PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari has been inching forward in his three-point agenda: securing the nation from terrorists, declaring war on corruption and opening up the economy. After raising serial alarms both at home and abroad about the evil exploits of thieves and looters in our emaciated economy, PMB took the first step towards opening action against graft. He set up the Presidential Committee on Anti-Corruption (PCAC), with renowned constitutional lawyer, respected social commentator and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Professor Itse Sagay, as the Chairman. It seems we are set to go. But the question is: what exactly are we moving into?
Are we merely reacting to the pinch of a lean purse, the gloom of oil glut and low prices of our primary export commodity, crude oil? Are we stampeding to recover looted public funds from the officials of the former President Goodluck Jonathan administration? If so, what about other big thieves who were not part of that administration? What of the big looters who blindly wrecked the treasuries of their states? What about the bigger thieves and looters further back, down the line who conducted the crooked sales of our public assets in the name of privatisation and used fronts to corner our commonwealth?
What about the infamous failed turnaround maintenance of our refineries which gulped billions of naira during the Olusegun Obasanjo regime? When that failed, we were forced to rely exclusively on imported and heavily subsidised petrol and diesel to run our autos, homes, offices and factories. What about the multi-billion dollar power projects that the Hon. Ndudi Elumelu House of Representatives Panel probed and indicted the Obasanjo administration but was swept under the carpet?
What about former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s six-year tenure as the Minister of Petroleum, during which happenings in the oil sector were not made transparent? Obasanjo, being the almighty president, was never invited even once by the Senate or House of Representatives to disclose how the industry was being run. Are we to overlook the need to know how much the Obasanjo administration raised and spent the proceeds of the increases in petrol prices from N22 in 1999 to N85 in 2007? What explanation can justify the restriction of the probes to the Jonathan administration?
The probe we need must be comprehensive. We want to know how people, including former governors and presidents, became multi-billionaires after their stints in public office. 1999 is a credible benchmark to start because it was not only the period that our renascent democracy dawned, it also signified the beginning of the second, and by far the most momentous of our oil booms. At the end of it, our commonwealth went into private pockets. Civil servants, state and federal government appointees and other classes of people with access to public funds built or bought up choice houses in the cities, especially Abuja and Lagos, became owners of brand new hotels in state capitals all over the federation and acquired exclusive real estate properties in foreign countries like Ghana, South Africa, UAE, UK, USA, Canada and what have you. People who laundered money for top public officeholders became owners of the hundreds of private jets that litter our airports without any credible economic activities to justify their fabulous wealth.
The anti-graft war we need will not only recover funds and properties whose owners cannot convincingly explain the legitimate means by which they acquired them, it must also send such people to jail as the law prescribes. Such a clean-up campaign will not look anybody in the face to distinguish their tribe, state of origin, region, religion, political party or relationship to people in power.
For this to succeed, the Sagay panel must propose a comprehensive reform of the criminal law system that will ensure that once the anti-graft agencies raise queries against anyone to justify how they acquired their wealth, the said wealth will temporarily be forfeited to the government pending when the accused completes his or her exoneration in court. It should no longer be a question of the prosecution proving the guilt of the accused beyond all reasonable doubt. That should be reserved for cases involving personal liberties and civil rights not stolen funds and illegally acquired property.
This effort should be aimed at returning Nigeria to reality and keeping its citizens to the simple diet of living within their legitimate means. When this succeeds, government will once again, have the resources to give the people light, water, good schools, functional hospitals, affordable housing, and our security agencies will be well provided for to protect us. We will no longer have to dig boreholes in every compound to tap water from the aquifer. We will no longer depend on our generators (with their deafening noises and polluting smoke) to live. We will no longer have to pay shylock school proprietors for the poor quality education our children are receiving. We will no longer have to lock ourselves behind high walls and employ our own security.
Anything short of restoring Nigeria to sanity and ensuring that public funds are henceforth strictly deployed for the good of the citizens will be a waste of time.
Corruption must be comprehensively defined. We should no longer leave it to individuals to define for us what they think corruption is (such as former President Jonathan’s view that stealing is not corruption). For me corruption is not just about stealing. Stealing is only the sensational face of it. There are other facets that may be even more dangerous than stealing. Stealing, especially the looting of public funds, does not just take place in a vacuum. You have to create the conditions that will predispose a system to it. When you allow, ignore or condone the infringement of due process, you predispose the system to corruption and stealing.
It is in this dangerous terrain that the Buhari administration has been traipsing. Obtaining a search warrant from a magistrate’s court and using it to invade and search the properties of former National Security Adviser (NSA), retired Col Sambo Dasuki and his father in three separate states was a wrong application of due process, but the regime got away with it.
Interfering in the affairs of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) instead of allowing departing Chairman, Attahiru Jega, to hand over to Ambassador Wali as Acting National Chairman, pending when the President would appoint a substantive National Chairman was an abuse of power and a dangerous illegality.
Worse still, appointing Hajiya Amina Zakari as “Acting” National Chairman and keeping her on that post even after her tenure had expired and not renewed is a disservice to our democracy. Putting someone close to the president in that office against the constitutional requirement that the occupant must be credible and independent puts the nation in danger of Buhari and his All Progressives Congress (APC) deciding the outcome of elections in Nigeria from now henceforth. Stealing the people’s power to elect candidates of their choice is a bigger corruption than stealing public funds. You cannot be using one hand to recover looted funds while using the other to loot the people’s right to elect candidates of their choice.
And you cannot use the Directorate of State Services (DSS) headed by your kinsman and party member to harass and intimidate INEC officials and judicial officers in Rivers and Akwa Ibom States in flagrant violation of the law and yet pretend to be fighting corruption.
The war on corruption must not be done in a way to make us a laughing stock. It should not be designed as self-help mechanism by the ruling party to harass, intimidate and diminish their political counterparts while shielding crooks within its own ranks.
Professor Sagay and his group have a tough job on their hands, and we hope they are man enough to do it without fear or favour.