By Rotimi Fasan
THE Buhari government has compiled a list of Nigerians alleged to have plundered the economy and left the country’s finances in a shambles. For this government, the unhappy state of the economy that has hobbled its ability to deliver the much talked-about dividends of democracy is traceable to the murderously corrupt activities and profligacy of the immediate past administration of Goodluck Jonathan that left the door of the country’s economy open for all categories of plunderers to enter and exit as they pleased. As a way to shame these appropriators of our commonwealth, the administration has decided to expose the hidden faces behind the statistics of corruption that have by the sheer magnitude of the amount involved, left many Nigerians open-mouthed.
Expectedly, the long list of people we would be justified to see as destroyers of the economy is causing a lot of controversy. Even when some of the accused persons have been making several rounds of the law courts before now, a few others have accused the government and its spokespersons of defamation and are heading to the courts of law. But the government doesn’t appear ready to give in to threats. If anything at all, it appears poised to do battle with those it has more or less called common thieves that should be made to account for their misdeeds.
The immediate context to all this sabre-rattling could be located in an innocuous speech delivered by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo in which he uncharacteristically launched a verbal attack at the Goodluck Jonathan administration, accusing it of disgraceful profligacy. Jonathan’s government was in the speech of Mr. Osinbajo more or less cast in the mould of the biblical prodigal child that squandered his inheritance in a sudden access of incontinence. Although the vice-president mentioned no names (and he didn’t need or have to for Nigerians to make sense of his point), but what he had to say was more than enough to ruffle some political feathers.
Thus did former President Goodluck Jonathan take umbrage at the reference to his administration, soon coming to the conclusion that some people were out to tarnish his reputation. It’s a little unclear why Mr. Jonathan decided to respond in the manner or at the time he did. Far worse remarks had been made about the Jonathan administration to say nothing of President Jonathan himself. But it would appear that the comments of the vice-president, perhaps because he is not popular for making such relatively frontal attacks – verbal or otherwise – perhaps it was for this reason that President Jonathan felt a need to respond.
The rebuttal from the former president notwithstanding, his party, the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, was soon to offer Nigerians unsolicited apology for the mistakes of the past, but exactly what was the nature of those mistakes, it failed to mention in specific terms. This seems to be a season of apologies and requests for absolution. For someone else, no less a former President of the Senate and serving senator, Ibrahim Mantu, has also confessed to rigging election on behalf of the PDP. This may strengthen the resolve of the ruling party and the Buhari government to maintain its stand on the looters’ list and refuse to offer any apology to those demanding one for the inclusion of their names on that list of infamy comprising the plunderers of Nigeria’s wealth.
To be sure, the Buhari administration had long promised to release a list like this. The promise was in fact something in the nature of an electoral blueprint. But like with many other promises made by this administration, the government has been very slow to make good on this. It promised to expose corrupt Nigerians but thereafter went to sleep, uttering perfunctory statements now and again on the matter but mentioning no single word about actual suspected looters.
Soon, members of this administration would prove themselves no better than those the government was accusing of looting or corruption. It all soon boiled down to a case of the kettle calling the pot black. Perhaps, the Buhari government was looking for the right time like this to release its list of looters. But in the meantime, it held the list like the Sword of Damocles over the heads of those who probably already suspected they were potential candidates for the list.
After those who very early read the handwriting on the wall took the wise decision to cross to the All Progressives Congress , APC, the ruling party has suddenly found the courage to release the list. Which may explain why there have been many cynical and dismissive put-down of the list as a catalogue of opponents of the party. While the APC government might have been motivated by self interest in not releasing the list of looters before now, it would neither be responsible nor wise move to see the list as one solely targeted at opponents of the government. For one, many of those mentioned in the list have been appearing for a while now before courts of competent jurisdiction and there have not been signs that they had no case to answer. If anything, many of them have been trying their best to show how they came about the money traced to them where they had not indeed opted to return it in order to be set free.
The matter before us extends beyond mere politics. This is not an issue to be reduced to a game of political witch-hunt or personal vendetta in which persons apparently guilty of criminal pilfering can simply claim they are being targeted for ridicule and/or possible prosecution on account of their political affiliation. Let everyone have their day in court and let everyone who knows they have no skeleton in their closet approach the courts in the spirit of confidence, not assembling so-called senior advocates who go around seeking interminable injunctions to stall the course of justice.
In choosing this time, not too far from the 2019 elections, to release the list of looters, the APC-led administration may have had its eyes set on some political advantage like rendering some of the guilty persons electorally unattractive and ultimately unelectable. But such calculation would only work, if at all, among Nigerians that probably have immediate concerns than moral stains to consider, where the fingered individual has indeed soiled their hands.
Nigerians would like the government to be as inclusive as possible and be even-handed with the looters’ list. It is about time some people were made to pay for their misdeeds. They should not be allowed to continue to walk the streets and enjoy the profit of unearned wealth without being challenged. Naming them and reporting them to the rest of the world will be a good precedent to prosecution.