BY OLUMIDE COKER
Observers of Nigeria’s anti-corruption crusade under the current administration are increasingly getting worried. There is a growing concern amongst many Nigerians at home and abroad about how Nigeria’s war against corruption is metamorphosing quickly into a Frankenstein monster that no one seems to recognize anymore.
In recent times, Nigeria’s war against corruption has assumed a new definition: a crusade that so many Nigerians welcomed with high expectations is now being reduced to tabloid gossip peddling, beer parlour rumour-mongering, salacious fiction and wild allegations flying at the speed of light. In most cases, the results are far from tangible; only claims of corruption and counter-claims of persecution and witch-hunt.
Nigeria’s anti-corruption template under the Buhari administration has become one largely built on the idea of “accuse, scandalize, intimidate and arrest”, in that order. This has become the familiar operations template of the EFCC, even before the commencement of investigations. It is a strange, dark and sinister approach to the war against corruption where Nigerians are accused on the pages of newspapers, demonized, condemned and declared guilty long before the investigation of their cases have even commenced or concluded. This was the case with the CCT trial of the Senate President Bukola Saraki when the EFCC prosecution witness told the tribunal that investigations were still ongoing in his case while he was already in the dock. Nigeria is the only country on earth where people are charged to court on the basis of inconclusive investigations!
Nigerians saw a replay when men of the Department of State Security Services (DSS) stormed the residences of Supreme Court judges in the middle of the night. The judges were accused of corruption and detained by the DSS. Many Nigerians who rejoiced over the prospects of President Buhari taking his corruption war to the judiciary became disappointed when 48 hours later, the judges were released when it became clear that available evidence at the time of the raid was insufficient to immediately charge them to court. There are many similar cases.
This brings me to the case of a Director of Finance and Account in the Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Ibrahim Tumsah who was arraigned over his alleged failure to declare his ownership of 86 exotic cars. He was docked before the Federal High Court in Abuja alongside his brother Mr. Tijani Tumsah, an astute businessman who was a member of the Presidential Committee on North East Initiative and a former Interim National Secretary of the All Progressives Congress, APC. The duo has pleaded not guilty to the two-count charge that was prepared by the Okoi Obono-Obla-led Special Presidential Investigation Panel on the Recovery of Public Property. There have been claims by the FG that out of the 86 vehicles that were seized from the defendants, 23 of them were armoured and brand new. But further checks have revealed that the cars belong to Tijjani Tumsah the business mogul and not Ibrahim Tumsah the civil servant. As with most of the other cases in the Buhari anti-corruption playbook, this case of 86 vehicles smells like another attempt at what appears to be a media trial led by Okoi Obono-Obla. Obono-Obla’s involvement in the case is itself suspicious and questionable. When did Okoi Obono-Obla become a law enforcement or prosecuting agency of the Nigerian government? What happened to the ICPC, CCB and the EFCC which are the legally recognized anti-corruption agencies of government? Why is an individual allowed to harass law-abiding Nigerian citizens in the name of a “Special Special Presidential Investigation Panel on the Recovery of Public Property”? Is this not an abuse and misuse of power?
Tijjani Musa Tumsah is by all means an accomplished businessman. He serves as the Chairman of Rain Integrated Services Limited and also serves on the board of several other companies. Mr Tumsah has been on the board of Integrated Capital Services Limited since April 2007. He serves as a Director at MoneyBox Africa Limited. He is a consummate administrator who has previously served as a member of the state Executive Council of the Yobe state Government. His meritorious service as Honourable Commissioner spanned the Ministries of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Health and Human Services, and Finance and Economic Development. He was also a member of the National Constitutional Conference between 1994 and 1995. He also served as Chairman of the Nigeria Council for Management Development and also Center for Management Development in Shangisha, Lagos. He is a 1983 graduate of Business Development and Psychology of Malone College in Canton, Ohio, USA. What really then is this sensation around finding 86 vehicles in the custody of a businessman of his caliber? With the entire credibility crisis that the Buhari anti-corruption war is already dealing with, it appears the likes of Okoi Obono-Obla are committed to further derailing it.
I am no fan of any Nigerian convicted of corruption but I will defend the rights to fair hearing of any Nigerian citizen accused of any crime. No one, I repeat, no one should abuse the rights of any Nigerian in the name of fighting corruption. As it stands today, we don’t know that the 86 cars seized from Tumsah are proceeds of corruption. Only a competent court of law can establish that, not even the EFCC, Okoi Obono-Obla, not the media and not the courts of public opinion. Until that happens, we can only speculate. And this is the danger with the current anti-corruption crusade. What happens when the Tumsahs are pronounced innocent at the end of this whole drama? How do you repair the damage to their name and reputation? Considering the years of service they have put into this country both in the public and private sectors, how do you erase all that blemish? These circus shows of media trials where Nigerian citizens are scandalized outside the framework of a credible corruption investigation or trial must end now!
We have not forgotten how a sitting Minister claimed that a former permanent secretary made away with 40 brand new SUVs. The claims turned out to be nothing but mere fiction. Why are we making a mockery of our nation all in the name of an anti-corruption war?
Fundamentally, it is clear that something has gone amiss with the Buhari approach to fighting corruption. And the likes of OkoiObono-Obla are at the heart of all that has gone wrong with this anti-graft war. I was one of those who voted for Buhari because I believed he could cleanse the Augean Stables. Buhari has the absolute support of Nigerians like me in the war against corruption but the truth must be told. Fighting corruption with total disregard for the rule of law and the judicial process is an invitation to anarchy. What we have today is a situation where homes are being invaded, doors and windows shattered to gain access to those wanted dead or alive and to cap it all, the harassment and intimidation of judges and lawyers. Alleged criminals are being tried and convicted on the pages of newspapers. They are pronounced guilty and treated as felons ahead of any judicial process.
Someone should tell our President that this template is failing and he is fighting a losing game. Nigerians want this government to focus on the real issues of governance, not throwing bricks at imaginary enemies under the guise of fighting corruption. Sour grapes like Okoi Obono-Obla who are poisoning the credibility of the anti-corruption war must be reined in and no longer allowed to run riots at will. We cannot continue like this.
Olumide writes from Lagos.