Nigeria’s tragedy, Sowore and the zeitgeist of #RevolutionNow, By Sufuyan Ojeifo

Many statutory agencies in Nigeria have not effectively applied themselves to the discharge of their approved duties. Tragically bogged down by lack of capacity, personnel or staff members of the affected agencies have continued to mismanage service delivery. For example, the anti-corruption war has been faltering because the majority of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission’s (EFCC) investigators lack the requisite training and aptitude.

Many of the investigators resort to psychological torture and intimidation as investigative tools, with largely counter-productive results. This explicates the Commission’s loss of many high-profile corruption cases in court. And, investigation is, perhaps, the most important in the processes that lead to prosecution and conviction; and, the success or otherwise of prosecution is dependent on the thoroughness of investigation.

In fact, there have been cases where the Commission had either lost in court due to poorly-conducted investigations or, faced by the prospects of loss or losses, had withdrawn charges  against the accused (mostly politically-exposed persons) to enable it file fresh charges or amended charges. This insalubrious development compels the need for the training and retraining of investigators to bolster their investigative capacity and reinforce the Commission’s prosecutorial enterprise.

I am able to speak to the issue of poor investigation because I was a victim in 2016. I had been invited to interview an official in the Commission’s Lagos office in connection with an investigation into an issue in which my name featured, not prominently but peripherally.  I had rendered media and publicity services, incognito, for the Goodluck Jonathan administration at the level of a small team for which members were paid. As the head of the team, I had responsibility for receiving and disbursing funds for the purposes they were intended. 

Upon receipt of the Commission’s letter of invitation signed by the Deputy Director (Operations), Mr. Ilyasu Kwarbai, the same invitations that some persons received and went underground, out of reach by the Commission’s investigators, I had confidently traveled to Lagos with all the relevant documents-memos, photocopies of cheques issued in payment of salaries and allowances, receipts of newspaper adverts, et al, to rebut and extinguish any possible claim of money laundering.

But to my greatest shock, the investigators-Usman Zakari and Abraham Tukura- said they were not interested in looking at the documents that would have assisted them in the investigation. They claimed President Muhammadu Buhari had directed the Commission to recover all monies allegedly stolen and/or diverted from the public coffers whether illegitimately warehoused somewhere or legitimately received or earned by innocent or unsuspecting Nigerians for services rendered.

As Omoyele Sowore was imprudently and needlessly taken into custody in connection with the#RevolutionNow protests, so was I subjected to a regime of harassment, intimidation, oppression and deprivation of vehicle and money earned in the discharge of the terms of my contract of employment. But amid the quandary, a friend facilitated a meeting with Kwarbai who summoned the investigators to his office to be briefed.

Very calmly, Kwarbai listened to my story and then his investigators’. Both sides heard each other out. There was no resort to self-help by weaving falsehoods into the narratives.  The investigators’ story as told by Zakari agreed with mine except that he curiously and truthfully admitted that his team impounded my property without the knowledge of Kwarbai; whereas, in the course of the investigation, he kept saying that it was Kwarbai who said the team should impound my property and detain me if I refused to cooperate with them.

But Kwarbai was above the scrimmage. In a rare show of administrative refinement and impartiality, he looked at the investigators, pointed at me, seated in between my friend and my lawyer, and said: “from what you have said, this man has not committed any offence.” That was a clear disapprobation of the investigators’ slapdash investigation. But that was all to it. Kwarbai could have used his good offices to direct the investigators to let me go, but he did not.

I could perceive he understood very well his very unpredictable work environment where solid reputations could plunge into the abyss on spurious allegations of graft. He had thus further showed his brilliance and legerdemain at surviving on his job by advising me to go to court against the Commission, assuring that the Commission would abide by whatever the court said.  I am still in court against the Commission and would, at the appropriate time, write extensively about the nitty-gritty of the matter.

The likes of Kwarbai are not many in the security and anti-graft agencies. The response of the Department of State Services (DSS) to the#RevolutionNow protests by arresting one of the leaders, Sowore, was a predictable tragic choreography, which the DSS has been used to in its operational conducts. It targets perceived leaders or prime motivators of protests in a bid to upend the actions. That strategy is hackneyed and it has always failed to dismantle ideas that have become ingrained in human forces.  Someone with Kwarbai’s temperament and civility could have handled the issue, perhaps, differently and with more equanimity.

Revolutionaries, the world over, are sui generis. They are stimulated by populist ideas and the crux of such ideas has always been the imperative of accountability in leadership and good governance. The Sowore-inspired#RevolutionNow flowed from that premise. It was a non-sanguinary revolution to place on historical record the perceived failure of the Buhari government to keep fidelity with the social contract as well as the spirit and letter of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to which he swore to uphold in ensuring good governance, welfare and security of life and property of the Nigerian people.

Clearly, it was not a revolution to overturn Buhari’s government, which was the erroneous fear of the government and the nation’s security apparatchiks. The processes of changing a democratically-elected government in Nigeria are constitutionally circumscribed. Therefore, the DSS should not have apprehended Sowore in connection with the protests let alone going to court to secure a leave to keep him away for 45 days. After all, the protests still held in parts of the country; and, that simply reinforces the fact that while a person can be detained, an idea as well as the time and spirit behind it, cannot.

What the Nigerian government had done by taking in Sowore was playing into his hands. He now enjoys global recognition and approximation as a face of opposition movement in Nigeria with its concomitant “courtesies”. The Sowore nonpareil has now created a higher ownership-leadership level for the struggle above the people. But the DSS made it possible by its inability to think out of the box.  It should have, acting in concert with the Police, allowed Nigerians, and even given them security covers, to protest to articulate and ventilate bottled-up issues.

The government should have taken the opportunity to listen to them and possibly act in accordance. That would have earned government a great deal of respect and edified our constitutional democracy. Muzzling protests and protesters in the manner the Federal Government had done, and celebrating the acclaimed failure of the protest in Abuja, when it actually held via a red herring, indicated the failure of intelligence and portrayed government as intolerant. But government can prove wrong this negative profiling or characterization.

Arguments in certain quarters that Buhari is guilty of political chicanery in egregiously accepting the toga of a liberal democrat when he is not one have gained currency and validation. To members of those quarters, Buhari led one or two protests under the Goodluck Jonathan administration and the government of the day neither disrupted nor arrested him, which they said was political tolerance. Their concern is why has Buhari’s government been unable to demonstrate the same liberalism?

Regardless, the zeitgeist of the#RevolutionNow is writ large.  It is bigger than Sowore and has overarching dimensions that ramify the polity. It has no political, religious, regional or ethnic colouration. The existential issues involved affect all Nigerians. It is thus a Nigerian action to rein in a Nigerian government.  It provides an opportunity for government to pursue positive actions of doubling down on utilitarian service delivery and good governance instead of tragically pandering to negative profiling of opposition elements in furtherance of political animus and counter actions.   

·       Ojeifo, an Abuja-based journalist, contributed this piece via[email protected]

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