FOR the umpteenth time, President Muhammadu Buhari last week at the African Summit in New Delhi, India, reaffirmed his commitment to conquer the cankerworm of corruption that has eaten deep into the fabric of the nation’s polity.
He assured that incorruptible Nigerians had nothing to be afraid of. Rather, they should support the war and encourage him to recover funds looted by past corrupt public officers. Buhari said he wants to leave an enduring legacy as a president who fought corruption to a standstill and restored Nigerians’ hope in their country.
He had similarly vowed in New York in September to cleanse the nation’s oil industry and make it totally free of corruption and shady deals. He told his audience that the prosecution of those who misappropriated the NNPC revenue under past administrations would soon commence.
These presidential pronouncements are poignant reconfirmations of Buhari’s campaign promise to rid the nation of corruption. However, the president needs to be reminded that the battle against graft cannot be fought and won by rhetoric or presidential fiat. It is one that requires tenacity and sincerity of purpose. Equally, it is not a task to be undertaken by the sheer willpower of one man, but concerted efforts of strong institutions.
President Buhari should be mindful of the fact that the method of executing the war against corruption under military rule is different from that of this democratic dispensation. Under a democracy, he will require the full institutional support of the Legislature and the Judiciary, which must operate strictly within the extant laws of the land.
So far, President Buhari’s body language and manner of speaking suggest that he would be the proverbial knight in shining armour, battle-ready to confront the corruption demon. It does not really matter how passionate the president is about the need to prosecute those who have mindlessly plundered our collective resources, there is no escaping the recourse to due process.
The presidency is an embodiment of the executive, which is one of the three arms of government that operate independently of one another. Much as the investigative and prosecuting agencies of the Federal Government operate under executive control, the adjudicating arm – the Judiciary – is independent. It is the only arm of government that the constitution vests with the power to pronounce anyone guilty of an offence.
The president should refrain from making tendentious comments, especially on his anti-corruption crusade. The impression should not be created that the Presidency is both the accuser and the judge in its own cases. Rather, institutions such as the EFCC, ICPC and the Judiciary should be strengthened to ensure a successful anti-graft campaign that will outlive this administration.