In many Nigerian cultures, there is this concept that one should grip offenders by the wrist as opposed to holding them by the elbow since they will not be able to easily wriggle free when held by the wrist. Some cultures also warn of the perils to the farmer if he tarries in arresting the thief since the thief could make the first strike of accusing the owner of the farm of theft.
So it is with the vampires that have over successive governments pillaged the resources of our country. We left them to help themselves to the public till as we cheered them on as “elites” or “ruling class” even when their self-chosen kleptomaniac makes such appellations antithetical. A brave administration, President Muhammadu Buhari’s government, finally rose up to the task of apprehending these thieves and they have today turned on the rest of us, branding us as the offenders that are trampling on their right to loot the treasury. They have even gone the extra length of meting out punishments because we are finally growing the spine to call time on their crimes.
We are all gritting out teeth as the economy gets more challenging but the global slump in demand for crude oil and falling prices were enough to bring us to this sorry pass. What did us in is the insurrection by “militants” that have been blowing up pipelines to disrupt revenue from crude oil. Gas infrastructure also took hits leaving the nation mostly in darkness. But these are no militants as the demands presented on their behalf by geo-political leaders gave a clear indication of what the real issues are. For one, they think we have no right to investigate or prosecute Niger Delta persons that stole or helped themselves to money derived from oil sales – their warped logic is that we cannot stopped them from stealing money sourced from their own part of the country.
Of course, in furtherance of freeing anyone they decided to invite to share out of the oil money, the militants also curiously demanded the unconditional release of former National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki, and all charges dropped against him in the record setting arms purchase scandal. This suggests that the points at which crises are exploited to blackmail government may differ but those pulling the strings remain the same.
Any indignation we felt from those perverted demands has now been dwarfed by the natural outrage that accompanied the claims that military officers that stole money meant for buying weapons for the anti-terror war should have been allowed to continue in service simply because they are from certain geo-political zones. It turned out that those mandatorily sent on retirement cut across the country and across religious divides. The common denominator with all of them was the theft they engaged in or being political officers as was the case with others.
The leniency shown this officers, who were mostly just retired without prosecution, is turning out to be a national misstep. Instead of retreating into retirement with contrition – rueing the ignominy that should prevail until their dying days, these ex-military men appeared set to surpass their original crimes with that of insurrection as they are reported to have teamed up with the militants with each one allegedly running independent groups as a franchise for the larger destabilisation machine. Thugs who until a few weeks ago were fugitives are now bragging about their military capabilities and skills after possibly getting training from their disgraced seniors. They also boast about superior weapons that could only have been purchased with proceeds from the vandalised public tills.
But one thing stands in between them and the punishment they want to inflict on Nigeria, on the rest of us. The nation’s only saving grace is its professional military, the same one the compromised officers were sacked from. This perhaps explains the ploy to destabilize the military being the only obstacle in their way. After series of propaganda against the present crop of service chiefs failed to dent their impeccable standing among Nigerians, militants were used to fly the kite that there was a military coup in the offing.
Several intentions can be adduced from this ridiculous claim. One is to expect that the news would leave President Muhammadu Buhari jittery and untrusting of the military leadership and therefore carry out a cleansing that will get rid of patriotic officers and open the way for other possibilities. A second possibility is that the ex-military officers in their desperation to distance themselves from the ongoing atrocities in the Niger Delta gave the militants the script meant to make serving officers look like the threat to Nigeria’s democracy.
In both scenarios, the accusers conveniently omitted to mention or give indications as to who these officers are that told them to sustain attacks in the creeks. Could it also be a slip that the officers they allude to are now the same one that has joined them as patrons? What else should we be worried about in terms of the chain of command of this threat?
Ordinarily, Nigerians have nothing to fear about a coup so we should be able to continue demanding that those who have stolen our money should return it or face the wrath of the law. To do this effectively however, we must look higher than the militants and the ex-military officers to their connections in government. That the Office of National Security Adviser (ONSA) through Presidential Investigative Committee on Arms Procurement had a pilfering member in the person Air Commodore Umar Muhammed (rtd), who was arrested by the Department of State Services (DSS) on suspicion of corruption, created a credible link for trailing those bent on destroying credible national institutions.
Worryingly, the DSS dragnet has also fingered the Minister of Defence, Mansur Dan Ali and the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) alongside the National Security Adviser, Major General Mohammed Babagana Monguno (rtd) and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) Boss, Ibrahim Magu as co-travellers with Air Commodore Mohammed. In fact Dan Ali lives in the guest house of the arrested Air Commodore who offered him the accommodation as soon as he was appointment as minister.
They are yet to convince Nigerians that they did not all conspire to perpetrate the ONSA scandal. They must all therefore be investigated as they can never deny their association with the Air Commodore. It must be established if they are the remnant of the insidious threat to national security that have been propping up the militancy in the Niger Delta. Like we later discovered that Boko Haram was allowed to grow in order to justify diverting huge sums for arms purchase only for them to be stolen, there is something fishy about the way militancy has been given free rein in the Niger Delta and the ONSA scandal is not isolated from it. We must thus apprehend the thieves in this case before they apprehend us.
***Suleiman writes from Katsina, Katsina State