Between Buhari, Shagari and corruption

On 31 December 1983, the then General Muhammadu Buhari unconstitutionally overthrew Alhaji Shehu Shagari, the first democratically elected president of Nigeria, and jailed him for two years in Ƙiriƙiri. Shagari’s offence was, according to Buhari, that he led a government that was “inept and corrupt”.

However, Shagari’s alleged ineptitude and corruption were unproven, at least, not in a proper court of law. Buhari’s military government said it won’t “condone the nonsense of litigations in dealing with” Shagari.

To be sure, Shagari, of blessed memory, was a mensch, a statesman and now, I dare add, a saint. I recently read former presidents Olusegun Obasanjo and Ibrahim Babangida testifying that Shagari was “honest”. The late Sheikh Abubakar Gumi said Shagari was good, very good. In fact, everyone now knows Shagari was neither corrupt nor inept. Indeed, Shagari “has always enjoyed a reputation for financial honesty” (Christian Science Monitor, December 5, 1983.)

But many people think Buhari and the government he led from 2015-2023 deserve the tag of being inept and corrupt! Some think they were worse – evil. If Shagari’s guys stole money, Buhari boys stole banks.

Arguably, the kind of evil many officials of Buhari regime engaged in, while he held sway, will make the devil revel in having worthy vicegerents in Nigeria. Isn’t stealing trillions evil? They deserve jail here and a nice place in hell there. Full accountability.

In demanding accountability, the Nation newspaper has set the ball rolling. Its editorial of Monday, 8 January 2024 is screaming at Buhari to come clean about the alleged obscene stealing and corruption in the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, under his watch, uncovered by Jim Obaze, President Bola Tinubu’s special investigator.

Nothing is proved yet, but investigators and operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, have began to see some smoke. What do we do if they find fire? If there’s no smoke without fire, then Buhari, like the Nation demands, has some questions to answer. Is he not complicit? What if Buhari was indeed a corrupt kleptocrat? Give him a dose of his own medicine? Maybe! Here’s why.

Our legal tradition is rooted in the famous Oputa dictum in Ojukwu vs Governor of Lagos state: “the law is no respecter of persons” even if that person is the former president of Nigeria.

Moreover, our culture, nurtured by the traditions of the Prophet (SAW) as encapsulated in his hadith: “O people, verily those before you perished, because if anyone of high rank committed theft amongst them, they spared him; and if anyone of low rank committed theft, they inflicted the prescribed punishment upon him. By Allah, if Fatima, daughter of Muhammad, were to steal, I would have her hand cut off” necessarily obliges us to audit, verify and prosecute and convict corrupt kleptocrats. Therefore, if Buhari was found to have been corrupt or committed theft, his status shouldn’t shield him from facing the music. Right?

Besides, the idea that former presidents get immunity for life has to stop. The vicious circle of impunity will continue unabated unless a courageous and decisive president like Tinubu breaks it. The swift, decisive suspension of Minister Betta Edu and Halima Shehu, CEO, National Social Investment Programme Agency – both accused of corruption – a good omen, is a step in the right direction. It has yet demonstrated Tinubu’s commitment to fighting corruption, and I hope he can do the unthinkable – kill corruption.

Further, other countries are holding their ex-leaders to account including America and Israel. Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu are currently facing criminal charges in court. Many other world leaders were prosecuted and convicted after leaving office like Sarkozy of France, Park Geun-hye of South Korea, Najeeb Razak of Malaysia and Cristina Fernández of Argentina. Axios and Aljazeera English reported over 78 such leaders in at least 76 countries. Nigeria shouldn’t be an exception unless we want to perish.

Lastly, Tinubu should continue to probe. And wherever the evidence leads to, he should follow even if it ends at Daura. If he finds the smoking gun, well, he shouldn’t go for the jugular. He shouldn’t jail Buhari like Buhari jailed Shagari. He should prosecute and convict, in a court of law, then pardon Baba they way he pardoned Joshua Dariye and Jolly Nyame. That would be a good starting point.

Saad, a lawyer, is the Acting Chairman of APC Publicity Committee Bauchi and former director-general, BASEPA.

By Saad Umar.