Regarded as one of the greatest war strategists of all time, Chinese military general, philosopher and writer, Sun Tzu (544BC-496BC), once advised that one way to defeat an opponent was to starve them.
“When the enemy is relaxed, make them toil. When full, starve them. When settled, make them move,” he wrote in his widely influential military strategy book, The Art of War.
Tzu’s piece of advice has since been applied not only in military thinking, but also in management and leadership circles, including politics.
His advice has been interpreted by several management and leadership experts to mean that, to cow an opponent into submission, it should first be deprived of whatever resources it needs to survive.
As the 2019 elections approach, political observers are of the opinion that the ruling All Progressives Congress is applying Tzu’s strategy in fighting the opposition, owing to the recent activities of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission in mainly opposition states.
For instance, on August 7, 2018, two weeks after defecting from the APC to the Peoples Democratic Party, Benue State Governor Samuel Ortom accused the EFCC of freezing the state’s bank accounts.
Prior to this development, barely five days after his defection, the anti-graft agency had accused the governor of fraud to the tune of N22bn.
The EFCC stated that the governor, between June 2015 and March 2018, ordered the withdrawal of N21.3bn from four of the state’s bank accounts.
Out of the sum, about N19bn was said to be meant for the payment of six security agencies that had been deployed in the state to address the incessant clashes between herdsmen and farmers.
However, the EFCC claimed that less than N3bn of the money was paid to the security agencies, while the remainder could not be accounted for.
Responding, Ortom had asked a series of questions, “Why am I being investigated by the EFCC? My records are there. But so far, I am the only governor in Nigeria whose security vote is being investigated by the EFCC.
“How could you single me out of 36 (governors) for investigation? It (security vote) is not something that any government will begin to disclose. Why should Benue State’s case be different – if not persecution?
“If the EFCC wanted a genuine investigation of security vote spending, they should have started from the Presidency and across the 36 states.
“If their focus was on Benue State, they should have started from 1999. But this is not the case. With the enormous security challenges in the state since my assumption of office, it is surprising that any one would expect me to do nothing but keep the security vote in the safe.”
An Abuja-based development economist and political commentator, Dr. Juliana Ogunyinka, said via a telephone that if President Muhammadu Buhari would want to make Nigerians believe that his anti-corruption war was genuine, he would have also asked the EFCC to investigate the APC-controlled states.
She said, “I commend the governor for asking genuine questions at that time. Where was the EFCC when he (Ortom) was in the APC? Why wasn’t he mentioned by the EFCC all this while, as the agency usually does?
“I don’t know Ortom and I’m not even sure I like his style of administration, especially because most of them are looters of public funds. However, you can’t just accuse a governor of fraud of N22bn five days after his defection and want to make Nigerians believe it’s a true anti-corruption war.”
She added, “I have been monitoring the plight of workers in Osun State, where their governor had been paying them half salaries, until recently when he started paying in full, apparently to woo the workers to vote for his party again in September 2018.
“Why has such atrocity not been investigated by the EFCC? Despite the Paris Club refunds and the Federal Government’s bailouts, why has the governor there paid half salaries?
“What I’m saying is that the anti-corruption war shouldn’t be selective. It shouldn’t be to intimidate opposition state governments. It should be whole, as being canvassed by most Nigerians, as well as foreigners.”
Indeed, all eyes seem to be on the President’s approach to fighting corruption, with the British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Mr. Paul Arkwright, calling on the EFCC, as well as the Independent National Electoral Commission, to be neutral and preserve the integrity of the country’s political process.
“The INEC and the EFCC should be there to preserve the integrity of the political process, including taking forward investigations without any prejudice on one side or the other, following the evidence and taking action where it is justified,” Arkwright had stated during a visit to the EFCC’s headquarters in Abuja in June 2018.
Meanwhile, Benue State seemed not to be the only opposition state on the EFCC’s watch list, as the anti-graft agency, just a day after freezing the state’s bank accounts, also reportedly froze that of Akwa Ibom State, another state led by the PDP.
Incidentally, the oil-rich state’s accounts were frozen on the same day a former governor of the state and ex-Senate Minority Leader, Senator Godswill Akpabio, defected from the PDP to the APC, fuelling insinuations that the APC was having a grand plan to intimidate opposition state governments.
Reacting to the development at the time, the National Secretary of the PDP National Defenders, Mr. David Akpan, said the action was a deliberate ploy to “unconstitutionally” starve the state of resources.
The Chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, Abdul’aziz Yari, also agreed that it was unconstitutional for the EFCC to freeze the accounts of any state government, saying the anti-graft body’s decision was wrong.
“The freezing of accounts of any state government, whether Benue or any other, is unconstitutional and is not right. That is shutting down the government,” he said.
Meanwhile, 72 hours after the two states’ accounts were suspended, they were unfrozen by the anti-graft agency.
But clearly, not willing to let a sleeping dog lie, the Akwa Ibom State government has slammed a N50bn lawsuit against the EFCC and others for freezing its accounts, noting that the development crippled both the economy and the reputation of the state.
The suit, dated August 17, 2018, and issued by Chief Assam Assam (SAN) of Lex Fori Partners, asked the defendants to cause an appearance to be made within 30 days after service or risk judgment being given in their absence.
Citing the reason for the suit, the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice of the state, Mr. Uwemedimo Nwoko, said the anti-graft agency did not have constitutional powers to freeze any state government’s account in the country – a stand also maintained by some lawyers and human rights activists.
“That singular attempt of freezing the accounts of the state government was shutting down the state. Akwa Ibom State was brought down on its knees; it was an attempt to paralyse and completely demobilise the activity of the state.
“We could not respond to economic, security and business exigencies. Most importantly, the investors that were coming to Akwa Ibom State began to have a second thought and became worried about the status of their investment.
“Those who were on their way to the state began to go back. So, we suffered unquantifiable losses,” he said.
The Coordinator of the Port Harcourt, Rivers State-based Fight Against Poor Governance, Dr. Ben Alozie, who is also an economic and political analyst, told our correspondent via telephone that the manner the President was fighting the anti-corruption war was worrisome.
Describing the EFCC’s fight against corruption as fight against opposition states and individuals, Alozie said it was time Buhari cautioned himself against fighting opposition states.
He explained, “The anti-corruption war is a mere political witch-hunt, going by what we’ve seen so far. If it were not, why would the EFCC be freezing the accounts of only the PDP states?
“I’m not in support of any governor or party, but truth be told that President Buhari is getting the anti-corruption war all wrong.
“It is not impossible that he or the cabal in his government are the ones instructing the EFCC to go after who is not on their side. I guess the EFCC officials know that it is unconstitutional for them to freeze any state government’s accounts.
“But if they had been asked by the President or other powerful officials in government, they would have no choice but to answer the call. That’s why they denied freezing the accounts.”
Alozie said a situation whereby the ruling party was using economic deprivation to suppress the opposition was simply unacceptable.
He said, “The ruling government seems to be using economic deprivation as an instrument to arm-twist opposition state governors and states to support President Buhari’s re-election in 2019.
“Apart from the state House of Assembly, I don’t think there is any other government agency with powers of appropriation or restrictions on state funds.”
Perhaps not done with investigating the opposition states, the EFCC on August 26, 2018, said it was investigating the Rivers State Government for alleged cash withdrawals totalling N117bn. The withdrawals were said to be made in the last three years.
A top official of the commission had stated that the “curious” withdrawals violated the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act.
However, responding to the development, the Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, described the EFCC’s action as a political witch-hunt.
The governor, through his Special Assistant on Electronic Media, Mr. Simeon Nwakaudu, also dared the anti-graft agency, saying that no official of the state government would appear before it (EFCC) over “politically-motivated investigations” – until the commission approached the Court of Appeal to set aside the 2007 judgment barring it (EFCC) from investigating the state.
He added, “We are aware of their tricks. They should not bother engaging in media trial because it will not work. This is a mere political witch-hunt. They must obey the rule of law. We have filed another action against the EFCC.”
The governor also alleged that the recent freezing of Akwa Ibom and Benue states’ accounts by the anti-graft agency was targeted at Rivers State.
Wike said, “An agency of the Federal Government had frozen the accounts of Akwa Ibom and Benue State governments. This is the worst coup against the constitution and the law-abiding people of those states.
“But the target is not Benue or Akwa Ibom states. The real target is Rivers State. The EFCC as a federal agency has no business with state funds. That is the responsibility of the state House of Assembly.”
Be that as it may, as the political scene becomes more tense as the 2019 elections approach, political analysts have cautioned the EFCC, as well as Buhari, against using economic deprivation as a tool to cow opposition states into submission.
A Lagos-based policy analyst and social commentator, Dr. David Alao, said with the freezing and investigation of mainly opposition state governments’ accounts, the Buhari administration had a long way to go in proving to the people that the anti-corruption war was fair and just.
He said, “It’s a strategy used during wars. Once you identify and cut off food supplies to the enemy’s camp, they would be forced to succumb or starve to death.
“But this is 2018 and this is a democratic country, hence I don’t think the President and his party should be using the EFCC as an attack dog. In the end, our politicians should ask themselves, who are they fighting for – themselves or the people?” – Punch
– Sept. 8, 2018 @ 11:55 GMT