There is no gainsaying the fact that President Muhammadu Buhari has carved a niche for himself as an anti-corruption crusader, and he dutifully used that credentials to appeal to Nigerians to elect him into office in 2015.
It was therefore not surprising that by December 22, 2016, the Federal Executive Council (FEC) approved a whistle-blowing policy that encourages people to voluntarily disclose information about fraud, bribery, looted government funds, financial misconduct, government assets and any other form of corruption or theft to the anti-graft agencies.
Many Nigerians who are bothered by the sleaze going at various levels of government by public officials and their collaborators, took the opportunity to contribute their quota in helping Buhari stamp out corruption from the country. One of such Nigerians is activist Mahdi Shehu, who took the programme as a non-commercial whistleblower.
That is why when the case of Mahdi Shehu was brought to my attention, I didn’t take it serious until I perused through the bulky file containing documented evidences of his efforts (petitions with back up evidences) and subsequent trial (actually persecution) for taking up the gauntlet against his state government, the same state where the president hails from, was devastating and disheartening and a big blow to the president’s anti-corruption war.
That is why the continuous persecution of the non-commercial whistleblower, Mr Mahdi Shehu is sending negative signals to the international community on the Buhari administration’s efforts of fighting corruption.
The situation, the coalition said, “is worrisome when some federal agencies, particularly, the Nigerian Police Force, is found to be neck deep in persecuting the whistleblower at the behest of Katsina State Government.”
Buhari hails from Katsina state, and “it is disheartening to see a Nigerian being persecuted for advocating for the same ideals being canvassed by the president,” the coalition said.
The civil society said the whistleblower has been detained many times and dragged to about five different courts over the same charges for simply asking EFCC to investigate what he believed is abuse of public funds.
After reviewing the case file, it was revealed that the whistleblower is being prosecuted having written nine different petitions and adopted the same with attached evidence to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), calling for investigations of allegations of financial impropriety in Katsina state.
While the EFCC was investigating these petitions, the Katsina State Government, and some of its prominent officials and contractors, became jittery and decided to truncate the anti-graft agency’s investigations by writing a criminal complaint against the whistleblower to the state commissioner of police.
Katsina police commissioner swiftly acted on the state attorney – general’s complaint by raising a FIR and charged Mr Mahdi Shehu before the Chief Magistrate Court (CMC 1) Katsina for “defamation, forgery and inciting public against the Katsina State Government.”
By way of Appeal and Cross Appeal, the same case is in High Court No. 4 Katsina before His Lordship Justice Bawale (J) to determine the Certiorari proceedings.
Surprisingly, while the CMC 1 and High Court cases are yet to be determined, the secretary to the state government went to the Upper Sharia’ah Court Katsina and instituted the same matter that was before the CMC 1 with exactly the same facts, which is a clear abuse of judicial process.
Despite all this, the case took another dimension when the Force Headquarters invited the whistleblower for an interview on November 25, 2020. He was granted bail after the “interview” by ACP A.A. Elleman.
Mr Mahdi was subsequently illegally detained for 14 days on the orders of the Inspector General of Police at the Asokoro police station, where he was bitten by a venomous snake, and later transferred to the Force Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Bureau (FCIID) Garki.
It is worthy of note to state that Mr Mahdi was also invited for an “interview” over the same case by the Department of State Services (DSS) on the eve of his illegal detention. While still in detention in Abuja, the Katsina police commissioner sent yet another invitation to Mr Mahdi’s office in Kaduna. The Katsina CP called severally to ask why Mr Mahdi didn’t honor his invitation, having fully known that he was being detained at the FCIID, Garki, Abuja.
The IGP released Mr Mahdi a night before the day a FCT High Court Abuja ordered him to bring the whistleblower to court for the determination of a case of enforcement of fundamental rights.
The force headquarters, therefore, again remitted the case file to Katsina attorney- general, who earlier filed a criminal defamation against the whistleblower pending before the CMC 1.
Again, the Katsina attorney general filed the same case pending before various courts with a slight addition of “cybercrime charge” at the Federal High Court, Katsina.
Two weeks after his release, and while in isolation for treatment of COVID-19, the IGP office through ACP Elleman sent another invitation for “continuation of investigations.” The whistleblower’s lawyers informed the IGP’s office of his condition on December 18, but the top police chief sent another invitation on January 4, 2021.
Mr Mahdi was again arrested and bundled to Katsina for another bout of litigation. And he has been in detention ever since despite his failing health.
It is high time to draw President Buhari’s attention to the persecution of this Nigerian. The President must act to stop this apparent persecution and flagrant abuse of court processes.
Whistleblowers must be protected by the Buhari government. He should rein in his appointees working with retrogressive politicians bent on rubbishing his administration’s anti-graft crusade.
Ms Lasisi, convener of Movement for Greater Nigeria and Good Governance (MGGGN), writes from Ajah, Lagos