Opinion

Sanni Abacha: The science of looting

Nigerians are impoverished today due to mindless looting and pillaging of the collective treasury by public officials

By Promise Adiele

Nigeria’s late maximum ruler, General Sanni Abacha has become an enigma in death. He may have died but lives on. Like the dual character in Athol Fugard’s play Sizwe Bansi Is Dead, Sizwe Bansi metaphorically dies but continues to live as Robert Zwelinzima. Since Abacha died in 1998, he has lived as a part financier of the Nigerian project. Yet President Mohammadu Buhari, a famed man of integrity, averred that the late Head of State did not steal public funds. Of course, mortar and pestle know the truth.

Abacha was a demi-god. The mention of his name instilled fear in the hearts of mere mortals. But the Supreme Being had other plans and the rest, they say, is history. Today, when Nigerians mention looting, Abacha’s name immediately comes to mind. The question is, besides Sanni Abacha, who else has looted the Nigerian treasury? Are we aware of Abacha’s loot because he is dead? If Abacha was alive, would we have known that he looted public purse recklessly?

The history of Nigeria is replete with instances of abuse of office by politicians and government appointees. How many of Nigeria’s former Heads of State looted like Sanni Abacha? How many former and current governors, ministers, and sundry government appointees stole and still steal public funds? Did Shehu Shagari steal public funds? Since Shagari’s death, has any country come out to say that he stole public funds and hid them in foreign accounts? To my knowledge, no country or bank has indicted the late president. Assuming he stole money, the information would be made available to Nigerians. So we can say that Shehu Shagari did not steal Nigeria’s money.

Did Muhammadu Buhari steal Nigeria’s money? Although reports allege that $2.8 billion disappeared out of NNPC when he was the Minister of Petroleum in the late 70s, there is no evidence to show that he has stolen public funds. But we can’t say for certain because he is still alive. When he answers the ultimate call at the right time, perhaps, we will learn more about his stewardship.

Did Ibrahim Babangida steal public funds as a military Head of State? We may not know because he is still alive. Although some people have described Babangida as the best president Nigeria has ever had, his cancellation of the June 12 elections blights every strand of positivity he achieved in office, therefore consigns him to Nigeria’s hall of infamy. When I met him with Prof Hope Eghagha in his mansion at Minna in 2017 for an interview, he struck me as someone who deeply understands the Nigerian situation. Soft-spoken, yet tough, IBB is proud about what he did and admits making mistakes. If Babangida stole public funds, it is not explicitly clear like in the Abacha case. When the gap-toothed former Head of State finally takes the ultimate bow, perhaps we may learn about the figures he stole or did not steal.

Did Abdulsalami Abubakar steal public funds during his short spell as Head of State? Well, we may not know because he is still alive. Did Olusegun Obasanjo steal public funds as a civilian Head of State? He is still alive, so we cannot say for sure. Did Umaru Musa Yar’ Adua steal public funds? Definitely no, because he is dead and since his demise, there has been no news from any country indicting him of stealing public funds. Did Goodluck Jonathan embezzle public funds? We cannot say because he is still alive.

It appears it is only when former Heads of State answer the inevitable call that their cases of financial misappropriation are revealed. Time will tell. But beyond the former Heads of States, there are other public officials, VPs, Governors, DGs, Perm Secs, Senators, Committee Chairmen in the Senate, House of Reps members, House of Assembly members, and other grades of public persons who have pillaged the national purse but because they are alive, these issues do not get to the public domain.

Nigerians are impoverished today due to mindless looting and pillaging of the collective treasury by public officials. For them, the name of the game is stealing. Some stole while they were in office and are still stealing. Some former governors stole while in office and they are still stealing. How are they still looting the public treasury even when they are out of office? Simple!!! They deploy their companies and proxies to execute inflated contracts for the states. They collect a humongous, annoying amount of money as pensions from the states they served. They have their former states in their pockets and decide the next governor of the states. If a single-minded, objective person becomes the governor and refuses to bend to the whims and caprices of these thieving ex-governors, he will either be impeached or lose a second term bid.

It is easy to identify former public officers who have contributed to impoverish the country through mindless looting and stealing. Let us examine the economic status of these former public officers before they went into politics and their current emperor, billionaire status. Some of them were average and could hardly boast of a house or even a few cars. After serving the public in various capacities, boom, they become billionaires, even richer than some states in Nigeria. They are now billionaires in foreign currencies.

Mention them one by one, and look at their lifestyles. How did they make the money? Of course, some of them were entrepreneurs before joining public service but there are some without any known means of income. If any of them dies today, are we to be assailed with reports from foreign countries about how they stole billions of public funds?
Unfortunately, many Nigerians are irresponsible in terms of holding public officials accountable. We don’t ask questions at all. As long as the man is from our ethnic extraction, he cannot do any wrong even if he kills our mother. I have no good records of my state Imo in terms of the former and present governor. Everybody must ask questions.

We must take it as a civil responsibility to ask public officials questions about their sources of wealth. When these people steal our money, flaunt them before us and we bellow, shouting their praises, then we are complicit in helping them to impoverish us. Why should a House of Assembly member drive cars worth several millions naira? Why should a Commissioner have hotels across the country worth several millions of naira? Why should a Minister have residential estates in Dubai? Just why should former governors, current governors, their wives, girlfriends, and children spend dollars in an impoverished country like Nigeria?

Have we asked the Nigerian government what happened to all the money recovered from Abacha loot? No, we will not ask such questions. If we do, we will be branded enemies of some political parties. Have we asked in any way possible, what our respective governors are doing to develop the states? Have we asked how much each of our states generates every month?

Have we asked why public servants and pensioners are not paid in our respective states while the governors live in stupendous affluence? OK, if we forgive ourselves for not doing the proper thing in the past, should we also forgive ourselves for helping thieves to Aso Rock and various Government Houses across the country? Ask yourself, who is the looter that you are supporting to hold power next year? If the owner does not take notice and complain, the looter will continue to loot and until death knocks on the door, we may not know how much of our commonwealth has been stolen by criminals in politics.

Promise Adiele PhD teaches at Mountain Top University. [email protected]
Twitter: @DrPee4

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