By Dayo Benson
On assumption of office Last May, President Muhammadu Buhari left no one in doubt of his administration’s commitment to combat the cankerworm of corruption that has eaten deep into the fabric of the nation’s polity. The President who rode to power on the crest wave of change mantra, made anti-corruption one of his election campaign issues. He brought home the message succinctly when he said if Nigeria does not kill corruption, corruption will kill Nigeria.
Specifically, in his inaugural speech, the President affirmed his administration’s posture. He vowed to fight corruption from federal to local government level in line with the constitution according to his campaign promise. He acknowledged constitutional limitations on federal, state and local governments. He however promised that the federal government would not fold its arm and close its eyes to what is going on at the other two tiers.
“While the Federal Government cannot interfere in the details of its operations, it will ensure that the gross corruption at the local level is checked. As far as the constitution allows me I will try to ensure that there is responsible and accountable governance at all levels of government in the country.
“For I will not have kept my own trust with the Nigerian People if I allow others abuse theirs under my watch”, Buhari said.
He set up the Presidential Advisory Committee on Corruption headed by Prof Itse Sagay, SAN. The committee’s primary responsibility is to prevail on treasury looters to return their loots – and where possible, in exchange for pardon. It is also to advise the government on how to prosecute the anti-graft war among other related functions. In response to the committee’s call, some of those who stole money have been returning it. Prof Sagay confirmed this in a brief telephone chat.
On his part, the President has been unsparing in his determination to recover Nigeria’s stolen funds stashed away in coded foreign accounts. He has seized every opportunity of his numerous trips abroad to inform world leaders of his administration’s fight against corruption. He has also been enlisting their support in ensuring that questionable monies kept in their countries are repatriated to Nigeria. Buhari demonstrated this seriousness when the British Prime Minister, Mr David Cameron, derisively described Nigeria as a “fantastically corrupt” country. Contrary to expectations, the President demanded return of the country’s funds rather than an apology.
In the last one year, the loudest sound bites of anti-graft crusade has been from the portals of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC. The Commission, under its current chairman, Ibrahim Magu, has been investigating and prosecuting high profile cases.
However, it is yet to secure any major conviction.
Some of the cases being prosecuted by EFCC include – but are not limited to – that of Sambo Dasuki, former National Security Adviser, NSA, to ex-President Goodluck Jonathan; Patrick Akpobolokemi, former Director-General of Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA, and Olisa Metuh, ex-National Publicity Secretary of Peoples’ Democratic Party, PDP. One time Chief of Defence Staff, Air Marshal Alex Badeh, and a senior lawyer, Rikky Tarfa, SAN, are also facing alleged corruption charges.
Buhari’s quest to clean the Augean stable does not spare anyone. Senate President, Dr BukolaSaraki, is facing trial before the Code of Conduct Tribunal over alleged false assets declaration. The list is endless. Apart from charging corruption suspects to court, EFCC has also been recovering ill-gotten money and assets.
So far, the administration‘s anti-graft war appears to concentrate more at the federal level. Nothing seems to be happening at the other tiers. The only semblance of it is the arraignments of a few former governors.
Aside from this, there is a perception in certain quarters that the war is lopsided. Those who hold this view insist that only members of the opposition PDP are the main targets. They have challenged President Buhari to summon the moral courage to investigate and, if necessary, prosecute some of his strong political associates and sponsors.
He is yet to do that.
Worse, wanton human rights violation and serial disobedience of court orders are drawbacks in Buhari’s efforts to sanitise the system. Specifically, Dasuki has remained in custody over the arms deal scandal running into billions of naira. Several court orders granting him bail were obeyed in the breach. Sometimes, orders to produce him in court are disregarded. The same treatments have been visited on Akpobolokemi. On three occasions, Metuh was brought to court in handcuffs – his health is already failing as he vomited in court last week, leading to the suspension of his trial.
The most recent is the arrest and continued detention of Femi Fani-Kayode, PDP’s Presidential Campaign Director of Publicity. Indeed, the latest Administration of Criminal Justice Law allows the EFCC to obtain an order for the continued detention of a suspect for a period of time – the agency has already obtained another three-week detention extension. But in the face of flagrant disobedience of court orders granting suspects bail, the Buhari administration’s conduct suggests a deliberate policy of witch-hunt. All these have created an impression of guilty as charged even before trial – more so, in the face of a legion of corruption allegation scandals hanging on some of Buhari’s Ministers who appear not to have been investigated or even invited by the anti-graft body, in some instances, where petitions to the effect exist.