Perhaps the most dreaded end of every public figure today, especially one who’s become a model celebrity, is the cancel culture. This is even more complicated in our political space, where an appointee’s fall from grace or inglorious sack easily draws polarizing commentaries, with supporters and critics always left to chew on the reasons and half-truths dispensed from the parties involved.
Last month, the suspended Managing Director of Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Hadiza Bala Usman, was forced to crawl out of her shell to dismiss as untrue trending reports that NPA under her watch failed to remit “N40 billion, $921.61 million and £289, 931.82 to federal government accounts.” Her name had featured in the stories making the rounds on social media and linked to the Tribune newspaper and various blogs since January 12. They revealed that the Office of the Auditor-General of the Federation had indicted NPA “for failure to recover and remit” the sums “to government treasury from various revenue sources in the 2019 financial fiscal year (sic).”
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Since Ms. Bala-Usman’s suspension, following her principal, Rotimi Amaechi’s May 2021 memo to the President that she had abused her office and failed to remit N165 billion to the nation’s Consolidated Revenue Fund account between 2016 and 2020, she’s been a subject of polarizing commentaries and the media has sustained this memory. But what has made her case difficult, despite her plea that she’s innocent, is the silence of the panel set up to investigate the allegations against her.
Similarly, since the report of the Ayo Salami-led presidential panel set up to investigate Ibrahim Magu, whose leadership of the EFCC was disrupted by corruption allegations, was submitted to President Muhammadu Buhari last year, nothing has been heard about his fate. The court of public opinion has been left with a memory of the allegation against him, and without the exact details of the size of corruption of which he has been found guilty.
Like Ms. Bala Usman, Mr. Magu’s legacy is bound to polarize the public. If the findings of the investigative panel that assessed his stewardship aren’t made known, he’s going to cite his publicized feud with the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, as the reason for his sack. Ms. Bala Usman’s troubles too have been profiled as a case of a witch-hunt by Amaechi, whose ministry supervises her and, even in the memo and the stories after that, she’s accused of insubordination.
It’s been six months since DCP Abba Kyari’s showmanship came to an end after his participation in Hushpuppi’s digital heists was documented in an FBI investigation. Like Ms. Bala Usman and Mr. Magu, he too attempted to declare his innocence and even rushed to share his version of what transpired on Facebook, which he had to delete after editing the self-incriminating positions twelve times.
Mr. Kyari’s fate has levered on speculations since his suspension. The investigative panel set up to establish the fact and extent of his relationship with Hushpuppi, who’s been on trial in the United States, is yet to make known its findings. The memory of Mr. Kyari, of course, is one most certain in the court of public opinion. He was exposed by an institution that can’t be accused of attempting to settle a political score, and immune to interferences of the Nigerian government. The silence over his case, therefore, is seen in some quarters as a ploy to protect him or the integrity of the Nigerian Police from the Americans.
While the media trial of unlucky officials of past governments by unforgiving or vengeful successors is understandable, at least from public relations perspective, the culture of inconclusive trials of, or silence over, political appointees or public officials “suspended” or “sacked” by serving government is a dangerous trend. Their cases have kept the courts of public opinion busy, giving life to wild theories, some defamatory, and others charitable. But none is fair.
The case of Mrs Yewande Sadiku, the Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Investment Promotion Council, underlines this danger of inconclusive trials. When she was arrested by the EFCC in August last year over alleged fraud, it alarmed quite a number of her friends, and some were quick to dismiss the case as a possible mistake or witch-hunt. She was scrutinized in the media, and a memory of her as a corrupt public official established, until the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) returned about four months later to share that she’s not found guilty of the charges against her: “fraudulent abuse of office; waste and mismanagement of public funds by the executive secretary of the NIPC through incessant tours and travels within and outside Nigeria without adding value to the Commission.”
The conclusion of Sadiku’s trial has made a difference, and this should’ve been the brand of justice applied to all public officials who’ve found themselves on the wrong side of the law or government. But, then, this has been the most preferred justice by the government. Such legal theatrics seem to redeem every serving government’s public goodwill or create an illusion of commitment to waging war against graft, even if the exact intent is the pursuit of vendetta.
Like Nigerian courts which don’t dispense justice on time, and still have governors whose immunity expired in 2007 under trial, government-instituted panels are becoming avenues for stalling justice. This is a two-way disaster. One, the “defendants” can always distort the narrative to parade themselves as victims of witch-hunt and, secondly, the innocent are forever cursed to live with the burden of a memory that isn’t true. It’s also possible that the government’s silence over these cases is a soft-landing for the “defendants,” but nobody’s future should be defined by wild rumours.