By Lewis Chukwuma
Atiku And His Deceitful Amnesty-To-Looters Governance Template
Almost all indices of human growth show that in Africa, the quality of life is in serious decline. Over 60 years after independence, Africa and Africans still cut a sorry sight on the world stage. With the ruling elite displaying a gargantuan appetite, corruption gnaws at the resources of state with a precision of a combine harvester chewing up both human and natural resources.
In West Africa, Nigeria’s compelling demographic and natural resource endowments make her easily the continent’s leader and a force around which Africa must progress or regress in the 21st Century. It was to construct a solid foundation for transformative change, going forward, that Nigerians, in 2015, broke with the past and elected Muhammadu Buhari, the stern, ascetic ex-General to lead the charge.
Although President Buhari of the All Progressives Congress, APC, assumed power at an extremely difficult period in the nation’s history, amidst global geo-political turbulence to boot, the sheer weight of his integrity, patriotism, focus and genuine sincerity has undeniably, positively impacted the narrative.
It’s against the foregoing backdrop that Alhaji Atiku Abubakar’s peculiar submission concerning the critical anti-corruption war could best be examined. In what could pass for a sneak preview of the quirky governance blueprint he would unfold if elected president in about a week’s time, the presidential candidate of the Peoples’ Democratic Party, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, recently proclaimed his administration will grant amnesty to looters. For good measure, he claimed such a method would be more productive in recovering looted funds.
Perhaps not unexpectedly, both the messenger and the message have provoked considerable outrage across the nation. Not without good reason. Here, the dodgy haze that willy-nilly has come to define Atiku’s trajectory in public service was clearly inescapably mirrored in the Adamawa-born politician’s calculations.
In simple language amnesty means an official pardon granted to persons who have been convicted of political offences. According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, ‘amnesty’ is an act of “pardoning (someone) officially,often before a trial or conviction”.
In effect, what the main opposition candidate Atiku has told Nigerians without batting an eyelid is that he won’t waste time prosecuting the corrupt and looters of the nation’s commonwealth as long as they return their loot. This means that once the princely loot is returned and counted, corrupt persons can walk the land free andpossibly sing joyous songs with no charges bordering on theft, hung on them.
In analyzing Atiku’s submission, it is important to clarify here that amnesty as used by the PDP Presidential candidate is conceptually different from ‘Plea Bargain’deployed in litigation. Plea Bargain is a negotiation agreement between a prosecutor and a defendant, with the defendant permitted to plead guilty to a reduced charge.
The world over, the best form of deterrence against corruption or theft, is prosecution. This also implies some time in prison. If citizens know that there is no punishment for a crime besides some token restitution, they will simply keep committing the crime.
What kind of signal will a president be sending to his constituency if he assures them they won’t be sternly prosecuted if caught in corrupt acts including stealing of public funds? This will only popularize criminal behavior which no serious, progressive nation on earth tolerates. There could simply be no better way to degrade and ground society than that.
Even some pretty simple posers should put a lie to Atiku’s dodgy amnesty-to-looters governance template. How does the authority determine what is returned? Who accounts for returned monies? What happens to suspects who are only able to return a fraction of what they stole? Will the smaller, petty thieves languishing in shabby prison cells across Nigeria, also be entitled to Alhaji Atiku’s amnesty or will this be another case of one rule for the elite criminals and another for the smaller thieves with no nexus to boast of?
It’s also worth noting here that this message is coming from a messenger who promised to enrich his friends if he assumes power. This same messenger’s ‘reputation’ resonates with a laundry list ofcorruption allegations.
Clearly, Atiku’s ‘amnesty-for-looters’ anticipatory policy template is a dangerous, slippery slope to further institutionalization of corruption in the country and rubbishing Nigeria, nay Africa’s transformation. The emerging consensus amongst Nigerians is that this footing will represent a destiny-killing option.
Significantly, Alhaji Atiku has laboured with a self-inflicted reputation for corrupt enrichment since he served as the Comptroller General of Customs in the ‘70s. His ritual response to explain away this moral quandary remains that he has never been indicted. This cuts little ice with discerning Nigerians and considerably diminishes his stature as a potential leader Africa can trust.
Even if President Buhari is often accused ofwaging a selective anti-corruption war,especially by his strident opponents, the national consensus is that his stern public stance on wanton theft of government funds has undeniably sent shivers down the spines of once untouchable elite criminals. That’s the way to go, instead of a dodgy amnesty programme to thieves. Corruption is a plague that has crippled Nigeria and must be so recognized and totally extirpated.
According to former UN Ambassador Richard Holbrook, “Freedom is the Century’s most powerful idea, but the struggle is far from over.” Modern discourse over the nature of evil is still an infectious subject. The debate goes back to Socrates who argued that anyone who was acquainted with good could not intentionally choose evil instead. As it were, actions and inactions by many of Nigeria’s previous leaders apparently confound modern ideas about good and evil. They saw it as no less than matters of taste, reflections of social class and power and status. This is clearly what President Muhammadu Buhari has been thrown up by providence to correct and consequently re-launch Nigeria on a path to greatness.
The Atiku’s of this world have no role here. Nigerians stand at a critical moment in their history, a time when they must choose their future. As all generations face complex, interconnected challenges, Nigerians have a historic opportunity to support the change that has gained root, in the electoral choice they make in a about a week’s time. This is a moment in time when something big, something transformative – already happening – can continue.
Chukwuma, a public issues analyst, writes from Abuja.