Spymaster, paymaster

JusticeTHE transformation of Colonel Sambo Dasuki (rtd) from spymaster, aka, National Security Adviser, to paymaster is traumatic, dramatic and dizzy, but I am careful not to join the bandwagon to condemn or crucify him – at least not so soon yet. The matter is in various courts and I am advised it is subjudice.

But I wish to call two witnesses whose work will, at the end of the day, hopefully help to shed some light on the murkiness that has pitched the EFCC, the Economic and Financial Crime Commission against Corruption, Nigeria’s public enemy number one, in the courts and which case is currently running like a thriller, a blockbuster starring the aforementioned Dasuki and other movers and shakers in the society as support cast.

My first witness is Barbara Tuchman’s March of Folly an epic study in the blundering that goes on in public office since the ages; a treatise that deals with the folly or perversity which makes otherwise intelligent people, who go into government, behave in a way that runs contrary to their own enlightened self-interest. She poses this question which I wish to pass on to Dasuki and Co in their current travails: Why do holders of high office so often act contrary to the way reason points and enlightened self- interest suggests?

I wish to recall that the said Colonel Dasuki, retired but officially not tired, served as ADC to President Ibrahim Babangida in the early days of his administration. He cut the picture of an urbane, sophisticated and highly intelligent, and, despite the blue blood of royalty running in his veins, a humble officer and a gentleman. He it was, according to those in the know of Dodan Barrack affairs, who wrote an epistle detailing Sani Abacha’s financial shenanigans as chief of army staff. The story had it that as Army chief, Abacha collected the money meant for the rehabilitation of barracks all over the country and pocketed it. Meaning he did not rehabilitate the barracks and he did not account for the money. Dasuki hit the roof and wrote a memo to his boss suggesting a number of options, details of which I cannot recall. And Abacha, when he got to know about the impudence of this young officer, equally hit the roof and laid a trap for Dasuki. But in his characteristic manner, Babangida did not punish Abacha.

Abacha, indeed, graduated from Army chief to chief of defence staff and when the political contraption called Interim National Government was foisted on the nation as Babangida stepped aside, following the June 12 debacle, Abacha stayed behind to keep a close eye on Shonekan and Co managing the interim government. Abacha later sacked Shonekan and promoted himself head of state and commander in chief of the armed forces, and I can now add, de facto governor of Central Bank. Up to now, almost two decades later, Nigeria is still saddled with the gruesome task of mopping Abacha’s loot from all over the world.

Babangida saved the skin of Dasuki his protégée, by shipping him out of the country to go and do more studies in the USA. I am told that this incident gave rise to the setting up of ICAP, the Implementation Committee on Army Projects in the office of Minister of Works, Major General Mamman Kotangora to handle barrack reconstruction and rehabilitation. Dasuki who took up arms against corruption became an instant hero. This same Dasuki. As I said, I am not in a hurry to pass judgement.

Permit me, dear readers, to call my second witness, who may help to provide the answer to Tuchman’s poser. I call to the witness box Tom Burgis, a man you may wish to deride as busy body, a reporter, a journalist and a writer. He is currently serving as the investigations correspondent of the Financial Times of London. He has worked in Africa extensively, serving as the paper’s correspondent in Johannesburg and Lagos. Adequately armed with first hand knowledge of the continent, Burgis has done a dossier of the financial sleaze in high places in major African countries. I regard him, therefore, as a witness of truth.

His book, The Looting Machine – how warlords, tycoons, smugglers and their cousins engage in the systematic plundering of Africa’s wealth – reads like a thriller. It is a sizzling report of kleptocracy, government by theft and daylight robbery in Nigeria, Angola, Congo and other African countries.

When Olusegun Obasanjo’s second term as President of Nigeria was drawing to an end in 2007, he anointed Katsina State Governor Umar Musa Yar’Adua as successor and paired with him a shoeless political minnow from Niger Delta, the relatively unknown Goodluck Jonathan who had stepped into the shoes left by the disgraced Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, the impeached governor of Bayelsa State.

Yar’Adua took ill and eventually died. Providence, as in Maradona’s hands of God, catapulted Jonathan to the presidency of Nigeria. His political trajectory took him through a failed primary to the state House of Assembly, to being deputy governor as compensation and, ultimately governor, all in a few years. He was still going through this political apprenticeship when the combination of his good luck and the patience of his wife brought him out of his provincial cocoon in the creeks to the glittering urbanity of Abuja to be made vice president. He can be forgiven if he found the whole episode arising from this huge culture shock bewildering and disorienting.

Burgis’s characterisation of Jonathan helps to give a clue as to the meaning of the bazar that has come to define his administration. Stating the obvious, Burgis said this Jonathan had no charisma of any sort. In his words: ‘‘He lacked Yar’Adua’s depth of thought and the natural authority that Obasanjo possessed as a war hero and master tactician. The only way to maintain his grip on power was to open the sluice gates of the looting machine. Jonathan presided over a binge of corruption and embezzlement that was dizzying even by Nigerian standards.”

But some government officials and party overlords who are in a position to help themselves to public funds do not see this as corruption. Jonathan himself said people mistake stealing for corruption. Especially stealing in the name of national security. The man who succeeded Jonathan in Bayelsa, Timipre Sylva, in the interview he granted Burgis, shocked the writer when he said spending government money to maintain a grip on power was not corruption but an act of survival.

Jonathan survived and retained the presidency through the doctrine of necessity which upset the PDP’s zoning formula of power rotation between the North and the South. He also made desperate attempt at survival through a second term in office by opening the vaults of the central bank and reassigning Dasuki as the paymaster when certain defeat stared him in the face.

It has become more glaring now that the reason they postponed the presidential election for six weeks had nothing to do with insecurity and the war against Boko Haram. It was part of the survival effort, to oil the looting machine and make it more efficient. The arms bazar that has now snowballed into international scandal and the epochal abuse of power that has now given corruption a bad name is all about the survival of a few people entrusted with public office and public trust at the expense of public good.

With Dasuki’s meticulous record keeping and the kiss-and-tell revelations coming out of the dungeon of national security on who is who in the arms bazar, the last, indeed, has not been heard.

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