Selective Persecution Of Jonathan And His Men
IN the eight years of former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s government, from 1999 to 2007, the only government thief that Nigerians heard about was former military ruler, General Sani Abacha. Obasanjo personally carried cutlass, literally speaking, pursuing the ghost of Abacha everywhere around the world.
Startling revelations of loot under the late general came up, but in all of Obasanjo’s anti-corruption war and up until today, every evil of that era was heaped on Abacha. Tons and tons of Nigeria’s stolen wealth were traced to some foreign accounts, directly linked to Abacha, and successive Nigerian governments have been struggling to recover all the looted money.
The Obasanjo government set up the Justice Chukwudifu Oputa panel, and armed it with the mandate to address the ills of the past in Nigeria’s national life since independence and make recommendations for possible atonement. As would be expected, the probe passed off largely as an inquisition into the activities of Abacha and his men, and sparsely into the military governments headed by incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari and Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, who were also generals of the Nigeria Army.
Whereas the Oputa Panel did extensive grilling of Abacha’s men, both Buhari and Babangida turned their backs at the panel. They treated invitations extended to them to appear before the panel with contempt and disdain, ignoring all allegations made against them individually and against their governments. The scornful attitudes of the two former military leaders made nonsense of the Oputa Panel and turned it to mere theatrics, so much that the piles of its reports and recommendations ended as artifacts, in whatever shelf the Obasanjo government may have kept them at the Presidency.
That the Obasanjo probe was selective and targeted only at taking a pound of flesh of the ghost of Abacha was as clear as daylight. And Nigerians too knew why Obasanjo went ferociously after Abacha and his men. The late general had reined Obasanjo almost into an early grave, after finding him guilty, along with several other persons, in what was generally believed to be a fathom coup. He had been condemned to death but the sentence was commuted to life sentence and was still serving his term at Kaduna prisons when the Abacha government ended with the maximum leader’s sudden death inside the Aso Rock Villa. It was the anger of his molestation that Obasanjo nursed all through his eight years in government, tenaciously pursuing the evils of the man who had tormented him.
Were Abacha to be alive during the Obasanjo days in government between 1999 and 2007, what would happen might not be any different from what the Buhari government is doing now in its probe of its predecessor, the government of former President Goodluck Jonathan and his men. Whereas the Buhari anti-corruption war may not be easily seen as a vengeance probe, like Obasanjo’s against the late Abacha, Nigerians are beginning to see through the current drive as selective persecution of Jonathan and his men.
The point must be quickly made, however, that Nigerians want an end to corruption. Nigerians are generally agreed that corrupt public officials must be fished out and punished. Nigerians believe in the philosophy of Buhari that if we do not rise up against corruption and kill it, corruption will kill this country and ultimately, kill us as a people. To that extent, Nigerians are hugely in support of Buhari pursing looters of our treasury.
But two things must be avoided in the way the Buhari anti-corruption war is being prosecuted, so that it doesn’t go the way of Obasanjo which, over time, lost its credibility and largely seen as a mere vengeance war against the ghost of Abacha. One, Nigerians have demanded severally that the probe must not begin and end with the Jonathan administration.
The Buhari government should make no mistake to discountenance this critical demand. Nigerians have also reminded Buhari that in probing the supposed ills of Jonathan and his men, it must also not jettison whatever little strides were made by that government in all the critical sectors of governance. This is the only way the Buhari government will be seen as not only demonising Jonathan in a desperate bid at winning back his waning and rapidly diminishing public sympathy and support over the long delayed expectation to start delivering on its many campaign promises to the Nigerian people. As things are steadily turning, it is almost appearing as though Buhari had decided on his earlier promise to probe only the Jonathan administration; just as all the obvious legacies of the Jonathan government are being systematically criminalized.
As the cost element of the Jonathan era is being scrutinized, the courage put into liberalising the business of the power sector by unbundling the sick and mafia-captured Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) to allow for private participation should equally be acknowledged and sustained. For decades, several governments since the collapse of the Second Republic government of Alhaji Shehu Shagari had grappled with the problem of systemic decay in the power sector.
Although no disclosure had ever been made of how much military regimes since Buhari in 1983 till Abacha in 1998 sank into electricity that was never available, the Obasanjo government spent $16billion without trace, yet the sector recorded no tangible improvement. Obasanjo made desperate attempt to sell off the PHCN, but he was frantically resisted by the workers. He succumbed to their threats, after we have lost essential Bola Ige in the bargain. The Obasanjo efforts just couldn’t fly and were thwarted largely because of the manner that his government used in mindlessly sacking the workers of the Nigeria Airways without any immediate plans to pay their entitlements.
It took the grace of Obasanjo’s successor, the late Umaru Yar’Adua, to review the case of the sacked Nigeria Airways workers before government began to pay their entitlements piecemeal. Jonathan did not leave such a headache for the Buhari government, in the case of PHCN. He seamlessly dismantled the behemoth PHCN, making the management and administration of the country’s power sector less cumbersome for Buhari to improve upon. What needs be done is to continue to strengthen the various autonomous companies that have emerged from the rubble of the defunct PHCN for effective generation, distribution and supply of electricity to their consumers.
The road rehabilitation projects at the time include the Dualisation of Abuja-Abaji-Lokoja highway, the Kano-Maiduguri highway and the rehabilitation of Onitsha-Enugu-Port Harcourt Expressway, Benin-Ore Shagamu Expressway, Lagos-Shagamu-Ibadan Expressway as well as the construction of the new Loko-Oweto Bridge over River Benue in Nasarawa and Benue states. Again, Jonathan laid an education development plan that, if further improved by succeeding governments, will help in assuring development of the sector.
He had what he called Improved Girls’ Education Programme, under which his administration constructed 13 special girls’ schools at strategic locations in the country. In the educational disadvantaged areas of the North, the government built at least 64 Al Majiri model schools to give education to children of indigent parents and established federal universities in states that had none across the six geo-political zones of the country. These are aside the massive refurbishment of existing infrastructure in our tertiary institutions.
Current revelations that seem to point to alleged mishandling of state funds by some aides of Jonathan may, indeed, have the tendency of assailing his leadership character, but as governance is a continuum, the Buhari government must resist the temptation of throwing away the baby with the bath water. Any good project done, or which might be ongoing, should be retained and sustained for the good of the country, while the not-so-good should be scrutinised to determine if they could be improved on.
That is the way to go, in order to create for this country a sustainable development plan that tomorrow’s governments can follow. The current selective persecution of former President Goodluck Jonathan and his men represent, in the view of many ordinary citizens, a distraction, diversion and a resumption and continuation of an ugly legacy of Olusegun Obasanjo who spent so much time, enormous energy and resources demonising Abacha for jailing him.
The selective persecution of an administration and its head, who had no political prisoner, no exile and who ensured that his government remained largely focused and accountable to the Nigerian people, demand a rethink.
• Engr. Ade Adebayo, a retired Company Executive, lives in Port Harcourt, Rivers State.