The criticism made by Colonial Dangiwa Umar, the former Military Governor of Kaduna State, on the anti-corruption war waged by President Muhammadu Buhari, has since attracted the ire of Mal. Shehu Garba, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity.
Dangiwa’s criticism is not something out of place considering the nature of liberal democracy we are operating in Nigeria. Ideally, criticism, debate and discussion should not be viewed as mere opposition to any regime. Conversation is very crucial to the processes of consensus building. The need for citizens to communicate freely on issues should be considered a healthy development in a democracy. Freedom of expression is part and parcel of a comprehensive package of the America model of democracy we have deliberately chosen to practice. This system of democratic rule is characterized by over blotted encumbrances and unsustainable costs, although we seem to be more at home with it.
To be candid with you, I am disturbed by Garba Shehu’s allusion to the Nigerian elites and their frustration over President Muhammadu Buhari’s anti-corruption war. This is contained in his response to Colonel Dangiwa Umar’s criticism of the shoddiness of President Buhari’s war on corruption. Shehu Garba’s response was captured in the Daily Trust of Tuesday, April 25, 2017.
In my assessment, the spokesperson of Mr. President is blatantly twisting the concern expressed by commenters on Buhari’s corruption war. His response is also couched in terms of antagonism between President Muhammadu Buhari and the Nigerian elites. How so not clever of Garba to attempt to put a wedge between Mr. President, on the one hand, and the Nigerian elites, on the other hand? Are the elites in society not the cornerstone of social progress and development?
In his uncritical submission, Garba seeks to compartmentalize the Nigerian society into some irreconcilable social clusters. By the implication of such compartmentalization, President Muhammadu Buhari is now no longer the President of the totality of Nigerians, but the President of a segment of Nigeria, or so it seems. Presumably, Muhammadu Buhari is the President of those uncritical masses whose only utility to the political class is their voting power. Buhari is therefore no longer the President of those that Garba identified as the “Nigerian elites”.
According to him, elites are those social groups of enlightened Nigerians that are not happy with Buhari’s war on corruption, because they have become frustrated for not getting the perks of office they used to get under previous regimes. How true is this charge? Can we say in all honesty that Nigerian elites are against President Buhari’s war on corruption? Again, going by this warped logic, President Buhari can now be seen as the President of the uncritical lowly Nigerians who do not criticize his policies and programs. Alternatively, he is the leader of the disempowered elements in the Nigerian society that do not see anything wrong with the way he prosecutes his corruption war. Is this ranting necessary in the light of the massive goodwill that ushered President Muhammadu Buhari into the Aso Rock Villa?
On Shehu Garba’s rebuttal of Dangiwa’s criticism of the administration, I am determined not to become the megaphone of the retired Colonel of the Nigerian army. The man can defend himself adequately and articulately well. In fact, Dangiwa can defend himself in a spectacular manner if he so wishes. Nobody can do that for him better than his own person. All the same, we must not forget that Colonel Dangiwa is one stubborn fella that does not shy away from controversy. He engages whenever the opportunity to bare his mind on issues he feels so strong about presents itself. He has not just suddenly rediscovers his voice during the second coming of President Muhammadu Buhari, no!
Elsewhere, Dangiwa and Sambo Dasuki are widely seen as those junior officers in the army who have become everlasting archenemies to General Muhammadu Buhari for their participation in the coup d’état that terminated Buhari’s first coming as the military leader of Nigeria. Over the years, Dangiwa has redeemed himself from the putsch figure that he was to that of a human rights campaigner as well as unapologetic commenter on national issues. Dangiwa has painstakingly shed off his regimental mentality as a tough armored commander of the Nigerian Army. Since his transformation, he has been criticizing the excesses of politicians, including the highhandedness of leaders and regimes, both military and civilian.
Now, let’s look into the specifics of some of the high profile corruption cases of members of Mr. President’s kitchen cabinet, beginning with the recent case of Babachir Lawal. You see folks, the sudden decision made by President Muhammadu Buhari to order for the investigation of the whole Secretary of the Government of the Federation (SGF as the person occupying the office is called), can only be described as a Catch 22 situation, an act that is strewn with booby traps. As things may turn out to be, if the Babachir saga is not handled with honesty, justice, logic, wisdom and seriousness it deserves, as a case involving one of the most key figures of this administration, it will obviously ricochet on the carefully nurtured image of President Buhari as a tough no-nonsense leader. Worse still, Babachir’s case has the potential of messing up the entire anti-corruption project vigorously embarked upon by President Muhammadu Buhari if the current high powered investigation zeros on Babachir alone without tackling other equally high profile cases involving other aides and associates of Mr. President.
To begin with, Babachir’s is not the only high profile corruption case deserving the prompt attention of the very architect of the corruption war. In this gladiatorial duel, there are many equally high profile contenders. The fact that Mr. President has now mustered enough courage to tackle Babachir’s case, it therefore means no excuse would be given to defend the President for ignoring or refusing to attend to other high profile cases of corruption. Increasingly, it is beginning to sink down upon keen observers of Buhari’s corruption war in Nigeria that the busting of Babachir’s grass cutting infamy can only mean one of two things: it is either a litmus test of Buhari’s sincerity in his anti-corruption war or the opening up of Pandora’s box in which Mr. President will ultimately be made to regret taking it to its logical conclusion. The uncritical, blind followers of President Buhari are unwilling to see this paradox at all.
Now that it was Babachir that was caught in the net, what then happen to other celebrated cases that attracted public and media attention? There was, for instance, the alleged possession of properties in Dubai by the Chief of Army Staff and his role when he was in the procurement unit of the Nigerian Army. All these are matters in which other top Nigerian politicians were accused, investigated and indicted by the EFCC. After the usual social media hype on these issues, the Buratai allegations went silent and nothing has been heard about them since then. In fact, not even a whimper was heard from either the President or the EFCC. That was how the matter gradually died down. It was expected that some form of investigation panel would have been instituted to stave off public allegations of EFCC’s cherry picking of corruption cases.
Another big fish is of course Malam Abba Kyari. In this case, President Muhammadu Buhari visibly remained aloof nay helpless in the face of the barrage of allegations against Kyari in connection to MTN. Kyari was alleged to have collected N500 million from MTN to mitigate the heavy fine imposed on the company from N1.04 trillion to N330 billion. This incidence had once been the butt of social media conversation. It has indeed questioned the credibility of President Buhari’s anti-corruption campaign. But here we are saddled with a Shehu Garba ill-advisedly telling Nigerians that, “despite the various accusations and media attacks, no one has so far come forth with evidence of President Buhari’s selectiveness in the war against corruption.” What an unwise submission?
Similarly, most of the current President Buhari’s ministers are politicians who have carpet-crossed from the PDP to APC. Most of them have been trailed by rumors of corruption. However, there were no cases raised against them. It is not as if these people enjoy any form of immunity from arrest or court charges. Although names of Ameachi and Fashola were circulating in the social media, nothing is heard from any authoritative quarters. I would want to believe that the corruption charges on the Senate President was more because of his refusal to fall in line than the reason that he was a corrupt former governor of Kwara State. He was put under the EFCC radar more because of his effrontery to clinch the top Senate seat without the blessing of APC or its leader.
In Buhari’s EFCC, a number of PDP stalwarts that were not corralled into APC did not appear to be enjoying any respite like their peers in government. This has indeed raised some eyebrows. Never mind the whistleblowing euphoria that has gripped Nigerian society. Public commentators are increasingly seeing similarities between the EFCC under President Obasanjo and the current one under President Buhari. Looking at the political leaning of all those former public officials charged with corruption, one cannot help but be a little bit skeptical. Is EFCC really independent of the interference of the Executive arm of government in its operations? Is the anti-corruption organ freely executing its mandate without any pressure from the Presidency? I cannot precisely say.
But with the benefit of hindsight, at the initial stages of President Buhari’s anti-corruption stance, there was this larger than life impression of the President as an impartial umpire in his dealings with the suffocating corruption threatening to destroy Nigeria. Thus, in the spirit of the euphoria of Buhari’s inaugural speech in which he categorically stated that “I belong to everybody and I belong nobody” at the same time, it is expected that corrupt officials, friends and foes alike, should not be treated as sacred cows in his corruption war. But somehow the body language of the EFCC appeared to be quite unsettling as it cherry picks its quarry from the battalions of public officials with serious corruption cases. Fighting corruption on a slippery slope is indeed hazardous.
Mr Liman is professor of Comparative Literature and Popular Culture at Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, Nigeria