MondayColumn by Emmanuel Yawe
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My experiences with Nigerian security agencies have left me with a low score on the way they carry out investigations.
It all started when my friend Abdullahi No Sweat came back to Nigeria in 1983 after travelling all over the world for twenty three years. He visited Yola, his hometown in 1984 to catch up with the place and its people. People were excited and wanted to hear the stories of his wandering. The NTA Yola gave him generous air time in the form of an interview.
He spoke about his adventures in different parts of the world including Jamaica where he smoked a lot of Marijuana with the likes of the musical genius, Bob Marley. He then shocked his interviewer with his advice that the Nigerian government should legalise the drug as a way of earning foreign exchange since the Nigerian variety of the drug was in high demand on the international market. The interview was soon over and No Sweat walked out of the station unmolested.
One year after the interview, policemen came to the television station looking for No Sweat. They said they wanted to arrest the man who had the gumption to advocate the legalization of hard drugs in Nigeria. How did they expect the television to keep the man who was so fast footed that he spent twenty three years travelling all over the world?
At the time the police were looking for No Sweat in Yola, I was with him working as editorial staff of the Triumph newspaper. When our friends in Yola phoned to inform us that real policemen were looking for him for an interrogation on an interview he granted over a year ago, we just laughed it off. Were they real policemen or just some street comedians?
Soon, we were to have another comic experience with the police at the Triumph newspapers in Kano. A man of Ibo ethnic extraction walked into the newsroom and said he had a hot news story for us. I interviewed him as the news editor. He gave his name as Goddy Nassarawa. I told him, for an Ibo man, the Nassarawa in his name sounded strange to which he replied that he had just converted to Islam and the Nassarawa was added to his name to give him an Islamic identity.
But he had a more strange story which he wanted published and that was why he came to us. He said he came to confess that one Professor Olatubosun at the University of Ibadan had recently hired him to assassinate Col Yohanna Madaki, then Military Governor of Gongola state. The assassination was to take place in Ganye, one of the Local Governments of Gongola while the governor was on tour there. He said his conscience pricked him while he was about to carry out the assassination plot and instead decided to come to the media and spill the beans.
It was an incredible story but we decided to carry out checks to verify. We sent Olu Ojewale from our Lagos office to contact Professor Olatubosun in Ibadan. The Prof gave our reporter a flat denial. But Goddy stood by his story insisting that the plot was real, even giving details of his meetings with the Prof. He even brought to our office the loaded gun he was given for the crime. To convince us that he was genuine, he said we should snap his picture and use it with the story. We did the story and it was used with his picture and the weapon of murder. Two years after I left Triumph to work elsewhere, the police came to Triumph to look for him so as to interview him on his incredible story.
Given these two cases, I have always doubted the capability of the police to investigate crime in Nigeria. They can bungle any case even if you gave them all the evidence of crime.
But maybe I am too harsh on the security agencies, especially the police. Sometimes, Nigerians, prominent Nigerians that we should trust claim that they have evidence of crime. When you call on them to offer proof, they balk. The most prominent of them is the case of missing N2.8 billion from the accounts of the NNPC.
A few months after Shehu Shagari took office as President of Nigeria in 1980, there was a wild allegation that N2.8 billion was stolen from the accounts of the NNPC. At a time when our Naira was much stronger than the US dollar, this was a record breaking heist even in a corrupt riddled country like Nigeria. This amount was at that time the equivalent of about one year’s sale of crude oil by the NNPC. Shagari was a man who was never in hurry to do anything. But this allegation was so weighty and credible Nigerians were all over the media harping on it. In the end he was stampeded into action.
He put in place the Justice Ayo Irikefe Tribunal in place to determine amongst other things if N2.8 billion or any other sum of money was missing from the accounts of the NNPC. The stage was thus set for those who had been most vocal in the media with claims that they had information on the missing money. There were many but I will just mention three.
First Tai Solarin, the famous social critic. He had claimed in many newspaper articles that he had information on the missing money. Invited by the Tribuanal to give such evidence, he stunned everybody with his new claim that he got the information from a vivacious passenger he shared the back seat of a Lagos bus with the other day. He did not know the name or address of the talkative passenger but encouraged members of the panel to launch a search for him since the man had the information.
Next was Professor Ayodele Awojobi, an engineering, Professor who was regarded a genius in the science world. He had also claimed in the media that he had information on the theft and was invited. He came to the tribunal armed with a small blackboard and white chalk. Then he proceeded to do some complicated calculations on the board which nobody but him understood. He had no information on the theft only scientific calculations.
Then arrived the world acclaimed musical genius, Fela Anikulapo Kuti who stormed the venue of the tribunal with the 28 women he married in one fell swoop. Also on their convoy was a truck. Soon he unloaded the newspapers in the truck and told the stunned members of the tribunals to look into the newspapers. The evidence of the stolen money he said was contained in those newspapers.
With such evidence by those who claimed to have knowledge of the big heist, the conclusion of the Irikefe Tribunal was that no proceeds of crude oil sales were missing or not properly accounted for.
Last week, a former Deputy Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, Obediah Mailafia took us back to those dark days of wild accusations from high quarters without substance. In his interview that went viral on the social media, he gave his credentials as somebody who got a Phd from Oxford University and a Central Banker. He was cocksure of what he was saying: that a governor in one of the northern states was a commander of the terrorist group Boko Haram; that the group flew planes and distributed money and ammunition to their fighters during the lockdown; that the group was planning a civil war in Nigeria by 2022.
Invited by the DSS to substantiate his claims, he said he picked up the information as a rumour by some chattering market women when he went to his village. What a shame.