For the past several weeks, Nigerians on social media have made a big sport of what we’ve styled “Dasukigate—with an imitative eye to the Richard Nixon-era Watergate. The made-in-Nigeria Dasukigate has arisen from astonishing allegations that detail how Sambo Dasuki, who served as National Security Adviser under former President Goodluck Jonathan, divvied up more than $2 billion of the country’s defense budget among (mostly partisan) political interests.
The unfolding narrative is that Mr. Dasuki, a retired colonel and a man in whom the former president seemed to have supreme confidence, had a free hand in disbursing hundreds of millions of dollars—often in cash. The funds were originally intended for the purchase of materiel to enable the Nigerian military to wage a more coherent war against Islamist insurgent group, Boko Haram. Instead, most of the money reportedly ended up in the pockets of a coterie of PDP officials.
Mr. Dasuki, who has been charged to court, has denied wrongdoing. He has also claimed that Mr. Jonathan authorized his every transaction with the ostensible defense funds. One hopes that, at one point or another, prosecuting or defense lawyers will invite the former president to show up as a witness in the case. For if he approved the use of critically needed defense funds to empower a partisan cause, then—as Nigerians might say—“his head no correct.”
But I digress. My purpose today is not to discuss Dasukigate. At least not directly, for I believe there’s a malady more troubling and more pernicious than the former NSA’s alleged financial fiddling. And that malady, I’m afraid, indicts the Nigerian collectivity. It bears the name and face of all of us. If you’re reading this, please pause and go fetch a mirror. Take a long good look in the mirror. Now, you have seen the enemy. S/he’s you. S/he’s I. Heck, s/he’s all of us.
Yes, us. Forget Dasukigate, mate; let’s look at Us-gate.
Many moons ago, we used to have it easy. We had alibis. When we screwed up, we could plead immaturity, inexperience, youth. Once upon a time, we could assert that our nation was young, in fact a veritable baby, and proclaim ourselves sinless. We could, and often did, trot out the trite line that “Rome was not built in a day.”
The cold war between America and its allies, on the one hand, and the Soviet bloc on the other, offered us cute, ready-made excuses for our grand failures. We could blame all our woes on the machinations of that larger-than-life ghost called imperialism or his dodgier twin, neo-colonialism. If some of us from one ethnic or religious group fell upon others of us in an orgy of extermination, we could always blame foreign forces for orchestrating this bloodlust. If a few men and women among us conspired to steal the whole nation’s lunch money, and deposited the loot in their Swiss banks, we were satisfied that something called the comprador bourgeois virus, in collusion with predatory capitalism, was to blame.
Fifty-five birthdays later, Nigeria has become an adult by any reckoning—whether we like it or not. And we, its citizens, have become masters of our own fates, the architects of our fortunes—and misfortunes.
The real scandal in what we have blithely baptized Dasukigate is not that one man or a small circle of men and women could sit astride $2 billion and waste it. The deeper scandal is that we, every single Nigerian, permitted the enthronement of a system that allows that manner of impunity—and worse—to take place.
Think about it. In all the frenzied revelations about how Mr. Dasuki “shared” money and who was in on the take, we never once heard that one would-be recipient turned down his portion of the largesse. There has been no mention that one official of the Central Bank of Nigeria raised questions about the way the NSA’s office was carting cash from the country’s banker. There is no record of one minister or aide of the former president raising a voice in protest. Not one of those in the know ever thought to contact a newspaper or online publication and blow a whistle on the callous embezzlement of defense funds. I find it hard to believe that not one Nigerian reporter or editor knew about the alleged scam. Why did no newspaper, no website expose the travesty?
It gets worse. For years, soldiers complained that they were sent, ill-equipped, to battle well-armed Boko Haram fighters. These soldiers, most of them young men and women in their prime, were essentially sacrificed—marched off, sans weapons, to be slaughtered by Boko Haram fighters armed not only with superior weapons but also with the certitude of a “divine” mandate. When some of these soldiers scampered away from battlefields or shrieked at their commander for neither equipping them with weapons nor paying their allowances on time, they were court-martialed—and many sentenced to die.
Even so, not one army officer felt outraged enough to speak up, to tell Nigerians and the world that money meant for weapons was instead arming some PDP officials, some perennial parasites and some profiteers from the misery of others: men and women who reap without sowing.
In typical fashion, we’d rather leave the impression that we have one monster and one monster alone—the man who reportedly presided over the illicit “sharing” of billions. The rest of us welcome the respite to return to our plates of piping hot goat pepper soup, our sweaty bottles of Star beer. And while we eat and quaff, we are wont to banter about the so-called Dasukigate, now working ourselves to tepid, unconvincing anger, now making light of it all, ruing the fact that we were not invited to “collect our share.”
We, all of us, are implicated—to one degree or another—in this tragedy of a country being nurtured into hopelessness. Whether we’re PDP members, or members of its new ruling faction called the APC, whether we are apolitical or spend many hours writing political posts on social media, we are complicit in the creation of a “nation” where a scam called “security vote” is part of the system, where every local government chairman, every governor, and every president can—and does—keep stashes of cash in their offices and residences, public funds disbursed on a daily basis without scrutiny or oversight.
Last Sunday, the Punch published an interview with Adeseye Ogunlewe, a former Minister of Works and Housing. Questioned on the propriety of accepting defense funds from Mr. Dasuki for partisan purposes, Mr. Ogunlewe was unapologetic. “If one wants to contest for an election, will the person [sic] not have money (to spend)? Won’t money be shared?…Whatever is happening is normal: there is no political party, including the All Progressives Congress and the PDP, that will not spend money. But it’s the source of the money that is questionable…It (the money) was to run the committee. How were members of that committee supposed to transport themselves? One needed to buy petrol; or, how would one move from here (Lagos) to Ibadan? One had to stay in a hotel there. It was for the committee to function.”
The Ogunlewes of our world must be mobilized, if necessary from defense funds, to fuel their cars and pay for hotel rooms. As for our soldiers who must combat merciless Boko Haram fighters, why, don’t they have hands? Let them fight with bare hands if they can’t get guns. Why buy weapons for ordinary soldiers when our chieftains and thieftains hardly have enough cash to purchase private jets, Rolls Royces, or to pay for first class flight tickets to Dubai and other favorite haunts?
We are Dasuki, I’m afraid; Dasuki, indeed, is us.