By Rotimi Fasan
IN just over one month, the Muhammadu Buhari administration would have spent two full years presiding over the affairs of Nigeria. These would be two years of lackluster performance for an administration that came into office with high hopes and promises to take Nigeria away from the blighted legacy of corruption left by the Goodluck Jonathan administration. But in just two days, last week, the Buhari government lost two high profile cases it had been prosecuting for several months. The corruption cases against Justice Ademola, some members of his family and his lawyer on the one hand, and Mrs. Patience Jonathan, wife of President Jonathan, on the other fell apart.
Justice Ademola was acquitted of all 18 charges against him while Mrs. Jonathan’s multi-million dollars account frozen by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, was ordered unfrozen. These are developments that should be and are now of concern to Nigerians. On coming to power, Buhari promised to combat corruption and in this wise said he belonged to everybody and to nobody.
Buhari’s promise to fight corruption and Nigerians’ confidence that he would live up to that promise was based on very solid reputation. This was his determined, if in certain respect one-sided, prosecution of politicians accused of corruption during Nigeria’s so-called second republic. His reputation as an anti-corruption crusader thus originated in and dates back to his time as the head of the junta that ousted the Shehu Shagari administration in 1983. Together with his stern deputy, Tunde Idiagbon, he fought corruption and other kinds of social indiscretion in a brutal campaign that came under the broad rubric of War Against Indiscipline.
It was the mantra through which the military regime he led sold itself to and was accepted by Nigerians. At the time it was sent packing in the 2015 presidential election, the Jonathan administration was in many ways like the Shagari administration- fat and made inactive by corruption. Many Nigerians couldn’t wait to see it go. So that when it lost the presidential election of that year, only those who had been close enough to have benefitted directly from it mourned. Other mourners are those Nigerians who for reasons of ethnic solidarity saw themselves as losers in the power game that ended Jonathan’s rule.
This was the case even when they were not actual beneficiaries of the looting that profiled that administration. This category of Nigerians felt rather vicariously responsible for Jonathan’s failures and have remained largely unhappy because they thought a large number of Nigerians from their ethnic extraction lost whatever it was they saw as their reward from being prominent in the Jonathan cabinet. But it was precisely because the Jonathan administration was generally corrupt and was so considered that Mohammadu Buhari was found attractive. The former head of state’s reputed incorruptibility, his relatively modest lifestyle and frugality stood him in good stead as opposed to his opponent. The contest for the presidency was therefore framed as a zero-sum game between the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and the All Progressives Congress, APC, and their respective presidential candidates. Many Nigerians rooted for Buhari because his reputation as an anti-corruption crusader not only preceded him but was thought to go beyond mere rhetoric. It was directly antithetical to the image Nigerians had of the PDP if not Goodluck Jonathan as a person.
Buhari knew better than to make any other issue but the fight against corruption and the related matter of insecurity the central plank on which he erected his presidential campaign. They were issues that were of great concern to Nigerians in the run-up to the elections. For his fixation on these campaign points Buhari was handsomely rewarded with the votes necessary to end the PDP’s 16 years rule. It was in this mood that he famously spoke of himself as belonging to everybody and nobody. Yet, no sooner was the presidential battle won and lost than the Buhari administration started acting like it had lost its bearing. This much was clear from the moment the president decided to surround himself with loyalists that were direct picks from among his kinsmen, religious and professional associates among others.
Two years down the line the anti-corruption house of cards that Buhari erected appears to be falling apart, no thanks to blundering anti-graft agencies whose strong arm and procedurally inept tactics are costing them the war in the courts and a kitchen cabinet of loyalists that are not living above board. The apparent unraveling of the Buhari anti-graft war is coming at a time the president neither appears to be in the best of health or inclined to do something concretely visible about it. This is what is prompting Nigerians to wonder where his anti-corruption war is now headed. On the other major fronts of economic growth/prosperity, job creation and infrastructural development, the administration has largely failed. It has failed in all but its fight against insurgency. There will, therefore, be next to nothing left if it again fails Nigerians in its anti-graft war. Buhari, it should be remembered, is not a programmatic leader with a clear vision of what he plans to or could actually achieve. He is even much less in the mold of the kind of political thinker, intellectual or philosopher that was an Obafemi Awolowo. His selling point was the force of his personal reputation as an incorruptible leader.
To this end, his government went after public office holders found to have soiled their hands. It secured a lot of arrests and seized and is still seizing a lot of looted funds. But these could not be utilised in any way as the government could not secure the conviction of the suspected looters or redeem the seized funds or assets that have so far remained objects of litigation. The fact that the president’s personal associates have been found complicit in alleged cases of corruption while the president appears to have lost both his bite and bark against corruption has certainly weakened his moral stance against the menace. This has emboldened his opponents and other corrupt persons that are now fighting back with fury and appear to be doing serious damage to the effort of the likes of Itse Sagay and Femi Falana among others.How then can Buhari reverse this trend?
He would have to reclaim the moral high ground in the fight against corruption, and this will not be achieved until the president takes the anti-graft war into his own kitchen cabinet of loyalists that are opposed to and pitched alongside others in battle against his anti-graft czar, Ibrahim Magu. The president must understand that his government is as good as gone once it loses the war against corruption which is inevitable without the support of the courts.