Congressman Tom Marino, representing Pennsylvania’s 10th congressional district, wrote to US Secretary of State John Kerry on 1 September highlighting what he called “warning signs” about the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari. Marino’s letter prompted an almost immediate response from Nigeria’s propaganda minister Comical Lai Mohammed, who claimed in a statement yesterday that the congressman was “out of tune with reality”.
So which of these two pieces of correspondence is reality challenged? Naijiant.com attempts to separate fact from fiction.
Marino claimed that the Buhari regime must “hold accountable those members of the Nigerian Police Force and the Nigerian Military complicit in extra-judicial killings and war crimes”. He gave specific examples: “in the last six months, Nigeria’s military has unlawfully killed at least 350 people and allowed more than 168 people, including babies and children, to die in military detention.”
He added: “The Secretary to the Government of Kaduna State even admitted to burying 347 of those killed in a mass grave. And while President Buhari promised swift condemnation, his words rang empty. Instead of swift reforms, Buhari chose to reinstate Major General Ahmadu Mohammed, who Amnesty International revealed was in charge of the Nigerian military unit that executed more than 640 unarmed, former detainees.
“Also, in separate incidents concerning the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), the Nigerian Army has killed at least 36 – the real number is likely higher – people since December 2015 in an attempt to silence opposition and quell attempts by the group to gather publicly.”
These examples from Marino have been documented by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and even an official inquiry set up by the Kaduna State government after the military massacred Shia Muslims in Zaria, Kaduna State late last year.
Lai Mohammed’s response was typical bluster, sound-bites, sloganeering and short on facts: ”An administration that operates purely on the basis of respect for the rule of law and a strict adherence to constitutional order is not one to deny the citizens of their constitutionally guaranteed rights. This administration therefore does not need the goading of Congressman Marino or anyone for that matter to do what is right.’’
The minister’s failure to address extrajudicial killings by the military and police and the administrations failure to prosecute the killers show that both minister and his boss, the president, have little time for “the rule of law “ and “constitutional order”, and Congressman Marino was right to say: “the man who once led Nigeria as a military dictator might be sliding towards former autocratic tendencies.”
Marino then alleged: “Of President Buhari’s 122 appointees, 77 are from the north and control many of the key ministries and positions of power. Distrust is already high in Nigeria and favouring Northerners for key appointments has only antagonized the issue. These appointments are also primarily Muslim in the north and Christian in the south, adding a religious aspect to long-held regional biases”.
Comical Lai countered: “Concerning running an inclusive government, had Congressman Marino done his homework before dispatching his letter, he would have realized that no part of the country is left out in the distribution of political appointments.
“The appointment of ministers was done in accordance with the Constitution that mandates that the President must appoint at least one minister from each of the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory.
“Had the Congressman sought information from credible sources before engaging in a flight of fancy, he would have been presented with comprehensive information on the appointment of CEOs for Federal Government’s parastatals, agencies and commissions.
“The appointments were almost evenly matched along the line of the six geo-political zones in the country, with the North-West having 51, North-Central, 46; North-East, 45; South-East, 41; South-West, 45 and South-South, 45.
“The Congressman may wish to note that each geo-political zone comprises six states, with the exception of North-West (7) and South-East (5).’’
At least, Mohammed tried to present facts to counter Marino here. Both have different figures in terms of appointees – Marino (122), Mohammed (273). However, Mohammed’s higher figure for appointees still suggests “favouring Northerners” as Marino alleged – 142 northern appointees to 131 from the south. Mohammed also failed to address the claim by Marino about “control” of “key ministries and positions of power.” He also failed to address the Muslim/Christian divide that is “adding a religious aspect to long-held regional biases”.
The appointment of ministers was clearly in accordance with constitutional requirements that there should be a minister from each state. But the president said in July last year that constituencies that gave him 97% of their vote can’t be expected to be treated the same as those that only gave him 5%. He claimed this “in all honesty”, and that it was “political reality”. This “political reality” appears to be reflected in Buhari’s appointments and the “distrust” for the president in other parts of the country mentioned by Marino. Interestingly, Buhari made his 97% comment in response to a question about “inclusive” government.
The Nigerian Constitution states in Chapter 2 section 15(4) “The State shall foster a feeling of belonging and of involvement among the various people of the Federation, to the end that loyalty to the nation shall override sectional loyalties”. Marino alleged that Buhari has not demonstrated a commitment towards “inclusive democracy”. Lai Mohammed’s rebuttal did very little to dispel that notion.
Next, the congressman raised questions about Buhari’s anti-corruption drive being “selective”: “Of additional concern is President Buhari’s selective anti-corruption drive, which has focused almost exclusively on members of the opposition party, over-looking corruption amongst some of Buhari’s closest advisors. Politicizing his anti-corruption efforts has only reinforced hostility among southerners.”
Lai Mohammed went all Orwellian in rejecting those claims as “propaganda”: “That line was invented by those seeking to cause an unnecessary distraction from the administration’s anti-corruption efforts, and it has been roundly rejected.
“Congressman Marino’s decision to exhume the dead postulation without an iota of proof is a reflection of whose side he has taken in the ongoing efforts to rid Nigeria of corrupt elements.
“Needless to say that the anti-corruption battle will continue unhindered, irrespective of whose ox is gored. And in this fight, only the guilty needs be afraid”.
The weakness in Mohammed’s rebuttal should be obvious to even a casual observer. The congressman said that Buhari’s anti-corruption drive “focused almost exclusively on members of the opposition party, over-looking corruption amongst some of Buhari’s closest advisors”. If this weren’t true, Mohammed could have easily listed the members of the ruling party that have also been prosecuted for corruption. The propaganda minister was the one “without an iota of proof” that the president wasn’t “selective” in his anti-corruption drive. Most if not all those facing charges are opposition members or were top officials in the last administration. Several people close to the president have the stench of corruption following them around, but none have been bothered by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
Comical Lai Mohammed had a lot of choice words for the congressman – “flight of fancy”, “out of tune with reality”, “nothing but a propaganda of his own imagination’’ and more. But the ferocity of the attack against the congressman and the lack of substance in the rebuttal, show that the Buhari administration was bothered about what the congressman said. As journalist Claud Cockburn said: “Never believe anything until it has been officially denied.”