By Sonala Olumhense
As Aisha Buhari left for the 73rd United Nations General Assembly two weeks ago, she was seething with rage. Aisha is the spouse of Nigerian leader Muhammadu Buhari, who came to office on an anti-corruption horse.
Entering New York with her husband, Aisha was reported to be angry with her aide-de-camp (ADC), Chief Superintendent of Police Sani Baban-Inna. To be an ADC in Nigeria is to arrive at the table of privilege.
Baba-Inna had been present for two years when Aisha ordered his arrest, alleging that he received huge donations from politicians and business people on her behalf but did not deliver.
At stake: over N2.5billion: enough money to buy loads of luxury homes and cars in the world’s most expensive capitals. Enough money to buy a living-room load of Mouawad 1001 Nights Diamond handbags, which are worth $3.8million apiece this year.
Baban-Inna was arrested on September 21. The police upturned his home; no N2.5bn. They rifled through his bank accounts; no N2.5bn. In fact, they reported finding a combined N31, 200 in both locations.
But Mrs. Buhari would not hear of it. Reports said she accused the police of covering up for her suspect.
Curiously, the Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, whom she first ordered to arrest Baban-Inna, was alleged to have been among the donors, a charge he denied.
The furious First Lady then snatched the case from the hands of the police and turned it over to the Department of State Service (DSS), who took the ADC into custody.
Mrs. Buhari, it may be remembered, is not an official of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. She neither ran for any office nor was she appointed. In fact, Buhari said on several occasions he would abolish the office of First Lady.
Nonetheless, there have been occasional reports that the Office of First Lady, which was well equipped and had been extensively deployed by her predecessor, Patience Faka Jonathan. Those reports say Aisha is served by her own array of protocol and security officers, and personal aides. Baban-Inna was one of those aides.
But that is beside the point. Where, in her moment of anger, was her elected husband and anti-corruption “champion”, Muhammadu? He was preparing to talk to the United Nations about important subjects such as democracy, the rule of law and individual rights, Myanmar, Afghanistan, and the conquest of corruption.
In a press statement on September 25, the same day President Buhari took the microphone at the General Assembly, Aisha denied a hand in Baban-Inna’s arrest for using her name to defraud people.
“CSP Sani Baban-Inna has been her ADC since 2016 and has been associated with her ever since,” her spokesman said. “To the utter dismay of Her Excellency, he has used the opportunity to defraud unsuspecting associates and officials as initial investigations have shown.” The police, as his employers, had “arrested him to investigate the allegations levelled against him.”
She did not say at what point she lost faith in the police and handed the matter over to DSS, and the government, characteristically, has not said one word about the matter.
“Oga’s Wife” has been a principal player in the Nigeria corruption mud for a long time. By “Oga’s Wife,” I mean the wives of Nigeria’s leaders, including governors and ministers. Some older Nigerians know stories from the 1970s and 1980s of crafty foreign businessmen who compromised Oga through their wives they met “accidentally” in the streets and shopping malls of Europe. Few of those wives could resist lavish baits thrown at their feet, particularly when, in addition to cash, their expensive shopping included delivery to any address in Nigeria.
Clearly, that pattern, and of generous Nigerians delivering 100-dollar bills in cement-block packs, has continued, anti-corruption speeches be damned. It may be remembered that earlier this year, following the disclosure by the EFCC of a “major (international) breakthrough” of uncovering two of her domiciliary accounts containing $11.8m, Mrs. Jonathan proposed an out-of-court “amicable resolution of all cases” against her.
Two years earlier, in October 2016, she had explained her fortune came from gifts she received over a period of 15 years from many persons,some of whom she said she couldn’t recall, in contributions sometimes “as small as N250,000.”
Yes, it is an investment game that is boosted by the greed which rules Nigeria. Those who play it know how it works. Among its principles, they know that a person who accepts one gift will accept a second. They know if he accepts in Nigeria, he will accept abroad; that if she accepts naira gifts, she will accept US dollars as well. You can see it as a gift. Its real name is a bribe.
Despite Mrs. Buhari playing it as if it is an aberration, it is to be remembered that her husband’s party re-nomination forms of N45million were bought for him last month by such an investor called Nigeria Consolidation Ambassadors Network (NCAN). The president took the bait, setting an atrocious public example.
Worse was the suggestion in it that Mr. Buhari, trying to perpetuate the myth that being a “corruption-fighter” could not afford the forms becausehe is not rich. There may be no law against such a practice, but the absence of a law has never made a wrong thing, including bad judgement, right.
Mrs. Buhari stressed that she has never asked anyone “to collect any favours on her behalf or on behalf of her children.”
Perhaps not. But Yusuf, her son who graduated from the University of Surrey in 2016, reportedly owned—within one and half years—two BMW motorbikes each of which was said to cost $157,000, and one of which he destroyed in a crash in December 2017. A father who can afford $314,000 for two motorbikes can certainly buy an election form for $125,000, unless those bikes were accepted from NCAN-style political investors or speculators.
What all of this means is that the Baban-Inan case underlines is that the anti-corruption war of Mrs. Buhari’s husband is a farce. Every time that “war” is challenged by simple events that ought to be taken care of by commonsense and the law, the government is exposed and defenceless.
In this one, Mrs. Buhari clearly lacks the authority to order national institutions around at her convenience. This is not the living room or any other household room, but a nation and a democracy: if an aide has offended a relative of an official, that should not cause the subjugation of national institutions to that relative no matter who they think they are.
But it would have been fascinating had Mrs. Buhari—were she convinced of an anti-corruption battle—to identify the persons who tried to put a price on her, and hand them over for possible prosecution.
And because I also counsel people—towards combating and converting vote-buyers—to accept any monetary inducements but to support non-traders, I would have loved to see Mrs. Buhari collect the N2.5 billion and, acting outside the government because she is not an official, build libraries and buy books for our children nationwide to feed the future.
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