It is not entirely clear why Vice President Yemi Osinbajo chose the occasion of Monday’s 7th Quarterly Business Forum to, as it were, open fire on the Jonathan administration, but his widely quoted remarks have generated a sizeable backlash.
Osinbajo reportedly alleged on Monday that on the eve of the 2015 elections, officials of the Peoples Democratic Party, “in one single transaction”, withdrew and frittered away N100bn and $295m. He went on to say as a clincher, that close to $3bn were stolen by officials promoting Strategic Alliance Contracts, involving the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation and the Niger Delta Development Commission. Warming up to the emerging political boxing ring, a spokesperson for former President Goodluck Jonathan, Reno Omokri, rebutted the allegations, and, sadly in my view, went on to call Osinbajo a serial liar whose main achievement had been the dishing out of lies. So far, Osinbajo had yet to take up the challenge to show proof of the weighty claims of monumental corruption made against Jonathan, but as a preliminary comment, Omokri could have made his point in more elevated language than he did.
It is pertinent to state that this writer does not belong to any political party, an identity one takes seriously, if for no other reason than that the two major political parties have failed Nigeria woefully, and there is a sense in which their increasingly strident quarrels are an unfortunate diversion from burning and festering national problems they have failed to address. Now, to more substantive matters. It will be nice to know if the fresh allegations made by Osinbajo are connected with the diversion of funds meant to prosecute the war against Boko Haram (Dasukigate) or do they refer to different kettles of fish altogether?
Osinbajo, by virtue of his office, has privileged access to information not available to the public; so if this is information he has recently stumbled upon, or encountered in the call of duty, it is disturbing that he chose to deploy it in a casual, off-the-cuff manner. It would have been edifying, if apart from providing some form of validating evidence, he had told us, how many arrests had been made in the wake of his fresh discoveries of humongous fraud and immense heist. Often, the public has been inundated with stories of grotesque official swindles, in both the Jonathan and Buhari administrations, and we are beginning to wonder whether the stories are told for entertainment value, to elicit the customary ‘o ma se o’ (it is such a great pity), or to score political points in an election season.
Somehow, selective airing of damaging revelations has rank shifted moral purpose in the anti-corruption struggle. The master of this game is the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, which from time to time, and to keep anti-corruption on the front burner titillates us with hair raising yarns about gargantuan sums stolen from the public kitty by the past administration. It is deafeningly silent on how many politically exposed persons have been successfully brought to book.
So what we have on our hands here appears to be a case of one of the chief law enforcers as raconteur or fabulist; the will to apprehend and to prosecute has been usurped by the guile and art of storytelling implying, that the police officer has become the entertaining narrator of crime scenes. This is like being brought before a senior police officer who regales his confused audience with intimate accounts of chilling crime escapades, leaving his spectators with the troubling question of what he then did with that vast storehouse of knowledge. In other words, political propaganda aside, and in the absence of definitive actions to apprehend offenders, there is nothing new to learn from Osinbajo’s gripping tales of alleged corruption by Jonathan’s officials. Before pursuing the narrative however, this writer craves the readers’ indulgence to digress in a short take.
Wednesday’s release by the Boko Haram insurgents of over a hundred schoolgirls, abducted a month earlier from Dapchi, Yobe State, has brought considerable relief to traumatised parents, citizens and sympathisers in Nigeria and across the globe. Interestingly, the schoolgirls’ release from captivity came in the wake of the controversy generated by the Amnesty International Report that security forces refused to heed warnings of an impending strike. In the absence of full scale investigations, which government claims it is conducting, we are none the wiser concerning the reasons why we left our guards so low as to be hit so cheaply, Chibok-style by Boko Haram. It is comforting however, that more decisiveness and follow through stamina were exercised in this case than in the aftermath of the Chibok saga of 2014.
It remains to be seen whether the mark up is traceable to beefing up of national security (albeit after the horse has bolted from the stable), or whether it was due to the sense of urgency created by calculations of projected terrific image downturn in an election season. No matter how it is reckoned, it is important to see through ongoing efforts, in the face of overwhelming odds, to protect the lives and property of Nigerian citizens.
Dapchi was avoidable, especially if we learnt any lessons from Chibok. Perhaps, with time, we will be able to fill up the yawning gaps and too good to be true aspects of the official narrative. For example, how come the insurgents were so nice this time round that “no ransom was paid” for the girls’ release, the captives were not tortured or rough handled and Boko Haram acted so civilly by dropping the girls in the same school from where they abducted them on February 21. Whatever the puzzles, whatever the melodramatic coincidences, we must use this opportunity to rejig national security which may face even more challenges as a result of the stresses of an election season. This is an area in which duplicity cannot replace the forthright pursuit of overarching goals.
To return to the initial discourse on corruption, it should be of interest that almost everyone in the Buhari administration is comparing it with that of Jonathan. Jonathan has suddenly emerged from obscurity to become the preeminent bugbear of the administration. Only last week, Buhari compared his performance over the abduction of Dapchi girls to Jonathan’s handling of the Chibok girls’ saga, and awarded himself a pass mark; and this week, Osinbajo had considered it necessary to deliver devastating blows to Jonathan’s image by stories of corruption whose provenance is waiting to be ascertained.
Ironically, by focusing so much on Jonathan, he is made to loom larger than life. This negative focus may have arisen, in all probability from the self-doubt of top officials of this government, regarding how well they have really performed. Jonathan, was the hobgoblin or supervillain but now he had become the template for measuring success or failure. This must be a low and rough patch indeed for an administration that started with such high hopes.
It will be advisable if government focuses more on easing the woes of Nigerians in this distressing time. Playing the blame game three years after Jonathan was voted out of office can only make matters worse.