Every well-meaning Nigerians at home and in the Diaspora should be worried at the direction the country is headed. Once again, Nigeria is tottering on the brink of political crisis, the implications of which, nobody can fully predict.
In countries where the people matter, with only two months left before general election, the tempo of political activities would have peaked by now. The politicians ought to be criss-crossing the nooks and crannies of the country, selling their vision and their parties’ manifestoes to the electorate, pleading and hoping that the people buy into such programmes. But not in Nigeria! Here, barely sixty days to the polls, Nigerians hardly know the candidates, what they stand for and why they should entrust their destiny to them. Many political parties are yet to flag off their campaigns. In fact, many are yet to finally decide on their candidates.
Two months to the elections, party leaders are busy lining their pockets with filthy lucre from would-be candidates, selling tickets to highest bidders. And you ask: what was the need for the primary (s)elections? As the April polls approach, the party apparatchiks are busy submitting, this minute and withdrawing the next minute, lists of candidates to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). As they engage in this game of musical chairs, the names on the lists continue to change. Within 24 hours, an aspirant’s status could change from a candidate to defeated aspirant and again to candidate.
Again, the implication is that rather than going to the grassroots to canvass for votes, many aspirants have relocated to Abuja in their desperation to safeguard their tickets. At the end of the day, many of those who would fly the parties’ flags, if the elections hold, are not necessarily those produced by the parties’ internal democratic mechanism but those whose pockets are deep enough to assuage the greed of unconscionable party officials.
As if this distraction is not enough, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) finally threw the axiomatic spanner in the electoral works last week by releasing its so-called list of ‘investigated and indicted’ politicians who are not worthy of holding public office. As expected, this latest EFCC gambit, an action which smacks of political mischief, is generating controversy. It will be interesting to see how the EFCC chairman, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu convinces Nigerians, who can easily see through the subterfuge, that his overriding goal in compiling this list is to further the ends of the fight against corruption.
It will be sad if, rather than levy a resolute war on sleaze, those saddled with this historic responsibility resort to blackmail, fighting proxy wars on behalf of certain political interest groups. It will even be more so if in doing this, they disingenuously exploit the deep seated aversion which ordinary Nigerians have for graft and their simmering desire to rid their country of this asphyxiating malaise. It is in itself an act of corruption, in fact a more hideous genre, to feed on such a national phobia, knowing full well that even when barely disguised political vendetta is hoisted on the totem pole of anti-corruption, many people are wont to tread carefully in opposing it.
By allowing the commission to be tied to the apron strings of the presidency contrary to the dictates of the EFCC Act, Ribadu will continue to commit this avoidable faux pas, which smacks of bad faith and hypocrisy. And by so doing, he would, sooner than later, erode the confidence of Nigerians in the only agency they can look up to in their desperate quest to retrieve the soul of their country from kleptomaniacs who steal out of compulsion. How do I mean? Even to the most undiscerning, it is obvious that the list could well have been compiled in Aso Rock and handed to the EFCC.
First, the agency leaked the list to the media early last week; making it known that it was only then dispatching a copy to the presidency. The idea was to create the impression that the list was compiled independent of any external influence. Ribadu, in an accompanying letter said the list was to help guide the parties in their choice of candidates and therefore merely advisory. Yet, this list only came after the parties had concluded their primaries. Shouldn’t such a list aimed at helping the political parties make more credible choices come before the primary elections?
Second, the presidency said it had no hand in compiling the list. Yet, on the same day, Wednesday, February 7, that the list was leaked to the media, the same presidency that denied fore-knowledge had already set up an administrative panel of enquiry, summoning 26 of those whose names are on the list, through the Nigerian Television Authority, to appear before it on Friday and Saturday, to defend allegations of corruption against them. A day later, 62 more names were included in the list of those invited to face the panel. When did the presidency study the list, which if Ribadu is to be believed, it only got on Wednesday; and when was the panel set up? Why would the EFCC send the list to the presidency rather than charge the accused to court, as required by the EFCC Act?
Third, the fact of the panel is an act of bad faith. Granted, the Federal Government has the power to set up a panel of enquiry pursuant to Section 103 of the 1999 Constitution. But is this panel investigative, in which case, it will only look into the veracity or otherwise of the allegations, or is it, in the manner of the Bayo Ojo-led panel, that purportedly indicted Vice President Atiku Abubakar, judicial? It is obvious that this panel was set up for the sole purpose of indicting those invited in a desperate bid to satisfy a constitutional precondition for barring a candidate from contesting election. Having been ‘investigated and indicted’ by EFCC, what guarantee is there that the accused will get fair hearing from this panel, which constitution has the imprint of the same EFCC? That makes the anti-graft body the accuser, investigator, prosecutor and judge, all in one. That flies in the face of justice. EFCC has the powers to investigate and charge an accused to
court. It has no power to indict, as that power falls only within the purview of courts and duly constituted tribunals.
Fourth, Senator Ahmed Aruwa, the Kaduna State All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) gubernatorial candidate told his colleagues in the Senate on Thursday that he was never at any time invited by the Commission in connection with any investigation. Many of the so-called ‘investigated and indicted’ politicians whose names are on that list have equally cried out. How could a man be investigated and indicted for serious crimes without being given a fair hearing? What offences did they commit and when, how and where were the offences committed? Nigerians need to know. After all, these are supposed to be crimes committed against Nigerians and the Nigerian state and not against the person of Ribadu. As much as Nigerians want corrupt officials to be sanctioned, they don’t want to be turned into a lynch mob, corralled into baying for the blood of people who at best are mere suspects.
Here, Ribadu cannot claim to be constrained by the constitution because many of those involved do not enjoy any constitutional immunity from investigation and prosecution. He could even arrest most of them if he so wished. So, why didn’t he do that? Why is he ‘charging’ his quarries to a presidential panel of enquiry rather than the courts after unilaterally investigating and indicting them? Why the seeming haste to sacrifice fairness and justice on the alter of political expediency? The most plausible explanation is the impression so brazenly created that the driving force behind this so called war on corruption is vendetta, not justice. After all, Ribadu cannot say in good conscience that the courts have not been sympathetic to the anti-corruption cause because such a claim will not be borne out by the facts. EFCC has secured many historic convi
ctions via the courts? It flies in the face of justice to deny people indicted of corruption an opportunity to defend
themselves in court.
Beyond the issue of bad faith is Ribadu’s duplicity as this list of ‘investigated and indicted’ politicians would show.
Granted, it will be difficult for one book to contain the names of all the corrupt people in Nigeria, because that book could well be a multi- million page book. Yet, no credit is done either to Ribadu’s integrity or the credibility of EFCC when certain names are conspicuously missing from the list. For instance, is it not curious that the name of Chief Adebayo Alao-Akala, deputy governor of Oyo State and PDP gubernatorial candidate is missing from the list? Yet, here was a man who Ribadu, ten days ago, publicly declared unfit to be a leader on account of gross misdemeanour. When did Ribadu realise that Alao-Akala is a saint after all?
Is it not curious that in Anambra, those whose names are on the list, from the state House of Assembly, are the very lawmakers who opposed the purported impeachment of Governor Peter Obi? Could Ribadu tell Nigerians what crime Dr. Olanrewaju Tejuosho, ANPP senatorial candidate in Ogun Central, a man who is not a public official, committ other than having the audacity to challenge Nigeria’s reigning ‘first daughter’ to a political duel?
It will be a grave error on our part to indulge Ribadu, no-matter how altruistic he may claim to be, by giving him the God-like powers of sitting in the comfort of his office and determining all alone, with no provable evidence other than his hunch, which Nigerian is corrupt, and therefore not fit to hold public office, in this politically charged atmosphere. Only angels could be entrusted with such responsibility without fear of possible abuse and they (angels) are not known to dwell among men, at least, not in the EFCC office. Ribadu should appreciate that waging this all-important anti-corruption war from the platform of prejudice is to defeat its essence.
Nigerians have for long come to the inevitable conclusion that corruption is a malignant cancer blighting the soul of the country; it is a spectre which has haunted them endlessly and which they have agreed must be exorcised from our body-politic if we are to reclaim our country. But using the war on corruption to serve political ends will not only be a disservice, it will ultimately boomerang.