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Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Attacks on Buhari’s war against corruption – The case of Nwabueze

Last week’s piece on Bishop Mathew Hassan
Kukah’s objections to President Muhammadu
Buhari’s declared war on corruption during Dr.
Goodluck Jonathan’s presidency, has elicited by far
the largest number of reactions to this column so
far this year – 84 texts and three emails in all. Out
of the 84 texts, only three vehemently disagreed
with my criticism of the bishop. Another six or so
shared my view, but disagreed with my hunch that
religion had much to do with the bishop’s position.
The rest were critical of him with no caveats.
I think the number of the readers’ reactions alone
suggests that most Nigerians, regardless of
religion or tribe, consider the fight against
corruption the country’s topmost priority. If my
guess is right, Professor Ben Nwabueze must then
belong to a minority who think otherwise. For the
professor, religion, specifically Islam, and not
corruption, poses the greatest threat to Nigeria’s
peace and progress.
In an over 3,300-word interview in The PUNCH of
August 9 he said so categorically. Asked by the
newspaper if he agreed with the widespread public
opinion that corruption posed the biggest
challenge the country faces, he said no. Corruption,
he said, was only “the second biggest.”
The first, he said, “is the crisis arising from the
religious divide. That is the first and the most
terrible. After that comes corruption. All other
things are subsidiaries.”
Our Constitution, he said, contained two
contradictory ideologies, one favoured by
Christianity and the other by Islam. The ideology
preferred by Christianity, he said, is democracy,
whereas that preferred by Islam which is based on
Sharia or Islamic Law “favours theocracy and other
forms of dictatorial rule.”
The conflict between these two ideologies, he said,
has landed the country in the middle of a big crisis
which, he said in effect, Buhari is incapable of
resolving in favour of democracy because he is an
agent of Islamic theocracy.
“He,” the professor said, “has many restraints; he
has many constraints. He is not a free agent.
Whatever may be his personal characteristics, he is
not a free agent. HE WAS CHOSEN AS THE APC’S
ANY FURTHER. His ability, his capacity to fight
corruption decisively is constrained and restrained
by some factors, mostly religious.” (Emphasis
As a professor, especially of law and, for that
matter, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Nwabueze
should know better than reach a verdict based on
conjecture rather than facts. Clearly, however, his
barely disguised conclusion that Buhari was
elected the presidential candidate of APC to impose
an Islamic theocracy on Nigeria is without any
basis in fact.
No doubt religion is important to Nigerians as a
means of identity. A survey in the country ahead of
the April 21, 2007 presidential elections by the
American Pew Research Centre titled “Nigeria’s
Presidential Election: The Christian-Muslim Divide”
suggested that the vast majority of its people
regarded religion as more important for their
identity than their nationality, ethnicity and
continent. Among Christians the percentage was
76 for religion as against nine for nationality, six
for ethnicity and eight for the continent. For
Muslims the percentages were 91, five, zero and
The same survey, however, showed that both
groups favoured democracy over any other form of
government. Among Christians the percentage of
those who said free and fair elections with a choice
of at least two political parties were “somewhat or
very important” was 86 as against 13 who said it
was “not too or not at all important.” The
percentages for Muslims were 93 and four.
It’s been eight years and two presidential elections
since Pew’s survey. However, given the enthusiasm
with which Nigerians have participated in those
elections, it is very clear that they have not changed
their minds about their preference for democracy
whatever their religion.
That enthusiasm alone must make one wonder on
what basis our learned professor reached his
verdict that Nigeria faces a greater danger from
our religious differences than from corruption.
In his interview, Nwabueze at first says he would
not spell out the powers constraining Buhari from
fighting corruption and propelling him to impose
Islamic theocracy on Nigeria. “I won’t,” he said, “go
any further” in naming Buhari’s puppeteers.
Over halfway through the interview, however, he
went ahead all the same to name two. The first, he
says, is “the invisible government of Nigeria”
whose existence is known to only a few. The other,
he says, is “a group of die-hard Islamists
determined to impose Islamic (Sharia) system of
government on Nigeria.”
The first group, he claimed, is led by former
military president, General Ibrahim Babangida and
former head of state, General Abdulsalami
Abubakar. The group, he added, has been
strengthened by former president, Olusegun
Obasanjo, who has since left the erstwhile ruling
Peoples Democratic Party.
He named no names in his group of “die-hard
Islamists,” but elsewhere in the interview he did
say Boko Haram was a manifestation of the group
as the local wing of global jihadists.
Conspiracy theories come at dozens a kobo.
However, the professor’s theories of an “invisible
government” led by Babangida dictating policies
and programmes to President Buhari, and of the
leadership of Boko Haram sect as yet another
godfather of Buhari, must rank as one of the
cheapest form of demagoguery. Certainly it ranks
as the most laughable because it is no more than
an attempt by an otherwise brilliant scholar to
elevate beer-parlour gossip to the level of serious
Actually it is worse than laughable because even in
beer parlours it would be hard to find anyone who
does not know that there has really never been any
love lost between Buhari and Babangida since the
latter overthrew the former as head of state in
August 1985 in a bloodless palace coup. In any
case, if the professor’s invisible government truly
existed and Babangida was its patriarch, how come
he couldn’t even fulfil his proverbial wish to step
back in to power since the return of democracy in
As for General Abdulsalami being a chieftain of
Nwabueze’s invisible government, anyone who has
followed the man’s military career would testify to
the fact that a more apolitical person is hard to
find. And only the most credulous person would
believe the professor’s claim that Obasanjo, with
his huge ego, would play second fiddle to anyone
in any group in this country.
In his over 3,000-word, two-part essay published by
The Guardian last month which he claimed to be
the position of Igbo Leaders of Thought – I have my
doubts about his claim because associations of
people don’t go announcing their positions through
longish essays – he said the group objected to
Buhari limiting his probe of corruption to
Jonathan’s presidency alone because that would be
selective and cannot put an end to the vice.
The professor is obviously right to say that fighting
corruption under Jonathan alone is selective.
However, he is wrong to argue that the fight will
succeed only if it includes corruption under
Jonathan’s predecessors all the way back to 1985
under Babangida.
His assumption here is obvious; it is possible to
eliminate corruption. That assumption is patently
false. As long as there is human society there will
be corruption. What is important, however, is to
have a system that makes corruption difficult and
also punishes the corrupt whenever he is found
out. In Nigeria’s history, no administration has
made it so easy to steal with so much impunity as
Jonathan’s. Such was the impunity that he could
not even rely on his men – and women – not to
steal the money meant for his election victory, an
impunity which resulted in an incumbent losing an
election at the national level for the first time in the
history of this country.
Because it is not possible to end corruption, the
fight against it must never fall into the danger of
allowing perfection to be the enemy of the good.
Fighting all corrupt cases simultaneously is perfect
but even our professor cannot deny that starting
with the most obvious case is a good start. Nor can
he deny that Jonathan’s presidency holds the gold
medal in the race for self-aggrandisement because,
as he himself said in The PUNCH interview in
question, corruption today has assumed
“buccaneering” proportions.
At 84, Professor Nwabueze should be concerned
about his legacies. Some of the most notable ones
among these are hardly what his children,
grandchildren and great-grandchildren can be
proud of. Among these is the Unification Decree of
1966 which he was a principal author of and which
eventually led to our civil war. Another one he
masterminded was the decree which established
the Interim National Government under Chief
Ernest Shonekan in 1993 which, in turn, paved the
way for the venal dictatorship of General Sani
In between the two decrees he became – and
continues to be – a leading advocate of Nigeria as a
federation of ethnic nationalities, a most
reactionary idea you can think of in a world that
has since become a global village and where the
wealthiest countries are melting pots of diverse
creeds and cultures instead of patchworks of their
constituent parts.
Let it not, in addition, be said of him that here was
a man who used his brilliance to try and scuttle the
first attempt by any administration in this country
to seriously fight corruption.
I am sorry I am unable to reproduce the reactions
to the last two pieces today as I promised last week
due to space constraint. Next week, God willing, I’ll
devote the entire column to some of the reactions.

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