Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Abacha: Must the Generals rewrite history?

IN this part of the world, part of the home training we receive as we grow up is not to talk ill of the dead because it is a road we'll all have to travel one day. Even if you must do it, it has to be in whispers, in the confines of one's room or other places far removed from public scrutiny. It is assumed that once a man passes on to the great beyond, he is better left to carry the cross of his misdeed. Unfortunately, some persons through acts of omission or commission leave so much behind for others to chew and digest, long after they are gone. Here, in absolute compliance with that maxim, this piece will not speak ill of the dead but just try to put the record straight in the belief that facts are sacred. Our children must not be fed with lies; chroniclers of events must not be misled with untrue claim either. For the sake of history. Thankfully, we are all living witnesses to the history that some eminent Nigerians are trying to rewrite.

Three days ago, three eminent past military leaders of this country - Generals Muhammadu Buhari, Ibrahim Babangida and Abdulsalami Abubakar - were in Kano at the home of the Abachas to mark the 10th anniversary of the passage of the maximum ruler Sani Abacha, also a General in the Nigerian Army. Let's refresh memories a bit. For many Nigerians actually, it was one unforgettable day 10 years ago when God showed His might and taught us mortals a great lesson. The omnipotent majestically walked into the Aso fortress unseen and unchallenged, and without any shedding of blood, recreated the 'Let my people go' wonder of old. The unseen hand took Abacha away to deliver more than 100 million people in one day from the shackles of one man who ruled like there was no end to life here.

We should not deceive ourselves that the three Generals knew what they were doing: making a statement to re-write history. But in flying the kite, I don't think they should mislead the coming generations considering the facts available to the contrary. They want us to believe that Abacha served his country well to the best of his ability. They may be right, after all it is subjective. We concede to you the right to hold opinion as guaranteed by the constitution. It's even a God-given right. But for someone or a group to want to pull the wool over our faces and tell 140 million Nigerians that our man, the General in goggles, did not loot the treasury while he called the shots from Aso Rock is unacceptable. Even if Nigerians are all Mugus (fools) - good enough they are not - the Swiss authorities who returned about $505.5 million of the recovered loot are not in any way fooled by this picture of a saint they are painting Abacha. Stand up, Mr Fabio Baiardi, the Charge d'Affairs of the Embassy of Switzerland and tell these people as you did at a press conference last month how much your home government has returned to us from the looted funds traced to the General's many accounts. Just in case they missed the report. We are not even talking about funds allegedly stashed away in other foreign accounts. Whatever happened to about $800 million also reportedly recovered from domestic institutions? Haba, why are we distorting facts and twisting records so soon?

Thank you Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, the Aremu of Ota, for the effort your administration put into the fund recovery drive. This time I am on your side. You did well, very well, in spite of the misgivings of Mrs. Maryam Abacha. She wants us to believe there is no basis for accusing her husband of corruption. Ummmhn! Let no one have any funny ideas that Abacha is being put on the spot because he was Abacha. No. If tomorrow we have any concrete evidence about any other leader or government official who misappropriated public fund, we have to make it a public discourse. My instinct tells me it would happen one day. If General Murtala Muhammed of good memory had messed up within the short time he was in charge -it's possible you know - would we have been speaking glowingly of his tenure as we do today? That was a leader. He was honest and he had a focus. We all can still recollect the attitude of Gen. Buhari and his lieutenant Tunde Idiagbon to corruption when it was their turn. That was one plus Nigerians could not take away from the Daura General when he made a bid to be given another chance to lead as a civilian. So what are we talking about when we say one man looted the treasury and some of us are making spirited attempts to cover up?

Has anyone taken time to reflect on the fact that we are all in darkness today because this money was not wisely channeled to prevent the debilitating damage to power generating systems? The economy suffered and it is still suffering. The system collapse and gradual descent into the dark days, to the best of my knowledge, started during the regime of Abacha. I stand to be corrected. That was 10 - 15 years ago and we have been told by President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua who should know that the ordeal will last for another three years at least. Well, we are ready to endure. But let it be said that Nigerians have been unjustly and unfairly treated over the years by leaderships who had no plan for their well being. Bravo to generator importers; you guys are really in business in this era of one family, one generator. Thanks to those leaders without focus (not necessarily the present set because they are still trying to find their feet).

The 10 years remembrance activities for Abacha were very instructive too. Last week, I took time to watch how many adverts would be placed in memory of Abacha considering his service to this nation as we are being made to believe and because it was a significant anniversary. Apart from the one signed by the family, I think there were one or two others by classmates - signed by a professor - and another. That shows the transient nature of man. If it were to be the other way round, say Abacha was celebrating 10 years in office, the media houses would have been 'smiling to the banks' because the professional praise singers would have been falling on top of each other to be recognised. Where are all those contractors who benefited immensely from the Abacha family and his government? They have switched camps and loyalty. That is man for you. That same week, Governor Adebayo Alao-Akala of Oyo State was being regaled with endless pages of adverts on his 58th birthday. I wonder what would happen when he is 60 years. May be Agodi Government House would have to be paved with gold. He is not alone. The previous week, Rivers State Governor Rotimi Amaechi also had so much and enough to cut an album if he wished. Much earlier, Governor Gbenga Daniel of Ogun State at 52 was almost begging his kinsmen and contractors to stop the circus show.

Nigeria's immediate past President Obasanjo is just one year out of office. He had hardly left the exalted seat than the court jesters stopped their yearly congratulatory adverts on his birthday on March 4 (or is it 5). The stream of visitors to the yearly Ibogun Day also thinned out. He is being left to carry the can as they say. So the Abachas are not alone; they have co-travellers.

It is just as well that some groups and individuals, notably the radical former Kaduna State military governor, Col Abubakar Umar (rtd.) have reacted to the revisionism played out by the former military rulers at the weekend. More reactions, we can be sure, will follow. It will be an interesting issue of the week. Stay tuned.