Towards The Buhari Probes - by Obi Nwakanma

I fully endorse President Buhari’s commitment to initiate a probe into the past administration of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. He would of course require the legislature to commence this probe, because by law, the legislative arm of government, that is the National Assembly, specifically the senate, is the arm empowered, through its various committees, to investigate the activities of the government, following which the president may be compelled to establish or initiate, through the Attorney-General, prosecutorial remediation.

Presumably, there is established in the Nigerian senate (since the Nigerian constitution is modeled after the US constitution), a Senate Investigations Committee, equivalent to the powerful US senate permanent investigation committee, which has subpoena authority over all homeland and government affairs.

It will be the duty of this powerful committee, following a letter from the president, to probe the past president, and suspend his immunity in the event that he might be required as key witness in the investigations.

The incumbent president does not have the power or authority to tamper with the immunity, or any act of his predecessor covered by his immunity until such is overridden or vacated by the National Assembly and affirmed by the Supreme Court.

The checks and balances as a principle established by the rule of law under constitutional governments forbids one arm, that is, the executive arm of government, from being judge, jury, and witness, in matters such as this. In effect while President Buhari’s move to investigate the past administration is welcome news to all supporters and advocates of transparent governance, it too must follow the rule of law. And speaking about the grounds on which this president wishes to probe his predecessor, President Buhari said very poignantly of the decay: “A lot of institutions are compromised.

We have people, educated and experienced people, but everybody seems to have been working for himself, on how much they could get away with as soon as possible.” And reaffirming the shocking details of massive looting and alleged endemic corruption of the last administration, Mr. Adams Oshiomole, former Labour Leader and current governor of Edo State with whom the president recently toured the US told journalists who accosted him at the Presidential villa in Abuja: “the PDP destroyed this country.

I mean from the lips of American officials; senior officials in the State Department said one minister under PDP cornered as much as $6 billion. The man said even by Washington standards this is earth shattering.” Oshiomole was quoting Johnny Carson, who is no Johnny-just-come to Nigerian affairs. A number of issues rise out of these statements from both the president and the Edo state governor.

One issue certainly is, how did Nigeria’s money “walk” from its shores? It would take a complex network of civil servants, banks, handlers, and mules, including the collusion of key officers of the Central Bank to “disappear” this money. It will also take the failure, collusion, or incompetence of Nigeria’s National Intelligence Services as well indeed as the Criminals Investigation Department of the Nigerian Police to stash Nigeria’s looted funds in foreign banks without early detection and deterrence.

These institutions dropped the ball. Will the president also probe them? If it takes US officials to know which of Nigeria’s public officials have money stashed away in foreign nest eggs, then it means that the entire national bureaucracy is compromised and everyone is in on the game. It is a frightening picture indeed. It means that the entire fabric of Nigeria’s national security has been compromised, in ways that make it vulnerable to instability and destabilization; and makes possible the destruction of its capacities as a functioning state. 

But history is a bitch. The collapse of the Nigerian state did not happen today. This decay did not begin with President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan; nor was his regime the most corrupt, from all the indices available. Nigeria has been hemorrhaging since 1966. Every regime since the end of the Nigerian civil war in 1970, the beginning of the oil boom, has a case to answer. The military era in Nigerian politics, of which President Muhammadu Buhari was a key participant, was an extremely corrupt and lawless era in Nigeria. The looting of Nigeria’s wealth by the Generals gave the term, “lootocracy” its most signifying metaphor. President Buhari himself, if he wants to be taken seriously on this issue, must account for his own years as minister for oil and chairman of the Nigerian National Oil Company. In 1980, a Nigerian senate investigations concluded that $2.8 billion was missing under his watch from Nigeria’s oil accounts, which compelled President Shagari to empanel the Ayo Irikefe judicial inquiry. President Buhari must also account for his years as chairman, under General Abacha, of the Petroleum Trust Fund. As a matter of fact, he defied the invitations of the late Justice Oputa to appear before it, and the heavens did not fall.

I draw upon all these to justify my argument that another toothless judicial panel of inquiry will not serve the current need to expose the depth of malfeasance in Nigeria’s public affairs. If this president is serious about probing Jonathan, he must seek serious legislative teeth that will give bite to judicial sanction, fairness, as well as transparency to the process. It must not be seen as a witch-hunt. At the moment that is how a vast section of Nigerians is likely to see any selective probing of the administration of Dr. Jonathan. To establish the credibility of the process, the president must back a probe of the last fifteen years of the PDP government in Nigeria, including the period under the watch of President Olusegun Obasanjo. For eight years, president Obasanjo was sole imperator of Nigeria’s Ministry of Petroleum and the NNPC.

I endorse the assertion by Professor Nwabueze, the distinguished constitutional lawyer that to probe Jonathan’s administration alone will scratch only on the surface of things. There must eventually be a probe of Nigeria’s past leadership, at least from 1983-1999, including the era of military rule, which introduced the impunity that now characterizes public governance in Nigeria. Buhari’s excuse that going further beyond Jonathan would be a distraction, is in fact, groundless. Finally, corruption is not just a feature of the central government: the states were also massively looted, and all parties were involved. Indeed, the highest level of corruption in Nigeria happens in the states which have very weak legislative oversights and enforcement. Right now, state governors owe arrears of salaries to public servants, going up sometimes to five months.

There is no society in which this happens without consequence, because non-remuneration of workers in government signifies the highest failure of government. It amounts to a security breach. Nigerian states are bankrupt, in spite of the massive allocations they have received in the last fifteen years as revenue from the federation account. The APC governor in Imo state, a key ally of the current president, allegedly illegally appropriated the accounts of the local governments in the past four years and has not accounted for it. He is threatening to sack state workers who are striking because they have not been paid.

To probe Jonathan is a task that must be done. But who will probe the states, where many in the president’s party have looted their states? And what sense does it make to probe Jonathan and his ministers alone, when the roots of the problem goes deep and further back, and continues still?