“…I found out that some officers were spending money. I asked, ‘Where did they get the money from?’ They said it was from the Military Intelligence fund… Later, I learnt that General Aliyu Gusau who was in charge of intelligence took import licence from the Ministry of Commerce, which was in charge of supplies, and gave it to Alhaji Mai Deribe. It was worth N100,000, a lot of money then. When I discovered this, I confronted them and took the case (to) the army council… I said if I didn’t punish Aliyu Gusau, it will create a problem for us… So I said General Aliyu Gusau had to go. He was the chief of intelligence. That was why Babangida got some officers to remove me.”
With the foregoing account, President Muhammadu Buhari has sensationally reopened a deep wound the nation has nursed for the past 31 years. In disrobing the Daura-born general in the palace coup of August 27, 1985, his failings listed by erstwhile comrades included arrogance, inflexibility and emptiness.
In the December 2015 edition of The Interview magazine, General Ibrahim Babangida had dismissed the notion that there was an ulterior motive other than the catalogue of transgressions read by Brigadier Nimyel Dogonyaro in the dawn broadcast announcing Buhari’s ouster.
Asked if the coup was prompted by the fear of imminent censure by the Buhari administration, Babangida stated: “Do not forget that I was one of Buhari’s closest aides. I was the Chief of Army Staff. So I had an important position, an important role to play within that administration. I don’t think it had to do with a memo.”
But in the conversation published in the current edition of wave-making The Interview, not only did the president dismiss IBB’s theory as false, he laid bare the acute moral bankruptcy of those who brought his reign as military head of state to an abrupt end. According to him, the desperation of a few tainted generals to evade justice, rather than national interest, inspired the regime change then. And in what could perhaps be described the most pointed challenge in recent history, he dared Babangida and Gusau to controvert him: “Let him (General Babangida) repeat his own story. Aliyu Gusau is still alive.”
Buhari’s revelation only adds to the existing and by far more salacious myth of Gloria Okon often whispered in informal public chat. Back then, the media had reported the arrest of one Ms. Gloria Okon while allegedly trying to smuggle hard drugs out of the country at a time the no-nonsense Buhari regime had imposed capital punishment on such. In fact, same law had already been invoked retroactively to publicly execute some Nigerians for attempting to smuggle heroine.
So, naturally, there were fears that Okon would be next on the death-row. Then, a twist. The rest of the suspenseful drama is already meticulously captured in a documentation by the nation’s leading legal historian and consistent human rights crusader, Richard Akinnola. It turned out that the suspect was reportedly only a courier for a powerful figure in the sitting military administration.
Soon afterward, the nation was told the suspect had suddenly dropped dead in custody! But in reality, the real Gloria Okon was said to have been smuggled out in a high-stake conspiracy while the corpse of someone’s else was presented as hers. The then commander-in-chief smelt a rat and set up a panel to unravel the mystery. It happened that before the panel could submit its report, power had changed hands at Dodan Barracks! End of inquiry. A year or two later, the real Okon was reportedly sighted at a high-society soirée in London, attended by the glamorous spouse of a key figure in the government of the day!
Another account, though unsubstantiated, states that it was the general who arranged the escape from custody of the real Gloria Okon who later found himself ironically being implicated in a subsequent coup plot and was eventually executed alongside other convicted co-conspirators. A further twist was brought to the narrative with the claim that it was in an attempt by a Lagos-based news magazine to piece all these dark happenings together into a thriller cover-story that eventuated in its chief editor being bombed to death one Sunday morning in Lagos. This October marks the thirtieth anniversary of the assassination of star journalist Dele Giwa.
While circumstantial evidence may weigh heavily in public opinion, it is less admissible in the court of law. So, for now, in the absence of cogent proof, the Gloria Okon story will, at best, still be entertained as merely speculative, if not entirely fictitious.
But with Buhari’s weighty salvo in The Interview, IBB, undeniably a key player in the nation’s political history in the past four decades, has undoubtedly now been put on the spot, from where there seems no easy escape. Silence is sometimes romanticized as golden. But not in the present circumstance. How the self-styled military president explains the weighty charge may now effectively define his place in history as either an unacknowledged saint or the ultimate patriarch of grand larceny.
Well, there is no doubt about Buhari’s motive for revealing a dark secret. Time is said to be the greatest healer. But it is obvious Buhari will carry the bitterness of 1985 to his grave. Attempts by some do-gooders to reconcile them over the years have only achieved cosmetic results. Deep down in Buhari’s heart is the hurt from the pain of losing power and the trauma of his subsequent ordeal in custody. For instance, when Buhari lost his mother, IBB refused to allow him one last opportunity, even if on compassionate grounds, to see her remains before burial. Just as another account says that the “irreconcilable differences” that led to the collapse of his first marriage to Safinatu arose from how she chose to comport herself around his traducers while he was languishing in solitary detention in Benin.
Tellingly, Sambo Dasuki currently at the centre of $15b arms fund scam was part of the team that physically seized Buhari from his residence on August 27, 1985 and would end up as one of the influential “IBB boys” who wielded enormous power between 1985 and 1993.
But any allusion to Buhari’s ancient malice will hardly provide any back-door for IBB to escape scrutiny here. For at issue is the question of public morality. Could it be possible that the nation was deceived and taken for a ride then with the quest to protect the illicit transaction of a few greedy generals falsely presented so seductively as a patriotic intervention to defend national interest?
From Buhari’s sketch of Gusau, the caricature that emerges is that of a buccaneer, a profiteer ready to barter public trust away for material gain. It gets more disturbing considering that he is easily regarded today as the most influential player in the nation’s intelligence community in the last three decades during which he was recycled as national security adviser by successive administrations.
It is open secret that the Zamfara-born general directed single-handed the drafting of Olusegun Obasanjo by the military establishment to becoming the president-elect in 1999 on PDP’s platform. Going by this damning testimonial of his one-time boss, how are we now to believe the stated value deficit did not also corrode all Gusau’s later engagements in public office? Worse still, here is a man who could have ended up as elected civilian president in 2007 and 2011 having put up a strong bid in the PDP primaries.
Taken together, in case IBB prefers to shy away from Buhari’s categorical claim that graft was at the bottom of his overthrow in 1985, the Minna-born general risks having his reputation further cemented in infamy as one who formally inaugurated sleaze as the cornerstone of governance in the nation’s history. If corruption has now morphed into a humongous industry today, some historians have always identified the man fondly called Maradona as the one who provided the seed capital decades ago.
Such reading is based on empirical proofs. His rise in 1985 is seen as signposting not just the shift in the character of national politics, but values as well. As months rolled by, every thing the nation had held high was cheapened. No measure was considered too extreme nor institution too sacred in the ensuing orgy of contamination. Even in music, vulgarity became the new lyrics as fast-tempo beat gradually displaced meditative sound of old that placed more emphasis on philosophical messages.
In social space, the culture of “settlement” supplanted the tradition of due process. Ostentation replaced modesty.
In the academia, violent cultism soon overshadowed the chivalrous exuberance of what used to be known as student confraternity as might became valorized over right. Outside, philistinism flourished as some palace intellectuals formed a cult around the crafty general who seemed to prefer the ill-fitting apparel of a philosopher-king. Just as the state clamped down on “undue radicals” in the varsity classrooms intent on “teaching what they are not paid to teach.”
At a personal level, IBB was quick at prefacing any commitment in the public with the chant of “Insha Allah”, but his deed later often reflected a willful betrayal of that solemn invocation. He was never in short supply of great fanciful ideas. But lacking personal disciple, whatever he planted with the right hand was soon subverted with the left as cronies were issued blank cheques to plunder such undertakings.
By the account of now late Pius Okigbo, foremost economist, a staggering $12.8b of the 1990/91 oil windfall could not be accounted for under IBB.
Where the cultural damage inflicted on the nation is perhaps most deep and enduring is politics. In a fevered bid to clone a new generation of actors in his own grotesque image with little or no ethical grounding, the national landscape was soon besieged by monstrous creatures. An affliction that has in turn haunted the nation till date as it became fashionable to play politics without principle, with parties seen merely as a make-shift vehicle to capture without fidelity to any ideology.
As the genetic re-engineering continued in Babangida’s derelict lab, the test-tube babies that mutated were laughably christened “new-breed politicians” to be engaged in what at the time became the longest-running transition programme in modern history, guzzling estimated colossal N40b (when naira was still strong) by the time it finally unravelled in the June 12 crisis of 1993.
Actors in Babangida’s political roulette were banned, unbanned and re-banned in a manner that defied logic nor accord respect to human dignity.
But, as events later revealed, behind all the chicanery of eight years was Babangida’s incestuous desire to parlay the entire transition programme to his own coronation as civilian president. By the time he was forced to surrender power in August 1993, Babangida left the nation in the cusp of chaos.
In summary, IBB’s eight reign set the nation on a ruinous course from which she is yet to recover. A cardinal sin for which he is yet to atone, let alone show any remorse.
The shame of a nation
Following report that a member of parliament (MP) had defrauded British taxpayers of a “modest” £20,000 some years ago, hell was literally let loose in the United Kingdom. It was not until David Chaytor had been sentenced to 18 months in prison in 2011 after a speedy trial that the media and watchdog groups finally relented.
Chaytor, who represented Bury North, was convicted at Southwark Crown Court where he pleaded guilty to three charges on false accounting of over £20,000 (less than N9m today). He could have earned a maximum 7 years had he not taken the wise option of owning up and pleading guilty.
He had pilfered the money by claiming rent for his own flat in London and rent for a house in Bury owned by his mother. He falsely produced a tenancy agreement which said he was paying £1,175 as monthly rent.
Now, the Nigerian media has been awash in the past few days with reports of an alleged monumental scam involving the leadership of the House of Reps and hundreds of billions of taxpayers’ money and business seems to be continuing as usual at the lower legislative chamber with the rest of the country watching with amusement, rather than outrage.
Last week, a falling out between principal officers of the House led to the “resignation” of Abdulmumin Jibrin as the chairman of the Appropriation Committee. An embittered Jibrin chose not to exit without opening the Pandora Box. He pointedly accused the Speaker, Yakubu Dogara, of offering a rogue leadership alongside three other principal officers namely Deputy Speaker Yusuf Lasun, Whip Alhassan Doguwa and Minority Leo Ogor.
Specifically, he accused the Speaker of greedily cornering to himself and three principal officers a whopping N40b out of the N100b earmarked for Constituency projects in the 2016 budget.
The original 2016 appropriation bill brought by the presidency had allocated N60b for constituency projects. Jibrin claims to have documentary evidence where the Speaker directed a topping up of N40b and re-ordering the allocation formula in the same manner a typical butcher would, by the swish of the knife, divide the meat on the slaughter slab.
He did not stop there. He also accused the Speaker of a slew of other financial malfeasance and corporate extortions too lurid to be restated here.
Expectedly, the accused have counter-punched, accusing Jibrin of not only being the culprit of the last padding scandal that delayed the passage of the 2016 budget months back but also complicit in past illegal injection of extraneous provisions into the appropriation bills submitted by the executive arm of government.
At this writing, the orgy of accusations and counter-accusations had degenerated to a point where Jibrin alleged threat to his life while the Speaker on the other hand demanded that the “libelous” statement against him be retracted.
Overall, serious issues have inadvertently been raised by the throwing of mud at the House in the past week. The litany of claims and counter-claims put a big question mark on the moral integrity of the House leadership as presently constituted under Dogara. It speaks directly to the culture of greed, shamelessness, cant and profanity now mistaken for legislature in Nigeria.
Rather than issue ultimatum for Jibrin to withdraw his statement, the least one therefore expects of Dogara and others accused is to step aside, even if temporarily, to allow an independent investigation of the matter. The allegations are far too weighty for the Speaker to continue to sit pretty and pretend all is well. What is involved is people’s money running into hundreds of billion.
Perhaps, the latest incident will afford us the opportunity to interrogate the essence and sustainability of the so-called “constituency projects”. Often than not, it is a euphemism for the head where the pecuniary interests of members are satiated. Those who conceived the idea in a democracy may have meant well. But the operation in our own environment is quite problematic.
The lawmakers would rather they be allowed to personally draw down the vote to “execute” a project of their own choosing or be allowed to nominate the contractors. So, the question is: how wholesome is such arrangement? Ideally, the business of legislature is to make laws, not executing contracts. At best, legislators can perform oversight during the execution of such. To think otherwise is to create room for corrupt practices.
When such “projects” are executed at all, the standard practice among the legislators is to privatize same. Usually, a giant bill-board bearing the life-size image of the respective lawmaker will be hoisted there giving the false impression that it is a personal donation from the representative to the constituency.
Time has come to sanitize the idea.