking saga.
According to him, the probe is just a way of implicating PDP in the Cambridge Analytica hacking saga and diverts attention from the many scandals buffeting the government.
“It is also public knowledge that the document being relied upon by the APC clinically stated that there is no suggestion that ‘Jonathan knew of the covert operation.’ We are therefore aware that this new agenda is to divert public attention from the various scandalous allegations hanging on the neck of the Buhari presidency, including the use of looted funds to finance his 2015 Presidential election, the Martin Luther King’s award saga, the damaging Bill Gates’ verdict on the Buhari’s economic policies as well as the numerous financial scandals in the NNPC under his watch.
“This inquest should therefore be completely open and independent of government control, so that Nigerians will know the truth, not only on the Cambridge Analytica saga, but also on the source of funds for the President’s 2015 campaign and other sleaze under his watch,” the opposition spokesman stated.
He added that “The All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Federal Government are chasing shadows in their desperate plot to implicate the opposition” in the alleged hacking into the personal record of Buhari, prior to the 2015 polls.
Mantu shocked the entire country last Friday, when he confessed on a national television that in the past, he had induced electoral and security officials to rig election for the PDP.
Hear him: “I don’t have to go and change election (results) but when you provide money, you give money to INEC boys that if they see any chance they should favour you, you provide money to the security (personnel); I tell you it’s not necessarily when I am contesting election but when my party sponsors a candidate, I will like that candidate to win election.”
Mantu’s confession was seen by many as a home goal. It was like arming the enemy with a gun to kill oneself. Expectedly, the APC latched on to the confession to taunt the opposition party.
In a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi, the ruling party urged the PDP to emulate Mantu and confess its other sins to the country.
“Instead of taking this path to redemption, PDP has engaged in fruitless ‘you too’ accusations and name calling. This is further evidence that PDP is not ready for repentance and only offered the apology with the hope that Nigerians will grant them amnesty and a short-cut back to power.
“However, now that Senator Mantu has bell the cat, by confessing to how he has helped the PDP to rig elections in the past, we hope that PDP will follow the bold example of the former lawmaker and confess to their other sins against Nigeria,” the APC stated.
However, the PDP said it is misplaced for the ruling party or any other person to conclude that the former deputy senate president acted on its behalf. The party spokesman said if anything, Mantu only spoke about personal tendencies, stating that since its formation in 1998, it has never directed any of its members to rig elections on its behalf.
“Senator Mantu spoke about his personal activities and tendencies in the elections where he participated. The PDP has never directed or had any pact with him to rig election on its behalf. Never! After all, in 2007, Senator Mantu lost his own senatorial election. What, then, happened to his rigging machinery, if he could not deliver himself,” it queried.
Analysts say as much as the PDP would want to wish away the effects of Mantu’s confession on its reputation, it will remain a huge blow to the efforts of the opposition party to strike a new deal with Nigerians. Apart from defending itself, the task before the PDP leadership, is to prove to Nigerians that the allegations, whether true or not, belong to the past.