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Who is out of touch with reality – United States congressman Marino or the Nigerian government?

Tom Marino

On Sunday, the Nigerian Federal Government condemned the letter of a US Congressman, Tom Marino, asking his country to withhold security support to Nigeria. The government described it as “out of tune with reality”.

Congressman Marino is a member of the Committee on the Judiciary, Homeland Security and Foreign Affairs.

His letter addressed to the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, accused President Buhari of bias, and asked the US government to withhold assistance to the Nigerian government until Buhari demonstrates a “commitment to inclusive government and the most basic tenets of democracy: freedom to assemble and freedom of speech.”

In the letter, Marino highlighted Buhari’s selective anti-corruption campaign saying the campaign “has focused almost exclusively on members of the opposition party, overlooking corruption amongst some of Buhari’s closest advisors.” He also objected to the extra-judicial killings of about 350 people by the military, including 168 people that died in military detention.

Marino identified the bias in Buhari’s appointments stating that of his 122 appointees, 77 are Muslim from Northern Nigeria, and control most of the key ministries and positions of power. Yesterday, Nigeria’s Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed dismissed Marino’s claims. He branded them “out of touch”, “ill-informed” and “imaginary.” But just how ill-informed are his observations? Let’s take a closer look at his three main objections.

Are Buhari’s anti-corruption efforts selective?

One thing is clear: Most of the victims of the President’s anti-corruption campaign are members of the opposition party. The claim that he overlooks allegations against those within his government also has merit. Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai, the Chief of Army Staff, was accused of procurement theft. Within days, he was cleared of the charges.

“They should have allowed the agencies of government such as the EFCC and the ICPC) to properly investigate (the matter). The Minister of Defence and the Secretary to the Government of the Federation have no statutory authority to undertake criminal investigations,” said Mr Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, an activist and lawyer.

In addition to that, the federal government also failed to question retired Lt. Gen. Abdulrahman Dambazau in relation to another arms scandal. Then there was the refusal to investigate Transportation Minister, Rotimi Amaechi amidst several corruption charges. All these raise concerns about the selection bias.

Has Buhari been biased with his appointments?

Lai Mohammed made a good case for inclusiveness. He said, “The appointments were almost evenly matched along the line of the six geo-political zones in the country.” The North-West has 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),’’ he said.

Are key ministries and positions of power mainly occupied by northerners? The five key parastatals – Ministry of Petroleum, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Defence, Attorney-General of the Federation, and the Heads of the Legislative, all are headed by northerners with the exception of the finance ministry.

The president, a northerner, serves as the Minister of Petroleum. Dr Ibe Kachikwu runs it as the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources. The same thing is clear with other positions like the Senate President, Speaker of the House or Reps, Communications Ministry, and Department of State Security (DSS).

To an extent, the federal appointments reflect federal character. Nevertheless, Marino’s observation that the strategic ministries are controlled by Muslim Northerners is indisputable.

Is the military guilty of extra-judicial killings?

It was telling that Lai Mohammed did not address this issue as he refuted the other two criticisms. The congressman in his letter emphasised the human rights abuses more than he did any other point. He dedicated 26 lines to it, but his criticism received no official response. The silence, in this case, is damning.

The record of Buhari’s administration on human rights abuses is reminiscent of his military rule in 1983. Quoting Amnesty International Report, Marino wrote, “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.”

It’s hard to defend the record of extra-judicial killings under the nose of this government.

While the issues raised by the congressman are salient, do they really justify a withdrawal of assistance by the United States? He asked that America refrain from selling warplanes and other military equipment to Nigeria. But as the Information Minister pointed out, insecurity anywhere is insecurity everywhere. Boko Haram is not just a Nigerian problem but a regional and international crisis.

No Nigerian would wish that military assistance be withdrawn from Nigeria especially now that the government is making significant progress in defeating Boko Haram. Not only has the military reclaimed all 14 local government’s previously held by the terrorist group, it has also killed key Boko haram personnel. Some analysts even view the recent video, in which the organisation requested that the government trade their detainees for the school girls captured in Chibok, as a move born out of desperation.

Nigeria needs all the help it can get to conquer Boko Haram in such trying economic times. Nevertheless, the words of the congressman, a seemingly objective analyst, should ignite a shift towards more responsible governance. More accountability has to start with holding those who have faltered, especially within the military, accountable.

Tom Marino believes “The man who once led Nigeria as a military dictator might be sliding towards former autocratic tendencies.” And whether or not you’re a supporter of Buhari’s administration, it is likely that the thought has crossed your mind before.

 

 

Source: Ventures Africa

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