AN ad hoc group of influential Nigerians, known as the National Peace Committee, has been parading the corridors of power of late, scheming to exploit its connections at the highest level of government to advance a suspicious agenda. Led by a former head of state, Abdulsalami Abubakar, the NCP contingent met with President Muhammadu Buhari last week to “update him on the activities of the committee and how members could help nurture peace in the country.” The intention about peace is apparently noble, but the agenda of the committee is nebulous and its real motive is unclear and questionable.
Their mission, which was to emerge after the meeting, is to advise Buhari to tread with caution in his iron-cast resolve to rid the country of corruption and culture of impunity. In its sanctimonious arrogance, the self-appointed group purportedly lectured Buhari: “This is no longer a military regime and under our existing laws everybody is innocent until proven guilty,” Matthew Kukah, a Catholic priest and their spokesman, said. Although investigations are ongoing, the group jumped to the conclusion that the rule of law had not been followed.
Uncomfortable with the public perception of the NCP mission, Kukah, the priest who claimed to have empanelled the committee in the first instance, said there was no way that he or any member of the committee could have been told to go and beg Buhari for favour in anything relating to corruption. “His body language does not suggest that and only a fool would undertake that kind of mission.”
But Kukah unveiled the true mission of the NCP when he deployed shrill rhetoric in an interview later that Nigerians should be eternally grateful to Jonathan for conceding defeat in an election he clearly lost. As he puts it, “the singular decision that Jonathan took and I think that, as Nigerians, we must become sufficiently serious and realise that that singular act is what has kept us as a nation. So, I think that even for that singular act alone, Nigerians must be appreciative of what President Jonathan did…even if he stole all the money in the world.”
That is a patently dishonest argument. It also raises larger questions about our values. Whatever peace deal the NCP struck, it only offered Jonathan a ladder to climb down. The appalling revelations of financial scandal and corruption that engulfed his administration like a dust cloud also enraged Nigerians.According to Adams Oshiomhole, governor of Edo State, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation allegedly withheld N3.8 trillion out of the N8.1 trillion the country earned from crude oil sales between 2012 and 2015. In another telling insight, the Department of Petroleum Resources was alleged not to have remitted N109.7 billion royalty from oil firms, while a minister in the last government reportedly made away with $6 billion. The Niger Delta Development Commission has not accounted for N183 billion, while $13 billion dividends from the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas is also said to be unaccounted for. All this must not be lost in the heat of partisan warring. Open government is the very essence of democracy.
But it sounds even more comical that Buhari has reaffirmed the need for this committee to continue and robed it with the title “council.” The group that came into prominence during the 2015 general election, over the fear that there might be violence after the elections, if it had any relevance at all, should consider its assignment completed. Its rumoured peace deal brokered between the two presidential candidates then was at best a good gesture to save a good friend from self-destruction. Now, the NCP, which also has the likes of Sa’ad Abubakar, the Sultan of Sokoto; Ayo Oritsejafor, president, Christian Association of Nigeria; John Onaiyekan and Nicholas Okoh (both clergymen), has become a distraction, a veritable platform for making excuses for tainted former public office holders. What manner of advice or intervention do most of the NCP members want to give Buhari beyond what can be offered by the existing constitutional bodies of which some of them are already members?
Indeed, Buhari erred in conferring such specious legitimacy on the NCP. As a group, the committee has the right to come together either as a pressure or interest group, but certainly not with an official stamp. Running government through illegal ad hoc committees should not happen again. The 1999 Constitution makes provision for enough bodies and agencies through which the Nigerian state should operate.
The Third Schedule assigns the role of advising the President on a number of issues to the Council of State, where Abdulsalami holds a permanent seat. This includes “the maintenance of public order within the Federation or any part thereof and on such other matters as the President may direct.” There is also the Nigeria Inter-Religious Council, similarly initiated as a voluntary association, but which the Olusegun Obasanjo government later granted the quasi-government agency status, and where Oritsejafor and the Sultan’s positions are secured.
Under Buhari, Nigeria has a rare opportunity to make a break with the oppressive yoke of corruption. And in waging the war, there should not be any sacred cow. There must be no room to tolerate crooked public officials and those who hope for windfalls from powerful friends in high places. Last April, the anti-corruption war in Guatemala claimed a major scalp when the vice-president, whose private secretary was implicated in a fraud that saw the customs reducing import duties for kickbacks, was forced to resign his job. The President, Perez Molina, ordered his deputy’s bank accounts frozen, property raided and banned from travelling abroad during the period of investigation.
It is said that peace without justice is tyranny. Buhari should set the wheel of justice rolling without let or hindrance. “Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organised conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them,” Frederick Douglas, an African-American writer and statesman, once said, “neither persons nor property will be safe.”