No Nigerian political history will be complete without paying special attention to comparison between the ever memorable First Republic and whichever subsequent republic(s). Monumentally, even if unconsciously, that task seems to have commenced. That is the only context into which we can situate the controversial postures of three Nigerians, prominent figures in their own right.
The Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Matthew Kukah, apparently got fed up with President Muhammadu Buhari for agonising on the problems he inherited on assumption of office last year. Instead, Buhari was advised to start solving such problems as if the job is yet to start. An ex-chief justice of the federation, Dahiru Musdapher, on his part, is worried about the situation in the country – ethnicity, tension, media bias, mediocrity, disunity, all for which he apportioned blame on every sector concerned and tasked the media with the major role to change the situation. The only disappointment on Musdapher’s omnibus assessment of the state of our union is that as equally deplorable as the bench is, His Lordship never said anything (critical or praiseworthy) about the bench. That was an implied complete exoneration, indeed, commendation of the bench on all things dull and ugly about our federation. On that, Nigerians would not agree with him. Yet another prominent Nigerian and former President Jonathan’s wife, Patience, seems to be daring the dishonour of making history as the first of her status to be put inside by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for interrogation at best if not subsequent prosecution.
In the First Republic, the clergy (on both sides) was dignified and completely apolitical. That position of self-respect earned them all credibility if they ever commented or preached on events in the country, which were usually social ills rather than political partisanship. Religion on both sides was never a growth industry in which preachers united in collecting public funds to purportedly pray for peace in the country, as was revealed to have been done under the Jonathan administration. Such depravity and sacrilege of peoples religions (Christianity and Islam) are enough to send any administration recovering such loot agonising. Indisputably, Bishop Kukah was not involved in the free bara. Hence, his distinction enables him to courageously comment on government performance. The rest are lying low either because they have been made to refund or are still to refund their loot. That does not discredit the government from continued criticism of such criminal act, among others.
It must also be conceded that politics all over has changed from the passive nature of those years, which did not warrant direct even if circumstantial participation of religious leaders. Even in the last couple of years of the First Republic, a concerned self-styled bishop, John Edokpolor, formed the Mid-West (today’s Edo and Delta) Democratic Front, which contested by-elections and won seats. From the not too distant past, authoritarians emerged in the developing world, employing iviolence and murder, as state policy to perpetuate themselves in office.In such situations, religious leaders identified themselves with the people’s struggle rather than taking sides with political parties or governments. A good example was Cardinal Sin (of all names) of Phillipines, who directly played a pivotal role in the years-long public protests and demonstrations leading to the eventual downfall of the country’s ruthless dictator, President Fidel Marcos. But Cardinal Sin’s political and religious neutrality was never in doubt both at home and abroad.
There may be disagreement on who stole or how much was stolen from national treasury up till only May 2015. What cannot be disputed is that, as already exposed, a huge amount was involved and if people voted for a change, that is, a halt to the looting, it is quite legitimate for the government to continuously explain to Nigerians the magnitude of the loot, how much had been or could not be recovered, the legal and diplomatic hurdles against full recovery and how failure to recover stolen funds is damaging Nigeria’s economy. Which problem created by Jonathan’s administration could be solved without recovering or exposing looted funds? Why should such administrative headache not be agonised over? It is also necessary that essential information on amount recovered or not recovered be regularly released to Nigerians, lest some fringe elements mislead the public through social media that scores if not hundreds of billions of dollars had been recovered and allegedly re-looted.
A distinction should also be drawn between crusading for the country and crusading for a group. About a year ago, Bishop Kukah alleged one-sidedness in the war against theft of public funds. How one-sided could such a war be under a federal system? Only those who ran the Federal Government since 1999 could be liable to be probed by a succeeding federal administration run by a different political party. Such public office holders all belong to the PDP. The Federal Government cannot probe the finances of states. The power for such an exercise rests with succeeding state governors and state Houses of Assembly to probe their predecessors. If, therefore, the Federal Government tried to probe the finances of even an APC-controlled state administration, Aso Rock would be dragged to court for violating the autonomy of the state(s) concerned. It is a question of the constitution and law.
Of course, allegations of financial impropriety had been made against two leaders/ex-governors of APC, Bola Tinubu and Chibuike Amaechi. It was up to Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, who made the allegations to pursue prosecution of Amaechi. Also, succeeding Lagos State Governors (Fashola and Ambode) as well as the state House of Assembly might have failed in any move to prosecute Tinubu. After all, African Independent Television (AIT), the broadcasting station, which, during the 2015 elections aired a documentary based on the allegations of theft of public property against the former governor, was unable to prove the allegation, opted for out of court settlement, aired apology on its station and advertised same in various newspapers
Jonathan’s administration was voted out just over a year ago and Bishop Kukah denounced continuous blame on that government for the current state of the economy? Years (repeat years) after the military left the scene, Nigerians, including Bishop Kukah, continued to blame the military for allegedly destroying Nigeria’s economy. The latest among such critics is ex-Oyo State Governor, Rasheed Ladoja. Why, therefore, should it be wrong of Buhari to blame those who left office barely a year ago for destroying Nigeria’s economy?
How about this? A dinner funded by a PDP government in Ondo State at Government House in Akure was a convenient and perfect setting for Bishop Kukah to speak against an APC administration in defence of a PDP administration voted out of power? Objectivity?
Bishop Kukah quite rightly acknowledged ex-President Jonathan for providing train services between Abuja and Kaduna. Add, to that, expansion of university education with, at least, seven new federal universities. The list could be longer. The same should be conceded to the military (severely criticised by Bishop Kukah for years and lately by Rasheed Ladoja). After ten years of inaction, the military, within five years fully developed and trasferred federal capital to Abuja from Lagos. The military deregulated the economy and provided opportunities for Nigerians to take over commanding heights as well access to modern telecommunication facilities, starting with 090, the continuous development which ended in the GSM rolled out about a year after General Abdulsalaami Abubakar left office for former president Olusegun Obasanjo. The military enhanced and expanded air travel in Nigeria by deregulating the aviation industry. The military also threw open the airwaves to enable almost every town in Nigeria own a radio if not television station. Military ruler, Ibrahim Babangida, provided these facilities and opportunities
Poverty dehumanises and when compounded by economic hardship, can only worsen the situation. But, except playing to the gallery, how could a government solve that problem barely a year in office? Nowhere, even in the developed world is that possible. It should, however, be clear that President Buhari has the obligation to seriously check the rate of increased hardship. If his administration cannot alleviate poverty in good time, ordinary Nigerians must be made to feel that their lot is being seriously catered for. That will be subject of another exercise in the not distant future.
Retired Chief Justice Dahiru Musdapher might appear to have a point in his criticism of government-owned media, especially Nigerian Television Authority, NTA, in adopting government line in its coverage. But whatever such criticisms also apply to the bench even on a worse scale. While judges of those days are still famously remembered for their courage and independence, today’s judges are condemned for their notorious practices and subservience to the executive, despite the so-called separation of powers. There is yet no explanation for how former appeal court president, Ayo Salami, was deliberately frustrated into retirement (while on suspension) by allowing his tenure to lapse without trying his suit, challenging his suspension. Justice Salami was thus prevented from trying the election petition of General Buhari against former president Jonathan after the 2011 election. Also, rather than deliver judicial landmarks to protect the autonomy of states, today’s judges would rule that every federalism all over the world has its peculiarities. Such strange rulings is one major source of disunity, of which Musdapher complained.
The retired chief justice decried mediocrity which, he added, bred corruption. In the First Republic, there were never millionaire or billionaire judges. They always retired into dignity and respect. They never attended government social function. In pursuit of the status of millionaire, judges conspire with lawyers to frustrate prosecution of the influential in society. How could we rationalise a civil servant tried and found guilty of stealing billions of naira public fund, only to be fined less than one million naira? Judges in those days lived within their salaries and never sourced the cost of their mother’s medical bill with a purported loan from a lawyer, appearing in their courts. In the past, judges retired as and when due. But these days, judges perjure to reduce their age to enable them continue in service. Instead of being tried for their crime, the system merely retired them. Justice Musdapher should have condemned such criminals on the bench.
Former President Jonathan’s wife, Patience, is daring a legal combat with the EFCC over a huge some of millions of dollars, which some accused facing trial in a law court, claimed to have been paid into their (companies’?) account. The incident has attracted public interest. This is an issue that should be handled very very ‘’softly.’’ Patience should be reminded that even a serving First Lady has no immunity against interrogation, detendtion or prosecution by the EFCC. Whether allegations against Jonathan for his handling of public funds while in office are true or not, at least, the man is comporting himself with self-respect. He is not having any showdown with the government or any statutory agency. That is how to have understanding of the public.