How Nigerian leaders destroy institutions under the guise of fighting corruption
On the night of Tuesday, March, 22, 2005, former President Obasanjo commandeered all radio and television stations in the country to make a prime-time broadcast in which, without restraints, he accused the Senate President, Adolphus Wabara, and six other lawmakers of demanding and collecting a bribe of N55 million naira from the Minister of Education in order to increase the ministry’s 2005 budget. He also accused his Education Minister, Fabian Osuji, the permanent secretary and five other directors in the ministry of collusion to bribe members of the National Assembly. He promptly fired Osuji, suspended the civil servants and referred all of them to the Economic and Financials Crime Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related commission (ICPC) for onward prosecution.
The publicity and praise for the ‘anti-corruption war’ of the former President was unprecedented. Nigerians and foreigners alike praised Obasanjo to high heavens and condemned the corrupt officials. The Nigerian media, for weeks, analysed the matter with most passing the “guilty” verdict on the accused. Very few, if any, bothered to question the motive of the president and why he had to be the prosecutor and judge on the same case.
Besides, perhaps only few perceptive Nigerians saw the incident as an embarrassment and negative publicity Nigeria did not need at the time. If the president had concrete evidence(s) of corruption against the officials, he should have passed it/them over to the police or better still, the anti-corruption agencies to do their work and not embarrass the nation before the world with such an uncouth broadcast that portrayed Nigeria as a haven of corruption.
Interestingly, the allegations have not been proved till this day. When the civil servants were investigated by the Federal Civil Service Commission prior to their being disciplined and sent for trial, they were found innocent. None of them was charged to court for the alleged offence and they all returned to their duty posts. For the six lawmakers charged to court, none of them was convicted. The cases were all thrown out of court for lack of evidence.
One thing most Nigerians missed at the time however was that the broadcast coincided with Obasanjo’s meeting with officials of the World Bank and IMF over the debt relief Nigeria was seeking at the time. What better way to convince them that he was the no nonsense anti-corruption Czar they yearned to see in Nigeria? Besides, later events were to prove that the whole drama was part of Obasanjo’s grand scheme for self-perpetuation in office. For the scheme to work, he had to control the National Assembly, which is responsible for amending the constitution. Obasanjo therefore kept instigating leadership changes in the National Assembly just to get a pliant legislature.
Similarly, in May 2010, after it appears that the then National Chairman of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) was not in support of President Jonathan running for the presidency and wanted the party to honour its zoning arrangement that zoned the presidency to the north in 2011, he was promptly arraigned at an Abuja High Court on a 17 count criminal charge of N107 million fraud he was alleged to have committed in 2001 as a Minister. Of course, he promptly resigned (which was the real intent anyway). In 2014, he was discharged and acquitted. His co-accused, Emeka Ebilah, was however unlucky as he was found guilty and given a five-year jail sentence.
Not to be outdone too, Buhari, in 2015, instigated a false case of false declaration of assets against Bukola Saraki for defying him to emerge Senate President. It took Saraki real political sagacity to survive as Senate President and all of three years to clear his name at the Code of Conduct Tribunal.
One thing most Nigerians missed at the time however was that the broadcast coincided with Obasanjo’s meeting with officials of the World Bank and IMF over the debt relief Nigeria was seeking at the time. What better way to convince them that he was the no nonsense anti-corruption Czar they yearned to see in Nigeria?
However, in all their meddling with political institutions, previous leaders have been careful not to blatantly interfere with the judiciary especially with personnel of the highest echelon of that arm of government. But not so with Buhari. I recounted his decimation of the judiciary in this page on December 19, 2019 thus:
“On October 8, 2016, the Department of State Security, in total disregard of all extant rules and procedures for the disciplining of erring judges, invaded the houses of three justices of the Supreme Court – Walter Onnoghen, Sylvester Ngwuta and John Okoro – as well as two judges of the federal High Court – Adeniyi Ademola and Nnamdi Dimgba – in the dead of the night, ostensibly based on tip offs of judicial misconduct. But while the real reasons for the invasion of the houses of the Supreme Court justices was not immediately clear, it was later discovered that Justice Ademola and Dimgba drew the ire of the DSS for ordering the release of suspects in the custody of the outfit, an order that they failed to comply with anyway.
Many lawyers and analysts foolishly supported the action of the DSS thinking Buhari was really interested in fighting corruption in the judiciary even when high-ranking members of the All Progressives Congress (APC) were granting interviews and singing a different tone. Shortly, after the arrest of the judges, the national chairman of the APC openly criticised the arrested judges for not granting judgments in favour of the party on the election case in Rivers state. “I still find the judgement on the Rivers state governorship election totally astonishing. There is something fundamentally wrong in the judiciary,” Oyegun was quoted as saying. However, Oyegun later revealed his real intentions and desire further when he openly confessed that: “We have lost very important resource-rich states to the PDP. No matter how crude oil prices have fallen, it is still the most important revenue earner for the country.” Similarly, many of his party members – prominent among which is the Lagos publicity secretary, Joe Igbokwe, have been openly abusing the Supreme Court and labelling its justices as ‘corrupt’ and ‘fraudulent’ with some calling on the President to probe the Supreme Court for daring to deliver judgements against the party’s candidates.
While Onnoghen was never charged and later emerged Chief Justice of the federation to the consternation of the president, Justice Ngwuta was charged to the Code of Conduct Tribunal for false declaration of assets. Of course, the trumped-up charges were dismissed in 2018. As for Justice Okoro who was never charged, it took a whole of three years after the invasion of his house – a period during which he was besmirched and he suffered media lynching – for the DSS to clear him of any wrongdoing or misconduct and return to him the $38, 000 taken away from his residence, among other items.
Of course, we know how Justice Onnoghen ended: He was illegally removed from office on the eve of the 2019 elections and a pliant judge appointed in his place. We could all see how the judges disposed off the electoral cases against the election of the president. Both the judges at the court of appeal and the Supreme Court were not just content to dismiss the cases for lack of proof, but they actively turned defendants of the president in the case of perjury.”
What is clear from the above cases is that leaders in Nigeria are quick to declare war on corruption, maybe to shore up their popularity, but rarely have the political will to truly fight corruption. They only use the war on corruption as a blunt instrument to beat political opponents to order and perpetuate themselves or remove all legal checks on their powers. The side effect of their actions besides perpetuating corruption is that they end up destroying core state institutions that not only guarantee the democratic order but also human freedom and liberty. Before long, all laws, justice, morality and virtues break down and the society descends into a state of nature where life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”