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Pandora’s box

No occasion could have been more auspicious for a President to present his scorecard on corruption than the opportunity the commissioning of the corporate headquarters of the agency set up for the battlement offered on Tuesday. It is a multibillion edifice from where arrows are to be trained to free our land from the iron…

Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS

No occasion could have been more auspicious for a President to present his scorecard on corruption than the opportunity the commissioning of the corporate headquarters of the agency set up for the battlement offered on Tuesday. It is a multibillion edifice from where arrows are to be trained to free our land from the iron grip of corruption. President Buhari self-evidently committed to waging war on corruption seized, with full arms, the occasion of the inauguration of the head offices building of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in Abuja to wave before our gaze his report card on his efforts. Feeling on top of the world, he went beyond giving his experiences currently to take us down memory lane of where the efforts landed him at the time, which was between January, 1984 and August, 1985.

He said: “I do not like to start with digression but it has become relevant here because, of recent, a renowned citizen of this country said this government promises to fight corruption but he is warning us that corruption will continue to fight back. I’m sure he meant it for the rest of the country not for me because my first attempt to fight corruption, corruption fought back successfully.

“I was removed as Head of State, detained for three years. Those that we put (as members of ) committees to investigate for abusing office, they were given whatever they had misappropriated and I remained in detention until a journalist from Edo State said: ‘My mother had to die to save me from detention’ because I was only released when my mother died after three years. So in spite of that, my objective remains steadfast.” He made his audience to realise that he is undaunted; he had made a conscious decision to vigorously prosecute the war against corruption in public life.

He continued: “Since 2015, we have made significant progress in the fight against corruption. Everyone now knows that corrupt officials will be held to account, no matter how long it takes. We have recovered and are still recovering trillions of Naira that were stolen in the past years by people without conscience. We are pursuing recoveries everywhere and are making sure that anyone who has been found culpable is made to answer for his or her crime under the law.”

Certainly, it’s not so much his iron resolve to fight corruption to a standstill that will seize the attention of Nigerians, but the aspect in which he gave the reason why he was removed as Head of State by his colleagues in 1985. He skated over the subject in the past, dropping only hints here and there. But Tuesday was the first time he was making an open and direct statement on his overthrow. His agony is always palpable when he talks about corruption and how people can dare to abuse public trust. For him it is inscrutable. There is no decent person who will not abhor this crime and lack of consideration for their fellowmen who are at the receiving end. He deserves all our support. The pains of the scotch, the assault on infraction of public good and his unpleasant experiences trying to battle it must evoke something in us. How far back into the past a person goes on the matter will vary from individual to individual.

However, the president has by the pronouncement opened a Pandora’s box on the vexed issue of his short-lived administration. No sooner he spoke than the broadcast of Brigadier Joshua Dogonyaro announcing his removal which took place 33 years ago started to circulate in the social media. It is to be hoped that Buhari will oblige the nation his memoires very soon where he will give a fuller account of what happened and what led to what.

On the morning of 27 August 1985, the first broadcast was made by Brigadier Dogonyaro. Shortly after, General Sani Abacha was on the air. From the broadcasts, it could be seen that the cause of Buhari’s removal was more than the war on corruption and indiscipline, the latter under the sobriquet WAI to which he and his able lieutenant, General Tunde Idiagbon applied themselves unreservedly. It is not surprising, therefore, that, against the background of the content of the broadcasts, what Donald Trump calls “alternative facts”, stormy petrel Junaid Mohammed dismissed Buhari’s reason as simplistic. He mentioned what he called issue of national question as part of the reason for the change of guards.

Dogonyaro, now a retired general, in his broadcast spoke of the “unprecedented enthusiasm” with which their intervention at the end of 1983 was received by Nigerians, but that in less than two years into the life of the administration disillusionment set in the country. Said he: “Although it is true that a lot of problems were left behind by the last civilian government, the real reason, however, for the very slow pace is due to lack of unanimity of purpose among the ruling body; subsequently, the business of governance has gradually been subjected to ill-motivated power play considerations. The ruling body, the Supreme Military Council, has, therefore, progressively been made redundant by the actions of a select few members charged with day-to-day implementation of the SMC’s policies and decisions….Any effort to advise the leadership met with stubborn resistance and was viewed as a challenge to authority or disloyalty. All the energies of the rulership were directed at this imaginary opposition rather than to effective leadership. The result of this misdirected effort is now very evident in the country as a whole. The government has started to drift. The economy does not seem to be getting any better as we witness daily increased inflation. The nation’s meager resources are once again being wasted on unproductive ventures. Government has distanced itself from the people….”

The person who hit the nail on the head was the mastermind of the coup, General Ibrahim Babangida, his Chief of Army Staff. In his own broadcast later in the evening, after re-emphasizing some of the points in Dogonyaro’s broadcast, Babangida said, “Regrettably, it turned out that Major-General Muhammadu Buhari was too rigid and uncompromising in his attitudes to issues of national significance. Efforts to make him understand that a diverse polity like Nigeria required recognition and appreciation of differences in both cultural and individual perceptions only served to aggravate these attitudes. Buhari failed to exhibit the appropriate disposition demanded by his position. He arrogated to himself absolute knowledge of problems and solutions and acted in accordance with what was convenient to him using the machinery of government as his tool.”

Corruption is odious any day. As Buhari is wont to say, if Nigeria does not kill corruption, corruption will kill Nigeria. In the fight against corruption therefore, he has the full backing of Nigerians, his compatriots. It can’t but be disgusting to see unmerited affluence, a manifestation of unearned income, being brazenly displayed. As far as his resolve to battle corruption is concerned he will always have a broad support from Nigerians, provided there are no sacred cows and the war is even-handed. The revelations most of 2016 and early last year are mind-blowing. No one could have believed the engine of public spending had broken so loose and people invested with public trust had abused their offices mindlessly.

The problem I see in it all is not so much about war on corruption. The act of nation-building goes beyond war on corruption. Even on corruption itself, there must be deeper understanding of the sociology of it. Since it is a malaise driven by warped and darkened minds, bringing out bayonets to drive it away cannot go far. It will amount to no more than surface scratching as it will only be driven underground from out of fear. It will require the foundational factors being identified and tackled simultaneously with the manifestation of the malaise. Assuming Buhari makes some dent now and a humongous sum of money is recovered, what happens, for example, after he leaves office? After Obasanjo left and Ribadu, who did a lot of work to bring culprits to justice, was curiously posted out of EFCC, the war in that chapter of our national life was virtually dead. Fighting corruption is no doubt a herculean task. Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala says this much in his just released book, Fighting corruption is dangerous: The Story Behind the Headlines. People who have appropriated privileges cannot be made to surrender them without a fight. But Buhari is not helping matters with his own acute sense of provincialism, and the major steps to help in the battle, he spurns. He is a unitarist, and any talk of restructuring the country to engender a true federalism with the state police as its concomitant does not interest him. Yet Nigeria cannot move forward without these steps, without restructuring so that the federating units can generate their own resources and police them, giving an agreed percentage of their revenue to the centre for common services. Meanwhile, the problem of insurgency is there; criminality of all sorts is festering. His ideas on policing for this age are outdated.

The more crucial point which ought not to be lost on President Buhari is that nation-building goes beyond war against corruption. It involves demonstration of love, proven compassion and transparency as well as dedication to justice, equity and even-handedness. These are what will galvanize the generality of the Nigerian people, including the elite. It requires a thorough understanding of the peoples that constitute the country to permit openness on the part of Buhari to receive suggestions and weigh them carefully and minutely. There is no evidence of that as of the moment. The wider vision to engender a great country is lacking. There has been an outcry against the brazen lopsided composition of the security team but this has been met with utter contempt and obstinacy. It is a principle of governance that for cohesion, cooperation and collaboration, there must be inclusiveness and accommodation. It is even more so in the security of a plural society that Nigeria is. Security, political scientists, would say, is the state. How can major nationalities within the country not be adequately represented in the security architecture of the land?

There is no evidence of a grand educational vision to encompass overhauling in which acquisition of skills for the 21st century needs will be a priority. Without proper and functional education that guarantees self-employment, employment queues will continue to lengthen, the nation cannot develop and the battle against corruption would be a nine-headed snake. For people without honour and strength of character, without functional education battle against corruption will be difficult to win. Corruption is not only at the top of the societal ladder, it is at every level. Don’t forget, as Tai Solarin was never tired of drumming into our ears, the educated citizenry is easier to govern, but difficult to ride. It is thus understandable that the gathering Buhari has not successfully been able to carry along is the community of the well educated, the thinkers and the refined.

In 1984, the first interview Buhari gave was to Newswatch’s team of editors led by Dele Giwa. He told the magazine that he was going to tamper with the freedom of the Press. And he did. He promulgated Decree 4 which made publication of truth that embarrasses a public official a crime. The Guardian was made a victim, and two senior editors of the paper were jailed—the news editor and the diplomatic editor —for a story from the diplomatic beat that was not false. The paper reported that General Anthony Haladu Hannainya was being posted to the United Kingdom as High Commissioner and Col. Sanni Bello to Zimbabwe also as High Commissioner. Both gentlemen resumed at their respective posts after The Guardian trial. The Guardian offence was that it did not wait for their letters of credence to be accepted before publication. The reports were exclusives, what any newspaper in the world would be proud of. The editor told Idiagbon that it is the duty of government to conceal, but the responsibility of the Press to reveal! The editor cited the example of when a highly regarded columnist on The Times of London was considered for the post of British Ambassador to the United States by Prime Minister James Callaghan in 1977. Principal quality newspapers in the UK did not wait for any official announcement before they made a feast of the story. It was not just the editors that were jailed for one year, The Guardian was fined N50, 000.00 on July 4, 1984.

High-ranking politicians were jailed. Governors were locked up such as Lateef Jakande, Bisi Onabanjo, Professor Ambrose Alli, Solomon Lar, Audu Bako, Bola Ige, Sam Mbakwe and Adekunle Ajasin. Ambrose Alli died shortly after his release from a disease he was suspected to have contracted in prison. Onabanjo was hospitalised for a long time. He died a few years after the horrible experience. Ebenezer Babatope (Ebeno Topsy) could not attend the burial of his father at Ilesha. Until public outcry, the arrest and incarceration was begun from the Opposition who indeed were adjudged to have done very well. Jakande, for instance, performed miracles in Lagos. His sterling performance stared everyone in the face. The Metroline he was building to ease traffic in Lagos was cancelled. Chief Awolowo’s house in Apapa was ransacked and his passport seized.

What with the kidnap of Umaru Dikko, the erstwhile powerful Minister under Shehu Shagari, close to his house in London. He was drugged and put in a crate together with an Israeli doctor hired by Mossad. Dikko’s secretary saw the incident and alerted Scotland Yard that in turn notified Customs at Stansted Airport, London. The attempt was botched because of lack of documentation to classify the container as a diplomatic bag. The crate was opened at the airport! It caused an international uproar and national scandal and embarrassment. Britain had to sever relations with Nigeria for two years.

Dr. Junaid is therefore right in saying that there was more to Buhari’s ouster. His removal on 27 August, 1985, therefore, had more to do with his autocratic rule and perceived selective trials with scant regard for the diversities of the Nigerian peoples— than with his war on corruption. There was widespread disenchantment in the land and the noble fight against corruption lost its sting and appeal. Whether there is cause for triumphal vindication to warrant a glittering testimonial destined for President Buhari when he re-ascended the throne of our forebears in May 2015, it is his bosses, General Obasanjo and General Danjuma, the General we call T.Y. that can say. It is not for a bloody reporter!

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