Silencing of the Opposition

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The Monday Discourse

President Muhammadu Buhari’s fixation with the fight against corruption is currently being interpreted as a subtle ploy to decimate the opposition. But the correctness or otherwise of this assertion has formed the basis of a new debate, write Shola Oyeyipo and Segun James
 
President Muhammadu Buhari made it clear from inception. The objectives of his government would be in three parts: corruption, security and the economy. These, he reckoned, were the crux of the nation’s challenges and was determined to address them. But he appears to have a ‘thing’ for the fight against corruption. It was assumed the strength of his brief but first coming as a military head of state. And the force with which he has approached the scourge of corruption is no less a surprise to those, who know and appreciate his ‘disdain for corruption’.
Unfortunately, his current fight against graft is being seen differently by different members of the public. Whilst there are those who argue that the fight against corruption should not wear a human face even if it means undermining the constitution of the land and related extant legal provisions, the prevailing argument now is that it is evidently selective. Even more niggling is the assumption that Buhari’s current fight against corruption is designed to decimate the opposition and leave his party, the APC, the only force to reckon with.
The swirling assumption, unfortunately, some reckon is beginning to discredit Buhari’s war against graft, in addition to his penchant for perceived sectionalism as evident in his disposition to other parts of the country since assuming office. It is yet to be seen, however, if there are conscious efforts on the part of the government to disabuse the minds of those who hold strongly, these assumptions against the Buhari presidency.
    
Synopsis of the Allegations
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), whose members have been most hit by current administration’s onslaught against corruption has not only lamented that the anti-corruption crusade is selective as it is not extended to members of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), a majority of whom have been identified as corrupt with a legion of petitions against but also that it was principally targeted at decimating opposition voices ahead of 2019.
The party in a recent communiqué signed by its Head, Publicity Division, Chinwe Nnorom and issued after its 71st National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting, took a swipe at the APC and President Buhari for allegedly using the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to silence the opposition.
Parts of the communique read: “NEC observed and condemned in strong terms the arbitrary arrest and detention of PDP members on account of party campaign funds by the government of President Muhammadu Buhari and urged Nigerians and the international community to request the APC administration to investigate the campaign funds of its party, the All Progressive Congress (APC) as some accusations of misuse of public funds are also leveled against some APC governors and stakeholders.”
The NEC further expressed disdain for what it tagged selective probe of PDP members by the anti-graft agency under the administration of the APC, describing it “as a case of witch-hunt and unnecessary oppression aimed at silencing members of the PDP.”
A youth wing of the opposition PDP, the Peoples Democratic Party National Youth Frontier (PDPNYF), shares the PDP NEC sentiment that the anti-graft efforts of the administration is basically targeted at the vocal members of the PDP and that it was being perpetrated in a rather dictatorial manner.
The PDPNYF National Coordinator, Usman Okai, recently stated that: “History is repeating itself again. President Muhammadu Buhari is clearly manifesting the same dictatorial tendencies he exhibited during his military regime between 1983 and 1985, as presently being applied in the polity in the attempt to discredit PDP members and weaken our great party ahead of 2019.”
He queried the rationale behind the predicaments of the Ekiti State Governor, Dr. Ayodele Fayose, asking: “How does one explain the freezing of the personal account of Governor Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti State in Zenith Bank by the EFCC just because he is a leading opposition voice speaking against the ills of the Buhari presidency and the APC-led government.”
In similar light, the travails of the Abia State Governor, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu is being linked to the plot to undermine the opposition. Beyond the legal slant to the matter including the allegation of forgery which is being dismissed as a trumped up charge, the news making the round is that the decision to descend on Ikpeazu was informed by the pursuit of Buhari’s certificate scandal byNwokocha-Ahaiwe, who is not only an indigene of the state but also on the employ of the government, where he was said to be heading an agency.
As a result, there is said to be the belief in the presidency that should an employee of the government be seeking to remove the president over the certificate scandal, then, there is no way the governor could feign ignorance of the case. It was at this point the plot to remove Ikpeazu was allegedly hatched. Although intelligence was said to have reached the governor, who according to sources, immediately asked Nwokocha-Ahaiwe to withdraw the case because of the likely consequences and which he did. But the intervention appeared to have come late as those alleged to be behind the removal plot had already swung into action.
 
The Adegboruwa Example
While it was possible to conclude that members of the PDP were in power in the last administration, mismanaged money and are crying foul now that they are facing the heat, the recent story of a fierce Lagos lawyer, Ebun Adegboruwa, who has been very critical of the APC-led government can help uphold the argument that the EFCC is among other things, working to silence critical voices against the government.
Without any prejudice or attempt to teach men of the EFCC their jobs, not a few Nigerians can relate with the criminal charges bordering on obtaining money under false pretence filed against Adegboruwa by the EFCC as the consequence of his decision to point out the errors of the administration.
Adegboruwa was brought before Justice Oluremi Oguntoyinbo of a Federal High Court, sitting in Lagos, by the EFCC which accused him of fraud to the tune of N61 million.
He was alleged to have conspired with one Jonathan Udeagbala in August 2013 to lease a property situated at House 105, Nicon Town Estate, Lekki, Lagos to a company named Shelf Drilling Nigeria Limited for that amount; that the property is under an interim forfeiture order by Justice Christopher Balogun of the Lagos State High Court; that the money was credited to Adegboruwa’s Zenith Bank account, an offence punishable under Section 32(1) of the EFCC Act 2004.
However, Adegboruwa has maintained that no genuine case of fraud can be instituted against him. His vehement position has been that the litigation was designed to silence him as he has remained a vocal critic of the president. According to him, he has been receiving unofficial complaints from the EFCC about his opposition to the Buhari administration and he is being threatened with the case, which he considers as dead.
His media team had noted that “The threats became more rampant upon his brief in the case of Chief Government Ekpemupolo (alias Tompolo) and especially Mr. Azibaola Robert, cousin of former President Goodluck Jonathan. On May 4, 2016, our firm appeared in Tompolo’s case at the Federal High Court, Lagos and May 4, 2016, our firm filed a suit in court for the release of Jonathan’s cousin. On May 5, 2016, EFCC filed a case against Mr. Adegboruwa.
“He is being persecuted for speaking against the Buhari regime. There is no way a criminal case can be maintained against Mr. Adegboruwa as the criminal case upon which the case is based has been dismissed.”
Either right or wrong, the belief is that the Buhari administration stands to gain nothing except negative publicity from issues such as Adegboruwa’s because he is one lawyer, who has persistently called the government to order. He made strong statement on the massacre of the Shiite sect in Zaria, Kaduna State and the extrajudicial killings of pro-Biafra agitators; government’s lackluster attitude to Fulani herdsmen attacks that have led to the deaths of several innocent citizens across Nigeria, the perceived selective anti-corruption campaign and government’s appointments that tend to favour the North, amongst others.
 
Fayose in the Eye of the Tiger
Looking at what he considers the genesis of his problem with President Buhari, his decision to retain his position as the most vocal mouthpiece of the opposition PDP and perceived clampdown on members of his party, Governor Fayose, during a chat with journalists at his guest house in Ado Ekiti, noted that though the president presides over the entire nation as the leader, the people are not compelled to support his governance style.
“We are all going to account for our leadership. President Buhari is a Nigerian leader without doubt, but to everybody in this country, as long as you are grown enough to choose – it’s your choice. I am entitled to decide to support or not to support him based on principles and perception of the person.
“I was grown when President Buhari was president of this country. I was grown enough to know what he represented 31 years ago because you must know who you are giving your life to. You must know you are not taking your life to Golgotha. I knew the total misrule of 1984 to 1985 – how the military suffered Nigerians, how a lot of leaders were clamped in chains using decree 2.
“The same thing President Buhari is doing was what he did at that time. You will recall that even the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Emir of Kano, Ooni of Ife; their passports were taken away from them. Their rights were taken away. A man that is grown cannot change, except you are born again. So, President Buhari is living true to type if you look at the way he is governing Nigeria today.”
“At some point, a lot of people will come to realise that we have elected a monster. Most people, Buhari has cowed them. Those people who brought Buhari are now taking the backyard to pass. They are afraid that if a man can be matching the cloth of a family member like this, he would destroy the cloth of somebody else.
“Fighting corruption is a great thing but anything that does not represent the truth is simply corruption. Those who make peaceful change impossible make violent change inevitable. You’re oppressing some people now either because they are not from your region or because you had issues with them before; it is revenge mission.
“The EFCC would harass people to submission, force people to drop money; you want to go and arrest people and start looking for evidence. That is oppression! You are supposed to have concluded your investigation before you go and arrest people!
“There is nothing personal between President Buhari and me. There are instances that are so glaring now that people in the APC are like saints. Look at my state, there are documents – EFCC will not call somebody. The Universal Basic Education, where the former governor went away with N892m – in the letter they wrote they said: ‘This a criminal issue’, but when you are in the APC you become an angel.
“Let us look at the APC, most of the people they were bashing in those days but when they get to APC they become saints. You can’t run a country like that! This is our country, we cannot all be silent. Somebody has to talk. The one that is useful, you take it and the one that is not useful, you throw it away.
“In fact, opposition is the strength of democracy. It is where the average man can get value for money. You are trying to silence Femi Fani-Kayode; you are trying to silence Metuh and others. My brothers, where in Nigeria have people contested election, vied for office and not spend money?
“All the aircrafts carrying President Buhari during campaigns, is it cows that were carrying him around – those cows declared? Recently, they said somebody has houses in Dubai, quickly there is a defence. When they were talking about the wife of the president, defence came from Nuhu Ribadu, even the former EFCC chairman, Larmode, looking for way out of his problem, quickly too, said that was not the person we were looking for.
“I want to make it clear that there is nothing personal between myself and President Buhari. I want to make it expressly clear again to you that what they are doing is not in the interest of Nigeria to cow the people once opinion differs from yours. This state was run by APC when Jonathan was president. They had peace to run their government. Today, if you want to call police they are afraid. When you want to use the FRCN, they will say no. The FRCN doesn’t carry PDP news. It is that bad! What kind of life is that?
“So, what nation are we building? A nation built on sectional and political interests? As much as you can call Jonathan’s name, the man never took a political prisoner. In fact, Jonathan should have been president in 50 years’ time because the man is too civil”.
 
The Debate Rages 
However, for different folks, it’s been different strokes as far as the debate is concerned on the style of the president. An APC stalwart in Kogi State, who was one time a House Representatives member, who represented Kabba/Bunu/Ijumu federal constituency in the state, Hon Duro Meseko, shares the sentiment of those who feel that the anti-corruption crusade is selective and possibly targeted at the opposition members alone, which could ultimately mute the PDP, as being envisaged by loyalists of the party.
“My take is that those who allude to the fact that the anti-corruption war is selective, I’ll not blame them because if you look at the way the EFCC is carrying out its works lately, you will observe that some people close to the president – even if they make allegations or petitions against them – nothing is done about it.
“I am talking about former Governor of Rivers State, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi. In fact, the Rivers State Governor, Mr. Nyesome Wike, still mentioned it last week that petitions have been written against the former governor and that nothing has been done about them. Of course, in Ekiti State too, the governor has being saying that petitions have been written against former governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, and that nothing has been done about it.
“When Buratai was alleged to possess two buildings in Dubai, the presidency came out to defend him. They did not even wait for him to defend himself. One would have expected the presidency to say that they have not investigated it and that they would investigate the matter.”
Asked why he was castigating his party’s anti-corruption drive, the former lawmaker said, “Yes, I am an APC chieftain but don’t forget that I have been a civil right activist. I am not in politics because of my party alone; I am in politics also because of my people, my constituency and Nigerians at large. So, I should not say because I am a member of a party, I should not castigate them. We should make examples of some people in the party, so that we can tell the world that we are sincere about our anti-corruption crusade.”
One of the very prominent aspirants in the recent Edo State APC governorship primaries, Mr. Kenneth Imasuagnon, does not feel his party is by any means selective or targeting the fight against corruption in Nigeria against any selected group, because according to him, those who have committed the heinous crime of corruption against the people should be apprehended and brought to book, irrespective of party affiliation.
“It is not true that the government is trying to silence the opposition. Those who have looted the treasury must pay for their crimes, whether they are in the APC or the PDP; they should pay for the consequences of their crimes. It is inhumane to appropriate our commonwealth for yourself.”
On whether or not the EFCC is not picking on APC members, he said “The law empowers the EFCC to go after anybody that has committed financial crime; it does not specify those to be chased after. Anybody who has taken our common patrimony should face the consequences of the law.
“I don’t believe President Buhari is selective in the anti-corruption fight. It is a gradual process. The anti-corruption will not start and end with the Buhari-led administration. My position is that Nigerians must support President Buhari for standing against corruption this strongly against the looters. I salute his courage. I am on the same page with the president on fight against corruption.”
A Lagos-based retired naval officer, Mr. Olomi Fadile also feels that the president would have required more force to really purge Nigeria of the endemic corruption, which perpetrators are aiming to escape because of the legal system in Nigeria.
“There is nothing like that (selective anti-corruption war). Those that have committed the crimes had committed the crimes. They know what they have done. The painful part is that President Buhari should have come with some military powers at this critical time to genuinely address some of the heinous crimes that some people have perpetrated against Nigeria.”
On the issue of the perceived pampering of APC members, he said: “Be it PDP or APC, the government should be able to deal with those, who ruthlessly looted the Nigerian treasury because we cannot say anyone is totally clean among the elective office holders.
“It is, however, obvious that the PDP had perpetrated greater embezzlements, which is clear to the world at large. And it is because they held power for 16 years and had unflinching access to the treasury; a period when there were series of corruption allegations against the government and its functionaries.”
Mrs. Oluwaseun Johnson, who claimed that she supported Buhari initially, said the recent dictatorial tendencies of the President have made her change her mind. She wondered if it will augur well for the country if there is no effective opposition from which the president benefited from.
Also sharing this sentiment is Mr. Johnson Kenechukwu, an advocate of an independent Biafra state, who said Buhari must be called to order immediately or he would lead the country to a fratricidal war.
“Let us renegotiate our relationship peacefully. If not, we shall do so on the battlefield. Buhari has given all the post to his northern brothers, a situation that is setting the stage for the Islamisation of the country. Some of us will not allow it. We shall battle him. Let’s negotiate in peace or we settle ourselves on the battlefield.”
But a politician belonging to the APC, who does not want to be identified lamented that the problem is multifaceted. He said the problems that the President is foisting on the nation are that he believes only the people from the north are capable of running the country.
“But look around, they are messing up. Yet the President is alienating the other ethnic nationalities. By the time the chicken comes home to roost, the mess is going to hit the fan badly. The man is a tribalist to the core and an ethnic jingoist.”
Another politician, who belongs to the PDP, urged the president to respect the quota system, which has sustained the unity of the country till now. He stressed that unless this is done now, the country may divide under the regime of the president
“See what is happening everywhere, there is agitation in the east, the Niger Delta area is sabotaging the economy and the insurgence in the north east has not subsided. The President is playing with fire. Such tendencies led to his removal in 1985.” 
Nearly the same sentiments are shared by all the people interviewed. To most of them, the only thing going for the president right now is the war on corruption and this, they insisted, would soon vanish as the people only hear about multi-billion naira corruption scandal, yet there are no changes in their living standard.