By Sonny Daniel
It was during the Russian revolutionary that , Alexander Herzen, who wrote in the year of the failed revolutions in Europe that ‘the men who proclaimed the Republic became the assassins of freedom’. Herzen’s argument centred principally on the fact that beneath the pomp and pageantry of doing away with the feudal systems in Europe, those who led the drive to effect a change in the political system, actively succeeded in securing freedom for their own circle of friends and not the workers.
The author then submitted that in a sense the architects of the republic had in a way broken the chain of slavery but left the prison walls standing, making them assassins of freedom.
Arguments can rightly be made for and against President Muhammadu Buhari’s acclaimed war against corruption in Nigeria. All along and with his avowed declaration to combat graft to a standstill when he assumed the presidency of Nigeria in 2015, it was all to his credit that Buhari adopted the fight as one of his three cardinal programmes.
The tripartite programme on the retired General’s agenda was centred on boosting security, economy and eliminating corruption before it kills Nigeria. Almost three years into his administration Buhari has received accolades for his determined efforts to contain raging insurgency in the Northeast and get the economy back on tract.
On the fight against Boko Haram, he has triumphed to reasonable extent and deserves applause for his administration’s deft moves that took Nigeria away from recession late last year, posting positive indices in all facets of economic performance, as released by the National Bureau of Statistics.
But Buhari has also become his own albatross by either deliberately or unwittingly playing down the gains hitherto recorded by his government in the onslaught against graft. All along the opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party, has been raising alarm that the fight against corruption was one-sided as no member of the ruling party has been reprimanded for graft.
They have been shouting to the roof top that their members were simply targeted by the Buhari administration for alleged graft while his party officials are being protected over worse crimes. Once it took the president a long time to accept and do away with the former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal for alleged corruption, the PDP had enough grounds to slam the administration for condoning graft and protecting its inner caucus members. Buhari even cleared Babachir initially.
But whatever defence Buhari or any member of his cabinet might have used to deflect hot punches aimed at it by the opposition has since fizzled like a pack of cards with last Monday’s inexplicable and offensive recall of the suspended Director General of the National Health Insurance Scheme, Professor Usman Yusuf, a kinsman of Buhari.
The recall of the man, who was accused and still being investigated by the EFCC for alleged corrupt practices is what many Nigerians cannot comprehend. His recall by the President through his Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari, is an act that will certainly hurt the retired General and his government for a long time and dent all that he stands for as an incorruptible man. And the mud thrown at Buhari and his government is likely going to endure for a long time just like the furore generated by the action.
It would have been okay for Buhari to recall his kinsmen back to work if he had not been castigated by the National Assembly for alleged fraud running into millions of Naira. It would have also been normal for the President to reinstate his brother from the same Katsina if he had not been indicted by a government panel raised by the Minister of Health, Prof Isaac Adewole, a man appointed by the president himself to head the ministry because of his integrity and outstanding work in the area of medicine.
His recall appears to have abruptly terminated the probe of Mr. Yusuf by both the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission over the alleged laundering of N919 million and the award of contracts far above approved threshold, something that the president is supposed to have enthusiastically supported in order to be seen to be fighting graft in the land.
A national daily, apparently miffed by Buhari’s action, ran riot in its editorial on Thursday, February 8, 2018. The paper queried Buhari’s so-called anti-corruption war with the recall of Yusuf and wondered if the president still believed the war was alive.
Outspoken lawyer, Mike Ozokhome, also carpeted Buhari for reinstating Yusuf, alleging that the war against corruption was selective.
The Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, said, “This is one more exemplification of the truism that this government fights corruption within the government with sweet – smelling Sasarobia perfume while it fights corruption against opponents and critics of government with a powerful insecticide.
“That is why they will order the arrest of Kasim Afegbua for merely issuing a release advising the President not to seek re-election.
“That is why a whole minister will suspend a person after a panel of enquiry has found the person culpable and the President will reinstate that person.
“It shows again and again the issue of corruption being fought is a ruse to hoodwink the unwary and ignorant members of the society. No corruption is being fought at all.”
From all indications, the EFCC is being tamed on its constitutional powers to investigate and prosecute a suspect of financial and economic crimes against Nigeria by the Presidency and the reckless display of power of ‘proximity to the presidency’ is likely going to whittle the onslaught against graft in the months and years ahead because other suspects would readily cite the meddlesomeness of Buhari into the whole affair as an odious precedent that will certainly hunt and hurt the polity for generations.
Despite a face-saving declaration that the reinstatement of Yusuf by the president does not stop the EFCC from continuing with the investigation and possible prosecution of the suspect, it is clear to all men of good conscience that the anti-graft agency does not have the clout to go against the direction of Presidential actions.
This is more so at a time when the Presidency has defied the Senate to stand by Ibrahim Magu, the man rejected by the Senate twice but kept in office by the sheer grace and benevolence of the President.
It is hoping against hope to believe the EFCC when it declared on Wednesday thus, “Look, that letter by the CoS to the President reinstating Yusuf to his post does not in any way stop us from digging into what the ES did with the huge amount of money taken away from the scheme.” An official of the EFCC said this as public criticism heightened over the questionable recall of Prof Yusuf.
“Let it also be noted that the President, who is against any form of corruption by any of his officials, has not asked us to stop the investigation of the alleged fraud in the NHIS.
“We are continuing our probe of the man’s expenditure at the NHIS and it does not mean that we arrested and detained him as being speculated.
“The truth of the matter is that the reinstatement of the man does not prevent the EFCC from probing him and finding out whether the sum of N919 million was laundered by him or any official of the NHIS under his watch,” the official explained.
It is tempting to assume that Buhari might have acted in bad faith, thereby adding to the accusation of clannishness heaped on him by former President Obasanjo but it is plausible that the President might not have known the full weight of his action.