Set aside, for a moment, the brazen charges and consider the backdrop of the drawn-out trial involving former Nigerian ministers accused of money laundering.
Look to the peaceful transfer of power in 2015, when former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari took over from then-incumbent Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan. Look at the 16 years of progress for the country and its economy between then and 1999, when a new constitution established civilian government.
Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, boasted a Gross Domestic Product of $1.1 trillion in 2016, with a five-year compound annual growth rate of 3.4%, according to The Heritage Foundation. The economy was increasingly diversifying with contributions from petroleum, agriculture and telecommunications, among others.
Entrenched poverty was gradually lifting. Increasingly more people were working. The jobless rate hovered around 5%, comparable to prosperous countries in North America and Europe. Much progress remained to be made in terms of household income, but the country had found a viable path.
Yet the new administration chose not to pick up the baton and continue to run with it. Instead, as so many other strong-armed government leaders have done across the world, Buhari and those allied with him have chosen to persecute their critics.
Chief among them: Top officials in the past president’s campaign organizations. The former minister of Finance, Nenadi Usman, and former aviation minister, Femi Fani-Kayode, along with others are currently on trial.
At their core, the allegations center on the notion that the accused officials used government funds for campaign.
It is a common story, one well-understood in the United States and other western democracies. But the current Nigerian government, loathes to hear any critical voices or dissent and has thrown routine campaign spending into a jangle of accusations, as it professes to fight corruption. But in fact it is shredding the reputations of long- standing public servants and wasting Nigerians’ money with a protracted court case aimed ultimately, at suppressing free speech. A case in point: Senator Nenadi Usman. An outspoken representative of Kaduna, her home state, she has developed a reputation for challenging the status quo, for questioning those in power and championing the ideals of the people she represents.
Nenadi Usman launched her public-service career in Kaduna as a special advisor on information to the state’s governor and was later moved to the ministry information. She went on to serve as Minister of Finance. She was elected to the National Assembly, representing the Kaduna South Senatorial zone.
In 2015, she campaigned against the current president, making it known she is willing to endure tough political fights in the name of advancing living conditions and economic prosperity for the Nigerian people.
But Senator Nenadi Esther Usman was met with intimidation. She finds herself on trial, enduring false allegations of money laundering and fraud.
It is sad but emblematic: A leader of ideas, a representative of Nigerians who are hungry for economic opportunity finds her voice stifled by autocratic leaders who muzzle the free speech that serves as the foundation for any government that purports to serve its people.