Holding Jonathan To Account, Minus Others?

Given the intensity of public anger against the disdainful impunity shown by past governments in mismanaging the critical processes of governance, it is almost a given that any reformist regime will move to effect change in this arena. President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration, perceived as reformist, is then expected to go all out and seek restitution from the guilty as well as deliver appropriate sanctions.

Against this backdrop, a total probe of the five-year long administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan would appear to have been flagged off. Besides the shrill protests by the opposition Peoples Democratic Party alleging a probe restricted to the period of Jonathan’s presidency would only equate a witch-hunt, this conclusion derives from the recent moves by National Economic Council, NEC, Ad-hoc Committee on the Management of Excess Crude Account Proceeds and Accruals into the Federation Account.

This ad hoc committee headed by Governor Adams Oshiomhole of Edo State last week announced it would hire two international forensic audit firms to probe revenue that accrued to the Federation Account and how it was spent under Jonathan. The committee has Governors Nasir Ahmed El-Rufai of Kaduna State, Ibrahim Dankwambo of Gombe, and Udom Emmanuel of Akwa Ibom.

Oshiomhole told newsmen at the end of the committee’s first meeting in Abuja, last week that the auditors would cover the period January 1, 2010 to June 1, 2015. For good measure, it gave short shrift to calls by PDP that Buhari should extend his probe to the administrations of Jonathan’s predecessors – Alhaji Umaru Yar’ Adua and Chief Olusegun Obasanjo.

At press time, some revenue generating agencies have been invited to brief the committee which will take detailed briefings from all Ministries, Departments and Agencies, MDAs of the Federal Government that deal directly with revenue. The focus will be on the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, the Nigeria Customs Service, the Central bank of Nigeria, the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, NEITI, among others.

Sensing the inherent controversy this footing will provoke, Oshiohmole said that the committee did not want its actions to be bogged down by political interpretations and that the members were not professionals. Even if they were professionals, he said their duties as governors would not allow them the time to do a thorough work.

Perhaps, not unexpectedly, the signaling by the federal government that it had taken a crucial decision to bring the former president to account has provoked considerable debate. Some stakeholders have gone as far as demanding that the entire 16-year governance tenure of the PDP should be probed, a scenario that will put Obasanjo and late Yar’Adua also on the spot.

This scenario will obviously undermine the Buhari presidency’s governance focus on account of the sheer energy that would be required. Besides the current administration is not a military one that can deploy unchallengeable fiat to have its way.

Some stakeholders have gone as far as even demanding that the probe should reach further back in history to 1960, a scenario that would require the detailed examination of several regimes – both civilian and military, including Buhari’s 1983-85 tenure as military head of state.

In our view, it would verge on the ridiculous to commence the probe of Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, General Aguiyi-Ironsi, General Yakubu Gowon, General Murtala Muhammed, General Olusegun Obasanjo, President Shehu Shagari, General Buhari, General Ibrahim Babangida, General Sani Abacha, General Abdulsalam Abubakar, President Obasanjo and President Yar’Adua regimes.

What then should the current administration do to shed the perception in some quarters that the task it has set for itself is not witch-hunting garbed as probe despite its shrill denials? Beyond its moral imperative, it is important that the probe project is properly defined and delineated because of the associated political implications. To do otherwise will impair or diminish its effectiveness.

Just last week, President Buhari and the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP senators engaged in a war of words over alleged biases in the administration’s war against corruption. The Senator Godswill Akpabio-led PDP Senate caucus accused the administration of partisanship in the anti-graft war with allegations that security agencies were coercing election officials to rewrite reports in some states to the favour of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC.

The allegations were immediately rebuffed by the President who vowed that the unfolding war against corruption would not be tempered by media blitz of a witch-hunt against political interests as he affirmed that only the guilty should have reason to fear.

The fact that the current regime came to power by dethroning the erstwhile ruling party, PDP, something that has not happened in a long time in Nigeria, may not help the mounting perception in some quarters that the probe under reference is biased, restricted to a particular target, lop-sided and meant to weaken the opposition.

However, it is our position that Nigeria cannot develop and genuinely progress with the kind of governance impunity witnessed in recent years. To sanitise the polity and hold to account individuals legally proven to be responsible for the extra-ordinary rot in society is an important duty of leadership. It requires courage and focus.

Buhari must be cautious of people who may want to redirect his purpose for untoward agenda. These shadowy entrepreneurs are never in short supply.

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