Editor’s Note: This article was first published in March, 2015. With the reported return of $300 million of money looted by former military head of state, Late Sani Abacha to Buhari’s government, it has become topical.
by Shaka Momodu
Having watched the presidential standard-bearer of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Major-General Muhammadu Buhari, campaign around the country in the last couple of weeks, noted the emptiness and the near hollowness of the whole exercise, and having watched him garner some endorsements both from within and outside the country, I have come to the inescapable conclusion that those promoting the Buhari candidacy must have other reasons for backing him than the advertised prospect of saving Nigeria and setting it on the path of rebirth. Except we have all agreed that, it is better to settle for less, I see no plausible reason to present such shallowness as change and then proceed to premise the hope of a country’s rebirth on such disjointed motley assemblage of promises.
I however do not share the views of the change mob hysteria about Buhari because we have not been presented with the sheerest evidence to support those prepositions other than hope. Rather, my position is heavily supported by the evidence already in the public domain and further buttressed by the news last week that Candidate Buhari failed to apologise 31 years after he jailed two journalists under the jackboot of his obnoxious Decree No.4 which he used to gag and cow the press, despite claims by Professor Wole Soyinka that he had shown signs of “plausible transformation” and Buhari’s claim at Chatham House that he is a reformed dictator who has fully embraced democracy. Both claims in my view cannot pass the sniff test. Rather, what I see here is obvious deniability of the reality of who Buhari really is.
It appears the blitzkrieg rebranding of Candidate Buhari by the South-west (APC) apparatchik has only succeeded at the superficial level of creating a perception rather than reality, and that perception is what has driven the campaign thus far. But the reality is that the man being bandied around as the face of change has not changed from who he is to who or what he is not despite wearing different robes to give the veneer of “change” and “plausible transformation”. His refusal to show some atonement for sins of the past sets him apart from Mathieu Kerekou of Benin Republic who was reported to have apologised for his actions in a church. Has Buhari ever apologised for any of his actions? Not that I recall.
In the March 18, 2015 edition of THISDAY Newspaper, which reported the news of Buhari’s failure to apologise, there was another news story that caught my attention, titled: “Switzerland to return $380m Abacha loot”. The timing of the action of the Swiss authorities was particularly instructive as we go into the election. Buhari whose twin campaign sloganeering messages have been that he will fight corruption and end Boko Haram has consistently denied that Abacha stole Nigeria’s money. According to him, Abacha neither stole nor looted the country’s treasury. He described the allegations of looting against Abacha as “baseless”, because according to him, “ten years after Abacha, those allegations remain unproven because of lack of facts”. This was despite the fact that hundreds of millions of dollars had in well publicised reports been returned to Nigeria as part of the Abacha loot. Now that Switzerland is set to return another tranche of $380m, does Buhari still stand by his statement that the allegations or accusations against Abacha are “baseless” and not supported by “facts”? Here are three countries that have returned money stolen by Abacha to Nigeria. Switzerland: Switzerland had earlier returned more than $700m that the late Abacha hid in Swiss accounts and is now set to return another $380 million stolen by the dictator.
Liechtenstein: The Government of the Principality of Liechtenstein returned $227m stolen by Abacha in 2014.
Channels Island: The State of Jersey in the Channels Island is set to return £315 million (N90,040,634,775.00) to Nigeria as part of funds recovered from the late dictator, Sani Abacha. The Island had earlier returned the sum of £140m (N40,018,059,900.00) to Nigeria in two batches. But the man who has been rebranded as the face of change; the man “destined” to save Nigeria and fight corruption denies it ever happened in the face of overwhelming evidence – and stated sternly that – Abacha never stole Nigeria’s money.
Anyone who has a long memory will recall that former President Olusegun Obasanjo earned many flight miles in pursuit of Abacha’s loot. He hired international lawyers to chase those monies anywhere they may be located on planet Earth and recover them for Nigeria. Buhari was fully aware of all those efforts and yet denied Abacha ever looted the country’s coffers. The irony today is that the same Obasanjo is one of the front row supporters of Buhari-for-President in the coming election. It is most probable that Obasanjo will even deny his efforts to recover the loot considering the manner he recently dismissed the PTF report. What does this say about our leaders?
On Thursday last week, newspapers lavishly reported Buhari as saying “a corrupt government is worse than armed robbery.” Really? I chuckled – Was he kidding? I am sure his definition of a corrupt government does not include Abacha’s thieving government. Otherwise, he won’t have said the clear evidence was “baseless …unproven because of lack of facts.”
Meanwhile, the Swiss prosecutor’s office said overall, the Abacha clan was thought to have diverted about $5bn from the Nigerian treasury, adding that much of it ended up abroad.
Now the question is: should Buhari go on to win Saturday’s presidential election, it would therefore mean that, he will be the one to manage the $380m about to be returned by Switzerland. Will he hand over the money to Abacha’s family since he believes they were being wrongly hounded to return money they never stole in the first place? Will he tell the Swiss authorities to keep the money as no money was ever looted and insist on being an accessory to the fact of a conspiracy of lies and falsehood told against Abacha family? Will he demand Switzerland must apologise to the family?
This is the man now being advertised as the one who will fight corruption and “restore hope.” Anyone who denies that Abacha looted the nation’s treasury not only holds our values in contempt but does pure violence to those values.
And for the first time, and strangely so, the interests of the activists, pro-democracy groups, career critics, seasoned lawyers, ex-dictators, flawed progressives, ably supported by a vocal section of the intelligentsia have converged on a candidate – Candidate Buhari – irrespective of the records of history against him. What an irony!
As our highly revered Professor Soyinka in 2007 said when Buhari wanted to contest: “This intervention has been provoked, not so much by the ambitions of General Buhari to return to power as the head of a democratic Nigeria, as by declarations of support from directions that leave one totally dumbfounded. It would appear that some, myself among them, had been over-complacent about the magnitude of an ambition that seemed as preposterous as the late effort of General Ibrahim Babangida to aspire yet again to the honour of presiding over a society that truly seeks a democratic future. What one had dismissed was a rash of illusions, brought about by other political improbabilities that surround us, however, is being given an air of plausibility by individuals and groupings to which one had earlier attributed a sense of relevance of historic actualities.” Unfortunately today, our respected professor and wordsmith is now one of the individuals championing the crusade of the “plausible transformation” of Buhari without “rigorous inspection of the evidence”. What a turnaround!
Shaka Momodu is a columnist with Thisday Newspaper, where this article was first published in March, 2015.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.