TACITURN BUHARI AND CORRUPT NIGERIANS
After nearly three weeks of assumption of office, president Muhamadu BUHARI seem to be giving Nigerians, especially the corrupt ones,who have the proverbial ‘skeletons in their cupboards’ the ‘silence treatment’ which so far, seems to be the visible administrative strategy of our brand new president.
From antecedent as former military head of state with zero tolerance for indiscipline and corruption, president BUHARI’s personality as a stern and stoic leader who brooks no nonsense may be sending jitters down the spines of treasury looters in and out of govt who have been pillaging the economy under the previous permissive govt whose leader had an underpinning philosophy that petty stealing is not corruption.
In the past couple of weeks, newspaper and other media spaces have been taken over by petroleum products importers involved in the infamous crude-oil-for-petrol deal also known as SWAP,who have been trying to exonerate themselves from the deal that is believed to have inflicted cumulative damage in excess of $3 billion on Nigerian economy.
Similarly those in the upstream sector who under dubious arrangements like Strategic Partnership Agreements, SPAs with NNPC cart away huge volumes of our crude oil without remitting the sales proceeds to NNPC and who under opaque circumstances acquired marginal oil fields being divested from by major international oil companies, IOCS for a fraction of their real cost, have been scrambling to explain their prized illicit acquisitions through media messages to president BUHARI who for now seems not to have intermediaries through whom shady deals could be made,perhaps in consonance with mr president’s famous inaugural speech “I belong to everyone ,I belong to nobody”.
As if to strengthen her husband’s philosophical position, mrs Aisha BUHARI, the president’s wife also reportedly commented in the media that her husband spent 12 years chasing the presidency ticket and having been given the mandate,the accomplishment is very well cherished and held in high esteem so Nigerians should not offer bribes or gratifications to those parading themselves as close contacts to mr president and her good-self for favors as was the case with their predecessors in Office.That admonition by mrs BUHARI is quite commendable and a welcome change in Aso Rock villa.
Depending on who you ask between Chukwuma Soludo, the former Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN governor and his successor Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, now Emir of Kano, Nigerian economy was practically fleeced of incomes ranging between $20-40 billion in less than a decade by oil barons going in and out of Aso Rock , some of whom are now for obvious reasons, quaking in their boots.
In morbid fear of president BUHARI even before he lifts a finger against those who despoiled our economy and despite the fact that most independent oil marketers-DAPMAN and MOMAN appear to have withheld the import of petroleum products into Nigeria owing to the uncertainty regarding the payment of their outstanding invoices for payment of subsidy charges by the new govt, NNPC’s petroleum products depots are now awash with fuel products owing to the frenzy by crude-oil-for-petrol swap deal makers who are now bringing in ship loads of petroleum products that they claim were outstanding in their agreement with NNPC.
In some instances ,the fear of president BUHARI is even compelling the return of some stolen oil monies owing to ‘guilty conscience’ by those perceived to have short changed govt in nefarious petroleum products deals, although it is being denied in some quarters.
Ordinarily, and by the same token,governors who just termed out of office, would by now have taken a flight out of Nigeria into some safe haven abroad for fear of being arrested by the the economic crime commission,the EFCC on account of financial impropriety while in office, but president BUHARI’s govt seem to have deviated from that beaten path by being demur on that count.The only financial scandal that Nigerians are currently being regaled with in the media by the EFCC is the alleged 8 billion naira mutilated currency scandal for which some Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN and other bank officials are being arraigned.
Unbeknown to politicians, President BUHARI’s seeming reticence reflected in his mute but sanguine attitude to corruption allegations against the immediate past public office holders like governors and ministers,could be as a result of not wanting to fight on too many fronts at the same time,as he is currently concentrating on the fight against Boko Haram but as a veteran army general, it may also be a strategy to beguile the corrupt public officials by seemingly acquiescing with them only to, like a cat, pounce on them when they least expect him to do so.
While we await president BUHARI’s clear policy direction as the days roll by and when he eventually forms his cabinet , it is welcome development that saboteurs of Nigeria’s oil sector, are of their own volition, showing remorse and seeking penance for the apparent infractions by paying up.
Going by the current rash of remorseful actions of petroleum products traders and the salutary effects it could have on Nigerian economy if needless litigations and attendant incarceration are avoided,those who have infracted in other sectors like ex-governors and ministers should follow that example and do the needful by returning their loot before BUHARI’s govt, as it were, bares its fangs.
In my considered opinion, it is better to pry the loot out of the sticky fingers of the compromisers of our common patrimony than merely sending them to jail which has been the case since the time of army general, Muritala Muhamed of blessed memory who ousted the govt of army general,Yakubu Gowon in 1975 on account of corruption and probed top functionaries including governors and permanent secretaries with the resultant forfeiture of assets acquired with proceeds from corruption.
Disappointingly, assets such as choice real estates ,cinema houses and the like,seized from those found guilty,have since been returned to the looters with Nigeria and indeed Nigerians being the ultimate losers.
Given that the option of amnesty or its variant has been successfully applied by former president,late Umar Yar’Adua who introduced the policy as solution to the protracted Niger delta militancy which had defied solutions by several regimes dating back to the 1960s when oil prospecting commenced in the region,using a combination of moral suasion and coercion to recover most of what has been stolen especially in the past six years,seem like a wise concept that president BUHARI should avert his mind to.
The deal struck by former president Olusegun Obasanjo’s govt with the family of former military head-of-state, Sanni Abacha on stolen money hidden in banks abroad is a typical model of how not to chase a bull into a china shop,with its attendant collateral damage. Although the recovered money from the Abachas via the unconventional initiative was not channeled into specific social services,as govt should have done for the maximum benefit of the Nigerian people who are usually the worst victims of corruption, nevertheless a substantial sum has been repatriated even as it is being alleged that most of the funds have been re-looted by public officials in charge of handling it, if the buck passing between the EFCC, National Security Adviser, NSA’s office and Office of the Attorney General and minister of justice is anything to go by.
Preferring to recover money rather than clamping treasury looters in jail may be novel in Nigeria but it is not uncommon in advanced democratic societies because in the United States of America, USA,plea bargain has become a culture in the justice system and in civil cases,affluent people also pay huge sums of money to authorities in lieu of prison terms. Nothing testifies more to the efficacy of that method than the recent sanction of major European and American investment and retail banks found to have ‘gamed’ the banking system and were fined billions of dollars by the USA Department of Justice, DoJ for the benefit of the American society.
In light of the foregoing ,l reckon that the ultimate interest and objective of president BUHARI and his govt would be how to find the funds to fulfill his lofty campaign promises such as feeding students at least once a day and #5000 allowances to be paid to the teaming army of unemployed Nigerians.
Obviously such recovered funds could come in handy for channelling into such productive sectors like education of our children who are the future leaders of our country and providing stipends for the jobless in the society who may become easy prey for recruitment for disruptive activities of terrorists in the north-east and militancy in the Niger-delta, if their cost of living is not augmented.
For the avoidance of doubt,the kernel of my avowal is that the society is better off when looted funds are recovered and such monies are applied for the benefit and socioeconomic advancement of the long suffering Nigerian people as opposed to merely clamping officials found guilty of corruption in jail at the further expense of the tax payer through cost incurred during litigation and prison management expenses.
Off course, there may be some Nigerians who subscribe to the existential concept of ‘the rich also cry’ and would therefore like to see guilty oil subsidy ‘fat cats’ and other people who engaged in other forms of financial perfidy,rot in jail,but to what benefit is that revenge attitude to the intended lifting up of Nigeria’s economy from the doldrums which is the raison det for the emergence of the present govt ?
Before l conclude,it is apropos that l apprise president BUHARI and his team, the wise counsel of Martin Luther King Jnr on critical thinking. According to Reverend King,the great liberator of the black race in the USA “Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is almost universal quest for easy answers and half baked solutions”
That assertion by the sage, rings true till date so mr president must strive to rise above the mediocrity that Reverend King alluded to in his admonition.
At this critical juncture in the life of Nigeria, thinking out of the box for a more productive solution, which some form of amnesty for those found guilty of financial infractions portends as opposed to long jail terms which has been the case in the past, should be explored. As l pointed out in my last widely published article, entitled ‘ BUHARI: May Your Road Be Rough’ it is clear that the choices open to our president to make in order to steer Nigerian society and economy out of the ominous path to bankruptcy are hard but mr president should not hesitate to take the required actions, no matter how initially painful they maybe. In the manner that a loving mother would administer unpalatable anti malaria medication to an ailing infant to save the child who may in nativity be resisting the caring mother’s perceived ‘wickedness’ in administering the bitter drugs mercilessly and forcefully, president BUHARI could literarily pull Nigeria back from the brinks if he elects to think critically out of the box and act decisively.
***Magnus Onyibe, a Development Strategist, Futurologist and Former Commissioner in Delta state Govt.