Are we really serious in this country? So unfortunate to be littered with looters in private and public sectors, the opportunity is, for once, here for some cleaning of the Augean stable, no matter how minimally. Rather than embrace the chance to make examples of to serve as deterrent to others, Nigerians are applauding a shameless ‘’You too’’ subterfuge. Have we forgotten the background to this drama?
Both government and ruling APC were ridiculed and dared on its self-imposed war on corruption, accordingly dismissed as a total failure, or, as the challenge went, any success should be accounted for to the public. To be honest, whatever possible success on the war against corruption has been largely beclouded or at least diminished by a dubious judiciary and complicit prosecuting authority. A list was then produced by the government. That list was challenged on several grounds by the opposition. According to the challenge, those named on the list had neither been charged to nor tried in a court of law. Furthermore, the list was said to have named only PDP members. The complaint or criticism noticeably had bright sides, very rare in Nigerian politics. There were no complaints that only Christians, or only northerners, or only Muslims or only southerners were named.
Another impressive feature was that the opposition group then produced its own list, which it claimed contained corrupt members of the ruling All Progressives Congress. Neither the APC nor opposition PDP should be upset. On their part, observing Nigerians should be happy that the two groups are exposing themselves. How tenable is PDP’s claim that only its members were named? If so, the party should neither be intimidated nor demoralised since that seeming handicap or injustice can last only for a short time. After all, the PDP, in the past few weeks, has been flaunting an unusual confidence of returning to power through the 2019 elections. That done, the party can then prosecute its own list of corrupt APC members. Also, the PDP, if it returns to power in 2019, must try to exhibit its war on corruption as a punitive measure rather than a retaliation for the APC’s current charges against the PDP. Otherwise, the PDP would be accused of hypocrisy.
How solid is the defence that those on the government list were never tried or were yet to be tried in a court of law or that only after conviction in a court of law could the so-called suspects be legitimately classified as looters? That could only be tenable in negligible cases. Otherwise, in many of the current cases, these criminals opted for plea bargain in which they returned to government large or reasonable portions of their loot in exchange for not being prosecuted in law courts. The very idea of plea bargain by these criminal suspects is indisputable admission and indeed self-confession of criminal looting of the national treasury. Who offered plea bargain? If the APC federal government offered the inducement and PDP members were sure of legitimate acquisition of their financial and property assets, PDP members should have stood firm against any plea bargain.
It would be even worse if these criminals voluntarily offered plea bargain to return their loot. What further evidence of their crime? The blunt truth is that those who could not offer plea bargain had squandered the billions of naira they stole since they never foresaw a sudden end and expose of their crime through change of government in 2015. Those who believe they are not looters should either demand total return of the amount they might have surrendered and opt for criminal trial or shut up for ever because they are looters.
Self-defence? A meritorious case
Not long ago, the Nigerian government exposed “big guns” listed to have looted funds meant for running the affairs of the country, including ensuring a well-oiled fighting force against the deadly Boko Haram insurgents. The expose reminded Nigerians of the plight of our defenceless and innocent soldiers serving jail sentences not only because of the perfidy of their commanding officers but because the soldier convicts were merely defending themselves against their senior officers unlawfully killing them, all the more against all known and abiding rules of engagement over centuries and all over the world.
The very fact that the former senior army officers were also reported by the government to have refunded to government substantial portion of the looted funds and/or property must raise serious questions on the source of the forfeited assets and be linked to the defence of the soldiers serving jail terms that they were recording unusually heavy fatal casualties at battle fronts because their commanders were converting funds meant for purchasing arms while Nigerian soldiers were, at best, ill-equipped and, at the worst, being sent into battle virtually empty-handed, The latter claim by the cmplaining soldiers might be exaggerated but “big guns” in Nigeria are capable of anything. These culprit former senior army commanders are moving about as free men even if in their respective villages. Should they not be asked how they came about their disgorged wealth and forensic audit be carried out of the equipment they bought or did not buy and how any infractions discovered contributed to the misfortune of our young men conveniently labelled mutineers came to be serving jail terms?
All these will be in line with the dictates of our newly-adopted national ideology of self-defence for personal or group interests. Whatever the reservation about the circumstances of the emergence of this ideology, the ideology must be appreciated for what it is – the badly-needed antidote for years of impunity, partiality and indeed inhumanity in public administration in Nigeria. An ideology? The warm and seemingly cheap embrace it has attracted is remarkable. Introduced by ex-army chief and former defence minister, Theo Danjuma, many Nigerians, if only to keep up with the Joneses, have become advocates of self-defence. Imagine retired senior police officers, themselves vicious practitioners of partiality and injustice in their days in power, now rightly acclaiming self-defence as legitimate under the law. Meanwhile, what is self-defence, according to the doctrine of Theo Danjuma? Defend yourself with all the means at your disposal instead of allowing those in authority, no matter their status, either by error of commission or omission, to get you killed unlawfully. The emphasis is on never allowing yourself or your group to be killed UNLAWFULLY.
We must, therefore, relate this new ideology of legitimate self-defence to the plight of the unfortunate Nigerian soldiers jailed for reasons oozing from a scandal of the Boko Haram operations. Officially, the boys were tried for allegedly disobeying lawful order to go into battle from what or where would have been a suicidal trip to be slaughtered en masse by Boko Haram. What, therefore, was lawful in the order for the boys to go into battle on the day in question? According to media reports of the soldiers’ protests on the fateful day, many of their colleagues who, only couple of hours earlier, obeyed the callous order of their commander(s) to go into battle virtually unequipped, were soon collected as fresh corpses or left to rot on the Boko Haram part of the battle.
What is lawful order? In 1976, following the failure of the Dimka coup, according to media reports, it was discovered that a number of those tried were not directly involved in the plot but were merely ordered into action. That seeming innocence did not save them from conviction. Thereafter, soldiers were trained to priortise the reasonableness or otherwise of orders. What is more, it is not without reason that Governor Shettima of Borno State is today a respectable figure in Nigerian politics. At a crritical stage of the operations against Boko Haram, Governor Shettima alarmed former President Goodluck Jonathan at Aso Rock and also Nigerians through correspondents in the Villa that Boko Haram insurgents were better armed than Nigerian soldiers. In that situation, and badly underequipped than Boko Haram if equipped at all, which lawful order were our soldiers expected to obey? To foolishly march into a trap to be mowed down?
Events leading to the protests and trial of these soldiers should, therefore, have been specially treated on merit. For example, their protests should not have been treated strictly as mutiny or disobedience of lawful (in reality, more of callous and senseless) order. If underequipped in major military operation during their career, many of today’s retired generals might not have lived to earn that rank, as they would have been killed in action by the enemy. Also, a soldier of whatever rank, anywhere in the world, is trained to be battle-ready all the time. But precedent on that battle-readiness for any soldier is not complete and will never be sent into action without being adequately armed. Nigerian soldiers convicted for revolting at the Boko Haram front were, therefore, not fully prepared by Nigerian military hierarchy for any operation on that day. Refusing to be killed in such a cheap way was a legitimate exercise of that right, in line with the principle of self-defence.
Like everything Nigerian, despite the plight of these boys, they have all been forgotten inside jail. The issue should be made a test of the sincerity of the wide-ranging acclamation of the principle of self-defence. At a time, Lagos lawyer, Femi Falana, pleaded for the release and pardon of the boys. Fortunately, this is not a sectional matter. The boys are from different parts of the country. There is merit in the release and rehabilitation of the boys. Such a gesture would induce new ones for a career in the armed forces, with the knowledge that all rules of engagment will be complied with before being sent to battle fronts in the future.
The media, students union, Nigeria Bar Association, human rights groups and relevant non-governmental organisations must rise to the occasion. This is a national and patriotic cause.
•Next week: Obasanjo winning it for Buhari