Nigeria: to Probe or Not to Probe Past Administrations

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Accountability is, from governance and ethics perspective, answerability or liability. It is an integral part of democracy and the rule of law. In leadership roles, accountability is the acknowledgement and assumption of responsibility for actions, decisions or policies. Accountability is therefore, sine quo non for good governance. With this in mind, it must be seen as a natural welcome step when accountability is demanded from the government or individuals. The decision, therefore, of the newly elected president of Nigeria, General Muhammadu Buhari to probe and demand accountability from the past administration of his predecessor, Dr Goodluck Jonathan, would be seen as a welcome move ““ if done for the sake of true accountability and democratic responsibility.

With the insatiable greed and fearlessness for accountability, Nigerian ““ and for that matter, African – leaders have been plundering resources with the highest degree of impunity and alacrity. Holding a public office has become both life insurance and assurance for financial security for all family members of the office holder, cronies and their future generations to come – definitely not an opportunity to serve the nation judiciously and deliver or show results. Conspicuous stealing from the government has become a vicious circle, simply because lack of accountability has turned to a norm. So with the intention of the Buhari administration to probe the past administration of Dr Goodluck Jonathan, the question is: Has a Daniel come to judgement?

That might be too soon to conclude, perhaps. Firstly, one should give General Muhammadu Buhari the benefit of the doubts that his intentions to probe the past administration are purely to bring sanity to the decaying political culture of immunity from prosecution. Secondly, we assume Buhari`s decision is an act of patriotism rather than a tool of victimization for the sake of revenge or vengeance. Thirdly, one expects the probe to be done in a fair, transparent and democratic manner. Clearly, only President Buhari alone knows exactly his real intentions and what he sets out to achieve. However, the world can only judge him by his actions. Former President Jonathan promised Nigeria to not only modernize the electoral process; he pledged to usher in a free and fair election ““ at least to the African standard. He kept his words and delivered. Jonathan assured the nation that he would respect the outcome of the last general election. He honoured his promises. Even though he lost the election by a very slight margin, he honourably and respectfully accepted defeat and congratulated his opponent, General Muhammadu Buhari. In Africa, where the magical power of incumbency can do and undone, Dr Jonathan virtuously refused to succumb to the executive raw power, greed and personal aggrandizement. His respectable decision to accept defeat in the face of the Nigerian volatile election surely saved the country from an impending anarchy. Definitely, President Goodluck Jonathan has rewritten the history of the African political scene. For sure, history will judge his decision kindly. Likewise, General Muhammadu Buhari came to power after many unsuccessful attempts. He is seen in many quarters as an incorruptible, upright man of principle. Many look up to him as a serious Saviour to bring sanity to the political madness and stealing from the Nigerian elites. They expect honesty, integrity and political accountability from Mr Buhari. Keeping his words, President Buhari has instituted a panel to probe the past administration. According to the panel, the probe light will be beamed and focused on the activities of the past administration in the last five years.

This is where President Buhari’s intentions are seriously questioned. The constant question many ask is: why should Buhari probe only the last administration – especially, having in mind that he initially indicated his intention to extend his probe to other administrations before Jonathan’s? Interesting, the former head of State, General Ibrahim Babangida, has recently challenged General Buhari to dare probe him or he (Babangida) would come up with alleged corrupt practices during Buhari`s tenures. With the threat and other stories circulating around, many have started doubting the sincerity of Buhari’s probe as well as his integrity as a leader. Questions are being asked by angry Nigerians: Why is President Buhari limiting his probe to Jonathan’s administration?     Is former President Jonathan being “rewarded” for obeying the constitution and relinquishing power willingly, hence saving the country from political Armageddon? Is Buhari after ‘weak”Jonathan because Dr Jonathan does not have any military credentials? Is President Buhari weak, unfair and selective with his probe? Could it be that there is truth in the accusation that President Buhari indeed has some skeleton in his cupboard, hence his “fear’ to probe or confront the past leaders, who threaten to “expose” him if he dare probe them? Does the world seriously doubt Buhari`s commitment, fairness, honesty and integrity in the light of his anti-corruption crusade and in the face of billions of dollars missing under the watch of other former (military)   Presidents of Nigeria?

Worse still, others might even question President Muhammadu Buhari`s motives. Did blatant stealing of the government money in Nigeria start with Jonathan`s administration? Is the probe just a witch-hunt game or an act of accountability aimed at bringing sanity to the country and setting an administrative bar for other office holders in Nigeria? If the latter is the purpose of the probe, then it is honestly expected, that President Buhari should be bold enough to clearly and equivocally explain to the rest of Nigeria ““ and the world in general – why he should not extend his accountability war to the previous administrations before President Jonathan`s – including President Buhari`s tenures as Nigerian Petroleum minister as well as Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF) chairman. It was alleged that a whopping 2.8 billion dollars was reportedly missing from the national coffer when President Buhari headed the Petroleum Ministry.   With the Buhari`s probe pendulum dangling on his predecessor`s administration only, wouldn`t President Buhari give some groups the reason to believe he is not only selective but also protective of some selfish interests? Perhaps, the extension of the probe to other administrations before President Jonathan`s could put to rest, other multibillion dollar scandals like Halliburton and Siemens. By limiting the accountability war to the last five years, Buhari`s administration is dangerously sending a wrong and unpatriotic signal to other corrupt office holders. Some might accuse him of covering skeletons in his cupboard. While others might think his administration is protecting powerful forces within and outside his party, who helped him to come to power. Sadly, with his action, President Buhari, who was voted in as the long awaited Messiah, is carelessly giving his enemies the reason to accuse him of protecting what some might call the Northern agenda. Could Buhari be telling Nigerians and the rest of the world that only the past administrators stole millions from the national coffer? Instead of bringing sanity with answerability or liability, is Buhari`s limited probe making it difficult for an incumbent to relinquish power for the fear of being a scapegoat? Definitely probing every past administration brings prudence and normality, but focusing only on one administration could create a situation whereby leaders would hang on to power till death by all means for fear of being probed or persecuted.

But President Buhari`s mistake or headache is not only the decision to probe one administration only. In an organization or government, different individuals contribute to the efficient running of administration through their actions, decisions or policies. Logically, if a whole organization is held accountable, then all individuals in that organization are automatically responsible for the actions in question. With this in mind, it might be difficult to identify specifically who is to be held accountable for the results. This accountability dilemma might lead to a situation whereby innocent individuals are unlawfully punished for either following an order or “not doing enough“ to prevent a situation. However, in the African political terrain, where individuals are so power drunk and greedy that they take irrational action to satisfy their insatiable greed, pointing an accountability finger on a culprit becomes less difficult.

Clearly, accountability is the nucleus of efficient democracy and the rule of law; however, to achieve the goals of answerability or liability, certain rigid rules must be followed to create equity, fairness, honesty as well as set a standard. The statement from the Special Adviser on Media and Public Affairs to Mr. Buhari, Femi Adesina, that the president will not “waste time” in probing the past administrations of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, Abdulsalam Abubakar, Sani Abacha and Ibrahim Babangida, but will rather limit his anti-corruption war to the immediate past administration of Jonathan is increasingly worrisome and indeed a dangerous precedent. It will not defend the main purpose of accountability; rather, it might give one the impression that the newly elected President of Nigeria, General Muhammadu Buhari, the presumed long expected Messiah of Nigeria, might indeed not be serious, fair, honest and committed to bringing the much needed sanity and accountability in Nigeria, after all.

If we believe that fearless stealing and plundering of the national resources ““ whether committed today, five or twenty years ago is the same crime, and must carry the same penalty, President Buhari must, for the sake of true accountability and democratic responsibility, unconditionally extend his probe to other administrations. Refusal to do so might easily create a room for many to interpret his accountability jihad as a blatant selective witch-hunt, an act highly dangerous and counter-productive for the democracy of Nigeria ““ and Africa as a whole.

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