Buhari and his fading ‘anti-corruption’ fight by Oke Umurhohwo
President Muhammadu Buhari declaration that “if we don’t kill corruption, this corruption will kill us” will surely go down in the history books as a classic political manoeuvre– something that has dawned on many as mere voters drive than intentional words. Nigeria is rich in minerals and potentials but corruption, which is as old the country’s independence, stifles growths and any meaningful development, justifying the utter disgust many Nigerians have for the menace.
Between independence and 2014, Nigeria is believed to have lost over $400 billion to corruption and that contributes to the degrading state of infrastructures and the rise in poverty in Africa’s most populous nation. And when Buhari enticed Nigerians with his ‘incorruptible’ toga, they fell for it and counted on his assurance that “we will make sure we succeed in fighting corruption when we get there” during his presidential campaign inauguration in PortHarcourt, Rivers State, in the build-up to the 2015 election.
But four years of Buhari in the saddle have left little or no consolation for the highly anticipated Nigerians, who are struggling to gauge whether any progress was made in taming the economic malfeasance. The pledge that “in an APC government, the public will know how much NNPC makes and where all the money goes” among others are turning to a mirage.
That is, Buhari is not walking his talk and that illustrate the awkward and incoherence that so often drives his administration graft fight. For the reality of it, Buhari has lost his ‘anti-corruption’ war and the signs are so obvious for any discerning observers. This was accurately deciphered by a diplomat and consultant with African Union (AU), Dr. Babafemi Badejo, who questioned Buhari’s political will to fight corruption.
The diplomat who spoke at an international conference to commemorate the Second African Union Anti-corruption year in Abuja, punctured Buhari’s claim of fighting corruption. Even disturbing, he alerted everyone that Nigeria’s main anti-graft agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has been de-institutionalised, pointing out “President Buhari condones some of those alleged to be corrupt and his recent use of nolle prosequi in the case of Senator Danjuma Goje further undermines his perception as a Nigerian of integrity.”
Truth is, the discontinued prosecution of Goje on N5bn fraud has dealt a severe blow to any pretence of fighting corruption and hurt Buhari’s famed ‘integrity’. Though Goje is not the first to be shielded from answering questions on alleged graft against him, however, dangling corruption baggage for political benefit exposed the deceit coined as an anti-graft fight.
And while the pain of corruption is still raging in the land, the fight to tame the economic malfeasance is not just happening. None of the corruption cases initiated by this administration has gotten a conviction. And worse, the fight is more like a political witch-hunt as only opposition politicians were the focus of anti-graft agencies while politicians of the ruling party are rarely touched.
This mortifies expectations that there won’t be a sacred cow in the fight against corruption. Corruption is a serious challenge that has diminished Nigeria and trapped it as a poor country amid plenty. To tackle it, one must be firm and not sentimental but unfortunately, Buhari who rode to power on the promise of fighting corruption, is refusing to take decisive actions against allies and party members.
This attitude is deeply hurting Nigeria as those who have failed to answer questions on misappropriation and abuse of public resources in the past, are again finding their way into public offices. Take, for example, the ministerial list is shadowed by people with corruption questions. That was discerning enough to gauge that Buhari’s corruption fight is a ruse.
What is a corruption fight if people perceived to be ‘fantastically’ corrupt are considered for a cabinet position? As pointed out by an elder statesman and founding member of Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Tanko Yakasai, “the nomination of certain people perceived to be fantastically corrupt made mockery of the president’s (Buhari) anti-corruption war.” But far from Yakasai’s postulation, it’s Nigerians who counted on Buhari’s assurance to stamp out corruption that are slighted.
Just as Goje was let loose of all corruption charges, Tympre Sylva enjoyed similar privilege under Buhari when his N19 billion corruption case was withdrawn and 48 houses seized from him were returned. This was no different from cover given to a former Akwa Ibom state governor, Goodwill Akpabio, whose N108 billion corruption charge has since lost steam. A judicial panel in Rivers state found former governor, Rotimi Amaechi, wanting on N97 billion while he was in charge of the state but neither Buhari nor the anti-graft agencies have held him accountable.
But that is not all. Corruption allegations against any member of Buhari’s party are easily waved off but when it comes to opposition party politicians, anti-graft agencies swiftly take actions. It’s now over two years that the Senate indicted a former Secretary to the Government of Federation (SGF), Babachir Lawal, for allegedly diverting N270 million meant for people displaced by Boko Haram to accounts linked to him but it took months of pressures from the media and public before he was eventually charged to Court. Notwithstanding, his trial moves at a slow pace compared to opposition politicians who are also standing corruption trials.
Disturbing is that of the APC’s chairman, Adams Oshiomole, who despite questions on his management of public funds as governor of Edo state, still presides over Buhari’s party. In the build-up to the 2019 general election, he was interrogated by Nigeria’s Secret Police, DSS, over allegations that he took bribes to subvert party primaries nationwide. As if to confirm insinuations that there is no corruption fight under the Buhari-led government, Oshiomole shock many Nigerians when he declared at a campaign rally in Benin, the capital of Edo state, that “Yes, once you join APC, your sins are forgiven.”
These days, almost every politician with corruption issues find APC as a convenient abode to evade the long arm of justice. We’ve seen it with Akpabio and other top opposition politicians crossing to APC to dodge questions on their past misdeeds. This would not have been so if Buhari’s corruption fight were true from the start.
Buhari’s corruption war are vastly selective and partisan– perceptions that reflected in a report by Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), which predicted increased corruption in the coming year. No doubt Buhari and his government will try to spin the reality to paint a picture of making any gain in the fight against corruption but the actual result will just be to make the malfeasance extend its root and make everyone poorer.