By Femi Aribisala
In its one-year in office, the government has not established a single institution or passed any legislation necessary to fight corruption. The much-ballyhooed Whistle-blower Act is still blowing in the wind.
In Buhari’s first coming, he bamboozled Nigerians with a so-called War against Indiscipline. This entailed treating Nigerians, young and old, like primary school children. We were forced to queue at bus-stops under the watchful eyes of soldiers wielding whips with orders to flog publicly those deemed unruly. Late-coming civil-servants were required to do frog-jumps. The pathetic thing about this was that the government actually believed such charade constituted cogent public policy. Once Buhari left, Nigerians stopped queuing. So much for the war against indiscipline.
The truth of the matter is that President Buhari is a retired military officer; he has little idea what constitutes effective public policy. As military strongman in the 1980s, he dealt with food shortages by sending soldiers to break into private warehouses and shops. He fought trade imbalances by taking Nigeria back to the stone age of trade by barter (counter-trade). He sought to extradite a Nigerian from Britain by drugging and crating him. These are the indices of a man bereft of modern and judicious policy ideas.
Fighting corruption with corruption
The same goes today for Buhari’s newfangled “war against corruption.” The whole thing is one big farce. The president clearly does not know what corruption means and how to fight it. As a result, he ends up with the contradiction of attempting to fight corruption with corruption; an exercise in futility.
As military head of state in the 1980s, Buhari failed to understand that imposing retroactive decrees and killing Nigerians under them is corruption. Putting the Igbo vice-president in Kirikiri prisons, while placing the Fulani president under palatial house arrest, is corruption. Detaining people like Michael Ajasin in jail, even after they were discharged and acquitted by kangaroo courts, is corruption. Jailing journalists for telling the truth is corruption. Shepherding 53 suitcases of contraband unchecked through customs during a currency change exercise is corruption.
Today, Buhari still does not understand that corruption is not limited to stealing money. The government claims to be fighting corruption, but at the same time it has been corrupting the political system. Disregarding the rule of law under a democratic system is corruption. Flouting judicial verdicts is corruption. Trying politicians on the pages of newspapers instead of in law courts is corruption. Unlawfully killing hundreds of Shiites in Kaduna is corruption. Detaining Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaky and his wife for over four months without trial is corruption.
Corruption cannot not be fought with human rights abuses and violation of the rule of law. It is better for the guilty to go free than for the innocent to be wrongfully accused and convicted.
If President Buhari were truly interested in fighting corruption, he would be faithful to the pledge he made to Nigerians in his acceptance speech as president in April 2015. He said then: “I pledge myself and the government to the rule of law, in which none shall be so above the law that they are not subject to its dictates, and none shall be so below it that they are not availed of its protection.” If he was true to his word, he would not have gone on national television to declare Dasuki and Kanu guilty without the benefit of trial in a court of law.
Not surprisingly, the State Department of the United States came out recently to accuse the government of the following abuses: “Vigilante killings; prolonged pretrial detention, often in facilities with poor conditions; denial of fair public trial; executive influence on the judiciary; infringement on citizens’ privacy rights; and restrictions on freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and movement.” These are not the indices of a government engaged in a war, or even a fight, against corruption.
The government claims to be fighting corruption but continues to create and sustain institutions that promote corruption. In its one-year in office, the government has not established a single institution or passed any legislation necessary to fight corruption. The much-ballyhooed Whistle-blower Act is still blowing in the wind. Instead the government has gone a long way to undermine anti-corruption institutions established under previous administrations.
EFCC, ICPC, and DSS are all legacies of past administrations. Under Buhari, these organs of government have been converted into organs of the APC for the persecution of the political enemies of the president and his party. Under Obasanjo, the EFCC went after the members of the president’s party first and foremost. Under Buhari, the EFCC goes primarily after members of the opposition.
Under Jonathan, INEC was a champion of free and fair elections. Under Buhari, INEC has become a champion of inconclusive elections. Under Jonathan, the privacy rights of Nigerians were respected. Under Buhari, the privacy rights of Nigerians are disrespected. Even the sanctity of the government house in Uyo, Akwa Ibom was violated by the DSS.
Buhari’s anti-corruption double-standards are becoming legion. The president insists Abacha never stole any money, and then institutes the probe of the PDP for the mismanagement of the recovered non-existent Abacha loot. He accuses the PDP of using public funds to finance its 2015 election campaign, but fails to disclose where the APC obtained the money to finance its own very expensive election campaign. The APC commends INEC for running the ostensibly free and fair election that brought it to power in 2015; then it challenges in court every election conducted by the same INEC in the same election cycle that APC lost.
The government fails to recognise that sustaining a wide margin between the official naira/dollar exchange-rate and the parallel market rate (currently 198 to 320); has created a major avenue for corruption in banking circles. It is corruption to employ the children, relatives and friends of members of the Nigerian political establishment into juicy positions in the Central Bank of Nigeria without the scantiest regard for professionalism. It is corruption to pad the 2016 budget with literally billions of naira of hidden fraudulent allocations; so much so that the budgetary process has become stalemated: the victim of a battle royal between a grasping presidency and a self-serving legislature.
Corrupt APC politicians
Surely, President Buhari knows he cannot fight corruption successfully while he is surrounded and sponsored by corrupt APC politicians. Like charity, an APC war against corruption must begin at home; in the APC. The president makes a song and dance about fighting corruption, yet his APC party is steeped in corruption.
However, APC members are exempted from Buhari’s anti-corruption prosecution; except perhaps for Bukola Saraki who must be prosecuted for committing the same crime Bola Tinubu was absolved of. Saraki became Senate president by playing the same party-betrayal card Aminu Tambuwal played to the delight of the APC under Jonathan, which is now to the annoyance of the APC under Buhari.
If Buhari were serious about fighting corruption, he would have fought against the dubious protocol within APC that all presidential aspirants must fork out a nomination fee of N27.5 million to the party. Costly elections lead to corrupt governments, because the excessive money spent is inevitably recouped from government coffers. But instead of fighting against this dubious protocol, Buhari claimed he was constrained to borrow the money from his bank. A few months later, the president declared he has N30 million in his bank account.
The APC does not even pretend to be anti-corruption. Both the corrupt and the clean are welcome with open arms into the party. No politician with corruption allegations hanging over his head is ever denied membership of the APC. As a matter of fact, the party is a safe harbor for corrupt politicians seeking protection from APC persecution. A large chunk of APC membership is now made up of defunct PDP members; and the “navigator” of the APC is none other than Olusegun Obasanjo; PDP president for eight years.
Apparently, if you are a member of the PDP, you are deemed by Buhari’s APC to be corrupt. But once you cross over to the APC, you automatically become squeaky clean.
As military strongman, Buhari jailed Bisi Akande on corruption charges in the 1980s. But come 2014, the same Bisi Akande became the interim chairman of his anti-corruption APC. In 2015, Femi Gbajabiamila was the APC choice as Speaker of the House of Representatives. Today, he is the Majority Leader of the House. However, Gbajabiamila was convicted for professional misconduct by the Supreme Court of Georgia, U.S.A. in 2006 for defrauding a client of $25,000.
While the government is busy grandstanding about anti-corruption in the press, its APC legislators are busy fighting over “juicy” committee positions in the House and Senate. Surely, “juicy” legislative committees are anathema to anti-corruption. What makes a committee “juicy” is precisely its scope for providing avenues for corrupt enrichment to legislators.
APC’s anti-corruption crusade has become so lopsided, it is clearly no more than an instrument for check-mating and decimating the opposition. The standard retort is to insist the singling out of PDP members is inevitable because the party had been in power for 16 years. However, some of the legacy parties of the APC, such as the ACN, have also been in power for long in the states. The EFCC has gone after PDP governors, such as Sule Lamido and Godswill Akpabio, but has ignored APC governors, such as Rotimi Amaechi and Babatunde Fashola.
A judicial commission of enquiry set up by the Rivers State government maintained that, under former governor Rotimi Amaechi, a whopping N53 billion disappeared from the Rivers State Reserve Fund. However, the EFCC has not even invited Amaechi for questioning. Neither has he been excoriated in the government’s media war on corruption. On the contrary, Amaechi has been awarded the “juicy” new super-ministry of Transport, which now includes road, rail, maritime and aviation.
Similarly, Babatunde Fashola was accused of spending N78 million of government money upgrading his personal website. Among other allegations, he was said to have inflated the cost of the Lekki-Ikoyi link-bridge from N6 billion to N25 billion. However, the EFCC hears no evil and sees no evil in the Fashola case without even investigating it. Instead, Fashola was awarded the “juicy” new super-ministry of Power, Works and Housing.
Abubakar Audu was under prosecution by the EFCC for misappropriating N11 billion of state funds when he was governor of Kogi between 1999 and 2003. Nevertheless, he was nominated as APC governorship candidate for Kogi in 2015. In spite of the fact that the EFCC had filed charges of corruption against Timipre Sylva for defrauding Bayelsa State of N19 billion between 2009 and 2012; he nevertheless became the governorship candidate of the APC for Bayelsa in 2016.
How can the government expect Nigerians to believe it is sincere in fighting corruption under such hypocritical circumstances?
Anti-corruption public relations
Anti-corruption is good public relations, but it is no substitute for a viable program for economic growth. In the final analysis, the government’s anti-corruption campaign is all sound and fury signifying nothing. Making a difference means fulfilling the government’s campaign promises. It means ending the petrol shortage. It means increasing electricity generation and distribution. It means providing jobs for unemployed youths. It means providing social security for the teeming poor. In these practical decibels of government, the APC is at sea. It simply has no idea what to do.