Playing catch up is what you do when you are way behind the news. Absent from this column for so long and coming back today, is like learning the curve again. I cherish the privilege to write again.
Quite a lot of news had passed me by, I must confess. Politics still matters. Democracy remains the most coveted prize around the world. But, if it must succeed in our land, we must not award it to strongmen, neither shall we allow politicians to mess things up again.
Unless we are living in denial, Nigeria seems to be getting sicker and harder to govern. The issues that have poisoned our politics and polarised our people still remain disturbingly evident. Nothing learned, nothing forgotten.
Which is why anger and despair still seethe in our country. Anyone who is keenly following events in recent weeks won’t stop to be disturbed why things don’t follow the natural curve, why our democracy doesn’t yet spick-and-span, why positive change remains a mirage, why politics and our politicians may not give us the desired change. Don’t look too far for the answer. It’s all about the nature of our politics and how our politicians have taken advantage of it. It indeed troubles the mind.
Without stretching matters too far, one of the campaign issues that brought Muhammadu Buhari and the All Progressives Congress (APC) to power – anti-corruption- is facing, perhaps its toughest time yet. This followed the publication by the Minister for Information and Culture Lai Mohammed the list of looters. The list was in response to the challenge by the Publicity Secretary of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Kola Ologbondiyan. Like a bait, the Information minister swiftly responded.
All the names on the list so far released are members of the PDP and a few APC chieftains who have defected to the PDP. Just last year, Lai Mohammed had claimed, without proven evidence, that 55 politicians stole a hefty N1.34trn under the administration of Goodluck Jonathan.
The 29 persons whose names have been published, reportedly were beneficiaries of hush money from the office of the erstwhile National Security Adviser, Col.Sambo Dasuki (retd). Dasuki has been in detention for over two years. His trial is ongoing.
The federal government is not done yet with more of the looters’ list. It has said it will release another batch “very soon”, according to the Information Minister. In an interview he granted journalists in Ilorin on Sunday, he sounded boastful and daring. This is what he said, “no intimidation from any quarter will stop it. We are not going to ask anybody not to go to court. What we are telling them is to re-examine themselves”.
Let’s put Lai Muhammed in context and the harm he may have done to the President’s anti-corruption fight: he was the charm offensive, the master of spin who, as the publicity Secretary of the then opposition party ,the APC,led the media onslaught against the then ruling PDP.
The portrayal of Jonathan as “clueless” perhaps had the imprimatur of Lai Mohammed. He has come again as spokesperson of the ruling government but not with the aura that he exuded in his previous position. This time around, Mohammed is desperately scrambling and bailing to keep the torrent of attack on the main opposition party, the PDP.
Many Nigerians continue to ask: What’s wrong with the looters’ list published by the Information Minister? First,let’s get this point clear: Any Nigerian with an element of sense and patriotic duty must support President Buhari’s fight against corruption. Indeed, corruption has made Nigeria one of the filthiest arenas of politics in the world. But, one should be concerned about the methodology, the tactics and approach. There shouldn’t be loose adherence to facts to achieve political purpose.
Therefore, with regard to the controversy surrounding the looters’ list, there seems to be no limits to ambush,libel and ‘convict’ suspects when no court of competent jurisdiction has pronounced them guilty. This is where the government has lost me.
Are we still a country governed by the rule of law? I presume we still are. If that is so, government has committed libel. Libel, as we know, is committed when a defamatory matter is published in a permanent form, or in a form deemed to be permanent. That’s what the Information Minister has exactly done. Some of these corruption cases are already in court, and no decision has been made on them. Some of the accused may be ‘guilty’ tomorrow, but for now, none of them has been found guilty. Mohammed may have unwittingly made things hard for government, in that some of the defendants may insist that the trial judge has been influenced by the publication.
One is also concerned about how this loose adherence to facts could have happened in an administration that has learned Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SAN), among them, the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo. It means this government is working as a squad, not as a team. A team works for a common goal,a squad for individual interests.
Whatever gains, political or otherwise, that the federal government hopes to achieve from the ongoing ‘naming and shaming’ of looters, and while the Nigerian public has the right to know those who stole from the national treasury, I insist that due process is vital to procedures to get convictions of suspects should not be brazenly violated just to see off adversaries. This government should be careful about the risk of overusing power for political gains. At some point in his presidency, Jonathan did similar overreach and paid direly for it.
The risk there is, power for power sake,is often a dead end. Historians have always cautioned presidents to be wary of operating from their luxury of strength. Power is effective when it’s used with restraint. Even a mild tendency to overuse power can be harmful in the long run.
Altogether, I foresee the looters’ list as a veritable campaign issue for the ruling APC in next year’s elections. I am inclined to believe that the party expects to harvest votes by impressing it on the electorate that it’s a party with zero-tolerance for corruption.
Nothing wrong with that, but something manifestly is wrong with appropriating the powers of the courts to convict or acquit. My advice to President Buhari is this: the presidency is a prize with a heavy price. The burden of national unity and purpose rest heaviest on the man who holds the power.
Therefore, listen to the advise of those who mean well, not that of political jobbers, because in the end, while a political appointee depends on a sorry pack of cronies or connection to survive, a president either rises or falls as a result of his own judgments, decisions, actions or inactions. That’s why the buck stops on the President’s table. That includes the blame, the responsibility, the scapegoating and finger-pointing.