Monday, June 16, 2008

Abacha and the Revisionists

Consider this hypothetical question: Would Nigerians have forgiven the late Gen. Sani Abacha if, supposing he is still alive, he had returned all the money he was accused of stealing from the national coffers and publicly apologised? Even as he is dead now, would we have given him a post-humous pardon if his family and friends had returned the loot and asked Nigerians to forgive him? Probably. Just probably. But what do we make of the recent stance of his family and friends who not only refuse to beg Nigerians for forgiveness on behalf of the late dictator but are also trying to rewrite history by insisting publicly that Abacha never stole a dime from the nation’s treasury while he was in the saddle between 1993 and 1998?
Barely a week after the widow of the late head of state put up a spirited defence of her husband’s sanctity, three of his former military colleagues who are also former heads of state joined in the shameful show of mendacity by denying that Abacha ever looted the national treasury.
At the 10th memorial prayer session for the late head of state in Kano penultimate Sunday, the trio of Generals Muhammadu Buhari, lbrahim Babangida and Abdulsalami Abubakar exonerated Abacha of all allegations of looting the national treasury, saying there is no basis for accusing him of corruption. This is against popular opinion and contrary to proven evidence of recovered loot from Swiss and other foreign banks where they were lodged by the late dictator.
The stance of Abacha’s widow is understandable, even if not plausible. For it is in the nature of all dutiful spouses to always be supportive and defensive of their partners, dead or alive. But what we find objectionable is for former leaders, who should know better, to publicly defend somebody who has been proven to have committed economic crimes against the country.
Where were these former heads of state when the last administration of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo was striking deals with the Swiss authorities for the return of funds looted by Abacha, which were stashed in Swiss banks? Obasanjo’s spirited efforts led to the repatriation of more than $500 million of the over $2 billion Abacha loot to the country by Switzerland, as disclosed recently by the Charge d’Affairs of that country’s Embassy in Nigeria.
We find it difficult to understand the reason behind this ill-advised exoneration of Abacha by these former heads of state, two of whom are even warming up to rule the country the second time. Are they using this as a gimmick to warm themselves into the hearts of the northern establishment? Are they merely playing out a carefully scripted northern agenda? Or are they just playing to the northern gallery for selfish political reasons? Whatever it is, we believe that anybody or group of people now trying to revise the clearly established fact that the late Abacha extensively looted the country’s treasury, should be out of his mind. And this is very unfortunate.
For voicing such ill-conceived and ill-advised opinion about Abacha and his well-known loot, Buhari and Babangida are no longer fit to lead this country, as, we believe that anybody who finds it difficult to recognise a bad leader would not make a good leader too.
However, we have the feeling that what is fuelling this latter-day attempt at reconstructing the Abacha misadventure could be the shoddy manner former President Obasanjo ran the country, and especially the slip-shod way he managed or mismanaged the recovered Abacha loot. For eight years, he mouthed the anti-corruption mantra but did little to really bring culprits to book. It is possible that the double standard that characterized Obasanjo’s anti-graft campaign is now emboldening corrupt former leaders desperately striving to cover their dirty tracks.
This is why President Umaru Yar’Adua should not relent in the pursuit of the anti-corruption war. Leaders who looted the country’s treasury should not be spared. And double standard should be avoided in dealing with the culprits.
Above all, the federal government should pursue the return of the remaining Abacha loot in both local and foreign bank accounts to its logical conclusion. lt should also reassure the people of its commitment to transparency and probity by utilising the recovered loot judiciously for the benefit of the citizenry.