Monday, June 30, 2014 1:17 pm
by Nnamdi Felix
Kano State, with a human population of more than 10 million, shares with Lagos State the status of being a game changer in presidential election in Nigeria. Lagos has been in the bag of the opposition All Progressives Congress, APC, and with the recent defection of Governor Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso from the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, to the APC, the odds have become stacked against the PDP-controlled federal government ahead of the 2015 presidential election. But the ruling party is leaving no one in doubt about its determination to get the state back into its fold.
An indicator to the level of federal government’s determination to reclaim Kano was President Goodluck Jonathan’s attendance of a rally organised by PDP to welcome former governor of the state, Ibrahim Shekarau, to the party’s fold at a time the country was mourning the 78 lives lost in the multiple bomb blasts at Nyanya, some kilometre to the Abuja city centre.
At the rally, the President not only accused Governor Kwankwaso of being a fraud for allegedly embezzling funds given to him for the PDP’s primary election in the build-up to the 2011 presidential election, he emphatically declared that “Kano must return to the PDP”, and that “the stolen mandate” of his party must be reclaimed.
Also at the event, PDP’s national chairman, Alhaji Ahmad Adamu Mu’azu, stated that Kano was a PDP state and would return to the mainstream of the party in 2015. “Everything possible would be put on the ground to bring back the party into Gjovernment House, Kano. The PDP is ready and will remain always ready to reclaim its entire stolen mandate in other states,” Mu’azu said.
In his response to these statements of intent by the PDP, the Kano governor accused the President and his party of being insensitive to the mood of Nigerians by embarking on merry-making when the nation was mourning those who died in the Abuja bomb blasts.
Following closely the Kano rally, the federal government again displayed its interest in the state during the selection process of a new Emir of Kano, following Alhaji Ado Bayero’s death.
Given the controversy surrounding the missing US$20 billion from the NNPC coffers, as alleged by Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, and the animosity the allegation generated against the federal government, it did not hide its opposition to the emergence of the former governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, as the new Emir of Kano. It was therefore not surprising that youths took to the street in protest to Sanusi’s emergence as Emir.
The protesters, who were suspected to be sympathetic to late Bayero’s son and already celebrating a rumoured appointment of the Chiroma Kano as the new Emir, chanted, “Bamaso Bamaso” (meaning, “we don’t want”) against Sanusi. The national leadership of the PDP had prematurely congratulated Sanusi’s rival, Sunusi Ado Bayero, as the new Emir even before the state government announced the name of Sanusi Lamido Sanusi as the new Emir.
APC chieftain, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, in a facebook post, berated the PDP-led federal government over the premature congratulatory message to Sanusi’s rival: “The PDP out of fear and hatred of my brother Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, began circulating the falsehood that someone else had been appointed Emir of Kano. They congratulated the Emir that had not been selected by the constituted authority. They had enlisted several PDP sympathiser-traditional rulers to put pressure on Governor Kwankawaso to discourage him from selecting Sanusi who was recommended on merit among the aspirants by the kingmakers. They have now withdrawn their false and contrived congratulations. PDP represents all that is evil and wrong about our nation. May Allah separate Nigeria from this evil, divisive and poverty-inducing party.”
In apparent realisation that something drastic needed to be done to strengthen the part in the state ahead of the coming presidential election, the federal government played a trump card in nominating Shekarau as a minister as well as packaging the scion of the influential Abacha family, Mohammed Sani Abacha, as PDP’s potential flag-bearer for the Kano governorship election, to boost PDP’s status ahead of the 2015 presidential election.
Shekarau, a two-term former governor of the state, had played a major role in the merger of the defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP, with others to form the APC, but has pledged to work for Mr. Jonathan or any PDP presidential candidate in 2015. Upon leaving the opposition party, Shekarau called the APC a fraud and noted that the soul of the APC had been lost, while Mohammed Abacha, presumed winner of the governorship primary election of the defunct Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, who was rejected by the party’s national leadership following the emergence of Gen. Muhammadu Buhari as the party’s presidential candidate in 2011, still has his eyes on the governorship position in the state.
Clearing Pathways To Mohammed’s Ambition
The late Gen. Sani Abacha, who was buried in Kano in 1998, was one of the most powerful and influential leaders produced by the state. His son, Mohammed, had never hidden his desire to occupy Kano State Government House. He is reportedly set to run for the top job in Kano come 2015 and the Presidency is clearing the way for him to wrest the state from the grips of Kwankwaso and the All Progressives Congress machinery.
To realise his dream, the businessman sought top leaders of the PDP in the state to streamline terms of his defection to the party in view of what he suffered in 2011 under the then Buhari-led CPC. With Buhari as a major stakeholder in APC, Abacha has no illusion that his dream will be reased under the opposition party. His father, who died under controversial circumstances in 1998, announced the toppling of Gen. Buhari’s regime in 1983.
Mohammed’s proposed defection thus became a part of a larger political strategy by the federal government to cut Kwankwaso to size. This move started with the recent release from prison after 14 years of the former Chief Security Officer, CSO, to Mohammed’s father, Major Hamza al-Mustapha, who is said to have been anointed to lead Mohammed’s campaign in Kano.
Abacha had been charged before an Abuja high court for allegedly stealing N446.3 billion made up in foreign currencies and travelers cheques, belonging to the federal government while his late father held sway as the Head of State. He protested the charge both at the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court but lost his appeals for the charge to be quashed. The superior courts insisted that he had a case to answer and directed him to and face trial before an Abuja high court.
At his rescheduled trial, Abacha, in defiance of the apex court’s directive for him to go back to the high court for trial, never showed up to be arraigned. His absence stalled proceedings as his lawyer, Dr. Reuben Atabo, told the court presided by Justice Mamman Kolo, that his client was recuperating from a heart-related ailment following his doctor’s advice that he take a two-week bed rest.
The federal government had alleged in a nine-count amended charge, that Abacha unlawfully received the stolen properties between 1995 and 1998. In the amended charge, in which the alleged crimes were reduced from 121 counts to nine, Abacha was accused of “dishonestly receiving stolen property” and said to have “voluntarily assisted in concealing money”. The charge also excluded one Atiku Baudu, who was earlier co-charged with Mr. Abacha in an earlier charge, leaving the late maximum ruler’s son to face trial alone.
According to the amended charge, the stolen money allegedly received by Abacha Jr, and which he was accused of concealing, include £141,100,000 sterling and US$384,353,000, made up of cash and travellers cheques.
The charge, dated 24 February 2014, was filed by Mr. Daniel Enwelum, a private prosecutor handling the case on Federation.
In count one, Abacha was alleged to have between August and December 1995 at Abuja, dishonestly received $36,480,000.00, made up of cash and travellers cheque, property of the federal government believed to have been stolen while count two alleged that he voluntarily assisted in concealing $57,960,000.00 believed to have been stolen from the federal government.
In count three, he was alleged to have dishonestly received another 26,913,500.00, which is also believed to have been stolen from the federal government while the fourth count alleged that Mohammed Abacha, within the same period, voluntarily assisted in concealing $26,913,500.00, also believed to have stolen from government coffers.
Similarly, count five alleged that sometime in June 1997 at Abuja, Mohammed Abuja also dishonestly received $10,000,000.00 believed to have been stolen from the federal government.
Counts six and seven relate to an alleged crime of dishonestly receiving and voluntarily assisting in concealing the sum of $87,000,000 and £41,143,000 between February and December 1997.
In count eight, Mohammed was accused of dishonestly receiving, between January and August 1998, the sum of $167,000,000 and £99,957,000, believed to have been stolen from the federal government, while count nine accused him of voluntarily assisting in concealing the amounts mentioned in count eight.
The alleged offences are said to be punishable under sections 317 and 319 of the Penal Code.
However, at the rescheduled date for the commencement of the trial on 18 June, with Mohammed taking his place inside the dock, the prosecutor, Mr. Enwelum, informed the court that he had received directives from the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Mohammed Bello Adoke (SAN), to discontinue the case.
“I have been instructed by the AGF and Minister of Justice to withdraw the charges as presently filed before this court, because there are fresh facts and documents available to him” he told the court, adding: “In compliance with that instruction, I have filed a notice of withdrawal dated June 17, 2014. I humbly apply to withdraw the charges accordingly.”
In his ruling, Justice Kolo granted the application to withdraw the charge and thereafter, struck out the charge and discharged Mohammed Abacha, thus paving the way for him to pursue his political ambition.
The thinking within the Presidency is that, with the appointment of Shekarau as a minister and the withdrawal of the charge against Mohammed, it would be possible for them to whittle Kwankwaso’s political influence and make it possible for the PDP to reclaim the state in the next election.
Preparatory to this, Abacha’s giant, colourful and intimidating campaign posters have been placed by the side of the Kano State PDP Secretariat along New Court Road and Jedi Jedi Quarters of Kano metropolis, in addition to the opening of his campaign office along Audu Bako Way, also in the city. Adorning the big campaign office are the posters of Mohammed Abacha, President Jonathan and the national chairman of the PDP, Alhaji Adamu Mu’azu.
Mohammed left the PDP in 2010 when he led his large followers into the defunct CPC. Upon his renewed governorship ambition, this time on the platform of the PDP, he stated that he, alongside his followers, left the PDP in 2010 due to lack of internal democracy but in view of his many experiences, he’d come to realise that there is no other party that captures Nigeria, every tribe and religion, like the PDP.
The PDP constitution says a returnee to the party will have to wait for two years before he could be allowed to contest for electoral office on its platform, unless he is granted waiver by either the National Working Committee of the party or its National Executive Committee, but for a party with a track record of breaching its constitution, one may not be surprisedby PDP’ desperation to “reclaim” the state if it chooses to flout its rules for Mohammed.
Uproar Against The Withdrawal of Charges
It was a harvest of criticisms against the federal government by political watchers and civil society groups when criticisms on government withdrew the multi-billion naira theft charge against Mohammed Abacha, which is viewed as an endorsement of corruption. They lamented that the withdrawal of the charge raised further concerns about federal government’s commitment to the fight against corruption.
The coalition of civil society groups, including Centre for Democracy and Development, CDD; Centre for Information Technology and Development, CITAD; Centre for the Development of Civil Society, CDCS; Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, CISLAC; National Procurement Watch Platform, NPWP; West African Civil Society Forum, WASCOF; Zero-Corruption Coalition, ZCC; Tax Justice and Governance Platform Nigeria and the Women Advocate Research & Documentation Centre, WARDC, recalled that the Jonathan administration also pardoned former Bayelsa governor, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, who was indicted for looting and stealing of public funds.
“The civil society is not happy with the ways and manner this administration is perpetuating immorality, impunity and lack of transparency, which puts a question mark on the sincerity of the administration in battling corruption,” said the coalition. It expressed displeasure over what it described as national embarrassment that President Jonathan’s action depicts, noting that it also shook the moral foundation of the Presidency as well as portends grave implications for the myriad of corruption cases in the country.
“Indeed, it has the potential to de-motivate Nigeria’s anti-corruption institutions – i.e. Economic and Financial Crime Commission, EFCC, and Independent Corrupt Practices Commission, ICPC – to effectively deliver on their mandate of fighting corruption and also sends a wrong signal that perpetrators of such crimes are likely to get away with fraudulently acquired public funds, while further re-entrenching corruption such that will become an obstacle to national development and improvement in the lives of citizens,” the coalition further added, urging the Presidency to immediately direct the judiciary to continue with the case against Mohammed Abacha with a view to recovering the alleged stolen money.
The federal government, through the Minister of Finance, Mrs. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, however defended its withdrawal of the charge against Mohammed Abacha, saying that it was to facilitate the return of €167 million (about N36 billion) from the government of the Principality of Liechtenstein as part of the looted funds recovered from the Abacha family. The President had also constituted an inter-ministerial committee which he directed to immediately identify the best projects and programmes to spend the expected funds on.
Okonjo-Iweala noted that the return of the funds was delayed by a suit instituted at the European Court of Human Rights, ECHR, by companies owned by the Abacha family, alleging infringement of their rights to a fair trial and to the peaceful enjoyment of their possessions. She added that as part of the negotiations to expedite the recovery of the funds, the Abacha family agreed to discontinue their suit before the ECHR, while the Federal Government equally decided to withdraw the case against him.
She said the money to be recovered from Liechtenstein is different from the $458 million Abacha loot that the U.S. government froze and which the federal government wants returned.
The Lead Director, Centre for Social Justice, Mr. Eze Onyekpere, described the deal as the most absurd style of plea bargaining, which would encourage impunity, corruption and stealing of public funds by the country’s leaders: “It does not make sense at all. How can one steal about N446 billion and government is accepting only N36.32 billion to discontinue the case against the culprit? What government is getting is not even up to one-tenth of what was stolen and a case is withdrawn against him.”
For a Lagos-based lawyer, Kayode Adaramoye, although the Attorney-General has the powers to discontinue with any case at any point, the government’s action on the Abacha loot is undesirable for Nigeria’s development. “The action of the Federal Government is like patting corruption on the back and a proof that the administration is not sincere about the fight against corruption. It is rather sad that all these are happening in a country that has all the potentials to make its people amongst the best catered for in terms of socio-economic well-being,” he said.
The National President, National Youth Council of Nigeria, NYCN, Wale Ajani, described the Nigerian government’s action as very unfortunate and one that would show the international community that the present administration was not serious about the fight against corruption. Ajani said there was no justification for any government to allow anybody that had stolen from the nation’s wealth to go scot free, particularly when such despicable acts have continued to aggravate the socio-economic plight of ordinary Nigerians.
Also the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties, CNPP, criticised President Jonathan for flushing away N413.68 billion to get votes in the 2015 presidential election in Kano State. Acting National Publicity Secretary of CNPP, Mr. Austin Ibok, while reacting to withdrawal of the criminal charges against Mohammed, stated that Jonathan withdrew the case because of the votes he hopes the Abachas will garner for him in Kano State at the 2015 presidential election and noted that monies required to fix the nation’s comatose infrastructure have been frittered away to achieve political gains. It accused the President of corrupting the electoral process, pointing out that the rigging of the 2015 presidential election had started in advance.
Similarly, human rights advocate, Femi Falana SAN, noted that the withdrawal of such grave corruption charges has serious implications for prosecuting graft cases: “On the basis of equality before the law, anyone being prosecuted for fraud or corruption can file applications to have their cases withdrawn and struck out by all criminal courts in Nigeria.”
Another group, Campaign for Democracy, noted that the withdrawal of the charge against Mohammed Abacha was an embarrassment to the Supreme Court, which had earlier ruled that he had a case to answer over the same charge.”The development is very sad for the rule of law, the administration of criminal justice system and the fight against corruption in Nigeria. With the withdrawal, which followed the recent verdict of the Supreme Court that Mohammed has a case to answer, the message being sent is that the federal government is at home with corruption, government of corruption and promoters of corruption,” it said. Buttressing the political undertone of the charge withdrawal, Mr. Fred Agbaje, another top lawyer, noted that the withdrawal was a political decision taken as part of President Jonathan’s strategy to win Kano State at all costs in his re-election bid. “It is a political decision. It is all an attempt by the ruling party to win Kano State at all costs in the forthcoming 2015 election. In fact, condemned armed robbers could even be granted political amnesty towards 2015 general election.”
In summary, the critics hold that the withdrawal of the charge against Mohammed Abacha is another graphic example which shows that the present administration takes sides with corrupt elements in the society; and the product of a bargain with him for the political future of the President.