In the last week of October 2015, the Premium Times, an online news media in its report titled ‘How APC ignored EFCC’s advice not to field Audu as Kogi guber candidate’, gave a detailed account of how the All Progressives Congress Party, APC, the President Buhari’s led National ruling party discarded the advice of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC. According to Premium Times, the advice by the EFCC was to disqualify Mr. Abubakar Audu, a governorship aspirant in the forthcoming Kogi State elections over gargantuan allegations of abuse of office, theft of public funds and money laundering in an ongoing trial.
The great vigilance of the Premium Times in leaking this classified document from the EFCC alongside another published letter of caution written by former President Olusegun Obasanjo to Mr. Abubakar Audu on his inapt acquisition of various properties in foreign lands whilst in office between 1999-2003 as Governor of Kogi state has been hugely commended by a majority section of the Nigerian reading public.
The authenticity of the documents has been confirmed indubitable as the Former President Olusegun Obasanjo has even shed light on his letter to Mr. Audu. According to Premium Times, from the response credited to the former President Olusegun Obasanjo in its investigation, it is obvious that there is a comprehensive archive of information on Mr. Abubakar Audu’s misdeeds in the files of many government security agencies. Specifically, President Olusegun Obasanjo disclosed that based on the notification he got from the British Home Office, he also wrote to the Independent Corrupt Practices and Related Offences Commission, and the then National Security Adviser, NSA, Aliyu Gusau, directing them to investigate Mr. Audu in relation to foreign assets acquisition as a sitting governor. Realistically, the information provided by the British Home Office is sufficiently indicting, yet, in a surprise twist, Mr. Audu sarcastically responded to the Premium Times inquiry by stating that ‘“This is a matter that is already before the court and it will therefore be a contempt of court for me to disclose what happened in the court. “But as far as I am concerned, they have not established any prima facie case against me in the past 12 years.”
The cunning defence by Mr. Audu that there is no court indictment on him is an insult to the sensibilities of any objective minded Nigerian because the length and depth of his foreign assets in billions of naira acquired while in office as disclosed by the British Home Office establishes clear case of guilt. Furthermore, that Mr. Audu did not take remedial steps as advised by Former President Olusegun Obasanjo is deeply troubling and exposes the weakness of our judicial system on such criminality. Indeed, if really Mr. Audu has been using interlocutory injunctions to evade trial as stated by the EFCC, then it will now make great sense to initiate a recovery process for these assets in foreign lands through the Code of Conduct Bureau, an agency which the Appellate Court recently affirmed to Nigerians that it has the legitimate capacity to speedily address such alleged criminal issues as being applied in a similar case involving Dr. Saraki, the Senate President.
Besides Mr. Audu’s recalcitrant and unrepentant attitude, the fact is that the internet has in about a decade been awash with news on his alleged theft and related issues on the looting of the Kogi state treasury. Equally important to mention is the fact that prior to these disturbing disclosures, a telltale sign on the call for Mr. Audu’s disqualification from the governorship race had emerged from another online news media, Pointblank news in its edition of 11th October 2015 titled “APC in dilemma over Audu…the Tinubu connection”. The publication which drew public attention to a petition written to National Leadership of the APC by one Yahaya Bello also attributed the cover up and seeming shameful waiver extended to Mr. Audu’s alleged atrocities to his political Godfather, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu. According to Pointblank news, the petitioner, an aspirant who ran against Mr. Audu in the Kogi state APC’s governorship party primaries, raised concerns bothering on the ineligibility of Mr. Audu to contest in the Kogi governorship elections. Emphatically, the petitioner in his protest letter to the Appeal Committee on the Party’s primaries stated that “there is an indictment and pendency of criminal trial bordering on financial crimes against Prince Abubakar Audu by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
Furthermore, the letter of protest disclosed that “the Committee found that the respondent in his nomination form while providing an answer to the question if he had any pending criminal cases against him stated that he had a pending “EFCC Political Case” against him. But when we visited the EFCC headquarters to make enquiries and verify these allegations, we confirmed that there was a pending Criminal Trial: FRN V. Prince Abubakar Audu & 1 Other Charge No. FCT/CR/115/2013 for offences bordering on abuse of office, theft of public funds and money laundering all committed during the Respondents tenure as the Executive Governor of Kogi State between 1999 and 2003”. On this, the petitioner reported that the Appeal Committee recommended that Mr. Audu be disqualified and the first runner up in the contest Alhaji Yahaya Bello (FairPlus) be made the party’s standard bearer. Also in his petition, Alhaji Yahaya Bello requested that “the Party (APC) should immediately disqualify or nullify the purported emergence of the respondent (Abubakar Audu) as the candidate of the APC in the upcoming Governorship election in Kogi State, and the name of the petitioner (Yahaya Bello) being the aspirant with who scored the second highest votes and who is constitutionally eligible, be immediately forwarded to INEC as the candidate of the APC in the election.” Unfortunately, the online news media concluded that all the valid findings and recommendations of the Appeal Committee against Mr. Audu were subdued because of the towering backing of Mr. Audu by the impunity and strong influence of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, the National Leader of the APC that is rumoured to have struck a deal with Mr. Audu over providing, the deputy governorship aspirant, one Jimoh Faleke, a federal lawmaker representing Lagos State.
This narrative is considered important not only for Kogites to know before they go to the polls in less than three weeks but for the overall preservation of Nigeria’s democracy. As such, it is vital to state that the negative impact of these disclosures on Nigeria’s democracy cannot be underestimated and its depressing effect on the wellbeing of the vulnerable Kogi citizens is immeasurable. Specifically, the refusal of the APC to adhere to the advice of the EFCC is not only questionable but remains problematic to the citizens of Kogi state. In fact, the revelation that the APC acted in severe disobedience to the advice of the EFCC should be an issue of great public concern especially given that the APC’s endorsement of Mr. Audu may be presumed that the party is desirous to embrace nepotism in its fight against corruption and is more focused on accumulation or struggle power by all means than good governance. Indeed, two major questions give vent to these claims, first is on what moral premise would the APC rest its decision to make a tagged rogue a preferred candidate for its Party in the Kogi elections? Second, did the APC not realize that it will be highly mendacious for it to deny knowledge that its inappropriate action on Mr. Audu as the National ruling party will certainly diminish the President Buhari’s anti-corruption bugaboo?
While noting that Mr. Audu is yet to explain why he has been evading prosecution, it is important to state that the perfidious attempt by the APC to claim that Mr. Audu has not been convicted by any court of law should be out rightly dismissed. This barefaced stratagem of some persons in the APC to aid Mr. Audu in avoiding prosecution is easily decipherable from its continued defence and protection of Mr. Audu to remain in the governorship race despite the negatives against his candidacy. Unfortunately, this blatant act of deceit by a section of the APC leadership is perilous to the anti-corruption fight which the Party claims to champion especially given that President Buhari is personally putting so much energy in the corruption fight and he is being regarded as a leading voice against corruption in Africa. Nevertheless, this Mr. Audu issue may soon take such title off Mr. President given that the opposite is evolving in his political party. Thus, it is important to underscore that the acceptance of Mr. Audu by the APC as its Kogi state governorship candidate will remain a political conundrum that will not only hurt the good efforts of the President Buhari led government to generate a new positive image for Nigeria but will help critics of Nigeria’s democracy rush to the conclusion that this administration does not genuinely place high premium on the fight against corruption.
Consequently, a vintage President Buhari as a matter of personal virtue and integrity cannot hide under the guise of political neutrality by not openly disassociating himself from the hidden self-interests behind the suppression of the EFCC’s advice on Mr. Audu. Ideally, President Buhari should not permit the politics of Mr. Audu’s candidacy to override the anti-corruption national agenda of his government, an issue which he preaches around the world. Indeed, ever since the news leaked on Mr. Audu’s saga, many analysts have advanced an avalanche of reasons in the public domain to justify their doubts on the capacity of the APC to deliver Buhari’s anti-corruption message perhaps that seems to be the problem of marriage of incompatibles especially with people of conflicting ideologies.
Now that Buhari has visited New York and New Delhi to give assurances that his government will not permit corrupt persons in public office, the APC must let the recent Buhari promise of New Delhi stand because Mr. Audu’s records cannot pass the test of any known principle of public office. Indeed, anyone, who considers this as an intrusion into the private local affairs of the APC is wrong because with Mr. Audu as the candidate of the National ruling party, the existential dilemma that confronts the Buhari administration is great and dangerous to our collective quest for change. Indeed, the issue on the table regarding Audu’s complicated past activities certainly makes him an awkward partner in the Buhari anti-corruption fight and definitely his candidacy has a humiliating prospect on Nigeria’s change mantra. Simply put, this goes beyond winning elections to upholding the integrity of our dear President Buhari. One vividly recalls that what binds Former President Jonathan with our democratic existence and growth of today is his acceptance of defeat and not the perfection of the electoral process which he did not contest the results. Thus, President Buhari should not be willfully blind to the issues raised by the EFCC on Audu Abubakar, otherwise his moral compass on corruption will be queried and this may amount to relinquishing his goodwill.
The cheerless episode of Mr. Audu though shocking, must be halted. Otherwise, it will continue to draw opprobrium to the good intentions of President Buhari and will ceaselessly question the commitment of the Buhari’s administration to fighting corruption. Sadly, such will not only set a wrong precedent but project the Buhari’s administration as an abettor of corruption that encourages people with a baggage of corruption to evade justice. This is why the APC must spare Nigerians this National disgrace by seeking ways of reassuring the general public through correcting this unambiguous and straightforward error on Mr. Audu. In particular, the appropriate measure to take would be for the APC is to tender a public apology and advise Mr. President Audu accordingly instead of allowing him to continue oiling his propaganda machine with the goodwill of Buhari. Indeed, this is where lies President Buhari guilt by association as many political observers are still in shock over how a typical Buhari would allow his name to be linked with a man of questionable character that relates to alleged theft.
In the meantime, Kogi voters are displeased over President Buhari’s silence, already these disclosures have no doubt adjusted the mind of the average Kogi voter to the reality that there is no amount of rationalization that would justify the APC’s choice of Mr. Audu especially given that his selection as APC candidate can never be said to be citizen driven but largely based on self-interest motivations. Indeed, except the APC considers the Kogi people as perfunctory and uninformed people, there is no way it could have visited them with such disrespect. Furthermore, if the truth be said, these disclosures on Mr. Audu have amplified the anger of the Kogi people against the APC leadership and like in any constitutional democracy, such a story has the potency to make people reexamine their association and membership of a political party like the APC, even to the extent of dumping the bandwagon of the Buhari change song or tearing party membership cards, a new norm in Nigeria.
Finally, on who becomes the next Kogi state governor, the ball is in the court of Kogi citizens. . On this, the Kogi people are already speaking out and are in agreement to do the needful with their votes. For them, any candidate’s success in the Kogi election should be allowed to depend on credibility. Nevertheless, with the APC’s ticket in Mr. Audu’s hands, the task of making a choice at the Kogi polls has been made a lot easy as the contrast between the candidates Captain Idris Wada and Mr. Abubakar Audu from the two major parties is notable and crystal clear courtesy of the realities that have been made known.
*Shaibu, is Chief Communications Manager to Kogi State Governor.