If you are a lover of competitive democracy, you must have been worried by the pronouncements and demeanour of Alhaji Lai Mohammed, minister of information, on Friday. Lai, speaking in a very bitter tone, told State House correspondents that Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), could spend as much time as he wanted in the US but he would be quizzed on his return over his role in the collapse of Bank PHB. He said fresh evidence has linked Atiku to a slush fund from which the former vice-president allegedly benefited N156 million in 2009. This, he said, contributed to the death of the bank, according to his post-mortem report.
It would appear Atiku’s trip to the US has ruffled quite a number of feathers within the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). There is no need to deny it. I think APC built a significant part of their campaign on the plank that the 2019 election is going to be a straight fight between corruption, represented by Atiku, and anti-corruption, typified by President Muhammadu Buhari. The icing on the cake, I would guess, was that Atiku dare not travel to the US because he would be arrested by the FBI on the charges of money laundering. In fact, the APC-led government at some point asked the US not to grant Atiku an entry visa. That was a bit childish and desperate, in my opinion.
The US, for some reason, finally decided to issue a visa to Atiku after about 12 years of fencing him out for reasons we could only speculate since there was no official explanation. Having secured his visa late November 2018, Atiku still did not travel to the US, further fuelling speculation by the APC that having failed to secure assurances that he would not be arrested, the presidential hopeful decided to respect himself by limiting his foreign trips to Dubai. APC supporters taunted Atiku to no end, daring him to go to America. Atiku took the plunge, went to the US on Thursday unannounced and held meetings with government officials and business people.
In my opinion — which might be naïve because I do not know much about politics — Atiku’s trip to the US would not have a decisive impact on actual voting in Nigeria. From my little unstructured research here and there, I believe that most Nigerians have already made up their minds on the presidential candidate they would vote for. For sure, Atiku did not lose anything by getting the US visa and flying to Washington, DC. If anything, it boosted his stock in many quarters. It also dented the APC narrative that America was after him. However, I am of the solid opinion that if Atiku ends up winning the election, it wouldn’t be solely because he travelled to the US.
Why am I worried by Lai’s pronouncements? Listen to him again: “You can recall that a few weeks ago, I did issue a statement advising the US government not to issue visa to Atiku… In any event, any time Abubakar returns home, he has questions to answer following the fresh evidence that we have that he benefitted from slush funds that led to the collapse of the former Bank PHB. [There is] fresh evidence as to his involvement in the collapse of Bank PHB, so we want him to stay as long he wants in the US but as soon he comes back, he has to explain to the electorate and to Nigerians his role in the collapse in the former Bank PHB.” What exactly is the game plan? Arrest and detain him?
Correct me if I’m wrong: it would seem Lai is so bitter that Atiku was allowed to enter the US that he has decided to fish for some “fresh” evidence to deal with him at all costs. Dragging a presidential candidate before the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) less than one month to an election would be a first. Alas, this can only make Atiku look like the victim. Lai is taking this visa thing very personal perhaps because he went out on a limb in the matter. Or was it just to take the wind out of Atiku’s sail? If Lai’s threat is mere political talk, then there is nothing to worry about. Politicians say all manner of things against each other before elections without meaning them. We call this phenomenon “handbags” in the field of soccer.
Of course, if Atiku has a case to answer, we cannot stand in the way. But even a preschool kid knows that the timing and the “gravity” of the fresh evidence can only point to one thing: political persecution. Those who enjoy deceiving themselves can continue to argue in another direction. We are now at the most poisonous stage of the political season in which sentiments rule over reason. Some people’s consciences have been so seared with hot iron that they are not in the mood to distinguish between what is right, what is wrong and what is appropriate. Their minds are dead to reason and there is nothing anyone can do about it. But we all have a duty not to set Nigeria on fire.
One of the sweetest traits of elections in a democracy is a level-playing field. But in Third World politics, there is always the temptation to undermine the opposition with state power. Winning power “by any means necessary” will still be considered a victory, but there will always be questions hanging over the process, the fairness and, ultimately, the credibility and integrity of such elections. Leaders who rise to power, or hold on to power, by hook or crook always end up having legitimacy issues. They thus suffer a complex and become desperate in an attempt to stamp their authority. Such leaders do not command respect; rather, they demand it. Buhari must resist this temptation.
To be sure, using underhand tactics against the opposition is not a new thing, at least in this dispensation. In 1999, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo was seen as the anointed candidate of the military government. One night, Chief Olu Falae, the opposition candidate, flew to Sokoto ahead of a campaign rally. His jet almost crashed because the airport staff had switched off the lights allegedly to sabotage him. Blames were traded and explanations offered, but the sentiment in Falae’s camp was that it was a deliberate move against him. Unfortunately, not many airports were operating at night in those days, so Falae still had to land in darkness. It must have scared the hell out of him.
In 2003, Buhari, as the candidate of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), tasted the misuse of state power himself. His campaign rally in Kano was tear-gassed by the police. His running mate, Dr. Chuba Okadigbo, who was said to be asthmatic, collapsed in a heap, gasping for breath. Okadigbo, the former senate president who had crossed over to ANPP from PDP, died later in the year, and many attributed it to the teargas, although there was no conclusive proof. Buhari was denied use of Liberation Stadium in Port Harcourt for his rally by the Rivers state government. Also, Chief Marshall Harry, Buhari’s staunch supporter in the state, was assassinated in Abuja.
In 2007, Obasanjo used every tactic in the book to stop Atiku, his VP, from succeeding him. That was when the corruption toga was cut, sewn and hung around Atiku’s shoulders. But Atiku won his cases in court and participated in the presidential election. The courts ruled that INEC had no powers to disqualify any candidate on the basis of an indictment by a panel of inquiry. Only a court could do that, the Supreme Court justices said. Obasanjo once declared a public holiday to stop the courts from giving judgment in an Atiku case! That was misuse of state power. There were no suppression games in 2011 when President Goodluck Jonathan ran for office, but 2015 was completely different.
Indeed, according to those in the know, as well as accounts in books written by Olusegun Adeniyi and Bolaji Abdullahi, there were pressures on Mr. Mohammed Bello Adoke, then attorney-general of the federation, to charge Buhari to court over various allegations — including certificate forgery and incitement to violence — but Adoke blatantly refused and was secretly tagged “Buhari boy”. He was reportedly asked to get a court injunction restraining INEC from further announcing the results when it was glaring Buhari would win, but he again refused “in the national interest”. It is a sad irony that the same Adoke is now on self-exile because of alleged persecution by the Buhari government.
In the final analysis, I passionately plead with President Buhari to, in the name of democracy, call his men to order over Atiku. He should tell them to resist the temptation of joining the fray or misusing state power for political purposes. It can backfire and put the entire system at risk. We do not need this tension. We can do without this muscle-flexing. If Buhari is going to get re-elected, this would not be achieved through a witch-hunt. Buhari believes he has done enough to earn a second term and that the ordinary Nigerians love him and are happy with him. What this tells me, then, is that he does not need these vicious machinations. Let us allow this democracy to grow gracefully.
AND FOUR OTHER THINGS…
I previously argued that as a matter of procedure, Justice Walter Onnoghen cannot be tried by the Code on Conduct Tribunal (CCT) until he is reported to the National Judicial Council (NJC) for disciplinary action over alleged false declaration of assets. My argument was based on the appeal court judgment in Justice Hyeladzira Nganjiwa case. Many have argued otherwise: that the case before CCT is not what Onnoghen did wrong in his capacity a judicial officer but what he failed to do as a public officer. This makes it a CCT case. It makes sense to me. Unfortunately, no matter our opinions, it is only the courts that are constitutionally empowered to interpret the law. Democracy.
GOING TO AMERICA
The best way to enjoy politics in Nigeria is to watch proceedings from your balcony. Before Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, the PDP presidential candidate, finally visited the US last week, APC supporters taunted and dared him to go if he would not be arrested for corruption by the FBI. PDP supporters said going to America was not a big deal. Now that Atiku has gone and returned, supporters have switched positions: APC people are saying going to America is not a big deal and PDP guys are saying the corruption tag against Atiku has finally collapsed. Me: with America done and dusted, can we now face the bigger issues around the peace and progress of Nigeria? Focus.
The appointment of Mr. Abubakar Adamu Mohammed as the acting IGP caught us unawares; for a long time, we thought the rudderless Ibrahim Idris was going to get tenure extension. Nobody has spoken a bad word about Mohammed, and he put his first foot right by getting rid of the uncouth Jimoh Moshood as the force PRO and appointing the civilised Frank Mba in his stead. I know Nigeria has a way of killing the best of its talents, especially as we continue to mix politics with policing, but I sincerely wish Mohammed the best. He should resolve to write his name in gold by leaving the police force far better and genuinely professional than he met it. Legacy.
Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, the national chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), said something intriguing at the presidential campaign rally in Benin on Thursday. Hear him: “I’m told that there are a lot of senior people from PDP who have decided to join forces with President Buhari to take the broom to sweep away PDP to continue to ensure that APC continues to preside over Nigeria… in fact, once you join APC, all your sins are forgiven.” Is Oshiomhole saying categorically that if Olisa Metuh and Sambo Dasuki join APC today, their sins would be automatically forgiven — like those of Senators Musiliu Obanikoro and Iyiola Omisore? Wonderful.