The Nigerian presidency came out swinging Tuesday against relentless allegations of presidential interference in the affairs of security agencies across the country, admonishing critics and opposition figures to desist from politicising law enforcement.
“It is odd, strange and bizarre that while ordinary citizens can be called up to answer questions or be interrogated, the VIP cannot be questioned without the annoying insinuations of partisanship, persecution or outright politicisation,” presidential spokesperson Garba Shehu said in a statement Tuesday night.
The statement came hours after Senate President Bukola Saraki accused security agencies of plotting to prevent a mass defection of federal lawmakers from the ruling All Progressives Congress at Tuesday’s plenary.
The defection later played out almost as planned, but the conduct of security agencies in the hours preceding the exercise elicited suspicion from Nigerians who accused President Muhammadu Buhari’s as the instigator.
Mr Shehu’s message was apparently aimed at checking a widening narrative that cast Mr Buhari as a vindictive puppeteer of security agencies’ operations, especially as concerns political heavyweights whose loyalties are at variance with or lie outside the president’s interests.
Insinuations that Mr Buhari had converted law enforcement agencies to his personal attack dogs has simmered for the better part of his leadership, starting with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission’s crackdown on those perceived as corrupt.
The agency’s anti-corruption efforts, a crucial part of the administration’s larger campaign against graft, have seen scores of alleged corrupt politicians and their enablers taken into custody. The EFCC said it recovered billions from senior officials in the immediate-past administration, including ministers, security chiefs and shady contractors.
But at the peak of the campaign, independent anti-corruption experts said it became increasingly clear that opposition politicians were being specifically targeted. While corruption dossiers submitted against Mr Buhari’s appointees would be essentially ignored by anti-graft detectives, opposition politicians, especially those in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), were being locked up, sometimes for months amidst unsigned or suspiciously-procured remand warrants.
Earlier this year, Transparency International found that Mr Buhari’s anti-corruption tactics actually worsened rather than improving the country’s long-standing corruption perception. The administration’s response to the verdict was mixed, with officials like Mr Shehu dismissing it as politically-motivated while Vice President Yemi Osinbajo took it as a bracer to fine tune their approach.
Mr Buhari’s loyalists with specific and difficult-to-controvert allegations of corruption but whom security agencies have been reluctant to go after included Babachir Lawal, the former cabinet secretary who was caught apparently dipping his hands into funds earmarked for the victims of Boko Haram, and Kemi Adeosun, the finance minister who was recently exposed as forging a national youth service certificate.
Despite the signals pointing to possible presidential interference in the conduct of security agencies, Mr Shehu absolved his principal, saying Nigerians are judging him by the objectionable manner with which past presidents approach law enforcement.
Mr Shehu dismissed allegations of Mr Buhari’s involvement in the onslaught against political foes as an “orchestrated campaign,” insisting strongly that the president does not dictate the direction of activities for agencies.
“This country cannot achieve development in peace when important cases are viewed through a political prism and the law is considered as being applicable to some, and not applicable to others,” Mr Shehu said. “The law of the land is intended for all, not for the poor or those at the lowest rungs of the social ladder.”
Echoes of tyranny blared through the country’s political spectrum on Tuesday morning, following revelations that the homes of Senate presiding officers had been blockaded. Top opposition politicians, including former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and Balarabe Musa, were amongst those who condemned the action of the police and cautioned Mr Buhari against truncating the country’s democracy.
Mr Shehu said the Nigerian Constitution was at play yesterday and not the president, whom he said will not tolerate recklessness from security agencies but will not prevent them from cracking down on individuals —their social status notwithstanding— who have criminal questions to answer.
“President Buhari does not stand in the way of law enforcement either. Under our constitution, he has no powers to stop the investigation of anyone or institution. When they are set to investigate anything and anyone, the best friend of the law is the one who lets them do their work.
“The President’s constant refrain is that he will not tolerate any form of illegality including corruption and the law enforcement agencies have been given complete freedom to identify and bring all culprits to justice. His instructions to them are very clear: Anyone with a case to answer or found guilty should not be spared,” Mr Shehu said.
Mr Saraki has faced allegations he conspired with the suspects of a deadly armed robbery attack in Offa, Kwara State, in April. The police invited Mr Saraki for further questioning over the matter on Monday night, giving him until 8:00 a.m. on Tuesday to turn himself in. But the Senate President failed to comply with the directive, and instead emerged at the Senate where he presided over the plenary.
Mr Saraki said he played down the police’s invitation after he learnt that other security agencies were holding Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu at his residence. Yesterday’s plenary would not have held if the two presiding officers were unavailable.
In June, PREMIUM TIMES learnt that Mr Buhari permitted Inspector-General Ibrahim Idris to take Mr Saraki into custody if the police had enough grounds to do so, especially in relations to the Offa robbery carnage. This revelation had been used to support partisan arguments of Mr Buhari’s critics and supporters alike.
While the critics said Mr Idris’ visit to the president over such a matter showed that he had been taking directives from him on similar matters in the past, supporters focused on the president’s response instead, saying it was a remarkable act done to strengthen the independence of public institutions.
PREMIUM TIMES also uncovered yesterday that the siege laid to the residences of Messrs Saraki and Ekweremadu came at the instance of Buhari administration officials.
PDP spokesperson, Kola Ologbondiyan, said it is difficult if not outright ridiculous to claim that Mr Buhari was given security agencies a hands-off approach, especially after he defended the Zaria massacre of Shiites and the failed assets declaration trial of Mr Saraki.
“Also, take the most-recent instance of the president’s approach to Kemi Adeosun’s certificate scandal, you will see clearly that the president gives direct orders to security agencies or his body language sanctions lawlessness on the parts of security agencies,” Mr Ologbondiyan told PREMIUM TIMES by telephone Wednesday morning.
“This government thrives on pretense, pretending not to know that the finance minister is involved in certificate scandal,” he added. “It is a waste of time exchanging words with characters like Garba Shehu.”
Culled from Premium Times