At the launch of Senator Dino Melaye’s book titled ‘Antidotes for Corruption: The Nigerian Story’, the Nigerian Senate President, Bukola Saraki, said that he is “convinced that why our fight against corruption has not yielded much success is that we have favoured punishment over deterrence.”
So, two years into President Muhammadu Buhari’s four-year tenure, his government’s fight against corruption remains unconvincing.
The opinion from the opposition parties and other critics is that the war has been selective. Perceived enemies of government are hounded by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission while allegations of corruption against government appointees and members of the All Progressives Congress, APC, are hardly investigated.
On the flip side, the administration acknowledges that there are challenges in the fight against corruption; however, it maintains that the fight against corruption has been holistic and will continue to be so.
“Let me say one thing. Those whose illicit ways of accumulating money have been stopped will criticise this government but all that will not derail the unfaltering commitment of the Buhari’s administration to the war against corruption,” said Garba Shehu, Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity.
Spokesmen of the government have been quick to point out key policies set up by the administration to discourage and expose corruption as achievements.
What has the president’s strategy on corruption been?
The first of these policies was the introduction of the Treasury Single Account, TSA, to ensure accountability and transparency of revenue generating agencies, by harmonising accounts of all government ministries, departments and agencies.
According to the Accountant-General of the Federation, Ahmed Idris, Nigeria has realised 5.244 trillion Naira as inflows in the Treasury Single Account, TSA, following the mopping up and direct debits of accounts by the Central Bank of Nigeria.
He said TSA has “equally brought transparency, effective tracking of government revenue as well as blocked leakages and abuse in the management of government finances.”
The federal government went a step further to introduce the Whistleblower policy to fight embezzlement of public funds.
“You all know about the whistle-blower policy, which has helped to make every Nigerian a detective. As we know, the policy says if you know something, say something and patriotic Nigerians are now saying a lot of things,” said Nigeria’s finance minister, Kemi Adeosun.
From the minister’s perspective, Nigerians have embraced this corruption fighting initiative that has given the government “over 2,500 tips from various quarters.”
“Note that not all the whistleblowers are looking for rewards. Some are just patriotic citizens. Now that everyone has embraced the policy, this has become a national fight against corruption,” she revealed.
A website was also created to facilitate whistleblowing and to protect the identities of whistleblowers. Since the implementation of this policy, the news media has been inundated with stories of recovery of huge sums of monies both foreign and local currencies by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, (EFCC). EFCC Chairman Ibrahim Magu said Nigeria has recovered 17 billion Naira as a result of the act.
Magu’s confirmation and the internal fight that threatened the war on corruption
Major events re-shaped and continue to interfere with the anti-corruption narrative by shifting attention away from these policies.
While the pace of the anti-corruption war seems to have quickened in the second year of President Buhari’s administration. It was threatened by a multi-layered conflict; between the EFCC and the DSS on one hand and between the executive and the legislature on the other, over the confirmation of Ibrahim Magu as substantive chairman of EFCC.
He was presented twice by the executive, and both times, he was rejected by the Senate. His rejection was on the basis of a Department of State Security report.
The presidency was unyielding in its defence of Magu. Following the clearance of Magu by the president, the general feeling was that President Buhari might have tarnished his credentials in the fight against corruption. Nigerians wondered why the federal government was still sticking with Magu when it could pick someone else. Someone who has not been tainted with allegations of corruption.
By clearing Magu of corruption and retaining him in an acting capacity, it led to a face-off between the Senate and the executive. The Senate was furious and decided to stop the consideration of the 27 Resident Electoral Commissioners who were nominated by Buhari to protest Buhari’s refusal to sack Magu after it rejected him for the second time.
While the back and forth between the senate and executive went on, further acrimony and rivalry became evident in the operations of the DSS and EFCC. The DSS was accused of arresting suspects that were already on the EFCC’s radar, citing the raid on the residence of Supreme Court Justices by the DSS, while the DSS accused the EFCC of aiding criminals to escape justice.
In all these happenings, it generally seemed though the cabal in the presidency was pulling the strings.
The cabal and the one-sided war on corruption
In an interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation, BBC, Aisha Buhari, the president’s wife confirmed that there was indeed a cabal in the presidency. She inferred that the cabal was only after their selfish interests and Nigerians believe that these men, who are part of President Buhari’s kitchen cabinet, have undermined the fight against corruption.
The president’s Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari, a former secretary to the government of the federation, Babachir Lawal, and the president’s nephew, Mamman Daura are touted as members of the cabal.
A former SGF, Babachir Lawal, who has since been suspended, for awarding a 350 million naira contract for clearing grasses at an IDP camp to his company, agreed that he was a part of the cabal.
Babachir’s suspension came after a Senate indictment and cries for his prosecution by EFCC. The report of an investigative panel headed by the acting president Yemi Osibanjo to ascertain his guilt has not been released.
The Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari was also accused of receiving bribes to reduce the fine imposed on telecommunications giant, MTN. There has not been an investigation to clear or indict him.
The Minister for Transport, Rotimi Amaechi, has also been indicted by a commission of enquiry for plundering Rivers State while he was the governor, to finance President Buhari’s election. Ex-governor of Ekiti state, Kayode Fayemi, also a minister in the government, is facing allegations of misappropriation of funds from his state. He has failed to appear before a panel of inquiry to clear his name.
The conclusion is that the president cannot be fighting a war against corruption with people who have cases of corruption to answer for.
The general belief is also that the EFCC has to start going after sacred cows. Then there’s the issue of successful prosecution of arrested suspects.
The way forward
Magu said the commission secured over 140 convictions in 2016. However, the commission has lost several high profile cases in court this year. The president had to issue a rallying call to arrest the slide. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo attributed the losses to the inability of the commission to engage “staunch, `ogbologbo’ lawyers inside that will do the work” and lack of “thorough investigation” which he said is very important.
It is imperative that the commission has to step up its investigations and get the best prosecutors, to ensure that criminals are not let off on technicalities.
Human rights lawyer, Femi Falana does not think that winning the fight against corruption is as simple as conducting a proper investigation and diligent prosecution. He believes regular courts cannot be effective in fighting crime.
“Some other judges are granting interlocutory or perpetual injunctions to restrain the anti-graft agencies and the police from arresting, investigation and prosecuting politically exposed persons.”
“If the status quo remains unchanged, the Nigerian people and the international community will blame the administration for its inability to secure the conviction of corrupt politically exposed persons with all the evidence at its disposal.”
Falana is of the view that setting up special courts will boost the fight.
“Therefore, a special court ought to be established to deal specifically with economic and financial crimes as well as electoral offences. Otherwise, the anti-corruption policy of the federal government will not achieve its desired objectives.”
Saraki believes that the focus should not just be on punitive measures rather “we must review our approaches by building our institutions to make it difficult for people to carry out corrupt practices.
“It is my view that the key area of prevention, we must work on, is to make it difficult for stolen money to find a home.” he said.
While the assessment of the President’s performance in fighting corruption is low, there should be an equal commitment on the part of the political class and average all to stamp it out. If the president fails in fighting corruption, we will all continue to suffer from its effect.
Joshua Chizurumoke Moses