A honeymoon with Tinubu
This season, President Bola Tinubu is harvesting big pods of cocoa from his plantation. His co-farmers are looking at him with concentrated envy. And jealousy. Exhilaration is in the air. In the last two weeks, he has shown tremendous energy to change the status quo. His sack of Nigeria’s CBN governor, Godwin Emefiele, is exciting the Nigerian economy.
That Agbor, Delta state-born banker’s exit marked an end to one of the most turbulent eras in the CBN. Getting rid of him has signaled a very strong, positive impact on the capital and foreign exchange markets. When the CBN announced an end to Emefiele’s multiple exchange rates, like a fetus in the womb, the comatose Nigerian economy slightly wriggled, excited. Even the World Bank is giving him thumbs-up.
Packed with lewd imageries, Baba Yusuf Olatunji, an evergreen Yoruba Sakara musician who died in 1978, had a word for people like us who exhibit such unrestrained optimism about things that we see. Olatunji sermonised on how doubtful the structure of beliefs could be. He warned the commune of adulterous men to be mindful of a sudden turn-around, even when there is no threatening danger visible to the eyes. They must never let down their guards at moments of extreme sexual giddiness. When an adulterous man is seeing off his liaison, Olatunji counseled, he should be watchful like the pheasant and apprehend oncoming deceits like a sparrow. Could the woman’s husband be hiding somewhere, poised to inflict harm on him? Olatunji expressed this in the song thus, “O ye ka ni fura, t’a ba nsin ale eni lo (2ce)… t’e ba sin ale titi, t’e ba de koro, e fura… A kii f’oko han ale, a kii f’ale eni han oko…” He ended the track with a warning to couples on honeymoon that the matrimony of trust may, sooner than later, burst, putting asunder and ruining investment of trusts: “Oju sewo sewo yio jaa, oju yan ale-yan ale, yio jaa…b’ojo o ro, bi’gbado o gbo, oju t’ako t’abo ohun ni o jaa…”
In Tinubu, an end seems to have been put to the purdah presidency of the Buhari era. The visibility of the Nigerian president is gaining traction as Nigerians see their president more frequently. As if to ram home the point of a restlessly on-the-move presidency, the chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Abdulrasheed Bawa, also got hammered. Tongues had started wagging over Bawa, who many believe was a product of the nepotism and cronyism that became the buzzword of the immediate past administration. Bawa hailed from Jega, while Abubakar Malami, ex-attorney general of the federation (AGF) who was believed to have waggled him into the helm of the anti-graft agency, hailed from Birnin-Kebbi, both in Kebbi state. Then, as it happened to his predecessors, Bawa became swamped in the puddle of allegations of theft and illegal conversion of seized properties. The last straw was the allegation from the immediate past governor of Zamfara state that Bawa was witch-hunting him for his refusal to give in to his $2 million bribe demand, which he alleged the ex-EFCC chair made to virtually all exiting governors.
When a government policy, with a draconian colour as the sudden stoppage of petroleum subsidy by the Tinubu administration, elicits few or no public disavowals as this has done, then be sure that that government has the buy-in of the people, regardless of their pain. This is a rare accomplishment by the Tinubu government. Nigerians are silently bearing the brunt of the policy, apologies to Fela Kuti’s ‘Suffering and Smiling’. Then the pilgrimage of the high and mighty to Aso Rock began. Abdulsalami Abubakar, Lamido Sanusi, and many others have undergone the Villa shuttle. As exciting as this optics is, it is silted by that of James Ibori, Asari Dokubo, and others. Have you ever imagined an American president receiving in the White House stained people? As a rule, POTUS does not receive guests who are under investigation or convicts who haven’t been pardoned. White House does background checks on every guest. It keeps a log of visitors to the White House and that log is a public document.
In some way, Olatunji’s ‘O ye ka ni’fura‘ track espouses the Cartesian doubt principle. Its proponent, Rene Descartes, canvasses that we should doubt all previous beliefs, demolish every prior thought completely and begin to think about them afresh. It was upon that uncritical cusp that totalitarians were erected. Like Adolf Hitler. Adolf was a very meek boy growing up in Braunau am Inn, in Austria-Hungary, and even when he became leader of the Nazi Party and chancellor in 1933. With critical thought, you could build an entirely new belief system situated on solid ground.
The delirium we have acquired about Tinubu’s first two weeks in office is infectious. In a piece I did for the Politics Special page of the Nigerian Tribune on June 2, 1999, with the title, ‘Shagari’s fall colours this new dawn’, I equally celebrated Olusegun Obasanjo. He had just been sworn in three days earlier. Juxtaposing the excitement in the air on October 1, 1979, and May 29, 1999, in that piece, I forecast that Nigeria was on the path of recovery. My indices were unassailable. Obasanjo had been to the two extreme ends of the stick – the zenith and nadir. Condemned to death by the sadistic Sani Abacha, as the Yoruba euphemized death, “eleko orun np’olowo” – the Hereafter’s hawker of porridge corn meal had begun to hawk his ware with a loud voice of invitation to the Egba-born military general. Sources even said he had written a couple of his trusted soldier colleagues on how to take care of his family when Sani Abacha executed him. It would thus be anti-logic to assume that that same man wouldn’t administer Nigeria with the fear of God; or, wouldn’t it? The rest is history, as they say.
Obasanjo indeed ruled Nigeria with a humane mind, as epitomised by his ordering of the invasion of Zaki-Biam; or, doesn’t it? The invasion led to a massacre code-named Operation No Living Thing. It was a surreptitious mass execution of hundreds of unarmed Tiv civilians by men of the Nigerian Army between October 20 and 24, 2001. Their aim was to avenge the killing of their 19 soldier colleagues. Is the cure for headache beheading the whole of that throbbing head? Anyway, the 19 soldiers had been killed by a God-knows-who and their mutilated bodies littered the streets. The Obasanjo-led government and the Nigerian army denied involvement in the massacre. However, on November 6, 2007, then Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen Luka Yusuf, was quoted to have publicly apologised to the people of Benue state. President Umaru Yar’Adua also offered his apology. Ultimately, no one got punished; none appeared in a military court-martial, and no one went to jail. Obasanjo himself is still waxing sanctimonious all over the world and Nigeria has lived happily ever after.
The same thing happened in what is now known as the Odi massacre. The people of this Ijaw town in Bayelsa state had stepped on a poisonous federal government serpent. On November 4, 1999, six months after Obasanjo became president, 12 Nigerian policemen were reportedly murdered by a gang near Odi. Seven others got killed in the days following. So, enraged by this insolence, on November 20, 1999, men of the Nigerian Army moved into Odi village. Tension soared. The civilian population received the scalding anger of Fela Anikulapo’s friends who, about three decades earlier, allegedly on the orders of the same Obasanjo, had burnt the musician’s Lagos house and threw his mom down the stairs. By the time the soldiers’ anger subsided, all that was left of Odi was smoking soothes, a bank building, a church, and a health centre. Every other thing was burned to the hilt. Nnimmo Bassey, executive director of Environmental Rights Action, claimed that about 2,500 civilians were killed. The government initially claimed the figure was 43, including eight soldiers. It was only in February 2013 that the federal high court handed Odi a reprieve. Justice Lambi Akanbi ordered the government to pay Odi the sum of N37.6 billion as compensation. N15 billion eventually got paid by the Goodluck Jonathan government. I drew out all these examples to fix our minds on the danger of incautious optimism and the ultimate abetment of budding totalitarianism.
As the world celebrates Tinubu’s near-three weeks in office, he reminds us, the commune of naysayers, of Trench Town. So, something good can come out of Tinubu’s Trench Town? Those who invested their trust in his presidency, at a time when it looked like a pipe dream, are having a good laugh now. Didn’t we warn you that Tinubu would hit the ground running? They scorn. Evergreen Robert Nesta Marley, in fact, engrafted that little town on global lips and consciousness. Trench Town, oh Trench Town. In the track, Trench Town, he sang of the marvelous transformation of Trench Town, his birthplace. Something good came out of Trench Town! “We come from Trench Town… They say, ‘can anything good come out of Trench Town?’… That’s what they say…say we’re the underprivileged people… so they keep us in chains…” In other songs like Trench Town, Natty Dread, Trench Town Rock, and No Woman, No Cry, Marley venerated this slum neighbourhood.
Trench Town, located in Kingston, is a Jamaican neighbourhood in the parish of St. Andrew. Known as the Hollywood of Jamaica in the 1960s, its notoriety rests solely in its being the base and home of reefers smokers, bad boys, and violent characters. It mirrors the rough and tumble of city life, with its running sewages and slums. This trench-filled neighourhood was to later become famous due to the avalanche of vast musical talents which it produced and its contribution, in no mean way, to bringing global awareness to the impoverished and politically corrupt political situation of Jamaica. Trench Town symbolised poverty, violence, and lack. Anyone who hailed from this neighbourhood was considered to be downtrodden. However, it was soon to become the headquarters of Jamaican popular culture, producing a beehive of Jamaica’s ska, rocksteady, and reggae musicians who took the world by storm. Marley was the most outstanding of them all. He had spent his growing-up years at the Government Yard on Trench Town’s First Street. That slum is today known as the birthplace of reggae music. Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer, and many more musicians hailed from Trench Town.
Immediately Bawa was suspended, even leaders of over 150 anti-corruption civil society organisations celebrated what they termed Tinubu’s first step in the cleaning process of the EFCC. But why has every administration, since 1999, desired and gotten its own EFCC boss? And why has each of them ended in ignominy? Chinua Achebe, while writing the foreword to the biography of Nuhu Ribadu, Nigeria’s first EFCC boss, entitled ‘Paradise for Maggots’, written by ace Nigerian America-based academic, Prof. Wale Adebanwi, had romanticised the crime-fighting prowess of a certain Eliot Ness. He entitled the intervention of Nigeria’s Eliot Ness. Ness was an American prohibition agent renowned for how he attempted to rein in Al Capone in Chicago. His crime-fighting team of 10, which he led, was named The Untouchables and his fame as an incorruptible crime fighter was all over America. Like Ribadu, Ness began his career as an investigator attached to Chicago. Then, in March 1930, he led the squad in the investigation of Capone and his associates for tax income evasion. He was able to purge the Chicago law enforcement agency of its endemic corruption. Within six months in 1931, The Untouchables had destroyed bootlegging operations that were worth an estimated $500,000, ultimately costing Capone an excess of $9 million in lost revenue. Ness inflicted major damage on Capone’s operations, leading to his indictment on 5,000 violations. On October 17, 1931, Capone got convicted on three of 22 counts of tax evasion and was sentenced to 11 years in prison.
As Achebe said, Ribadu began well as our own Ness. He threw soldier ants into the pants of Nigerian politically exposed persons. His fear was the beginning of wisdom. After Obasanjo humiliated police chief, Tafa Balogun, summoning him to Aso Rock and shouting at him, “Tafa, thief! Tafa, thief!,” Ribadu took over his humiliation. His boys, led by Ibrahim Magu, many of whom were police rank and file when Balogun was IGP, were shocked when, upon his arrest, Balogun, frustrated, pleaded with them, “I can change your lives, please. Let me settle you and let’s settle this. I can make you rich for life”. Ribadu’s EFCC later got Balogun’s N2.7 billion illicit money frozen in five banks and brought him to court handcuffed.
Not long after, Ribadu fell. He became an anvil for witch-hunting Obasanjo’s political enemies. He also suffered a colossal loss of his social capital when he veered into politics. Don’t they say, you cannot thrust your hand out for a handshake and maintain ramrod stillness, with your head unbowed? At one point, the ex-police officer bought cars in their hundreds for the prosecution of his political ambition in Adamawa state. People began to wonder where the policeman got all those sums of money. Today, Ribadu is special adviser to the president, a man whose case, he once told the Nigerian parliament, was one of the most humongous corruption cases he was investigating. Playing on the rhyme in dodo (fried plantain) and ododo (truth), Yorubas say that when you encounter the sweetness of dodo, you cannot walk in the corridor of ododo. This looks like Ribadu’s case.
From Farida Waziri, Ibrahim Lamorde, and Magu to Bawa, how could appointed Nigerian Nesses come into office with trusted anti-corruption profiles but end up ghastly inside the sewage of the pigsty? Are they the problem or we, the people; or even the Nigerian system? Or is it wishful imagination that corruption can be tamed in Nigeria? Sir Robert Peel, with his tenets of crime-fighting recommendations which are now known as the Peelian principles, seeks ethical policing. The principles have been advocated in fighting crime of the sort that EFCC is engaged in. However, it has been a colossal failure. EFCC today is perceived as one of the most corrupt organisations in the world, with politically exposed persons and Yahoo boys bursting their officers’ greed bubble by the hour.
But, the question must be asked, how do we propose to have an ethical EFCC when Nigeria itself is a pigsty, ethically challenged country? How can we have a clean EFCC boss when the perception of Nigeria’s Aso Rock’s disposition to corruption is this horrible? Post-Bawa, what manner of EFCC boss does Tinubu want? Can’t we amend the EFCC Act and appoint non-policemen and security operatives to man EFCC? Or are there no civilians who abhor corruption and can fight it like Ness in Nigeria? Will Tinubu allow the anti-graft agency to investigate him and his presidency if there are allegations of graft against them? Or, is the “purification of EFCC” implicated in an alleged panoply of moves to secure all the borders of power – have the national assembly in your kitty; Central Bank, NNPC, and EFCC – so as to finally proclaim yourself as the Nigerian further? Yes, the characters Tinubu has axed so far were obnoxious while in office but at the same time, our president had personal axes to grind with each of them before he became president. Are we witnessing street vendetta as national policy?
To compound the feeling of vendetta, Bawa was said to be the young officer who investigated allegations of corruption against Tinubu. Emefiele was Candidate Tinubu’s archenemy, against whom he fumed at political events during the Naira design exercise. Perhaps, Malami should prepare for his own retribution as well?
So, let us enjoy the Tinubu honeymoon while it lasts. We should however never say Yusuff Olatunji didn’t warn us. “Oju se’wo se’wo yio jaa, oju yan ale-yan ale, yio jaa… oju t’ako t’abo ohun ni o jaa…” he sang – the end of adulterous affectation is always a colossal letdown. Unless we allow Olatunji to be our guide, we may suffer this ultimate letdown.