A peep into Buhari’s anti-corruption war

A peep into Buhari’s anti-corruption war
July 16 22:17 2017

By Abdulrahman Abdulraheem


The fact that financial corruption perpetrated by successive leaders, their appointees and associates as well as top civil servants is mostly responsible for Nigeria’s backwardness is an issue that has been over-stated. Corruption in high places has been implicated in virtually all the problems the country has faced and which it is still facing – decaying infrastructure, bad roads, poor health facilities/low life expectancy, poor educational facilities and bad international reputation, among others.

While virtually all Nigeria’s post-independence leaders have been accused of committing acts of corruption and aiding and abetting financial crimes, the case of Dr Goodluck Jonathan was a bit peculiar as his administration was between 2010 and 2015 riddled with mind-blowing scandals about how his ministers, aides and even family members were allegedly smiling to the bank at the expense of the peoples’ commonwealth. It was a sort of consensus, therefore, that the country could not continue like that and something had to change. In fact, the view was held in some quarters that if Jonathan was allowed to do second term in office, his associates and appointees would bleed the country to death.

The basis of the historic political change that hit the country in the middle of 2015 was, therefore, the need to halt the country’s descent into the status of a failed state.

President Muhammadu Buhari who has lived the better part of his public life preaching and fighting against financial corruption and all forms of recklessness became the choice of most of the masses and even the elite. He has been reputed to be a modest man of principles, ‘Mai Gaskiya’ who doesn’t hide his distaste for the way his predecessors had created conducive environment for corruption and corrupt practices to thrive while they held sway.

As if he knew the fundamental challenge his bid to rid the country of graft and make officials of the immediate past administration pay for their alleged financial crimes against the country was going to face, President Buhari said in the first few weeks of being sworn-in that unlike in his days as military Head of State when he arrested suspects and made them prove their innocence, this time, it was the duty of state actors to investigate suspects, arrest where necessary and prove them guilty. Meanwhile, as the APC candidate, in one of his best campaign outings at Chatham House in London, Buhari had literally apologised and taken responsibility for the human rights abuses that held sway under his watch between 1983 and 1985, adding that as a born again democrat, the same noble intentions he had would be pursued in a more civilized manner if he became Nigerian President. He didn’t realize that this historic covenant he made to the entire globe would come back to haunt his anti-corruption crusade.

Now, two years down the line, with all the noise and drama in the media but with no major convictions, it’s looking like the whole crusade is a sham, a mere joke and these Politically Exposed Persons (PEPS) as they are fondly called in the anti-corruption circles, who should be cooling the feet in jail for mindlessly raping the country’s treasury are still walking free, enjoying an undeserved freedom and having a good laugh.

Keen observers have said that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and other anti-graft bodies lack the necessary funds, personnel, competence and thoroughness to do very diligent prosecutions and present water-tight cases in court to get convictions. On the other hand, members of the extremely wealthy political class in Nigeria are said to have reserved a huge chunk of their stolen loot for litigation in case they are caught. They are said to have willing collaborators among the big lawyers and other major stakeholders in the judiciary who just succeed in dragging cases for decades and frustrating the crusade.

The President has been said to have his own flaws also. He is believed to be surrounded by some allegedly filthy characters who will always take advantage of the fact that he allegedly prefers loyalty to competence, an attitude typical of a third-world leader. These individuals are also doing their best to make sure the status quo is maintained and corruption remains in the Nigerian DNA.

While the allegedly corrupt elements in the President’s kitchen cabinet and the legislature have conspired to frustrate the new anti-corruption person, Mr. Ibrahim Magu, from becoming a substantive head of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, the bulk of the stumbling block has been from the usual suspects and the Judiciary, an arm of government whose reputation for bribery and other forms of graft has earned it the tag of ‘headquarters of corruption’ in the country.

Attempts by the executive arm to take the battle to this graft-ridden entity has also met a massive brick walk as Nigeria’s overzealous activists and lawyers have questioned the raid on judges’ homes, and described their probe and prosecution as unnecessary and high-handed.

As this piece is being put together, some of the judges who were prosecuted have been declared not guilty by the courts. In fact, the judges who were told to stop working pending the period of their investigation and likely prosecution have been asked to return to work by the National Judicial Council (NJC) which said the delay by the executive arm of government to charge them to court meant there was no case against them. This incident represented a major blow in the efforts to rid the nation of corruption.

The government has also been accused of selective prosecution and politically-motivated trials. This cannot be totally waved away in a third-world country like Nigeria. And some observers have also expressed concern that it is difficult if not impossible for government to deal with all cases of graft at the same time as trying to do that will stretch its capacity. The attention should, therefore, be focused on whether the accused persons actually committed the crimes or not and not the intention of government for bringing up the matter.

The response of President Buhari to this accusation that, “we are not after anybody. People should only fear the consequences of their actions,” cannot therefore be more apt.

Another massive blow to the anti-graft crusade happened recently with an order by a Federal High Court in Lagos to unfreeze the Skye Bank account of former First Lady, Patience Jonathan, which contained as much as 5.9 million dollars. As far as EFCC is concerned, the money was a proceed of graft which it was able to get the same court to freeze earlier.

Recently also, former Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Elder Godsday Orubebe, was left off the hook by a Federal High Court after he was arraigned by the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission for allegedly diverting some contract monies. The judge simply dismissed the case and acquitted Orubebe as the prosecution could not produce witnesses and argue the case diligently.

Another court also recently ordered the GTB to unfreeze the account of senior lawyer, Mike Ozekhome, which had been frozen after the EFCC complained that the 75 million naira was transferred to the account by Governor Ayo Fayose of Ekiti as part of 2.2 billion naira arms procurement funds allegedly looted by former National Security Adviser, Col Sambo Dasuki (rtd). Another court had also unfrozen an account in Zenith Bank belonging to Fayose who afterwards joined ‘Mama Peace’ in mocking the federal government’s anti-corruption fight.

Perhaps, the most massive uppercut the anti-graft crusade received recently came with the acquittal of Senate President, Dr Abubakar Bukola Saraki, by the Code of Conduct Tribunal. Not a few observers were shocked by the fact that Saraki was left off the hook despite the fact that the accusation of fraudulent non-declaration of assets as Kwara state governor, seemed water-tight enough. And despite all the drama and years of suspense, Nigerians were left disappointed that nothing concrete came out of the Saraki saga. The government represented by the Attorney General of the Federation, Mr. Abubakar Malami, has promised to appeal the judgement. Saraki has, however, fired back, bragging that he would floor the government again.

For the past few months, the government has been losing corruption cases in court for fun. The losing streak, which can be traced to some or all of the factors highlighted above, has been so devastating that many Nigerians are beginning to lose hope in the prospects of ever winning the war on graft.

Despite the challenges which seem to have grinded the anti-corruption battle to a halt, the administration has really done well in the area of funds and asset recovery. Using the innovative whistle-blower policy, the government has recovered billions of naira from alleged looters. Recently, the government announced the payment of hundreds of millions of naira to whistle-blowers as percentage compensations which will encourage others to undertake the patriotic task of blowing the whistle, and blowing it so loudly.

Another remarkable achievement of the anti-graft battle is the consciousness in the minds of politicians and top civil servants that Nigeria can no longer swallow the kind of looting that happened in the past. While the present administration is finding it difficult to fulfil its promise of bringing looters to book, it has been able to draw the line and ensure that the impunity with which monies are looted is reduced under its watch. By Nigeria’s very low standards, this will be considered a tangible achievement.

Going forward, the present administration’s best chance of scoring any mark in anti-corruption battle is to focus all its energies into recovery of stolen monies and making sure they are channelled into productive ventures that will put smile on people’s faces instead of being re-looted.

Secondly, while it is believed that some sort of looting have also taken place under the present administration, the government must deal decisively with the issue of former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr. Babachir Lawal, who was accused of awarding contracts to companies he allegedly has interests in. Government must use his case and several others to drive home the message that there will be no sacred cows. It must draw the line in a strong way and ensure that Nigeria does not sink as low as it sank in recent years.