The State of The Anti-Corruption War

Prior to the ascendancy of the Muhammadu Buhari government, Nigerians were indeed apprehensive about the state of their country. They were especially bothered by the way the country became the butt of jokes in the international community because of the menace of corruption. The index of global analysis of corruption in Nigeria was not difficult to glean. The ease with which government after government abetted corruption and pretended as if it was a mere culture gave it lustre. The language of transacting businesses at both private and public levels was corruption and local and foreign businessmen were sucked into the vortex with manifest abandon. The culpability and complicity of governments in this corruption roulette were apparent. And when former President Goodluck Jonathan, citing a former Chief Justice of Nigeria, explained that there was a difference between corruption and stealing in law, he was widely pilloried by those who thought that he was tacitly endorsing corruption.

The quest of the people to bring about sanity in their land partly accounted for the electoral success of Buhari’s All Progressives Congress (APC) in the 2015 general election. And the president indeed jarred the hearts of malefactors upon his ascendancy to power. Tough words were daily spoken from the Presidential Villa, construed as an approximation of the administration’s resolve to smoke out corrupt people. The anti-corruption agencies sprung into action almost immediately. Many of those who held offices before the advent of the current administration were dumped in their cells. However, two years down the line, none of those corruption cases has gone through a diligent prosecution. Indeed, many of them have been dismissed by the judiciary. To worsen matters, only a few members of the president’s political party who are alleged to be embroiled in corruption have been given the same treatment his administration gave officials of its predecessors.

The anti-corruption agencies, especially the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), also began to “discover’ huge sums of money which it claimed were abandoned by malefactors. Homes were searched and allegedly huge sums of money were found. Without conforming to the dictates of the law, agents of the EFCC stormed judges’ residences at midnight in Gestapo fashion, claiming to have found huge sums of foreign currencies allegedly stashed away from the prying eyes of the law. As things went on, some apparently symbolic corruption cases sprang up which put the anti-corruption claim of the Buhari government to test. For instance, erstwhile Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr. Babachir Lawal, was investigated by the Senate on alleged breach of the country’s laws in the award of contracts by the Presidential Initiative for the North East (PINE). He was subsequently indicted by the Senate for allegedly receiving N200 million bribe in the contract to clear “invasive plant species” in Yobe State through a company, Rholavision Nigeria Limited. In the thick of the probe, President Buhari wrote the legislature, maintaining that Lawal was neither given fair hearing before the indictment nor the company allegedly used for the perpetration of the crime invited by the Shehu Sani-led committee. After Lawal’s indictment, the president set up a three-man committee headed by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo to recommend what to do to the government. It took more than two months before Buhari acted on the report, culminating in Lawal’s sack on Monday.

On April 20, a curious discovery was made by the EFCC of large amounts of foreign currencies in a residential apartment in Osborne Towers, Ikoyi, Lagos State, which the erstwhile Director-General of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), Ambassador Ayo Oke, was connected to. The president has just sacked Oke after about three months of vacillation. Again, a few weeks ago, a leaked memo from the Minister of State for Petroleum, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, surfaced, alleging that the Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Dr. Maikanti Baru, singly and in flagrant violation of the law, awarded contracts worth $25 billion. Except for a feeble attempt by the NNPC to explain away this infraction which Nigerians adjudged as falling flat on its face, Buhari has remained disturbingly quiet about this scandal, the biggest in the nation’s history so far. And then, a few days ago, the dismissed former chairman of the Presidential Task Force on Pension Reforms, Mr. Abdulrasheed Maina, was reinstated by the Buhari government as an acting director, Human Resources Department, in the Ministry of Interior. Maina had hitherto been involved in a pending corruption trial and was declared wanted by the EFCC. The president ordered the immediate sack of Maina and also asked the Head of Service of the federation for a report on the sordid affair that same day. But he is yet to make open his government’s position on this governmental complicity in corruption, more than a week after.

Against the backdrop of the above, the belief in the country is that the anti-corruption war is a ruse. In any case, recently, Vice President Osinbajo said that the anti-corruption effort of the government needed a serious rejigging. The same position was canvassed by the Comptroller-General of the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS), Colonel Hameed Ali (retd). Nigerians are getting tired of the government’s double speak on corruption. It is time it did an in-house assessment of the journey so far and began the battle afresh.