By Sufuyan Ojeifo
There is common sense in the submission that the anti-corruption crusade of the President Muhammadu Buhari’s government has slumped. This is validated by the slipshod, ineffectual and selective manner the administration has so far executed the vaunted crusade. There has been so much mismanagement of the process, so much misapplication of the momentum, and so much floundering of the philosophy underpinning the anti-corruption agenda. The corollary, thus, is a concomitant contention, which will be explicated shortly.
The Buhari presidency has politicised, ethnicised and socialised the fight against corruption to such dimensions and in the shapes and textures that presently assault our collective sensibilities. It has segregated between corrupt leaders of the All Progressives Congress (APC) who are being protected and their counterparts in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) who are being hunted; it has drawn a line between corrupt Hausa-Fulani who enjoy sympathy and the corrupt others who must be treated shabbily; it has put a demarcation between the corrupt Muslims who are being preferentially treated and the corrupt Christians who are being persecuted not prosecuted. On these bases, the war has, at best, become a hollow ritual of comic tragedy.
Something creepy must have terribly afflicted the administration’s sense of fairness. It is sad that the administration has dimwittedly rubbished the base metal by which it ascended to power. If there was a singular most potent force or promise of good that galvanised massive support for the candidature of Buhari in the 2015 presidential election, it was his anti-corruption posture. Somehow, the anti-corruption aura around him was so palpable and tangible that a Messianic garb or vest was placed on him with approbation.
To be sure, Buhari traversed the nation like a saint triumphant and presented as a special guardian to a vast majority of Nigerians who had become dispirited, supposedly, by the perceived humongous corruption in the management of our commonwealth under the immediate past administration of Goodluck Jonathan. Buhari’s promise to fight corruption found anchorage in the people’s fancies and expectations. Security and the economy were some of the other critical promises. The belief was that once corruption was dealt with, other issues would fall in place to produce a bigger and complete picture of national rebirth evidenced by economic survivalism, social renaissance and political revivalism.
But whatever must have afflicted this administration’s sense of fairness and its consciousness of the power of good conscience to predominate and moderate socio-economic and political interactions has certainly dealt it the unkindest blow. Excepting so much had been wrong all these years with our sense of collective perception about Buhari, his existential history of public office as federal commissioner of petroleum resources, head of state and chairman of the defunct petroleum trust fund (PTF) without knowing it, the national consensus that produced his presidency cannot escape essential indictment. The consensus has unleashed on our nation such cornucopian considerations that should not have a place in the 21st century Nigeria, to wit: nepotism, tribalism, ethno-religious chauvinism and the impunity that we complained about the immediate past administration.
Let me now attempt to explicate the contention, which every Nigerian of all shades and opinions can sufficiently speak to with the benefit of daily experience even if the contention has continued to resolve itself in favour of Nigerians, except those who believe that Buhari is God and, therefore, at liberty to do whatever he pleases. The Yoruba have an appealing catchphrase that succinctly describes one who enjoys such liberty: “ase eyi owu u”-meaning the person who does what he likes. But a veritable idea cannot be driven in that writ-large fashion that questions the sincerity of the revolutionaries as the case is with our president. Buhari cannot do what he likes. He is president at our pleasure and must rule in accordance with the Oath of Office that he swore to, among other things, do right to all manner of people, according to law, without fear or favour, affection or ill-will. Can he justifiably say he has done right to all sections of the country?
The obvious double standard that has, for instance, characterised the anti-graft war has pooh-poohed the entire movement for national moral rearmament. The massive investment of public confidence in Buhari that was wrapped in an electoral mandate has proved, ex-post facto, that our prognosis was wrong. This is the conflicted and contentious reality. If this reality had been precipitated by just one instance, it would certainly have been overlooked as an isolated case of leadership imperfection. But in a situation where condonation of corrupt acts has become a pattern, we should be left with no other choice than to question the inclination and deprecate it.
Just recently, the president reinstated the Executive Secretary of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NIHS), Professor Usman Yusuf, who had been suspended and subsequently indicted by a ministerial panel in connection with the alleged squandering of over N997 million of the scheme’s intervention fund. Our own Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, described that action as an unforced error by Buhari. Lovers of the game of lawn tennis would understand Soyinka. I consider it an own goal for the understanding of football lovers. It was that bad that the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed was so rattled when the media asked for his comment and could only stutter that the fact that Professor Yusuf was reinstated does not stop the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) from carrying on with its investigation of his alleged malfeasance.
This development came on the heels of the president’s alleged complicity in the absorption into the civil service of the suspended former Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on Pension Reform, Abdulrasheed Maina, who is now a fugitive from the law. The president is vicariously liable for the odoriferous saga that happened under his watch. Maina was, a priori, investigated by the EFCC in connection with some missing funds allegedly running into billions of naira.
Now this: if it was true that former Commissioner of Police, Zakari Biu, who was dismissed under the Jonathan administration, subsequent to his purported collusion in the escape of a Boko Haram suspect, Kabiru Sokoto, from detention was reinstated under the Buhari administration, promoted to the rank of Assistant Inspector General of Police (AIG) before he was then retired from the force, without a verifiable evidence by a panel proving his innocence, certainly the anti-corruption ground of the Buhari administration is a sinking sand. And there are some other instances that could be called on to validate this melancholic state of affairs.
On February 9, 2018, Buhari gave approval for the compulsory retirement of Justice Adeniyi Ademola and the dismissal of Justice O.O. Tokode consequent upon the recommendations of the National Judicial Commission (NJC). Justice Tokode, according to a statement by the Senior Special Assistant (media and publicity) to the President, Malam Garba Shehu, was to refund all salaries and allowances earned illegally from December 2, 2015 when he was sworn-in as a judge of the Federal High Court to date. This is commendable. But, why can’t the president enact this audacity in dealing with perpetrators of sleaze in the executive arm under his direct watch?
The other time, it took the state-of-the-nation press statement by former President Olusegun Obasanjo for the EFCC to summon former Secretary to the Federal Government, Mr. Babachir Lawal for interrogation in connection with the N220 million grass-cutting contract that led to his indictment and removal. Instead of creating the impression that his administration is mollycoddling compromised public officers of partisan, ethno-religious and/or filial relationship with him, I had expected the president to walk his talk by being fair in dealing with corrupt public officials. That is the only assured way by which he can silence his wailing traducers.
I guess the international community is not monitoring the anti-corruption war in Nigeria; otherwise, our president might not have qualified for his recent pick by his colleague-heads of state at their recent 30th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union (AU) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to lead the onslaught against corruption on the African continent. The exception might be that they have all been so discredited such that President Buhari, as a proverbial one-eyed man, is king in the city of the blind.
If, with his obvious shortcomings back home and the egregious nepotistic setting within which he administers national affairs, which Obasanjo publicly attacked before the meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the president was still ranked as the best for the continent’s anti-corruption “poster boy”, then what can I say other than, may God help the continent? Meanwhile, back home, our nerves are daily frayed by the melancholic song of a terribly bastardized anti-graft war.
- Mr. Ojeifo, editor-in-chief of The Congresswatch contributed this piece from Abuja via firstname.lastname@example.org