Investigations of mega looting must continue, but must be lawful
BY JIBRIN IBRAHIM
The Head of State declared that the government was “to all intents and purposes bankrupt.” The person in question was Mohammadu Buhari and the time was October 1984. The statement was a justification for the draconian actions his regime was taking against the political class he succeeded which he declared to be composed of economic criminals and saboteurs. He detained 475 politicians and businessmen and set up five military tribunals to judge them for corruption. The military, according to Max Siollun were the prosecutor, judge and jury.
The legal principle was that the onus was on the accused to prove their innocence. Within months, the crème de la crème of the Second Republic – Melford Okilo, Abubakar Rimi, Solomon Lar, Bola Ige, Aper Aku, Jim Nwobodo etc. were jailed for 21 years each. The military were not excluded, Col Obasa for example was jailed for 22 years when it was discovered that he had 305 Naira in his bank account when he became NYSC director in 1979 and the said account had grown to seven million Naira in December 1983. Suddenly, public opinion turned against Buhari, he was moving too fast and too far. Of course the public opinion was driven by a beleaguered press suffering from the effects of draconian laws that curbed the media and sent many journalists to jail.
It would be recalled that the regime has enacted the infamous Decree No. 4 aimed at stopping he media from “maligning” public offices irrespective of the veracity of the stories reported. Two journalists of The Guardian, Nduka Irabor and Tunde Thompson had been jailed and the media and the human rights community were in justified rage against Buhari’s human rights abuses. For many Nigerians however, jailing the corrupt politicians was the right thing to do.
In his book Peace and Violence in Nigeria, Professor Tekena Tamuno reminds us that when Buhari came to power in January 1984, he was regularly attacked for being “as slow as a tortoise.” Newspaper pundits compared his slow pace to the extremely fast pace with which General Murtala Mohammed hit the ground running when he took over power from General Yakubu Gowon. It turned out that Buhari was not slow; he was planning a blitzkrieg against the corrupt political class that had bankrupted Nigeria.
Fast forward thirty years, Mohammadu Buhari is back in power and his immediate assessment is that Nigeria is bankrupt and the Jonathan Administration of mega looters has direct responsibility for the terrible state of affairs. Since assuming power, he has been listening a lot, reading a lot and engaged in little action. Nigerians are beginning to shout that he is too slow. We should be careful what we pray for; a very fast moving Buhari taking precipitate unlawful action against corruption might not be what we need.
I believe that it is not an easy situation for President Buhari. Nigeria has not seen the level of reckless mega corruption that has been displayed by the Jonathan Administration. They stole our national resources with such reckless abandon that suggested they believed they would be thrown out of office at the elections. Yet, the evidence before us is that they believed they would win the elections through free or foul means and yet they stole as if there would be no political tomorrow. Having essentially started by stealing what was in the budget, they graduated to stealing the national income before it even went to the national purse.
I would not be surprised if President Buhari would be wishing that he could set up military tribunals and send all of them to jail. However he knows, and he had said it himself, that the world has since changed. There can be no retroactive laws as he had in 1984. There can be no trial by military tribunals. The legal principle is all are innocent until proved guilty and the rule of law is the guiding principle. It is therefore not surprising that he has been in such deep thought, study and reflection.
Finally, action appeared to have studied last week. The all-powerful former National Security Adviser, Col Sambo Dasuki had his houses raided just two days after leaving office. He was interrogated through the night; monies and arms were reported to have been seized from his domicile. As Col Dasuki himself said, the high handedness was uncalled for, he should have been invited for questioning and he would have respected the invitation. I was troubled by the press release issued by the Department of State Services (DSS) justifying their high-handed action. They claim to have “credible intelligence linking the immediate past NSA, Mohammed Sambo Dasuki (Col Rtd) with alleged plans to commit treasonable felony against the Nigerian State.”
The evidence they pointed to include the discovery of twelve new vehicles and seven assault rifles in his house. I have no security training so I do not know how treasonable felony is executed. All the same, I would be extremely surprised at the feasibility of Col Sambo Dasuki zooming off in a new SUV carrying riffles to overthrow the regime. We learn from the DSS report that he was still enjoying armed guards from the army so the existence of the arms might be easily explained.
Moving forward, it is very important that investigations into the corrupt deals of the Jonathan Administration follow the rule of law. The investigations must however be done and done thoroughly. Given the extent of the economic crimes and sabotage done by the Jonathan Administration, the investigations must go back to the beginning of the regime. The monies looted from our treasury must be recovered and used for national development.
At this point, President Buhari must explain his anti-corruption strategy to Nigerians and there should be a debate about it. What role, for example, would the anti-corruption agencies paly and how would they be revamped? The possible modes for recovering looted funds should also be debated. President Buhari would also require a competent and principled Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation to anchor the work, which brings s, back to the vexed issue of political appointments. President Buhari is a recognized anti-corruption crusader but he cannot do the work alone. He needs a team to guide him away from easy routes that could be booby-trapped and not bear the fruit we are all expecting.
Jibrin Ibrahim, PhD is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Democracy and Development, Abuja.
This article was first published in Deepening Democracy Column of Daily Trust on Monday, 20th July, 2015.