President Muhammadu Buhari has said times without number that his administration will investigate some obvious cases of Nigeria’s stolen public funds. That point is very well made and most Nigerians seem to agree that it is the best thing to do. Governments of some friendly nations have also not only praised the decision but promised to help Nigeria trace the location of the vaults in foreign lands where these stolen Nigerian funds are being concealed. These promises should serve as the needed tonic for the Buhari administration to proceed on this noble mission.
The decision to probe is, therefore, already a settled issue. What is not yet settled, however, is the period to be covered by the probe. Buhari has said that only the period covered by the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan will be investigated. The reason, according to his media aides, is that it would amount to an unnecessary dissipation of effort and a waste of precious time to include other administrations before that of President Jonathan. This decision, expectedly, has kicked up a huge amount of dust. Varied and, in some cases, morbid stories of interethnic rivalry and mutual suspicion that have characterised our politics, have been woven around it.
I have heard some people say that the decision is a product of Buhari’s hatred for Jonathan and the geopolitical region he represents. Others said it is a product of the ”well known Northern agenda” to blackmail the south and keep it out of political power perpetually. There were more. But let me quickly say and without equivocation that all these insinuations, as morbid as they may sound, cannot be easily dismissed.
And that is because the decision that fuelled them is in itself faulty. It is a case of one wrong decision giving birth to another of its kind. Why should the Jonathan administration be the only target of the probe? That decision is wrong, discriminatory, and unfair. The Jonathan administration belongs to the new dispensation of representative governance that has seen the promotion and perfection of the new phase of corruption thawas inherited from the military. The administration of ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo and the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adusa all belong here.
If President Buhari must probe, then all of them must be covered. But if he decides to leave out the administration of Yar’Adua because the man is dead and won’t be available to defend his actions, it will make a whole lot of sense and he could be pardoned for that. But not so for Obasanjo who is still very much here with us. His era saw the most mind-boggling acts of corruption. Remember his socalled privatisation of government business enterprises which saw many of his officials and cronies buying those business ventures for themselves for pittance.
Remember also Obasanjo’s infamous third term agenda which saw huge sums of money going into the pockets of members of the then National Assembly as bribe. Where did those huge sums of money come? There is also the sordid tale of the Halliburton bribe scandal in which some prominent Nigerians were implicated. All of these belong to the Obasanjo era and are still sticking out like a sore thumb. How then can Buhari walk across this murky slit of mud that was Obasanjo’s administration to get at the Jonathan presidency without doing something about it? Therein lies the injustice that critics of his decision are shouting about.
If Buhari must probe at all, let it be total. All the administrations from 1999, when the present political dispensation came on stream but minus that of the late President Yar’Adua, should come on the radar. It is wrong to isolate the Jonathan presidency and probe. The decision is faulty because of its unfairness and the outcome will forever be faulted on grounds of discrimination and lack of credibility. Nigerians are not impressed by the explanation that Buhari won’t like to waste time taking the probe further down. He should do so in order to recover a reasonable proportion of the country’s stolen wealth. It will not be a waste of time if it ends in the recovery of good money.
And it certainly will, if it is comprehensive and properly handled. In fact, the probe holds out good prospects of generating huge sums of money for the country within a short span of time. And Buhari needs money, a lot of it, to meet the expectations of Nigerians for improvements in infrastructure, job creation and internal security. President Buhari must not buckle on this project. He has the company of most Nigerians as he embarks on this mission. But the process must be fair and non-discriminatory. As much as possible, all of the nation’s stolen funds should be recovered. This cannot happen if the probe is limited to just one administration. Nigerians trust that Bugari can do a good job. But there must be no scapegoats. That is what they are saying.
-BALA DAN ABU e-mail: email@example.com