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Emefiele: Probing the past is unnecessary morality hunt

Emefiele: Probing the past is unnecessary morality hunt
January 02
06:00 2024

It has become a predictable pattern in our politics that whenever a new government comes into office, we will, sooner than later, be regaled with the financial misdeeds of the preceding government or governments. With each new government, the storyline seems the same, only actors and the script writers are different. The trigger for the script for the new government could be any (or a combination) of these: morality hunt, vendetta, media and public pressure, pressure from hardliners in the government and triumphalist supporters. The formula seems same: make one or two people from the past government the bugaboo, the person responsible for the ‘current mess” the country finds itself but stop short of mentioning the name of the man on whose table the buck stopped in the government under scrutiny.

When Obasanjo was released from prison and shortly afterwards emerged the first civilian President in this dispensation in 1999, he almost immediately began regaling Nigerians with stories of ‘Abacha loot’. Given that he was imprisoned by the dark-goggled General in what is generally believed to be a fathom coupcharge, some Nigerians, especially people from the North, felt accusations against the Abacha government were tainted, if not driven, by vendetta.

Obasanjo did something else which intentionally or not also bought him time to understand the new democratic arrangements: he set up the Human Rights Violations Investigation Commission of Nigeria, (also known as the Oputa Panel), after its Chairman, the late Justice Chukwudifu Oputa.Though the Panel’s formal mandate was to investigate human rights violation during the period of military rule from 1984 to 1999, and to recommend ways of reconciling communities in conflict, it captured the attention and imagination of manyNigerians. The Oputa Panel submitted its final report to President Obasanjo in 2002, but there was not action by the Obasanjo government or its successors until 2005 when the report was made public by two activist groups – the Nigerian Democratic Movement and the Civil Society Forum. This further gave vent to allegations that the setting up of the Panel was merely diversionary, even if it helped some individuals and communities to ventilate their grievances. It must be said that while vendetta might have been part of the driving forces for Obasanjo’s pursuit of the Abacha loot, the country has continued to receive huge sums of money from abroad long after Obasanjo left office.

After Obasanjo literally imposed Yar’Adua on the country through the sham that was the 2007 presidential election (I do not however believe the outcome of the election would have been different without the massive rigging), the Yar’Adua government, pressured by the media and public opinion, began an investigation of expenditures in the power sector under the Obasanjo government. Yar’Adua alleged that the Obasanjo government spent $11bn on the power sector “with nothing to show for it” – an allegation that prompted a probe by a House Committee, with the alleged figure rising to $16bn. The Yar’Adua government also cancelled the concessions granted toan Indian company Global Infrastructure Holdings to manage the Ajaokuta Company and also reversed a number of privatized public companies such as the sale of two of the country’srefineries to a consortium led by Aliko Dangote. Yar’Adua however ruled out any wholesale probe of his predecessor. More than 13 years after the death of Yar’Adua, the country is still talking about resuscitating its refineries (while the one built by Dangote from scratch is said to have begun production). The fate of Ajaokuta company remains a subject of controversy.


When Jonathan became President following the death of Yar’Adua, he did not go digging into the past probably because he was part of the Yar’Adua government as the Vice President.But Buhari, who defeated Jonathan in the 2015 presidential election, could not restrain himself despite the fact that Jonathan conceded defeat as a sitting President and despite Buharipromising during his inauguration not to waste time digging into the past. He spent most of his eight years in office blaming the Jonathan government for the “the mess” the country had found itself in. The bogeyman was Mrs. Deziani Allison Madueke, the Minister of Petroleum under Jonathan. There was a long list of allegations against her – the EFCC claimed to have recovered $44m cash from her residences, a Nigerian court ordered interim forfeiture of 56 houses allegedly linked to her and $21m from local bank accounts allegedly linked to her. In October 2023 Mrs Madueke was charged before a Westminster Magistrate’s Court in London of benefitting “from at least £100,000 in cash, chauffeur driven cars, flights on private jets, luxury holidays for her family, and the use of multiple London properties.” Most Nigerians expected to hear something along the lines of the Abacha loot, in which it was reported that “$6 billion in cash and assets have been recovered” as of November 2023. This is not to excuse the brazen corruption that was suspected to have taken place under the Jonathan government but to pose the question of whether the focus on the Jonathan government was worth it after all. In a twist of irony, it was widely rumoured that the APC government, in the run-up to the 2023 presidential election, was courting Dr Goodluck Jonathan to contest for the presidency under its ticket. Additionally, the persistent attackson the Jonathan government earned Dr Jonathan a lot of public sympathy especially given Buhari’s underperformance and crass nepotism.

Godwin Emefiele, the Governor of the Central Bank under Buhari, was arrested on June 10, 2023 just hours after he was suspended by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu. He was variously charged with terrorism financing, possession of a gun and sundry financial misdeeds. Though Emefiele annoyed most Nigerians by brazenly trying to contest for the presidential ticket of the ruling APC while still serving as CBN Governor, manyNigerians suspect that his arrest and ordeals were driven by ortainted by vendetta arising from the Naira re-design policy which Tinubu’s supporters believed was aimed at scurrying the chances of their deep-pocketed candidate during the election. Emefiele was released on bail from the Kuje Correctional Centre on December 22 2023.

A Special Investigator, Jim Obazee, was appointed to investigate the operations of the CBN under Emefiele. Obazee, who allegedly has an axe to grind with the former CBN Governor, and who as the Executive Secretary of the Financial Reporting Council of Nigeria (FRC), also battled against allegations of graft, made about 17 grave allegations against Emefiele. These included unauthorised funding of 593 offshore bank accounts, fraudulent cash withdrawals from the CBN vault, substantial fixed deposit holdings amounting to £543.4 million, manipulating the Naira exchange rate, not obtaining the authorization of President Buhari during the re-coloration of the naira among others. While some are baying for Emefiele’s blood in the light of the revelations, others are sceptical, and saw it as driven or tainted by vendetta, especially given the claim that the Naira design was not approved by Buhari who publicly acknowledged that he approved and supported the policy.  


There are several lessons from the above:

One, probes of past governments often raise questions of vendetta and managing the politics could be complicated. For instance, Obasanjo’s pursuit of Abacha loot alienated some Northern leaders from his government, with some claiming thatwhatever money was found in Abacha’s private accounts were deliberate transfers to enable Nigeria survive the sanctions imposed on the country at that time. Some people believe that Buhari coming out to contest the presidency against Obasanjo in 2003 might have been partly influenced byNorth’s alienation from the Obasanjo government partly because of Obasanjo’s pursuit of the Abacha loot.

Two, it is a double edged sword to probe one’s predecessor: while it can momentarily satisfy those baying for the blood of their ethnic, religious and social class enemies, it also very quickly backfires against the probing government, especially if the government cannot clearly outperform the government being scurried. For instance, while the dollar exchanged for about N760 to the dollar at the parallel market under Emefiele, todaywith a dollar fetching more than N1,100 to the dollar, allegationthat Emefiele mismanaged the exchange rate lacks credibility, whatever its merit.

Three, Probing the past can be a waste of public resources. It will be germane to find out how much each government spent on probing the past and how much it got back in return – either in cash, conviction of the accused or deterrence against other public officials. A probe should not be an end in itself. Quietly inviting public officials suspected of malfeasance to come and explain themselves may be more productive than the current media trial.


Four, if a government needs to gain time to learn the intricacies of governance or to experiment with some policies, there may be better options than probing one’s predecessor. For instance,Obasanjo’s use of the Oputa Panel and Ibrahim Babangida encouraging nationwide debate on whether Nigeria should approach the IMF for a structural adjustment loan or not shortly after he came to power, could be options. Nigerians will enthusiastically debate emotionallycharged topics like the appropriateness of the current liberal democracy, new electoral reforms and the likes.

Adibe is Professor of Political Science and International Relations at Nasarawa State University, Keffi and Extraordinary Professor of Government Studies at North Western University, Mafikeng South Africa. He is also the founder of Adonis & Abbey Publishers ( and publisher of the online newspaper, The News Chronicle ( He can be reached on 0705 807 8841(Text or WhatsApp only).

Views expressed by contributors are strictly personal and not of TheCable.

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