One reality Nigeria is facing in contemporary time is the blurring of the lines in the nation’s quest to tame corruption, the one evil that has been proven to be at the root of every other one of our problems as a nation. It gets bad to a point where the accuser easily becomes the accused and, in a nation where the collective memory barely transcends a four-day cycle, the table can turn on someone intent on doing good to an extent that their public scouring and crucifixion is a given.
The Director General of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Mustapha Maihaja, is a man that can relate with this culture of demonizing the upright. He must be forgiven for his naivety in thinking that good intentions and a patriotic zeal would make it easy for him to present NEMA as an organization that keyed into President Muhammadu Buhari’s anti-corruption war. His idea is to make a quick win by promptly rooting out those that were sucking the agency dry and by extension making life unbearable for the block that NEMA is meant to cater to – victims of emergency.
The zeal that propels Maihaja is best understood against the backdrop of a country where crises and emergency management have been converted into ATMs by the unscrupulous. These are people without qualms about stealing from the displaced, bereaved, the dead and the dying – including their own parents. It is a cabal that brooks no nonsense from any obstacles to an open season on the nation’s treasury. It does not matter the agency involved, the modus operandi is to crush anyone and anything that that threatens the bank credit alerts from beeping endlessly.
These are the people Maihaja patriotically took on in the belief that he was doing the best in the interest of Nigeria. That belief is not misplaced.
But this will be to the extent that those who own the anti-corruption war, the Presidency, do not throw him under the bus. If other lone anti-corruption gladiators have been fed to the beasts in the arena previously, the DG NEMA’s own would be one too many and could sound the death knell for the one thing that Nigerians continue to wish would be the milestone of the current government.
The interests Maihaja waged his anti-corruption war against are certainly larger than he envisaged – it is a network that has now proven that it has the legislative clout, which is an additional incentive to abandon the DG given the possibility of his agency becoming the next executive-legislature tiff. One expects that the Presidency, executive arm, would not give Maihaja the Pontius Pilate treatment when in reality he ran the office to align with the template of the present government. That was what earned him enemies that are at his jugular today.
The enemies are many, tenacious and connected to the point of being filial. With the ex-NEMA DG, Mohammed Sani-Sidi, Maihaja’s detractors are powerful enough to have been able to sway the House of Representatives to their sides. If the past is anything to go by, we all know what it takes for a party to a matter to draft the House into the fray. This speaks volume to the whereabouts of the public funds involved in the fraud.
This is especially so when the House of Representatives is openly second-guessing the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the agency that logically have the jurisdiction to investigate, arrest and prosecute persons indicted for the sleaze at NEMA. If the House is allowed to continue usurping the roles of the EFCC, the end point would naturally be that the matter would be swept under the carpet as have been the case in the past. Maihaja’s current travail and persecution would have then been in vain. The people he exposed would carry on with business as usual while victims of emergencies languish.
Whatever the truth is, it must not be allowed to become the casualty in this matter. As opposed to threading the worn path of trial by media, the House of Representatives should back down and allow the EFCC thoroughly investigate the matter since it is the guaranteed way of getting to the truth of the matter. Running a parallel investigation would not only constitute distraction but would also in a way amount to strong-arming and threatening key witnesses as well contaminating evidences.
Nigerians want the truth and they are patient enough for the legitimate processes to run their courses. Those rushing to crucify or exonerate Maihaja must therefore exercise patience. There is no room for jungle justice here.
*Agbese writes from the United Kingdom