THE CONCLAVE EDITORIAL: Buhari’s Unravelling Fight against Corruption

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Muhammadu Buhari, Nigeria's president

In the build-up to the 2015 presidential election, apart from the fact that Muhammadu Buhari, candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), was known as a no-nonsense retired army general who was expected to handle better the raging Boko Haram insurgency in the Northeast of Nigeria, his other unique selling point was his reputation as a man of great integrity. During his first stint as military head of state (December 1983 – August 1985), in spite of the iron fist of that regime, General Buhari did enough to earn for himself the accolade as a champion of war against indiscipline and corruption.

In and out of power, Buhari unlike many of his contemporaries, has lived an ascetic lifestyle devoid of ostentations often associated with men and women of power and in the process has come across to his countrymen, women and children as a man of integrity – or so it seems. His handlers recognised this quality and began to build a myth of incorruptibility around his persona so much so that it was sold to the public that the former head of state was so poor that he could not afford to purchase his own presidential form.

That the government of President Goodluck Jonathan was viewed by many as weak and riddled with corruption made the narrative of Buhari as a fighter of corruption more compelling, and his victory at the polls even as an opposition candidate, inexorable. Thus from one platform to another, Buhari launched out reeling out his anti-corruption credentials and his prognosis of the country, even if simplistic, that at the heart of Nigeria’s problem is the issue of corruption. For example, at his Chatham House lecture just before the 2015 election, General Buhari made so many pronouncements that have turned out today to be outlandish.

First, he had wondered why the country would be wasting resources keeping aside many as ten aircraft in its presidential fleet and promised to sell off some planes to cut down costs. Second, he saw it as selfish and irresponsible for any leadership to be patronising foreign hospitals while citizens are left to the poor healthcare system at home and promised that on his watch, that would not happen!

Once Buhari was sworn in as President, he left no one in doubt that fighting corruption would be a major agendum of his administration as he quickly declared that “if we do not kill corruption, corruption will kill us” even as he promised to recover all the funds looted by the past administrations from 1999. And the first signs that it would not be business as usual came with the brave implementation of the policy of the Treasury Single Account (TSA) formulated by the Jonathan administration that allows for easier monitoring of government revenue, and the breathing of new life into the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the main anti-corruption agency in the land, which was comatose during the previous government.

Thus, with the backing of the President, the new EFCC went after suspects who allegedly stole from the government, hauling them into detention, seizing their identified property and taking them to court. As the war raged, it was reported that some of the suspects freely returned what they had stolen even as the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) openly rubbished the anti-corruption fight as a mere persecution of opposition politicians by a vindictive government, clearly working towards imposing a one-party system in the country. As a matter of fact, Adams Oshiomhole as national chairman of APC did declare in one of his party’s rallies that “if you join APC, all your sins will be forgiven”. As if to bear out this Oshiomhole taunt, several opposition politicians have since decamped to APC apparently to evade justice.

Yet the first hint that the Buhari anti-corruption agendum may just fly an ordinary pitch came when Buhari himself refused to publicly declare his assets as he earlier promised by hiding under sheer legalism. Again, in constituting his government, Buhari has displayed crass nepotism in his appointments with a majority of his key appointments going to people from his northern part of the country and fellow Moslems. It has never been this bad in the history of the country – not even during the military era, except of course, Buhari’s military regime. What this means is that President Buhari does not even have a comprehensive definition of corruption, which he sets out to fight. Indeed, as Junaid Mohammed, a Second Republic lawmaker asserts, “nepotism is the worst form of corruption”.

The second ominous sign for the Buhari anti-corruption agendum came when he forwarded the name of Ibrahim Magu to the 8th Senate for confirmation as the Chairman of EFCC. The senate rightfully refused to confirm the President’s nominee, citing a damning report on Magu, written by the Directorate of State Services (DSS). In the Report, the secret police incidentally, under the presidency, conclude that Magu had failed an integrity test and therefore not the kind of person to be appointed to such an important position. In spite of his non-confirmation, President Buhari stubbornly kept Magu in acting capacity with even some of the legal minds in his government arguing that the Chairman of EFCC does not require senate confirmation to operate, until a competent court ruled them out of order. Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu, however, contended that the lacuna in the law has given the President the powers to keep the EFCC chairman in acting capacity as long has he wants.

Thus, Ibrahim Magu was in acting capacity as the chairman of EFCC for five years in defiance to the Senate, but with the backing of President Buhari who apparently was impressed with his achievements. And to be fair to Magu, he had achieved so much as the anti-corruption czar of this government with a record of unprecedented amount of recovery of looted funds and property from suspects as well as an impressive record of convictions recorded by the EFCC on his watch. For the records, from May 2015 till date the EFCC under Magu secured 2,240 convictions and this includes former governors and a senior advocate. And in terms of recovery, the EFCC under Magu reportedly recovered looted funds totalling N504 billion and several hundreds of property. It is also to the credit of Magu and Buhari’s anti-corruption fight that the fear of being watched or being caught with hands in the cookie jar, which had hitherto deserted the consciousness of public officials in the discharge of their duties, was gradually returning. However, in spite of these achievements by the EFCC, the fight against corruption under Buhari has left a lot to be desired.

First, apart from the EFCC, other anti-corruption agencies of government like the ICPC and Code of Conduct Bureau, have been a no-show. Even the little that the EFCC has achieved is blighted by allegations of being selective, targeting only opposition politicians. And there is a litany of examples to substantiate this allegation. The case of alleged stealing involving the former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal; the scandal around Rasheed Maina, a fugitive of the law and his return to the country allegedly under the protective cover of the DSS and the AGF, and his surreptitious reinstatement into the public service; non-investigation by the EFCC of principal members of the President’s party like Bola Ahmed Tinubu and Adams Oshiomhole who had valid petitions written against them; the controversial dropping of the case of former Governor Danjuma Goje who was facing charges of stealing N25 billions of public funds by the Attorney General allegedly on the orders of President Buhari on political grounds; are just a few examples.

By far, the most serious case of the unravelling of Buhari’s anti-corruption fight has to be the recent arrest and detention of Mr. Ibrahim Magu, for ten days for corruption charges. On July 6, 2020, the head of the EFCC and President Buhari’s face of the anti-corruption agendum was arrested on the streets of Abuja, hauled into a car and taken forcefully to face an administrative panel of enquiry headed by Justice Ayo Salami, former president of the Court of appeal.

At the panel, Magu is expected to defend weighty corruption charges bordering on re-looting recovered funds and insubordination brought upon him by the AGF. While in detention, all manner of reports portraying Magu as a corrupt official flooded the media space. Before his memo, it was an open secret that there was no love lost between the AGF and Ibrahim Magu. The AGF, Abubakar Malami, SAN, for five years has been struggling to assert his authority on the EFCC boss. On one occasion, he had instructed Magu to submit to his table all the case files of high profile suspects being prosecuted by the EFCC.

Although, after days of silence, the presidency finally came out to officially suspend Magu as Acting Chairman of EFCC and went further to claim that Magu’s investigation, arrest and detention, prove that the government’s war on corruption is up and running. Meanwhile, the PDP believes that the charges against Magu only confirm the hypocrisy of the APC-government’s fight against graft. While the government continues to lie to itself, it is our belief that Magu’s travails and his subsequent public damaging represent the final nail in the coffin of the fight against corruption under President Buhari.

We believe that the way and manner the AGF and the EFCC boss are throwing allegations and counter-allegations at each other tell the story of a monumental collapse of the Buhari anti-corruption fight. Beyond that, other stories and the stench coming out from the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), NBET and several other government parastatals under President Buhari indeed confirm the unravelling of Buhari’s fight against corruption.

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