By Daniel Alabrah
On November 14, 2018, the Saturday Sun led its front page with the bold headline: “The Atiku Dilemma,” with two accompanying riders: 1. We want to prosecute him for graft but no evidence to nail him, says Itse Sagay; and Ex-VP now vindicated – PDP.
Sagay is chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC), one of the bodies empanelled by President Muhammadu Buhari to deepen his so-called war against graft in Nigeria.
Given the albeit selective disposition of the Buhari administration to the war against corruption, it was expected that it would fire a rebuttal or even query Sagay for giving the President’s main challenger in the February 16, 2019 election such a weighty clean bill. But days, weeks and months have since passed without even a caution to Sagay.
From the report and Sagay’s comment, one perceived some kind of frustration on the part of the federal government to bring the former Vice President to face the wrath of the law. “We want to prosecute him (Atiku) but no evidence to nail him,” Sagay had lamented.
It is like telling a sworn enemy: God saved you otherwise I would have dealt with you. After all, what the Buhari trumpeters want everyone to believe and accept is that Atiku is corrupt and, perhaps, the most corrupt politician to have held public office in Nigeria regardless of not being convicted by any court.
To that extent, it was a surprise that the old wily law Professor, known for his many flip-flops since he became a part of the Buhari administration, made such a courageous positive declaration about Atiku.
It was also expected that after Sagay’s unsolicited clearance of Atiku, other members of the Buhari chant group would take a cue and search for other ammo apart from the time-worn allegations bordering on corruption to throw at Atiku. But whosai!
Since he emerged as the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) presidential candidate and the major hurdle to Buhari’s second term bid, Atiku has sucked in with equanimity the fiery darts from the latter’s vociferous brigade. But, recently, he said not anymore as he took the fight into the lion’s den and dared the king of the jungle to a battle. He fired a direct shot at Buhari, who claims to be Mr. Integrity, to come clean on the allegation that members of his family and cronies corruptly acquired shares in Keystone Bank and the Arabian telecoms giants, Etisalat, which has morphed into 9Mobile in Nigeria.
Shockingly, instead of responding to the grave allegation, the Presidency decided to play the ostrich and challenged its accusers to show proof. Knowing the way it addresses such issues, many Nigerians are of the view that if there was no substance in the allegation, Buhari would have threatened to go to court to seek legal redress. I am not aware he has done that yet. Perhaps, he is hoping the wind on the matter would sooner than later blow away and Nigerians would move on to other issues as usual.
I doubt very much if that would be the case on this matter that borders on the only foot on which the President is standing to prosecute his re-election bid. Not having a strong showing in terms of performance and achievements after almost four years in office, President Buhari is relying on only his integrity to campaign. Interestingly, his strongest weapon has come under serious scrutiny. I totally align with Atiku that Mr. President should come clean on this allegation regardless of the rebuttals from Keystone Bank and Etisalat.
So far, the response from the Buhari campaign organisation has been anything else but tepid. The effort of its Director of Strategic Communication, Barrister Festus Keyamo, to divert attention from the real issue has fallen flat. His riposte was at best an exercise to personalise the matter. Instead of addressing the weighty allegation against his principal, the official spokesperson rather resorted to his trademark unsubstantiated accusation of corruption against Atiku. In his words, if Nigeria was working, Atiku ought to be in jail.
This however raises some questions. If Atiku should be jailed for alleged sundry acts of corruption that albeit have not been proven by any court anywhere, what about a man who committed treason by truncating Nigeria’s democratic march? If Buhari and his military acolytes had not toppled the Shehu Shagari government in 1983, would Nigeria be where it is today? Whether Keyamo accepts it or not, Buhari’s forceful grabbing of power from an elected people-enthroned government set Nigeria backwards and arrested our political and economic development. Yet this same man, without showing any remorse, wrote a highly patronising and platitudinous condolence message when the person he overthrew passed on recently. Shame now has a different meaning in the dictionary!
Whenever you listen to the Buhari gang speak on Atiku and the issue of corruption, you would think that the legal dictum of an accused not being guilty until the court proves otherwise had been abolished. Clearly, their only objective is to convict the former VP in the courts of public opinion (and in the eyes of voters) knowing as Sagay had said there is no concrete corruption evidence against Atiku. If that was not the case, there is no way the vindictiveness deployed in prosecuting the selective Buhari anti-graft war would have spared the PDP presidential candidate. It is indeed a forlorn hope to expect America, another country with its own laws and statutes, to try a man you accused without evidence in your own country because of what Keyamo called sealed indictment. So much for legal jargons!
While not holding brief for Atiku, who has even challenged the government to prosecute him if it has any evidence of corruption, it is now clear that this is a case of calling a dog a bad name just to hang it. The singular objective of the Buhari campaigners is to besmirch the PDP candidate’s reputation. And the method is simple. Make unsubstantiated and tendentious allegations that cannot stand even the weakest scrutiny in the courts in order to make Atiku unelectable in the eyes of the electorate. Spreading falsehood and wicked propaganda is a veritable tool of their politics and their campaigns for election. Without a shadow of doubt, Atiku has become a bone in their throat. They cannot swallow him and they also cannot vomit him.
As it is, while the ball is in Buhari’s court to respond to the challenge of clearing his name, the Atiku fever is gaining momentum by the day as it sweeps across Nigeria. The campaign of calumny against the PDP presidential candidate has obviously not had the desired effect. They have now resorted to other equally incendiary methods to intimidate and scare their main opponent in the February 16 contest. That too will fail!
*Alabrah writes from Yenagoa, Bayelsa State (firstname.lastname@example.org)