By Dr. West-Idahosa
The rumor slowly but steadily made the rounds. It then gained momentum that the APC controlled Federal Government planned to put many political opponents on trial for allegedly spending public funds on political campaigns, as part of the “fight” against corruption. Unsuspecting members of the public welcomed it. The likes of Oliseh Metuh who was at one time Publicity Secretary of PDP and a few others were arrested. They were thereafter arraigned in a court of law. Metuh was accused of receiving money traceable to the Office of the National Security Adviser. There was a huge applause. Suddenly, it dawned on President Buhari and his Government that such involvement was amongst persons few and far between. There was no significant political capital to be made out of such exercise. They changed the narrative in the middle of the game.
The chase shifted to any political opponent who purportedly shared campaign funds. It didn’t matter whether it was public funds or purpose-driven generated private funds for a political event. As far as this Government was concerned, any politician who is said to have distributed campaign-funds in support of PDP in the 2015 presidential election and refused to decamp to the ruling APC is a thief who should be in jail. For those who could not stand the heat, they got the message and did the needful. Their sins were quickly forgiven. For those who remained faithful to their political party, they became endangered species.
So the likes of Chief Dan Orbih who is chairman of PDP in Edo State and Pastor Ize-Iyamu who was PDP’s governorship candidate in the same State were arrested and charged before the Federal High court in Benin City by EFCC, the persecution agency of Buhari’s Government. Elsewhere, HE Shekarau of Kano State PDP, HE Shagari of Sokoto State PDP were arrested with others and similarly arraigned in the same court in their respective States for the same reason.
Their crime is that they are believed to have distributed campaign funds in excess of five million naira contrary to section 1(a) of the Money Laundering Prohibition Act 2011 ( As amended by the 2012 Act) in 2015. This time around, it was clearly established that the funds that they allegedly distributed were from donations and contributions by individuals and private companies and ware-housed by one of the Commercial banks. The bank undertook to distribute the said funds to the various States using their outlets’ nationwide. The donated funds received by the various PDP chapters were distributed through the chain of party hierarchy down the line for campaigns and the eventual general elections of 2015.
There was no difference in the preparations of APC. As a party, it raised funds from individuals, private companies and even from Public sources from the States of the Federation within their control. By charging the PDP operatives with money laundering, is the Buhari Government suggesting that members of APC and those of other political parties never distributed such funds for campaign and election purposes during the period under reference? They can tell that to the marines. The other parties distributed funds likewise.
How were the funds that delegates received in Lagos during the APC primaries that produced President Buhari shared? Were they distributed to their delegates through financial institutions? How did APC distribute the funds which were used during the primaries of the party that produced Governor Obaseki in Edo State as a candidate of the party and the governorship election that followed? His challengers in the primaries cried out at the time that they were outspent with most delegates receiving about #300,000 each. Over 2000 delegates received that amount at different locations within Edo State from various sharing points where hundreds of millions of naira were disbursed.
Only recently in Ekiti, the APC primaries were fought with naira for naira. One candidate came into the State with loads of money worth hundreds of millions of naira. The money was shared in cash to the delegates before the said primaries. What was different from what they did in Ekiti and what the PDP stalwarts now on trial did with the campaign funds raised for that purpose? None, I believe.
As far as I know, the use of cash to induce delegates for primary tickets of political parties is not peculiar to PDP. In the same vein, the distribution of funds by cash to prepare for campaigns and elections in Nigeria is also not limited to PDP as a political party. They are common to all the parties. They all do it and are perhaps preparing to do it again in 2019.
Any Government that wishes to be taken seriously by citizens under its watch, must largely uphold the rule of law in a constitutional democracy like ours. One of the non-negotiable elements of the rule of law is equality before the law. In other words, everyone must be treated equally before the law irrespective of class, creed, religion, tribe or political party affiliation. Sadly, this is not the case in our country.
If the Buhari regime really means business about trying stalwarts of political parties for money laundering each time they distribute sums of money over five million naira as campaign funds, the government would need to build many more prison yards to accommodate the hundreds of political leaders who help political parties to distribute billions of naira nationwide for both intra-party and inter-party political contest. If that were so, President Buhari may just find out that more than half of those that would populate the prison yards are his party men and women. That is how bad it is.
It amounts to sheer hypocrisy and cheap competition tactics for President Buhari’s Government to hound his challengers for political power by raising criminal charges against them in respect of political practices that the ruling party itself has perfected. If President Buhari really wants to fight corruption, he should turn his attention to the Police, Civil Service, Parastatals, CBN and its foreign exchange deals, NNPC and its questionable transactions. They are all still in business as usual as nothing has changed. The only substantial difference is that the circle of looters of public funds has narrowed down to a few, while the hunger and want of the populace appears to be on the increase.
To the political party stalwarts who are on trial for money laundering for distributing campaign funds made available to them by their party, they should weep not. Their real crime is their challenge for power and not the distribution of campaign funds which the entire political class, including the President’s party men, freely engage in. They are only a metaphor for the entire political class which in my own opinion is on trial for what they are reputed for. Its all crass policy hypocrisy and Nigerians know it.