Unsurprisingly, the war against corruption to which President Muhammadu Buhari has committed himself as a top priority, is threatening to assume an ethnic and religious colouration. The two colourations are equally dangerous for Nigeria’s unity and even existence, but for now it looks like the threat of ethnic colouration is more immediate and worrisome.
The most obvious ethnic colouration was painted last week by Professor Ben Nwabueze, the respected constitutional lawyer and once minister of education under General Sani Abacha’s regime. In a widely publicised statement of over 3,100 words entitled: “Corrupt practices: Igbo leaders’ position on probe of past governments”, he enunciated what he claimed was the view of Igbo leadership on President Muhammadu Buhari’s declared war on corruption. He followed this with an equally lengthy interview in THE PUNCH of August 9.
The president, he said, is right to consider his fight against corruption a priority but wrong to limit himself only to the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan he took over from. To do so, he said, would be selective which, in turn, would make his war unjust, unfair and, in the end, ineffective.
On the surface, the professor’s argument looks impartial and unassailable. But read his statement and interview in between the lines and it becomes difficult, if not impossible, not to conclude that his objection to Buhari limiting his war on corruption to Jonathan’s administration was more because it was widely regarded, rightly or wrongly, as Igbo-dominated than because of the reasons he gave.
Next week, God willing, I’ll examine the professor’s statement to show how it is not as impartial and unassailable as it looks at first glance.
Meantime, to the other danger, namely that of giving the president’s declared war on corruption a religious colouration. This time the man with the big brush is the Bishop of Sokoto Catholic Diocese, Most Reverend Mathew Hassan Kukah.
Bishop Kukah has been angry with the media for what he says is their misinterpretation of his call on Buhari to avoid the danger of populist posturing against corruption at the expense of good governance. The public seems to have perceived his warning as a call on Buhari not to waste time probing the Jonathan administration. As such the bishop has come under widespread attack, especially in the social media.
Along with the professor’s veiled attack on Buhari’s anti-corruption war, I will, next week, God willing, examine the Bishop’s call on Buhari to reconsider his stance on corruption to show how the two calls are not as impartial as they seem on the surface.
For the rest of this piece, I’ll like to return to my view that between the two dangers of giving Buhari’s war on corruption an ethnic and religious colouration, the former is more immediate and worrisome for now.
A little over a month ago, on July 14, to be specific, my friend, Chief Loretta Aniagolu, a prominent Enugu politician and business woman, forwarded an email to me with a link to Radio Biafra in which the station claimed, in effect, that Buhari had declared the Igbo his mortal enemies in an interview with the Hausa service of the BBC. She said she had received similar mails from abroad and was at first inclined to dismiss them until she received the last one which she was forwarding to me.
The “former dictator” speaking today on BBC Hausa services monitored in Kaduna, Radio Biafra claimed, said he was convinced the Igbo have always voted against him because of his role in the Nigerian civil war.
“I don’t have any regret, and as such do not owe any apology to them, in fact if there is a repeat of the civil war again, I will kill more Igbo to save the country,” the station quoted him as saying.
Chief Aniagolu said she was forwarding the email to me just to confirm if Buhari did indeed say so, even though she found it difficult, if not impossible, to believe. “Please go through and tell me…Did he really say this?, she asked.
Buhari could never have said such a stupid thing, and never did, as his spokesman, Malam Garba Shehu, and the Hausa Service of the BBC itself have since confirmed. But this has not stopped the radio station from carrying on with its virulent campaigns against Buhari as someone who hates the Igbo. Chances are, millions of impressionable Igbo listeners, especially those who never experienced the war, believe the station.
A careful reading of Nwabueze’s statement about the position of Igbo leadership on Buhari’s war against corruption suggests even the more enlightened leadership are probably inclined to believe Radio Biafra, albeit more out of political expediency than because the station was saying the truth, which, of course, it wasn’t.
Unfortunately, image, especially in this age of the Internet, has since become more potent than substance. If, therefore, the president wants to succeed in his war against corruption – and he owes it to the millions of Nigerians who voted for him to bring about change to do so – he simply must deal with the image that his government is against any tribe or religion, false though this image is.