Nigeria Matters

Gen. Abdulsalam Abubakar has Gen. Muhammadu Buhari’s Phone Number, Right?

Mathew Hassan Kukah, the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, who was also a member of the National Peace Committee that went to see President Buhari the other day, spoke out of both sides of his mouth right after the meeting. In one breath, he admitted that Buhari’s anti-corruption crusade was not heating up the polity. But in the very next breath, he told reporters that the committee was concerned about process. He also said that this is not a military regime and that under existing laws, everybody was innocent until proven guilty. In yet one other breath, he stated that “this is not an intervention; it is not a hearing out process.” But in the very next breath, he stated: “This is a very (sic) planned series of intervention essentially just to hear out everybody.”

buhariClearly, somebody is trying to fool somebody here. Why would there be any need to remark about a “military regime” when no one has been arrested indiscriminately by the military or DSS or even the Police since Buhari became President? Why would anybody need to remind Buhari that existing laws are enough to prosecute criminals, if the meeting was not an attempt to intimidate or preempt him? Why did the members of the committee meet with political party members (a.k.a. aggrieved PDP chieftains looking at possible jail times) and Goodluck Jonathan himself, if not to “hear them out” and then intercede on their behalf with Buhari? Why is there a National Peace Committee in the first place, when the country is not in a civil war or at the brink of one?

If anybody was heating up the polity, clearly it was members of the so-called peace committee who, it seems, were making a mountain out of an ordinary mole hill. Fighting corruption had been Buhari’s calling card since he overthrew Shehu Shagari way back in 1984. During all of his previous campaigns for the presidency, he had made anti-corruption war the centerpiece of his conversations with Nigerians. So, why is anybody befuddled by his keeping to his word? And why should anybody be afraid, concerned, worried (or whatever you want to call it) if they had not been guilty of stealing Nigeria blind when they were in power? Although the peace committee members denied they met Buhari in order to appeal for leniency for Jonathan, the coincidence was just too much.

Which is why I am disappointed that some eminent personalities lent themselves to be used for this pointless voyage that only wasted Buhari’s time…the time he needed to catch some pre-eminent thieves. I am talking about eminent people like the Sultan of Sokoto, Sa’Ad Abubakar III and Bishop Kukah . I do not understand why other respected people like Primate Nicholas Okoh and Cardinal John Onaiyekan abandoned their respective flocks to participate in the charade either. Mrs. Priscilla Kuye, a former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (was she there to scare Buhari with legalese?) should also have just stayed home.

Two other people were on that trip though that did not surprise me: former Head of State Gen. Abdulsalam Abubakar and Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN).

Let’s take Oristejafor first. You will recall that he became President of CAN through a very controversial and corrupted election which saw the withdrawal of the Catholic Bishop Conference (CBC) from the umbrella organization. This was the man of God who rented his private jet to Jonathan’s government for the infamous and illegal smuggling into South Africa of $9.3 million for the purchase of ammunition on the black market. How did he get to own a Bombadier Challenger 600? “Anonymous” church members donated it, he said. To ferry the money to South Africa, Oritsejafor leased the aircraft to one of the companies in which he had interests – Eagle Air. This means that whatever Eagle Air charged Jonathan (or Nigeria) for the lease, the man of God took home. This was hardly a behavior that was in conformity with CAN’s cardinal objectives, one of which is serving as a “watchperson of the spiritual and moral welfare of the nation.”

What about Abubakar? This was the man who, fortuitously ruled Nigeria for about one year…just one year (June 1998 – May 1999)…during which there were too many June 12-induced crises for him to have the time to get rich, but who is now reported to be one of the richest ex-Presidents we have. This was the man under whose reign and in whose dungeon MKO Abiola died mysteriously on July 7, 1998. No, he was not the one who originally incarcerated MKO Abiola. Sanni Abacha did, of course. But Abubakar had a whole month during which he could have released Abiola. Instead, he dilly-dallied until someone gave Abiola that poisonous tea and he died literally on the eve of the day Abubakar was supposed to release him. Nigerians have not really dragged Abubakar’s name too much into the mud for how Abiola died. Or even how Abacha died so conveniently 30 days before Abiola, which ironically was the silver bullet needed to solve the intractable impasse created by Abiola’s decision to fight for his mandate. But his possible culpability has always been a bedroom rumor for many. When riots inevitably broke out because of Abiola’s death, the government of Abubakar magically pulled $200 million, £75 million and N500 Million directly out of the CBN and used the monies to “appease” some South-west leaders. Or so Major Hamza Al Mustapha told a Lagos High Court. Till this day, Abubakar has not refuted that story.

Then there was (or should we say, there is) the case of the $182 Million Halliburton scandal. Several reports, including those by Le Monde, the respected French newspaper, and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), have reported the allegation that Abubakar (as President) along with his then Chief of Staff, Major-General Chris Garba (rtd), his wife – Rita garba and one Andrew Agom were beneficiaries of some huge bribes given to them by the British lawyer, Jeffrey Tesler. Tesler was showing gratitude for approving a $6 Billion contract meant for the Nigerian Liquified Natural Has (NLNG) project. Now, a contrite Tessler has, in fact, publicly admitted his direct role in the scheme and has given detailed account of how he passed on the monies. Tessler mused: “There is no day when I do not regret my weakness of character. I allowed myself to accept standards of behavior in a business culture which can never be justified. I accepted the system of corruption that existed in Nigeria. I turned a blind eye to what was happening, and I am guilty of the offenses charged”, the ICIJ quoted him.

The ICIJ further reported: “In one brazen episode in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, Tessler directed the drop-off of a travel bag stuffed with $1 Million in $100 bills in the foyer of a luxury hotel where the per-night cost of a suite can exceed the nation’s average annual income of $3,000. It was one of at least 20 money transfers that Tessler made or directed. The cash was destined for Nigeria’s ruling party via the state-owned oil and gas company, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).” Certainly, the last has not been heard about this Halliburton case, no matter how many summersaults people involved make in Aso Rock, Buhari has promised.

But somehow, it was this same Oritsejafor and this same Abubakar that were seen grinning from ear to ear and sharing banters with Buhari during the visit. Abubakar has indeed managed to deftly wangle his way into the consciousness of the Nigerian elites as a statesman of some sort and the only man with the key to Buhari’s heart. If you are well-connected and you want to see the President today, you go see Abubakar. If he likes you, he will get you an appointment. But if you are well-connected and you are in a corruption-related trouble, you don’t go see Yakubu Gowon, or Shehu Shagari, or Ibrahim Babangida, or Ernest Shonekan. You don’t even go see Olusegun Obasanjo, in spite of his self-righteous indignation and self-aggrandizing persona. You definitely don’t go see the baleful Goodluck Jonathan to help intercede with Buhari. You go find Abubakar. He is the man who appears to have Buhari’s ears.

It was the reason Jonathan reached out to Abubakar in March just before the elections. At the meeting, Buhari was said to have given his word that Jonathan would not be witch-hunted since all former Nigerian Presidents belong to this unique club that confers on them unofficial immunity for all their sins. It was the reason why, in April, after Buhari was declared winner, Super-Minister Diezani Alison-Madueke made a couple of frantic nocturnal visits to Abubakar and convinced him to book an appointment for her with the in-coming President. (Your guess is as good as mine about why she went to see Buhari.) And it was the same reason why, as The Nation newspaper reported a few days ago, Jonathan himself reached out to Abubakar (again) to help facilitate yet another meeting with Buhari. This time though, Buhari did not make himself readily available to even Abubakar until after about three futile attempts. The nighttime visit by Jonathan to Aso Rock has been widely reported, and among the topics speculated to have been discussed was the issue of (not) probing Jonathan’s government.

Heresy is heresy and abomination is abomination. Reasonable Nigerians were justifiable stupefied when they saw Abubakar and Oritsejafor in front of Buhari, ostensibly trying to negotiate leniency for those who stole Nigeria blind. For them, this was just out of congruence with the perception of Buhari they have held for years. And they want Buhari to put a huge distance between him and all incorrigible entities that may stain his impeccable character.  As for me, I know that 13 Abdulsalam Abubakars and 13 Ayo Oritsejafors combined will not prevent Buhari from his determination to put a huge dent on corruption and help burnish Nigeria’s tarnished reputation. I know Buhari will be civil with them when they visit. But when the EFCC comes knocking on their doors, Buhari will not lift a finger to save them. That’s when Abubakar will find out he does not have Buhari’s phone number.

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