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 (ALL PROGRESSIVES CONGRESS’) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE AT THE PRIMARY FOR A PURPOSE; TO TRY TO IMPLEMENT AN AGENDA. I WON’T GO ANY FURTHER. His ability, his capacity to fight corruption decisively is constrained and restrained by some factors, mostly religious.” (Emphasis mine).
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 three.
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 scholarship.
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 1999?
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 Abacha.
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.