Can APC Heal Itself?/

In a recent comment, I expressed the view that Nigeria’s list of prospective ministers, the moment it was sent to the National Assembly for screening, became also a vetting of President Muhammadu Buhari, and no longer simply a list of those individuals.  

That was because, for the first time in Nigeria’s history, the nation’s leader had declared his choices would be governed by a particular characteristic: integrity. 

On one occasion, he used two powerful words to describe his approach: hostage, and compromised.

Appearing on NTA’s ‘Good Morning Nigeria’ on July 27, two months after he came into office, he said he didn’t want persons he characterized as “hostages” in the federal cabinet. 

Who?

“I mean people who have been in the system but compromised their personal and professional integrity,” the president explained.  “From what I have seen so far, we need really patriotic Nigerians - Nigerians that can work very hard, knowledgeable, experienced, committed Nigerians - to be in charge of ministries…”

And then he extended his description by saying that the worst scenario was to appoint a “compromised” person to superintend federal institutions. “There is no way [such a person] could be efficient or patriotic. Somebody behind the scene will be tele-guiding him at the expense of the nation.” 

While I did not think his nominees were awful, I provided two caveats.  The first was that the list was not so groundbreaking that it required as much time as President Buhari had taken to put it together.

The second: some of the names, given their record, appeared to contradict the president’s benchmark.  I concluded he had either begun to mellow as a politician, or had begun to yield inches of principle.  

Compromise in politics is neither new nor abhorrent: something sometimes has to be given up towards accomplishing a larger objective.  The question is what kind of compromise is made, and does it hold the potential to undo the journey in general?

For a demonstration, I invite you to Kogi State, and then to Bayelsa, where two former governors are currently in line to return as governors.

I begin with Kogi. Between 1999 and 2003, Mr. Abubakar Audu held office there as governor.  Now a member of the All Progressives Congress (APC), he has emerged that party’s flagbearer for next month’s gubernatorial contest.

The problem is that he is being prosecuted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), which at a point declared him wanted, and has alleged in court that he misappropriated N11 billion in public funds during his four years in control.

Mr. Audu denies the charges. 

The chairman of the APC in Kogi, Alhaji Hadi Ametuo, appealing to voters, presented the argument differently a few weeks ago, saying that Audu has pledged to return the N11billion when he is re-elected. 

The chairman did not disclose where and when the governorship candidate made the pledge, and I do not know if Audu looted the funds.  

“Nobody is a saint,” Ametuo said.  “No governor can claim he has not done any malpractice or stolen anything during his time in the office…”

Next: Bayelsa State.

Mr. Timipreye Sylva was governor of the state between 2007 and 2011.  He was famously arrested by the EFCC in May 2013, dragged out from a hiding spot in his home.  He was subsequently taken to court and charged with stealing N19.2billion of public funds.  

This case has in the past few months seen a lot of twists and turns.  One of them was the withdrawal of Festus Keyamo, the hired gun of the EFCC as prosecution counsel.  Another was the inexplicable appearance in court of the federal Director of Public Prosecution-just days after the current government came into office-to quash the charges against Sylva, who is an APC chieftain.

Following the dismissal of the case early in June, the EFCC filed 50 new counts of stealing and money laundering against Mr. Sylva and his associates two weeks later.  Sylva is also accused of embezzling workers’ salaries

Now, N19bn in any currency is a vast sum of money, but like Kogi’s Audu, Bayelsa’s Sylva says he never took a penny.  

Every suspect is entitled to a plea, and “not guilty” is legal.  But it is neither proof nor vindication.  Like his Kogi counterpart, Sylva denies the charges, but until the case in court is over, it is the worst possible advertising for a political party which rose to power on the back of an anti-corruption horse.  

The question is whether a man who is under active prosecution-not just allegations or petitions-for fraud, should have been allowed to run for office in the first place in a party which claims commitment to probity.

Last week, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which lost federal power last March largely for its advancement of corruption in the country, weighed in on the matter.  

“Now that the APC is brazenly fielding candidates with questions of corruption,” PDP spokesman Olisa Metuh noted in a statement, “we ask, do they in all honesty expect Nigerians to take them seriously on their much-hyped anti-corruption crusade?” 

The PDP also asked: “Does the APC expect the people of Kogi and Bayelsa states to be fooled into voting for the same individuals who are facing charges of looting funds meant for the development of their respective states?”

When Nigerians voted the PDP out last March, that party paid the price for its transgressions.  As one of its frontline critics, I had gone as far as calling on Nigerians to vote Anyone-But-PDP.  

This time, the PDP holds the moral high ground, and it asks a question that is more philosophical than political.

Its accusations are of course self-serving, but they are justified. How do men who are accused of embezzling acres of public funds wind up being men to be entrusted with public office and funds?  At what point does an ethically-challenged man become the face or advocate of accountability and transparency?

At the basic level, I join the PDP in urging the people of Kogi and Bayelsa States to reject APC in the forthcoming elections.  Even if the men who currently hold those governorships were no good, it is a bigger insult to give the keys to the bank to men who have already been accused of having robbed it.   

But the more fundamental question is this: exactly what comprises the APC model for combating corruption?  What is its strategy, and when is a man who has related legal problems a liability to the cause?  What are the terms of engagement in this battle, and when is the public advised not to feel nervous?  

Finally, now that certain key mistakes have already been made, I urge the government to consider, as a matter of urgency, the reforms planned for critical federal institutions, including the judiciary, the EFCC, and the electoral commission.

And given the political landmines that are now all over the place, it is essential to attack the menace of executive impunity by eliminating the constitutional immunity in which it has flowered.  

Call it a buharification process.  If APC cannot buharify itself and its opportunity, it pens its own obituary.

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