TUNDE AJAJA examines how the All Progressives Congress-led government forgives the ‘sins’ of many politicians that defect to the party vis-a-vis the fight against corruption
Barely two months into his regime in 2015, the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), sent a strong message to Nigerians when he said in an interview with the CNN on July 21 that there would be no sacred cows in his regime’s fight against corruption. He boasted, rather assuredly, that even party members wouldn’t be spared if found wanting.
“It is not the issue of party members; if you have stolen, no party member can escape justice,” he declared boastfully.
That was good news to many Nigerians, who believed that those who allegedly stole public funds under previous governments would pay for their crimes, especially bearing in mind Nigerian politicians’ penchant for swiftly defecting to the ruling party to seek cover from facing the consequences of their misdemeanor; and for political patronage of course.
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria and former member of the House of Representatives, Dr Ehiogie West-Idahosa, summarised it this way, “In many countries, it’s not this common for people to defect to other political parties, and when it happens it’s largely on policy differences. But here, the usual reasons for defecting are to protect the loot, in the case of those who have looted, and to be able to loot, in the case of those who have not looted.”
Months and years into the regime, however, Buhari, his appointees and the ruling APC repeatedly took turns to blame the Peoples Democratic Party-led government for everything possible; from the perennial power failure to crumbling public infrastructure, decrepit health care system, poor human capital development, damaged global reputation, empty treasury, and running the country aground for the 16 years it was in power. Many Nigerians, hopeful for a new dawn, believed the PDP deserved the knocks as they expected the diligent prosecution of anyone found wanting of corruption.
Interestingly, however, the APC itself soon became a haven for these PDP members it vilified in the press as being overly corrupt.
More importantly, many people argue that when PDP members, especially heavyweights with huge electoral value and ‘deep pocket,’ defect to the APC, their ‘sins’ are ‘forgiven’, and in some instances, the corruption cases against them quietly take the back seat. This is independent of the fact that some of APC’s founding members were former members of the same PDP.
Arguably, these did not only create the impression that the APC merely demonised the PDP to wrest power and make excuses for its failings, it also deeply made a mockery of the President’s promise to deal with any corrupt person, regardless of political affiliation.
For example, the withdrawal of the N5bn corruption case against Senator Danjuma Goje by the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, in 2019 reminds one of the statement made by APC former National Chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, that when people join the APC, their sins would be forgiven.
Oshiomhole said at an event on January 17, 2019, “We have some PDP defectors. They are Henry Tenebe, Iluobe….Iluobe means I have done something wrong. Yes, once you join the APC, your sins are forgiven.”
Indeed, Goje’s ‘sin’ was forgiven. The AGF withdrew the case about 29 days after Goje met with the President and agreed to step down for Ahmad Lawan – the President’s preferred candidate – in the race for the President of the Senate. Goje was a two-term governor of Gombe State under PDP but later defected to the APC. He’s one of those whose sins were forgiven by the ruling party. He did not make any restitution.
Another example was the N7.9bn corruption case against former Minister of Aviation, Senator Stella Oduah, and how Malami is believed to have frustrated the case through a letter in November 2021 to the EFCC to remit the case file to his office. Oduah had earlier joined the APC in August. And like Oshiomhole said, her sins were probably forgiven.
Understandably, many Nigerians have lamented that these were in contrast to Buhari’s promise to fight corruption to a standstill.
But again, it reminds one of that Biblical verse in Isaiah 1:18, “Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.”
Among several other instances, the emergence of 11 former PDP members as APC national officers – out of about 77 officers – at its March 26 convention reinforced many people’s belief that the PDP, whose members were part of the rot the APC complained bitterly about, has somewhat become some of its foremost leaders.
The Key NWC positions occupied by former PDP members include the national chairman, national vice chairmen for North-West and North-Central, national secretary, deputy national secretary, national welfare secretary, national legal adviser, deputy national organising secretary, national treasurer, national women leader and national auditor.
Interestingly, two of the strongest positions – the national chairman (Senator Abdullahi Adamu) and national secretary (Senator Iyiola Omisore) – are occupied by former PDP members previously arrested and accused of corruption while they were members of the PDP.
Adamu, a former governor of Nasarawa State on the platform of the PDP between 1999 and 2007, was arrested and arraigned by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission over N15bn fraud allegations. He was subsequently arraigned on a 149-count charge.
In 2013, Adamu defected to the ruling APC, the same year his son, Nuraini, was prosecuted for N92m fraud. As of now, not much is heard about the cases.
Similarly, Omisore, who served as the deputy governor of Osun State and ex-senator under the PDP umbrella, was arrested by the EFCC in 2016 for allegedly receiving N1.3bn from the Office of the National Security Adviser under the Goodluck Jonathan government. He later defected to the APC in 2021.
The latest episode in the ‘cleansing’ of sinful defectors by the APC, which deeply runs contrary to the promise made by the President, was a statement by presidential spokesperson, Mallam Garba Shehu, after the APC convention.
Shehu, responding to criticisms that some key leaders in APC’s newly formed NWC were members of the PDP, argued that those who repent by defecting to the APC and never went back were better than those who remained in the PDP, who according to him, should not be entrusted with public office.
He wrote, “That some of the APC’s new leadership were once in the opposition was the new line to take to the media, somehow suggesting that those who have left one party should not hold positions in another. Yet, do the scriptures not teach us of the virtue of sinners who repent and change their ways?
“What the scriptures say less is of sinners who repent, change their tune, and then choose to re-sin in full public view by returning to their former ways. Given that most important leaders of the opposition PDP first left the party before they returned to it, we might expect the media to ensure criticism of them is damning and absolute. It is incredulous that anyone would consider them trustworthy or acceptable candidates for any public office.”
It is noteworthy that some of these defectors-turned-party leaders in the APC were top members in the PDP in the period the APC described as Nigeria’s dark days.
Sadly however, while this cleansing and defections continue, the country, according to some analysts, is crumbling under the overwhelming weight of corruption and its consequences.
From 1999 till date, for instance, trillions of naira of public funds have been stolen from Nigeria, and this has contributed significantly to the country’s myriad of challenges.
Therefore, it seems helpful to cursorily examine the damage corruption does to a country and its people, perhaps this would help to situate the devastating impact of the esprit de corps politicians seem to adopt when their partymen are found wanting, regardless of the amount of money stolen and how it affects millions of Nigerians.
A professor of Law at Harvard Law School, Matthew Stephenson, told participating journalists during the Virtual Reporting Tour on United States Anti-Corruption Efforts, which held recently, that it is misleading, and wrong even, to see corruption as an individual’s mere abuse of entrusted power for private gain.
At the event organised by the Foreign Press Centres under the US Department of State, Stephenson said, “Corruption is a major impediment to sustainable and inclusive development. There is evidence that widespread corruption is correlated with higher levels of poverty, income inequality, lack of access to education and health care and it can undermine national security through a variety of channels as well as undermine people’s confidence in government or in systems of government like democracy.
“There is just a welter of evidence that corruption not only harms the people who might be directly affected by a particular corrupt transaction but that widespread corruption, especially when taken in the aggregate, has serious adverse social, political and economic consequences.”
Sadly, while politicians and anti-corruption agencies look away, to protect loyal party members, the country seems to be drowning under the heavy weight of these adverse consequences of corruption.
That said, another speaker at the event, Ms Chandana Ravindranath, who is the Director for Anti-Corruption at the National Security Council at the White House, pointed out that corruption “enables all forms of criminality, particularly transnational crime; erodes good governance; stifles investment and economic growth; exacerbates inequality; impedes government services; and allows for criminality to flourish.”
She noted that corruption tends to tilt the economic playing field against hardworking citizens, making it harder for them to provide for their families, which is equally evident in the level of poverty and inequality in Nigeria today.
Meanwhile, West-Idahosa argued that in the final analysis, corrupt actors deplete national resources, divert income from budget targets, make the country to maintain a high profile of borrowing – currently at N39.56tn and projected to reach N45tn by year end – and ultimately lead the country into political paralysis.”
Speaking on the impact of this trend, he described the beneficial defection as the biggest setback for the Nigerian political system, saying it’s for reasons like this that corruption remained one of the biggest factors militating against the progress of the country.
He noted, “Naturally, it takes time for a political party to grow but what has happened is that they are now suffering from stunted growth because of the indiscriminate movement from one platform to another, due to the willingness of the receiving platform to ever receive without regard to the reason for defection or the credibility of the defector.”
Asked if he hoped to see a time when parties would scrutinise the profile and record of a defector or a new member, he said, “It may happen but many of us may not witness that, because when you look at successive generations, you see the desperation.”
A former President of the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights, Mr Malachy Ugwummadu, said beyond the party reneging on what it claimed to stand for, the inaction over the malfeasance previously committed by the defectors should be blamed on the relevant institutions and collapse of values.
He stated, “I like to put it this way; rather than seeing it as hypocrisy, it should be understood as a very sad tale of institutional failure in Nigeria, because we do not need political party affiliation for institutions to perform at optimal levels such that even if someone moves from Party A to Party B, the issues and credible evidence would sustain the case.
“It must be seen that way because it is not peculiar to the APC government; the same happened under the PDP government. It is a very strong indication of a total collapse of values and principles in our political system and a weak institutional framework where the institutions that are meant to tackle cases of corruption or malfeasance objectively become ineffective simply because a suspect has jumped ship.”
Meanwhile, PDP spokesperson, Debo Ologunagba, said his party believes in institutions and that corrupt persons were never shielded during its administration, regardless of political affiliation.
He said, “You recall that PDP established the Indepdent Corrupt Practises and other related offences Commission, EFCC and other institutions and under the PDP, an Inspector-General of Police went to jail, ministers were sacked for corruption – remember the then Minister of Internal Affairs, the late Sunday Afolabi. So, the PDP was never a sanctuary for corruption.
“Let them mention the names of public officials accused of enriching themselves illegally and have been jailed in the ruling party under this regime. The grass-cutting scandal is still there, the fraud discovered in Federal Inland Revenue Service and other agencies are there. Their chairman had a 149-count corruption case against him. The APC has made it a policy to encourage people accused of crime to come in and they would be shielded.
“It is the APC that brought chaos into our lives and value system. It is better to look at a party’s history so that all the parties are not put in one basket as being the same, because we are not the same. Our party created institutions while they destroyed the institutions.”
Responding, the National Publicity Secretary of the APC, Felix Morka, noted that citizens have constitutionally-guaranteed freedom to associate and join any party of their choice. He said the APC manifesto had its defined ideology but that for Nigeria’s nascent democracy, people tend to defect from one party to another.
Morka said, “Until there is clear evidence that certain persons defected to the ruling party to be exculpated from any wrongdoing, it may be wrong to conclude that was the motivation. Besides, institutions are there to do their jobs.
“I would hope that in time, our electorate would also begin to hold people accountable to some standards. That won’t come until we also evolve in the direction of building ideological identity for our political parties.
In the United States for example, it’s harder for a democrat to wake up and dump the Democratic Party for the Republican Party. These parties are defined by very strong ideological differences and proclivities. But if we are not up to that level of specificity yet, it becomes a lot easier for people to move. But our party has its core beliefs, principles and ideologies.
Ravindranath concluded, “Corruption is at the root of many citizens’ dissatisfaction with their government and institutional leaders. Addressing corruption builds confidence that our public and private institutions are fair, impartial, and effective. When people see laws applied and enforced equally to everyone, belief and trust in government and society can begin to rebuild.”
Meanwhile, with the latest pardon of two former governors convicted of corruption; Joshua Dariye (Plateau) and Jolly Nyame (Taraba), who have since defected from the PDP to the ruling APC, some civil society organisations and analysts argue that even though the President is empowered by law to pardon convicts, the Buhari-led regime has shown consistency in embracing politicians who could wield the party’s broom, regardless of how corrupt they are.