Zambia’s main opposition, the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD), has condemned the prosecution of former president Rupiah Banda for corruption.
Banda was briefly arrested and released after the government’s Joint Investigations Team charged him with abuse of office in connection with a Nigeria oil procurement deal. Banda has rejected the charges as politically motivated.
MMD Deputy Secretary-General Chembe Nyangu says the prosecution of Banda is part of a government plan to divert public attention away from its failure to keep its promises of economic improvement within 90 days of taking office.
Nyangu says the prosecution is also a sign that the ruling Patriotic Front (PF) wants to weaken the opposition and to silence dissent.
"These are aimed at weakening the opposition, particularly the MMD, knowing that the MMD has the potential to bounce back to government, because PF has technically and practically failed to deliver the campaign promises made to the people," said Nyangu.
"What has happened is only political persecution of all opposition leaders including Hakainde Hichilema [leader of United Party for National Development [UPND] and Nevers Mumba [MMD leader], meaning that all these leaders are being targeted by the government," he said.
The government contends that the prosecution of the former president is part of its efforts to root out graft in Zambia.
“Mr. Banda abused the authority of his office by procuring a Nigerian government-to-government oil contract when he and his family benefited. He instructed his son, Henry Chikomeni Banda, to determine the destination of the funds which were the proceeds of this contract, as a result of which instructions, Zambia did not receive any benefit, an act arbitrary and prejudicial to the rights and interests of Zambia," read the statement from the government’s Joint Investigations Team.
But Nyangu says the government has been selective in its claims of fighting corruption, saying officials in the administration accused of graft are yet to be investigated or prosecuted.
"The government has said you cannot take a minister to any court of law or to the ACC [anti-graft body] to be interrogated because they first have to be cleared by the president. Which means that any PF minister cannot be questioned by the ACC because the president has failed to clear them," said Nyangu.
Parliament lifted Banda’s immunity from criminal prosecution after the administration urged the legislature to do so, claiming it would enable officials to investigate cases of corruption during the former president’s rule. The removal of the immunity allows the government to prosecute Banda for financial malfeasance he is alleged to have committed from 2008 to 2011.