Since the last one week or so, no less thanthree key government functionaries have been in public domain for one alleged infraction or the other. The period saw the arraignment of Senate President Bukola Saraki and his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu in court for allegedly forging senate standing rules, 2015.
Before then, Saraki had been standing trial at the Code of Conduct Bureau(CCB) over allegations of false assets declaration. The duo has since drawn public attention to their plight alleging it was apolitical contrivance to settle old scores by getting them out of their offices.
They contend that Justice Gabriel Kolawole of the Abuja High Court had adjudicated on the matter, affirming that it is an internal affair of the Senate. For this, they view their arraignment not only as an imminent threat to democracy but a declaration of war against the senate.
But the federal government feels otherwise. It sees the matter as personal to the two presiding officers of the Senate and asked them to bear their cross. The government would even want them resign from their respective offices to allow justice run its full course. In all, their arraignment is rationalized as part of the anti-graft war of the Buhari administration that does not seemingly differentiate between persons, no matter how highly placed.
At another level also arose controversy over the allegation that the Chief of Army Staff, Lt-GeneralTukurBuratai bought two properties in Dubai estimated at $1.5 million. The allegation which was first published by an online medium with documents to prove drew quick defence from the Nigerian Army. Acting Director of Army Public Relations, Col. Sani Usman admitted the Buratai family had two properties in Dubai but claimed they were bought with personal savings in 2013.
He saidBuratai had consistently declared the properties along with other properties in his assets declaration forms and described the report as mere smear campaign as the properties were not bought in one single transaction.
Soon after came another defence from the Defence Minister, Mansur Dan-Ali claiming the allegation was an attempt by some persons to distract the Armed Forces from successful prosecution of the heightened campaign against terrorism in the North-east.
Apparently following the same line of argument, Buratai claimed that the insurgents and terrorists they defeated on the land have migrated to the cyberspace, internet and other electronic media. “We want to assure them that these terrorists, the Boko Haram terrorists, who have migrated to the cyberspace, we will follow them to that cyberspace and equally defeat them and clear their doubt”.
By the logic of this argument and the catchphrase of the Buhari government, the general was in effect saying:‘terrorism is fighting back’. By this also, we are being told to ignore the weighty issues that have been raised, part of which have been admitted with the explanation that the assets were properly acquired and declared.
But then, the role terrorism is being ascribed to in this matter is as confounding as it is unbelievable. It is curious how terrorism could be reasonably factored into allegations that seek to hold a public officer accountable. This is more so, for a government that has sought to build its legitimacy around the war against corruption? Are we now implying that dislodged and defeated terrorists are behindthe allegation so that the war against terrorism will lose steam?It is difficult to fathom the nexus between the two.
At best, the linkage is guilty of the fallacy of argumentum admisericordiam. It is an argument designed to whip up sentiments with the aim of obfuscating the weighty issues raised against Buratai that ordinarily should require serious investigation. By drawing puerileparallel between the allegation and the successes being recorded against the Boko Haram insurgency, a covert attempt is being made to persuade the public to ignore the allegation.Or is it being suggested that Buratai cannot be subjected to the laws of the land because he is making progress in the war against terrorism?
We are being told wittingly or otherwise that the fight against insurgency takes higher premium over any other matter including that against corruption. The impression is also being conveyed that the fight is all about Buratai and without him all the gains will be reversed. That is my reading of the issues being bandied on the non-existing correlation between the success in the war against terrorism and corruption allegations.
There is also the rationalization that the army chief bought the properties with his personal savings; the investments were based on capital market shareholding principles and such other trite explanations. One has no sufficient basis to disprove these claims. But their veracity or otherwise can only be proven through thorough investigations which the situation demands.
This is more so as the same online medium has literally gone on rampage displaying another list of properties allegedly owned by Buratai in parts of the country. If he really owns these investments, the thing to establish is how he came about them. His salaries are known and the amount of savings he can make out of them can be reasonably computed.
So it is not sufficient to claim that he bought them with personal savings. It is equally not enough to state that the assets were declared in his assets declaration forms. The purpose of assets’ declaration is for the CCB to match claims with the income of the declaring officer. And where wide discrepancies exist, that officer is made to account for the sources of such assets.
It will therefore stand as a huge indictment on the CCB if public officers declare assets that are out of tune with their income without such people asked to account for such wealth. If it can arraign people for not declaring some of their assets, it is curious that it could opt to maintain sealed lipsover those who declare in excess of their legitimate income. That renders nugatory the high minded ideas for the setting up of that Bureau.
Be that as it may, we are here concerned with issues of integrity and probity especially given governments’ commitment to the war against corruption. From the way the two issues are being handled, it is not difficult for oneto establish a case of double standard. The Senate leadership claims that in both the petitions and the recommendations of the police which investigated the forgery allegation, neither Saraki nor Ekweremadu was specifically either mentioned or indicted.
They therefore query the motive for their arraignment. And since it is a well-known fact that the presidency has not been comfortable with their emergence in the Senate leadership, they may not be completely out place in the way they perceive their current travails. They have also queried what the nation stood to achieve by arraigning them over a matter they considered an internal affairs of the Senate.
These are some of the issues to ponder. But if the government wants them to step aside for justice to run its full course, no less would have been permissible in the case of the Buratai. Instead, what we get is a cacophony of voices from sundry government quarters each competing to defend and absolve him of the allegations. That alone speaks volumes.
But hard as they try, the signals are that varying standards exist for treating those accused of one infraction or the other within the corruption ladder. Such a tendency is all that is needed for the corruption battle to lose complete relevance.