Who next does Muhammadu Buhari, the Nigerian president, have in his sights in his crusade against corruption?
If recent online newspaper publications are to be believed, Buhari is now looking to drag former President Ibrahim Babangida, Abdulsalami Abubakar and Jubril Aminu, respectively former military head of state and external affairs minister, kicking and screaming into one of Nigeria’s courts to answer for allegations of multi-million dollar bribery in the awards of contracts to Siemen and Haliburton, two foreign companies. The three and other yet-to-be-named individuals have been alleged to have obtained bribes from these companies in return for contracts.
The above information was pieced together from Abubakar Malami, the Nigerian Attorney-General, during an interview with Vanguard, one of Nigeria’s leading newspapers.
In recent months, the Buhari-led anti-graft crusade has come under blistering criticisms from both human rights groups and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, for a number of reasons, not the least of which was its reportedly narrow and short-sighted reach, and for its vengeful — for so critics think — impulses. Tanko Yakasai, a prominent PDP leader, for example, was unsparing of the program. “Recent policy and non-policy actions of the new administration as promoted by some leading figures and the administration’s security and anti-graft agencies have left much to be desired,” Yakasai said last November.
This new development could be an attempt by the Buhari-led administration to squelch all such doubts. The crusade’s net, potentially now publicly seen from the latest declaration as widening, has already ensnared many members of the former civilian government led by Goodluck Jonathan, prominent among whom is Sabo Dasuki. Dasuki, former National Security Adviser, is now answering charges in court for allegedly diverting a whopping $2.1 billion — originally disbursed for purchase of military equipment for the fight against Boko Haram — into private hands, an action that has drawn the moral ire of Nigerians and top-hierarchy US government officials, including John Kerry, secretary of state, at the World Economic Forum in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, a week ago (see video below).
In Nigeria, arraigning former presidents or heads of state over corruption remains something of an impossibility, except on matters bordering on a project, either conceived or actually implemented, to overthrow a reigning government — as when General Sani Abacha (late) hurled Olusegun Obasanjo into a military tribunal on trumped-up charges of plotting to overthrow his government. If Buhari eventually delivers on his promise to probe these former leaders, his anti-corruption program could win credibility and respect, even in the face of likely howls of protest from those who could still deem the attempt a selective targeting of erstwhile adversaries.
In Nigerian socio-political lore, some of the nation’s former leaders, most especially Babangida who is widely regarded as a political powerhouse of gigantic proportions, are seen as “sacred cows” that are above the laws of the land. For that reason, a successful effort by Buhari to probe him, Abubakar and Aminu, would presuppose that Jonathan, a Southerner and easily Nigeria’s most inept leader, would have an absolutely zero wiggle room for immunity maneuvers.
“No extraneous influence can influence our actions as we move to fight corruption in all its ramifications. To be noted also is the clear fact that no criminal case can be closed once the facts are already handy, regardless of who is involved, said Malami.
Now that could be a thinly-veiled reference to Babangida and other former Nigerian leaders who might, in the fullness of time, be discovered to have corruption clouds hanging thickly over their heads.