What happened on March 28, 2015 was a democratic revolution. With our Permanent Voters Card, a resolute Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Chairman and his answer to curb rigging – the card reader, we renunciated fear and reclaimed the dignity of the Nigerian voter across the land.
The national and worldwide euphoria that greeted our political liberation is understandable but like all else, it came with costs. Our checkered history, the cancellation of the initially scheduled February 14 presidential election and the precedence of June 12, reminded us, how quickly victory can transmute into calamitous loss. We have also learned how a few, can determine the fate of many and how badly things can end. Even the most blinkered optimists in Nigeria knew the promise and hope of a new dawn can turn sour if Jonathan stonewalled.
Thankfully, Jonathan did not stonewall, when it became clear that no amount of vote manufacture from the Southeast and a few states in the Northeast could engineer a win for him. He bowed to mounting pressure from the international community, he recalled the near empty campaign fields, the deafening calls of “go away”, the specter of chaos and the influence of Nigerian chief arbitrator – General Abdusalami Abubakar and his crew.
For once, with the rare courage of his own convictions, Jonathan pushed away the brutal thumb of those who imprisoned him and recreated him as a figurehead and a useful idiot. He walked away from the orchestrated menace of Orubebe and company and welcomed the democratic outcome of a Buhari presidency, even if reluctantly.
We do not have the details of the gentleman agreement reached with General Abdusalami before he conceded. We do not even need to know. However, we know power concedes nothing without a demand. What was that demand? Was it reasonable? Even if it was unreasonable, President Buhari can make him a reasonable offer on our behalf. That offer is immunity from prosecution provided he returns his loot and does not interfere with the investigation. This is because he did the nation a favour. He defied the most disciplined, ruthless, and ideologically enemies Nigeria has within his own party – the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and announced his concession. He could have elected an ignominious path, damning the consequences. He could have staked our lives after staking the entire treasury. He could have gambled away Nigeria, given our willing and compromised military and a politicized police. He conceded. For this singular act, I will argue, he does not deserve jail.
Since the death of President Umaru Yar’Adua, Nigerians had long suspected they have no President but Presidents. Unfolding events has revealed President Goodluck Jonathan was not in charge of his own administration. He was a man who had no idea what to do with himself. He realized himself only a few weeks to the election, when the bitterness of the electorates got to him. In a country where oil lubricates everything, everyone who was anything, involved cronies and associates in shrewd graft schemes at the expense of taxpayers, skimming from the national budget at will and stealing whatever money they could lay their hands on.
No money was off limit including those budgeted to save lives in the Northeast. In the last five years, the entire country was neck deep in stealing like never before. Even if we had no idea the heist was this grand, with everyone helping themselves to billions of dollars, we knew we could not have survived another year of grand looting and brigandage. We knew the enormity of the rot we were in and it was the reason we elected President Muhammadu Buhari to get us out of our mess.
I urge the President to spare Jonathan the humiliation of prosecution. After the forensic audit is done and the culpability of the major thieves known, he should be made to refund whatever cash is traceable to him and made to forfeit the properties he acquired while he was the Vice President and the President, except his country home. All other brazen thieves must make refunds and be roasted in the open fires of unforgiving Nigerian maximum security prisons for economic sabotage. It will send clear and unmistakable signal to future thieves.
On his part, Jonathan would serve himself and the country well should he concentrate on saving himself instead of trying to shelter a fraudulent legacy. He should help us put the dark age of free for all looting behind us. We are tired of his interference and attempt at stifling the ongoing effort at recovering stolen funds. We have had enough, he should please, go quietly into the Sunset or find some useful way of making himself useful by way of restitution for his unfortunate presidency.
His cause is not well served when he constantly reminds us what a failure he was and what a waste those years were. No matter what he does, his ministers and party men will have to face justice and account for their roles. This is not a witch hunt, it is the right thing to do for the sake of Nigeria’s future. Staggering sums of money has been stolen. So much has been stolen such that anyone who has stolen anything under N500million looks like a petty thief. It has become a daily thing and we are getting so desensitized to the mention of billions of dollars.
While working to put away thieves, President Muhammadu Buhari must remember that the core of our internal challenges as a nation is the lack of institutions. Corruption thrived because we have not succeeded in building institutions. The best way to tackle corruption is to strengthen democratic institutions and accountability and to cultivate and deepen an anti-corruption culture. It is important that we understand the fact that our economic fundamentals are weak. We dearly need economic modernization. We cannot continue to consume without producing. Economic modernization is the central challenge staring at Nigeria. The enduring legacy of President Buhari will lie in his ability to create a prosperous and politically stable country without unraveling a system that survives on a mix of crony capitalism, mediocrity and calibrated, state-dispensed patronage.
We heartily welcome the creation of the Anti-corruption Advisory Committee by the President and we wish Professor Itse Sagay and his group the success Nigeria needs.
Bamidele maintains a weekly column on Politics and Socioeconomic issues every Tuesday. She is a member of Premium Times Editorial Board.