It is barely a year to the general elections. And we are already having a rain of confessions and apologies. Yesterday’s men, men who now shiver in the winter of life, are confessing to their iniquities against Nigerians whilst their hold on power lasted. It is also a season of hypocritical devotion by Nigeria’s latter day saints who, basking in the waning triumph of their fast disappearing ‘messianic’ movement, blackmail a listless opposition with two looters’ lists in quick succession. The quick jabs have left the opposition in a state of stupor, struggling to react. Even an old horse has been singing like a canary. The harder the men of the moment punch, the more their disorganised victims sing. The more everything seems and feels like a documentary.
Currently, there are three principal actors in the reeling political film. On the one hand is Alhaji Lai Mohammed, chief propagandist of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and President Muhammadu Buhari’s minister of information. On the other are Prince Uche Secondus, national chairman of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and Alhaji Ibrahim Mantu, another PDP stalwart and former deputy Senate president.
Like a penitent parishioner just returning from the purgatory, Secondus had admitted, at a recent national talk shop on contemporary politics and governance, that his party “made many mistakes” for which they were thoroughly thrashed by voters in 2015. He, therefore, apologised “to Nigerians unequivocally for the several shortcomings of our party in the near and far past…”
Though he may have made the apology with 2019 in mind, not a few Nigerians were surprised that, at last, someone in the “Biggest Party in Africa” had finally owned up to the missteps of the behemoth. While tendering the apology, Secondus attributed the mistakes to an “evolution process without which there can be no maturity.” But if the PDP boss thought Nigerians would honk their horns and clash the cymbals at his penitence, he was terribly mistaken. Rather than applaud his “maturity”, they felt he should have made the confession comprehensive by stating his party’s specific misdemeanours, including but not limited to the massive electoral fraud and mindless looting that signposted its 16-year reign. He never did that.
Unknown to him, he had just given Lai Mohammed, a dye-in-the-wool propagandist, a lethal weapon to pummel his party. Predictably, the minister picked the gauntlet. He challenged Secondus to go the whole hog by prevailing on looters in PDP to return their loot. Still, Mohammed would not quit. He landed a sucker punch by releasing a list of supposed looters in PDP, with Secondus topping the pack with a N200 million tag.
While Nigerians were still struggling to make sense of the list, with members of the ‘gang’ loudly proclaiming their innocence, the minister delivered an uppercut, churning out a second list that further pushed the alleged looters and the main opposition party to the edge. Now, everyone is fighting for his or her political life. The PDP chair has since slammed a N1.5 billion defamation suit on Lai Mohammed at a federal court.
While all these were playing out, another prodigal returned home, confessing to political heist against Nigerian voters. A week after Secondus’ confession and apology, Ibrahim Mantu went on prime time television and confessed to having helped PDP rig elections in the past. The party denounced and dropped him like rotten tomato. Even some of his allies have been saying: ‘Mantu, you’re on your own’.
This is my take on the matter. First, I think Lai Mohammed’s lists are insincere, deceitful and diversionary. The lists are a compendium of half-truths fraudulently packaged by the ruling party to generate momentum, cause maximum damage and control the national debate in the months preceding the vote. These are aside the strategic bombs (lies) the ruling party has been delivering, and will continue to deliver solely, to devastate the PDP and divert attention from the serious issues of good governance and survival by Nigerians. All the plots fit smugly into the documentary being shot by the APC towards 2019. They have nothing to do with the anti-corruption war. Were it not so, the lists would have contained names of rogue politicians, mostly former governors and ministers, who ran their states aground before scampering to APC for refuge.
The real bad news for Mantu and co is: The scales have fallen off the eyes of Nigerians. Having been beaten and short-changed several times by lying leaders, Nigerians are now able to distinguish between those who lust after their votes for self-aggrandisement and those who sincerely love to serve them. They have discovered that they, and not the politicians, are the real giants.
The president knows them. Lai Mohammed knows them. They are obscenely wealthy and powerful. They are seemingly untouchable because of their proximity to power and because they co-sponsored Buhari to power. That’s their insurance against prosecution. That’s why you can never find their names in the ongoing name-and-shame game. As long as the president and APC have their eyes firmly fixed on re-election, the party will continue to be a safe haven for the thieves. That, to me, is a textbook example of corruption.
But that should not surprise anyone because the painful truth is: Corruption is the oxygen that feeds Nigerian politics and politicians. It is what sustains their existence. Though corruption is a universal problem, Nigeria is, perhaps, the only country in the entire universe where a man goes to bed in the night a pauper and wakes up the following morning a billionaire. Nigeria is, perhaps, the only country where newly elected Representatives go to Abuja like ragged strangers and in rickety cars only to start cruising the latest SUVs and shopping for mansions to buy a few weeks down the line.
I restate my belief that, at a personal level, President Buhari means to crush corruption. And he can do it. But he seems to be the only General at the frontline. His political ambition has also not helped matters either. His quest for a second term has made him hostage to power. Aside that, at 75, he is arm strung by the travails of old age. If it were the fire-spitting Buhari that the world saw between December 31, 1983 and August 27, 1985, our prisons would have by now been bursting at their seams with many of those who plundered Nigeria; including those nestling in his party; even some high ranking members of his administration.
Also, the fact that we have a docile society and a pliant populace who seem so impervious to the plundering of their commonwealth by an infinitesimal percentage of the population, compounds the problem. Instead of getting angry at the wanton stealing going on around them, instead of insisting that the thieves be brought to account, they celebrate those they call the ‘new billionaires’. They care less about the source of their wealth; rather, they angle for a piece of the action. And the party continues.
Back to singing Mantu and remorseful Secondus. For whatever it is worth, Nigerians need to thank the duo for reminding them the truth they have always known. That done, we must tell them that we know their confessions were not ordered by the Spirit but political expediency. The confessions are what Yoruba call aluwala olongbo, or ablution of the cat; a device for theft. That is the real reason they, political juggernauts of yesterday, are suddenly behaving like desperate dwarfs, and are singing like caged birds. Politically weak and vulnerable, they, like the proverbial dwarfs, frantically seek the backs of giants to see the horizon.
The real bad news for Mantu and co is: The scales have fallen off the eyes of Nigerians. Having been beaten and short-changed several times by lying leaders, Nigerians are now able to distinguish between those who lust after their votes for self-aggrandisement and those who sincerely love to serve them. They have discovered that they, and not the politicians, are the real giants. And as giants, they’ve got the power and should be dictating the tune. As giants, they can see farther than the dwarfs that seek their back. Consequently, they are taking the confessions of Mantu and Secondus with a pinch of salt. They are demanding justice in the matter.
As humans, we all commit sins. And when we sin and confess this, God forgives us. Similarly, when people sin against us, the Holy Books enjoin us to forgive them, hence the saying that, to err is human, and to forgive divine. It is, therefore, not out of place to forgive Mantu and other riggers for perverting the people’s will.
But the truth is: Rigging is treachery against man and God. It is a coup against the people. It is a wicked twisting of God’s order and an heinous assault on a people’s legitimate right to good governance and a good quality of life. Rigging puts pigs in palaces, and charlatans in towers of power. Rigging is sacrilegious. It kills dreams and stalks progress, because rigged elections can only produce crooked systems. It makes the afflicted country put square pegs in round holes, like we do at virtually every level of government in Nigeria.
Mantu’s confession, as well as other malfeasances since 1999, should be thoroughly investigated, if we can afford the resources and the time. Those indicted must be brought to justice. If we can afford the investment, it may help us discover the pathway to a neater and more civilised electoral process.
Electoral fraud blocks our best brains and throws up people who, otherwise, should have strolled into the Guinness Book of World Records with their incredible talent in sleeping and snoring during meetings, but now displaying these at plenaries in the National Assembly. The disease yields people whose natural calling is comedy, or dance and drama, but who rigged their ways into congress, where their biggest achievements are recording abusive videos and flaunting their latest state-of-the-art automobiles.
All these, and more, conspire to make Nigeria sleep-walk while its erstwhile contemporaries, like Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore, are reaching for the stars.
The pertinent question is: Should we pardon the grievous offence of rigging and tell the offenders to go and sin no more?Tufiakwa! Chukwu a ma ekwe!!! God forbid. To do that is to encourage and assure potential riggers that there is no big deal in manipulating the democratic process.
But it is a big deal. Mantu’s confession, as well as other malfeasances since 1999, should be thoroughly investigated, if we can afford the resources and the time. Those indicted must be brought to justice. If we can afford the investment, it may help us discover the pathway to a neater and more civilised electoral process.
Despite the fact that I want to see Mantu in the dock, we still need to applaud his ‘courage’ in going to the purgatory; not because his confession was sincere but because of the questions it is raising and the answers it is providing in the anti-corruption narrative. For me, his admission has rekindled the hope that a day may come in this country when, for instance, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo would disclose how he was persuaded to come and rescue Nigeria in 1998, and how, after eating from the honey pot for eight years, he plotted for the party to continue ad-infinitum.
Again, Mantu’s avowal has reinforced my faith, even if the faith is faint, that we may yet witness a day when Dr. Goodluck Jonathan would wake up and tell the world why he chose to look the other way as confirmed rogues plundered the economy. It could also encourage President Buhari, after he has earned his next title of ‘Ex-President’, to address a world press conference and explain why he was reluctant to deal with the super looters in his government who reportedly fed fat at their beats, at the expense of Nigerians.
It is also possible that at such a conference, Buhari may be inspired to tell the true stories of the fugitive pension looter, Abdulrasheed Maina (his mysterious escape, his clandestine reinstatement, and ludicrous promotion); Babachir David Lawal, the disgraced secretary to the government of the federation, who reportedly spent a staggering N200 million to clear ‘stubborn weeds’ in IDPs camps in Yobe and Borno States; and the indicted director general of National Intelligence Agency, Ayo Oke, who thought it was safer to warehouse billions of government funds in his private property, rather than the Central Bank. Anything is possible.
God bless Nigeria.
Shola Oshunkeye is the CEO of Omnimedia Nigeria Limited, and executive director of the non-profit, Sustainable Development and Transparency Foundation.