Investigations of Mega Looting Must Continue, But Must Be Lawful -By Jibrin Ibrahim

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Dr Jibrin Ibrahim

Dr Jibrin Ibrahim

 

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.

The Head of State declared that the government was “to all intents and purposes bankrupt.” The person in question was Muhammadu 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, Colonel 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 had enacted the infamous Decree No. 4 aimed at stopping the media from “maligning” public officers, 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 corrupt politicians was the right thing to do. Indeed, there can be no doubt that much of the popularity that eventually propelled Buhari to power this year is not unconnected with popular memories linking him to the capacity to deal with corrupt politicians. The more people realised the depth of the corruption of the Jonathan Administration, the more they felt they needed Buhari.

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.

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, Muhammadu 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 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 that all are innocent until proven guilty, and the rule of law is the guiding principle.

I believe that it is not an easy situation for President Buhari. Nigeria has never seen the level of reckless mega corruption 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 that all are innocent until proven 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 started 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.

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.

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 this previous Administration, the investigations must go back to the beginning of its tenure. 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 us back to the vexed issue of political appointments. President Buhari is a recognised 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.

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