BY SHAKA MOMODU
“A lie’s greatest defence is to tell the lie and hope that no one will counter it with the truth.”
Nobel laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka has struck again! Far from using his prodigious intellectual prowess to document for posterity the reigning anomalies in governance, or dramatise in vivid details this calamitous moment of our national history, a time that is almost certain to reign in infamy for a long time to come, he is massaging the facts. Well, a friend lamented recently that the good old days when the crescendo of political/judicial activism was alive and well in this country only now exist in the nostalgic recollection of our memories. Soyinka is sure not attempting to inspire a new renaissance or a new generation of thinkers. It seems his best days are behind him. A diminished Soyinka has become a flatterer of incompetence, an accomplice in a carefully choreographed historical revisionism and a willing conspirator of silence in the face of breathtaking tyranny.
What happened to the Oracle? The man, it seems has finally died in Soyinka. And I am bereaved and grief-stricken. Our Nobel laureate is hiding behind a finger to cherry-pick issues to comment on. Even at that, his views or judgments are so coloured by his links to the powers that be that it appears he is on a mission to rewrite history or reinvent the wheel. My pain is that like the famous ostrich which folklore tells us buries its head in the sand in the face of danger, Soyinka thinks we can’t see his hideous mission and grand hypocrisy. What is my grouse this time about my once-upon-a-time hero who used to take umbrage at any form of injustice against anyone, irrespective of tongue or tribe or political affiliation? What happened to this man who fought General Sani Abacha with every fibre of his being? A man whose incisive comments on national issues created a crescendo of inspiration for so many, myself inclusive, a burst of energy and adoration for his genius and reverence for the courage to speak truth to power without fear. Soyinka, the oracle has become a shadow of himself; a partisan laureate who sees things through coloured lenses.
Soyinka in a recent interview on the BBC programme, HARDtalk, said President Muhammadu Buhari has done well in his fight against corruption. Permit me to bring in a long quote from that interview for the benefit of those who might have missed it: “It’s no longer business as usual in Nigeria because we have bankers who are on trial; we have legislators who are on trial and we have former governors who are on trial.
“The moment they stepped out of office, they were grabbed by the anti-corruption agencies. On corruption, as far as I’m concerned, he scored a pass. We have this issue of corruption, and I frankly despise those who try to trivialise it in Nigeria simply because they don’t like the face of the man who is behind it or he has failed in other certain aspects. The issue of Boko Haram, if action had been taken at the beginning, and we are not talking about the time of the reign of Jonathan, when the first governor decided to make his state a theocratic state, that was when action should have been taken.
“The president of that time compromised because he was ambitious and he needed the support of that governor. And when you start operating a theocracy, a movement will get up and say you are not holy enough and they begin by killing, first of all those who don’t believe in their faith and then turn on even the co-believers.
“Well, he (Buhari) certainly has made progress in that aspect but then, another menace (herders/farmers clash) came up and Buhari made the same mistake of slow response. Buhari has failed in that aspect. He behaved exactly like Jonathan. He was apathetic.”
I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I am bothering at all to call Soyinka out because he still pretends to be the once fiery writer-cum-activist and the fact that a significant section of the international community still takes his views on issues seriously. In that BBC interview, Soyinka generously created the impression that Buhari was fighting corruption unlike his predecessors and awarded him a pass mark for his efforts. But nothing could be further from the truth and no claim is more fraudulently disingenuous.
Except for subsidiary motivation and contempt for the truth, it is difficult to see the rationale behind the pass mark Soyinka gave Buhari on the corruption fight. The examples cited by him reinforced a dishonest and repugnant propensity to mislead or give weight to a false narrative by peddlers of half-truths and “true lies”. It is unfortunate that in his conceited desire to further a false narrative of Buhari’s achievements, Soyinka was ready to contrive successes for Buhari to justify awarding him a pass mark.
Before Buhari assumed power, former governors and managing directors of banks were already being “grabbed” by the anti-corruption agencies and charged to court with some convicted, contrary to the impression Soyinka created in that interview that it was no longer business as usual under Buhari, and that the anti-graft agencies were grabbing ex-governors and bank managing directors and charging them with corrupt enrichment. It is crystal clear that this nation cannot rely on Soyinka’s convenient “truth” to move forward. And for some of us who had become fearful and doubtful and cynical about Soyinka’s ability to objectively record history for prosperity, that interview magnified those fears.
Let’s see how Soyinka’s preposterous claims fare vis-à-vis the evidence. It needs to be stated here that the anti-corruption agencies, viz. the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) were created by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) government that recognised early on the dangers of graft to our national development and indeed took steps to tame it. It is noteworthy that the Olusegun Obasanjo government was in such a hurry to grab the thieving governors that it orchestrated kangaroo impeachments of some of them before the courts stopped it.
I will give a few examples to refresh Soyinka’s memory. After all, according to him, “History matters. Records are not kept simply to assist the weakness of memory, but to operate as guides to the future.” The EFCC first arraigned Jolly Nyame in 2007 for alleged fraud to the tune of N1.64 billion which it said he committed while serving as the governor of Taraba State. The EFCC put Saminu Turaki, the two-term governor of Jigawa State, in the dock on a 32-count charge at the FCT High Court, Maitama for allegedly stealing N36 billion while in office. After a brief detention, he was granted bail in 2007.
Ayo Fayose, the former Ekiti State governor was first arraigned at the Federal High Court, Lagos, on 51-count charge of embezzling N1.2 billion. The case was initiated on December 17, 2006. Orji Uzor Kalu Kalu, who ruled Abia State for eight years, faced a 107-count N5 billion graft charge at the FCT High Court, Maitama. Former EFCC chairperson, Farida Waziri inherited the case file in 2007. The case is still winding its way through the judiciary. Boni Haruna, a former governor of Adamawa was picked up by the EFFC in 2008 for not accounting for state funds running into N250 million.
Chief Lucky Igbinedion, the former Governor of Edo State, paid back money into state coffers after a plea bargain. The case was determined on January 23, 2008.
James Ibori Ibori, a former governor of Delta State was arraigned at the Federal High Court, Asaba on a170-count charge for embezzling N9.2 billion. He was granted bail in 2008. Mrs Waziri inherited the case file and filed fresh charges in August 2009. The EFCC accused him of illegally disposing of 528 million shares belonging to Delta State in Oceanic Bank valued at about N44billion.
Chimaroke Nnamani, he governed Enugu State for eight years, after which the EFCC accused him of embezzling N5.3 billion and arraigned him at the Federal High Court, Lagos on a 105-count charge. Again, Waziri inherited the case file on December 11, 2007. Michael Botmang Botmang, who rose to power as Plateau governor following the impeachment of Joshua Dariye in October 2006, was alleged to have stolen N1.5 billion in the seven months he was in office before the 2007 elections. The anti-graft agency arraigned him on a 31-count charge at the Federal High Court, Maitama. He was granted bail in 2008. Attahiru Bafarawa, a former Sokoto State helmsman faced a N15 billion corruption suit at the Sokoto State High Court. EFCC commenced the suit on December 16, 2009.
Adamu Abdullahi, now senator, governed Nasarawa State for eight years. He was arraigned by the EFCC on March 3, 2010 at the Federal High Court, Lafia on a 149-count charge for allegedly stealing N15 billion while in power. He is now in the APC chorusing Buhari for life. Rasheed Ladoja, the former Oyo State governor faced a 33-count fraud charge for allegedly stealing N6 billion at the Federal High Court, Lagos. His case was initiated by the Waziri-led EFCC. He was recently cleared of all charges.
Dariye, the former Plateau State governor, was arraigned at the Federal High Court, Guda on a 13-count charge for stealing N700 million in 2007. He is currently serving jail time. Timipre Sylva, the former governor of Bayelsa State, has retrieved 48 houses acquired in just four years as governor which the EFCC seized during the administration of Goodluck Jonathan. He was charged in 2012 before a Federal High Court for allegedly laundering over N2.45 billion Bayelsa State fund. While the case was ongoing, Buhari appointed him co-chairman of his transition committee. It was Buhari’s first appointment that indicated the direction his anti-corruption war would go.
The late Governor Diepreye Alamieyeseigha was impeached by the Bayelsa State House of Assembly over allegations of corruption and money laundering following his arrest in London. He was subsequently arrested and charged by the EFCC with money laundering and corruption offences. On July 30, 2007, he was sentenced to two years in prison after he pleaded guilty to the charges. In 2009, Bode George, a former Chairman of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), a former Vice Chairman of the PDP, and in 2007 was the Director General of the Yar’Adua/Goodluck presidential campaign, was sentenced to two years in prison for contract splitting before his conviction was upturned by the Supreme Court.
We were all living witnesses to how a former Inspector General of Police, Tafa Balogun, was in November 2005 convicted of corruption, and associated crimes. When the news of the National Identity Card fraud broke in 2003, then-President Olusegun Obasanjo sacked all those implicated that were serving in his cabinet. The late Internal Affairs Minister in that regime who was Obasanjo’s schoolmate, Chief Sunday Afolabi, and others faced a 16-count charge in December 2003 when they were arraigned before a court over the alleged $214 million National Identity Card scam. The other ministers were Dr. Mohammed Shata, Alhaji Hussain Akwanga and a former National Secretary of the PDP, Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo. Fellow Nigerians, there are far more too many to list here. And nearly all of them were PDP members put on trial by PDP administrations.
On bank managing directors, the evidence recorded by history contradicts Soyinka’s assertion. The travails of Dr. Erastus Akingbola started sometime in August 2009 when the then-governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi sacked the chief executives and directors of some banks in the wake of the banking reforms. The shocking part of it was the calibre of the people who lost their plum jobs such as the former managing director and chief executive officers of the following defunct banks with the exception of Union Bank which is still in operation. Oceanic Bank’s Mrs. Cecilia Ibru, Intercontinental Bank’s, Akingbola, Finbank Plc’s Okey Nwosu, Afribank’s, Sebastine Adigwe, Spring Bank’s, Charles Ojo, Bank PHB’s Francis Atuche, Union Bank’s and Barth Ebong, among others. They were all replaced by appointees of the CBN.
Not long after their removal, the EFCC arraigned the seven former bank chiefs in court on various allegations including fraud, corruption, theft and mismanagement. In October 2010, Mrs. Cecilia Ibru was convicted of fraud and forfeited over N150 billion in assets and cash. So what did Soyinka imply when he said that under Buhari, governors and bank chiefs were being grabbed by the anti-corruption agencies? What has Buhari done that indicated that?
Despite the imperfections in the campaign to deal with corruption and corrupt elements, the PDP administrations demonstrated some seriousness by charging its members suspected of corruption to court. The Buhari-led APC administration has instead of deepening the war against corruption engaged in brazen cover-ups of its own suspected of corruption. The party made no pretence whatsoever when it declared as a cardinal rule that if you joined its fold, your sins would be forgiven. If Soyinka doesn’t understand the meaning of “your sins would be forgiven”, he should ask the former governor of Akwa Ibom State, Godswill Akpabio.
What did the Buhari administration do to the then Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris accused of corruption? Nothing, instead it charged Senator Isah Misau who blew the whistle on the police chief to court. What has he done to members of his inner circle accused of corruption? Nothing! Was Soyinka not aware of the Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 2018 released in March by the US State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labour, which stated inter alia: “Massive, widespread, and pervasive corruption affected all levels of government and the security services?” What did Soyinka mean by “it is no longer business as usual in Nigeria” That refrain he generously used to award a pass mark to Buhari was actually introduced into our political lexicon by Obasanjo and he refused to acknowledge that.
The World Bank report released recently also alluded to massive corruption in the fuel subsidy scheme on Buhari’s watch, stating: “The calculations for the fuel subsidy are based on heavily inflated fuel consumption estimates, with the fiscally severely constrained Nigerian government effectively subsidising neighbouring countries’ petrol consumption as some of the fuel is informally re-exported through the porous borders.”
Was Soyinka not aware of videos of Kano State governor, Abdullahi Ganduje accepting bribes, or like Buhari, would he rather cast doubt on the authenticity of the numerous despicable acts captured on the videos? The Buhari he awarded a pass mark to, went to Kano to endorse Ganduje for a second term in office. That to some of us was sacrilege. What is Soyinka’s personal view on this? The man who attacked Jonathan for saying stealing was not corruption couldn’t find his voice to condemn Buhari for endorsing a man caught red-handed on videos collecting bribes. The irony here is telling!
Abdulrasheed Maina, former Chairman of Pension Reform Task Team (PRTT) was dismissed by the Jonathan-led PDP government for massive fraud in pension administration. He was immediately declared wanted by the EFCC. Was Soyinka not aware of how the Buhari administration in 2017 secretly reinstated the fugitive from justice into the civil service and even “rewarded” him with double promotion? All his entitlements during the period of dismissal were fully paid to him.
What of Babachir Lawal, the former Secretary to the Government of the Federation who was enmeshed in a grass-cutting scandal? The president even wrote a letter to the Senate defending Lawal. He only sacked him after a prolonged period after the scandal broke as a result of public pressure. His arraignment? The EFCC only charged him to court the week of the presidential election to win some votes for Buhari.
Has Soyinka lost his conscience? What is the value of truth to him? He should know that, “Truth crushed to earth shall rise again. The voice driven underground will roar with the passage of time to reaffirm the beauty of truth as a reference point in the governance of men.”
The Rivers State government wrote a petition against former governor of the state and Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, an ally of the laureate, bordering on large scale mismanagement of taxpayers’ money to the EFCC. There is a petition against Alpha Beta also bordering on large-scale corruption, money laundering, tax evasion, etc, with the EFCC. Both are gathering dust on the shelves of the agency because the people involved are “free of sin”.
As the presidential election drew near, I had cause to alert Nigerians in an article titled, ‘Soyinka on a Suspicious Path,’ about his coded support for Buhari. That article was provoked by Soyinka’s commentary on national issues that obliquely excused Buhari of blame while heaping all culpability on Obasanjo, with indirect attacks on the PDP presidential standard-bearer. There was a pattern to it that worried me. A few weeks to the election, I watched with bated breath to see whether Soyinka would openly endorse Buhari as he did in 2015 despite the clear evidence of underperformance. He didn’t. Instead, he dodged the bullet but cunningly endorsed Kingsley Moghalu of Young Progressives Party (YPP). I wasn’t fooled by that move because I knew his heart was with Buhari. Who knows, he may have even worked behind the scenes for Buhari’s re-election. But is it not curious that Soyinka did not comment on the several cases of electoral malpractices and malfeasance, from Kano to Rivers? His ally, Ameachi succeeded to the position of garrison commander in faraway Rivers, a position that became vacant after the death of Ibadan’s Lamidi Adedibu who was a punching bag for his (Soyinka’s) scalding abuses. Amaechi used the military to attempt to rig Rivers election, Soyinka had no problem with that. True to form, he was silent on the electoral malpractices that occurred in Osun State at the last governorship polls. Ditto, the ongoing shenanigans which are being orchestrated by his friends to suppress the actualisation of the people’s will.
Soyinka said he despises those who trivialise corruption in Nigeria simply because they don’t like the face of the man who is behind the war against it … Really? Was the laureate kidding! Who in this country is more guilty of this than Soyinka? Frankly speaking, no one trivialises corruption more than Soyinka and Buhari whenever their associates are involved. Soyinka has blatantly refused to acknowledge anything good in Obasanjo’s government and all other PDP-led administrations because he does not like the faces of those helmsmen. Instead he awarded a pass mark to a man who has failed all tests of leadership. He gave the credit that should have gone to the PDP-led administrations to Buhari to cover up APC’s failures. He is so soft on Buhari that he accommodates human rights abuses by his government. The rising impunity and abuses under this government is acceptable to Soyinka. Imagine it was under the PDP government the abuses were taking place, Soyinka would have been addressing press conferences on Mars and on Earth.
You see, Soyinka may pretend as he likes, speak all the grammar in the world with razzmatazz to deflect attention from Buhari’s failure, spin the evidence as he may, sermonise on the “reality we don’t see”, but the truth will always endure.
In the land of my fathers, there is a saying that truth flows, lies, you have to remember. In Soyinka’s hurry to deny the truth that Buhari has failed, he seems to be stammering and grasping at straws. Desperation they say, corrupts all morals and our partisan laureate is desperate to point to success where there is none from a man he helped to power. Ever since Buhari assumed office, Nigeria has been more troubled and haunted by restless spirits. In the midst of all this, our laureate is busy churning out gossip and hate-filled books/ interviews about Obasanjo. If I may ask, how many copies of such books have been sold? At least that should give him an inkling of how the majority of Nigerians view his activities these days.
As Buhari is sleeping on the job, the country is descending into complete and total chaos, where life has become “brutish, nasty and short”, with no one to take responsibility and provide leadership to save the situation. Herdsmen, blood-thirsty armed militias, kidnappers and bandits are on the rampage and have seized control of Nigeria.
As things stand today, if care is not taken, we may soon not have a country to call home. In case he is still in the dark, we are more concerned about holding the present government and its associates to account on economy and security of lives and properties.