A FRENCH proverb – wise as all proverbs are – says, “For desperate ills desperate remedies.” Those who have found fault with Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala “for the transfer of US$300 million and British Pounds £5.5 million of the recovered Abacha funds to an ONSA operation account” (in what amounts to a move in support of the war against the Boko Haram terrorist group) may not be familiar with this proverb and its implication that there are certain problems that arise in the affairs of humans and nations which reasonable people unanimously agree on the rightness of ignoring convention in solving them.
Take, for instance, the tactics adopted by the United States in fighting terror post 9/11. It involved the torture of suspects at the facility in Guantanamo Bay by the procedure known as waterboarding, etc., but ultimately yielded information leading to the discovery of Osama bin Laden in his secret hideout in Pakistan.
We know that torture breaches the convention of respect for the dignity of suspects. We know what happened to Osama bin Laden in his encounter with the US Navy Seals, though the convention is not to punish – let alone liquidate – an accused person without trial. We also know that that final encounter with bin Laden involved an “unconventional” violation of the territorial integrity and airspace of his host nation. But more importantly, there was a general consensus that America faced such a desperate threat from terror that it was understandable that it took such desperate measures in dealing with it, hence such breaches of convention were generally regarded as insignificant – and justified – in light of the overriding need to find a remedy for the desperate ill of a terrorist threat which compares to Boko Haram in today’s Nigeria.
And the grouse of the critics of Okonjo-Iweala, for which they have asked President Buhari to order her arrest and prosecution, is that she – they allege – disbursed the said funds in a manner that violated convention, given that the funds should have been appropriated through Senate approval before their disbursement.
However, they seem to forget that it was the same Senate some of whose members were said to be sympathetic with Boko Haram and so might have been inclined to frustrate Senate approval of such funds to fight the insurgent group. They also seem not to realise that debating the appropriation of such funds for fighting the insurgents on the floor of the Senate would have been strategically wrong, as it would amount to alerting them to device a means of thwarting or countering the planned offensive.
I have drawn the above quote – in which the transferred amounts are mentioned – from a letter recently put in the public domain by which Okonjo-Iweala, then Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy under former President Goodluck Jonathan, sought and received the approval of her boss to make the transfer.
The letter also clarifies that “the NSA … explained” that the funds were “to enable purchase of ammunitions, security and other intelligence equipment for the security agencies in order to enable them fully confront the ongoing Boko Haram threat.”
And Okonjo-Iweala did not think making the disbursement was enough. Rather, addressing her said boss, she also emphasised the need for accountability in the letter, thus: “In light of this and given the peculiar nature of security and intelligence transactions, we would expect the NSA to account to Your Excellency for the utilisation of the funds.”
Furthermore, the letter reveals that Okonjo-Iweala did not make a unilateral, secret or underhand decision in making the transfer, but that her decision – following the request by the NSA – was “sequel to the meeting” the former President “chaired with the committee on use of recovered funds where the decision was made that recovered Abacha funds would be split 50-50 between urgent security needs to confront Boko Haram and development needs…”
Incidentally, this letter has been linked with a scandal dubbed “Dasukigate”, apparently coined from the surname of Sambo Dasuki, the (now former) National Security Adviser (NSA) mentioned in it.
Indeed, the content of the letter, which clearly reveals the compelling circumstances for the disbursement of the said funds, vindicates Okonjo-Iweala and portrays her as a selfless and conscientious manager of resources who deploys them without personal benefit and insists on their being accounted for. Needless to say that this is exemplary compared to what generally obtains among our public servants. I am not unimpressed by the effort of those arguing the case against her to anchor their claims on the law, like one Ilesanmi Omabomi in “Why Buhari Must Order The Immediate Arrest Of Okonjo-Iweala And CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele”, who cites the “Constitution of Nigeria 1999 as amended, subsection 80(2)” to support his case. But since every legal contest ends in victory for only one of the parties and its lawyer(s), it means the parties and their lawyers are wrong half of the time. And so his case against Okonjo-Iweala has a high 50 per cent chance of failure if subjected to legal contestation.
On a different note, I suspect that the call for the arrest and prosecution of Okonjo-Iweala, like the recent absolutely condemnable massacre of Shiite Muslims in Zaria by the Nigerian Army, is part of the incipient politics of making President Buhari and his administration unpopular, with the instigation of his frenemies who would rather be ruling in his place. I believe the stratagem of this insidious politics and its sponsors is to continuously nudge the President and his administration into taking unpopular or even atrocious decisions that would erode his popularity with the Nigerian people and enable the sponsors profit politically – need I say when and how? – from his resultant notoriety.
And shouldn’t President Buhari be wary of such people?