There is a growing sense of déjà vu in the country that the Buhari administration may not, after all, be able or morally fit to decisively fight corruption in Nigeria as the President promised time and again before and after the elections. Interestingly, even the President and his Vice President – now Acting President – have been voicing their frustration with the level of corruption in the country. The Acting President, in particular, over the last week had severally complained at the pervasive and systemic nature of corruption, almost despairingly.
But this is unfortunate. The administration set the war against corruption as its core mission in government. Rightly, during the President’s inauguration, the President declared that if Nigeria does not kill corruption, corruption will kill Nigeria. He even went ahead to set up a Presidential Advisory Council on Corruption, headed by an eminent lawyer and professor to help with studies of the nature of corruption and advise the administration how best to tackle the scourge.
Of course, in the first weeks of the administration, the right noises were made and the message reverberated even outside the country. There was a general feeling that there was a new Sheriff in town and the President’s ‘body language’ as it was called then prompted the anti-corruption agencies – the Economic and Financials Crime Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) to wake up from their deep and long slumber. Subsequently, the EFCC especially went on a rampage, arresting indiscriminately, engaging in media trials and obtaining so-called confessional statements under duress and splashing them generously on the pages of the newspaper but with few and largely unsuccessful arraignments, prosecutions and convictions.
It was not long before the war on corruption went the way of others before it – prosecution of only opposition politicians and people who disagree with the President, protection of corrupt associates and cronies, politicisation and cherry picking of those to prosecute and those not to, and hypocrisy in the war against corruption. Like a respected BusinessDay columnist termed it “despite the moral outrage and righteous indignation often expressed by Nigerian leaders, there is no credible commitment to tackling corruption”.
If not how can the government quickly and without investigation absolve grave and weighty corruption allegations on the following close associates of the President: General Tukur Burutai, Chief of Army Staff, General Abdulrahman Dambazau, Minister of Interior and former Chief of Army Staff, Abba Kyari, and Chief of Staff to the President, Babachir Lawal, Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF). Interestingly also, the Presidential panel set up to probe arms procurement between 2007 and 2015, and whose reports were being used to prosecute past military chiefs was hurriedly disbanded the moment it began moves to investigate the tenure of the Present National Security Adviser, Babagana Monguno as Chief of Defence Intelligence between July 2009 and September 2011. The curious reason given by the government for its dissolution was that it has outlived its usefulness.
If there was any doubt about the how the administration fought its war on corruption, the cases against former governor Fayose and the present Kano state governor has dispelled any doubt. While the anti-graft agency saw nothing in investigating Fayose even while in office and couldn’t wait for him to finish his term before hounding him, Governor Ganduje has been videoed purportedly receiving dollar bribes severally and neither the anti-graft agency nor the presidency has said a word. Instead, the president was videoed in France commending the governor for his many accomplishments in office. Of course, president Buhari will not want to say anything bad about the Kano state governor where he got over 2 million votes in 2015 and where the governor has again promised him another 5 million votes in 2019.
No wonder an analyst recently quipped that “Buhari’s so-called anti-corruption fight is the most invidiously selective, the least transparent, the most brazenly unjust, and the silliest joke in Nigeria’s entire history.” How can the President use the EFCC to smear his opponents in the media, but tells falsifiable lies to defend, deflect, minimise, and excuse the corruption of his close aides and political associates?
Like we have always maintained, it may be easier to create agencies to fight corruption. It may be easier to launch a media campaign against perceived corrupt officials or even make scapegoat of some, but until the government gets serious and shows absolute commitment to the fight against corruption regardless who is involved, it usually declared wars on corruption are bound to fail. As it stands, it will be difficult for the government to convince Nigerians that it is seriously out to fight corruption when most of the people around the President have been accused with strong evidences of corruption, but hurriedly cleared by the President. We fear, like some analysts have volunteered, that the President is both morally and temperamentally unfit to fight corruption.