President Muhammadu Buhari last week appealed to leaders of countries where stolen funds and assets are being kept by corrupt individuals, to help return the loot to the victim-countries.
The 70th United Nations General Assembly was the appropriate address for that appeal. The world leaders had just adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). For Nigeria, they will have to be funded, somehow.
What they did not dwell on was the betrayal of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), especially by countries such as Nigeria. That development plan did not fail in Nigeria because the country lacked funds. They remained a foreign concept because the leadership lacked commitment, and because the people of Nigeria didn’t care enough.
President Olusegun Obasanjo, who was at the Millennium Summit in 2000, and at the initiation of the MDGs to which it subsequently gave birth, had little time for them. Worse still, when he was compelled to leave office in 2007, he retaliated by instituting a rot so deep that neither sustained nor constructive work could take place. His successors have no time for them, either.
Hopefully, Buhari will put in place a more nationalistic and responsible structure, so that Nigeria will be celebrated as a success story when the SDGs are reviewed 10 or 15 years from now.
The MDGs would have been an amazing success in Nigeria if part of the Sani Abacha loot that Obasanjo pursued so relentlessly had been dedicated to achieving them. The former president has confirmed now that when he left office in 2007 he left behind in Abacha cash and assets alone $2billion, £100m and N10bn.
Part of the challenge before Buhari who at a point was said to have doubted whether Abacha was a thief, is to find out where those funds are, and used them for the public good.
Those funds—and others—are already here, and Buhari must avoid being another Obasanjo by not simply inviting the world to mount new efforts on our behalf, only to shy away from the challenge of ensuring that recovered funds are optimally deployed.
It is of some relief that in an interview before he left New York, Buhari affirmed that Nigeria’s troubled Senate President, Bukola Saraki, who is being tried for corruption, must earn his confidence.
This is important because Mr. Obasanjo was reported to have traveled all the way to New York to prevail upon Buhari to intervene in Saraki’s troubles and grant him something known as “soft landing”, a Nigerian euphemism for protecting and rewarding the mighty fallen.
Obasanjo and Buhari are the only two men to have ruled Nigeria twice, but Buhari witnessed how Obasanjo made a spectacular mess of his second opportunity. Hopefully, despite all of the grandstanding, he understands Obasanjo would be pleased to see him suffer the same fate.
Anyone who has paid attention knows that Obasanjo does not recognize the rule of law, if by that one means an authority over which Obasanjo has no control. And if there is anything in the province of the law for which Obasanjo has even more contempt, it is the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB). Proof of this comes from 2006 when a celebrated panel he had assembled allegedly for the purpose of confronting corruption recommended that the CCB prosecute nearly half of the nation’s governors.
Everything was okay until the panel handed Obasanjo the report. He took it home, and—I believe—simply set fire to it. He then called up one of those indicted governors and said to him, “You are going to be the next Vice-President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
And Goodluck Jonathan, perhaps the most philosophically-flawed of them, became Vice-President. Obasanjo has yet to apologize to the people of Nigeria for that malicious error. But he continued his games last week, telling reporters as the nation celebrated its 55th Independence Day, “Nigeria needs all hands on deck…we must kick corruption out because it destroys almost everything…”
Mercifully, his mission to New York appears to have collapsed. Not only did Buhari declare that it would be illegal for him as President to interfere in a court case, he also challenged Saraki to win presidential confidence through his trial.
The irony is that Buhari returned to Nigeria needing to fulfill his promise to officially nominate Ministers by the end of September.
That deadline arrived, inexorably, on Wednesday. It took the day’s final hours, but Buhari did send his list to the Senate, where it was received by the presiding officer, Saraki.
That was a humiliating moment. Think about it: the President of Nigeria, who had tried to look for citizens of integrity to appoint into federal power, had to submit that list to Saraki, a man who IS undergoing trial for some of the greediest and most corrupt allegations in the nation’s history.
What is next? According to the rule book, Saraki will now open the letter before the Senate, and read the names out loud in preparation for processing. He has announced he will do that on Tuesday, two days from now. [In practice, given his history, I fully expect him to have broken the seal by then, for the purpose of gaining some advantage, gluing back the envelope thereafter].
In the past, the PDP Senate used a “Bow and Go” vetting system. When the nominees appeared in the chambers for their nomination hearing, were then told, “Bow and go!” No suitability exercise was actually carried out, either because the nominee had allegedly parted with huge sums of cash, or was justified by membership of the PDP.
But here we are in an asylum in which the patients diagnose the doctors: Are Nigerians really to expect a thorough vetting of the nominees? What would that be? Will the Senators—most of whom last week passed a vote of confidence in Saraki—investigate the credentials of a nominee, for instance, and—conceivably identifying inconsistencies—scream “fraud!”
Really? Would Saraki explain to the befuddled nominee, “You made several emm…anticipatory declarations, contrary to the law…”
And were he to say such a thing, would that be accepted as proof of the quality of our Senate, as vindication of Senator Saraki the suspect, or as the latest Basketmouth joke?
Or will the Senate President, speaking seriously, deadpan: “Bow and Go, your integrity has set you free”?
I can’t wait.
One of Buhari’s most important messages last week was addressed to the mass media, which he challenged to adopt the virtues of investigative reporting. Watch the interview. He stopped short of calling Nigerian journalists lazy and complicit, using his history of assets declaration as an example. He seemed to be saying: “There are so many stories out there…you could even have compiled my previous assets declaration: Go and get them!”
From the President’s mouth, friends, not mine!
In his National Day address, he challenged Nigerians to recognize that they cannot be spectators in the stadium of change, watching him. “We must change our lawless habits, our attitude to public office and public trust…” he said. “To bring about change, we must change ourselves by being law-abiding citizens.”
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