The president has not satisfactorily lived up to his tough words on corruption during his election campaign.
Last week, while addressing representatives of several civil society organisations in Abuja, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo laid some of the blame for the government’s fairly unsuccessful anti-graft war at the feet of Nigerians.
“I don’t think that the people, especially the civil society have shown enough outrage that one expects in order to consistently beam searchlight on the perpetrators.
“People come and ask where are the convictions but I say where are the campaigns, we should be able to point out these persons so that they will not be able to spend these monies,” the Vice President said.
Osinbajo’s subtle dig at the Nigerian populace is completely divorced from the wave of populist sentiments that swept President Muhammadu Buhari to power only a little over two years ago.
The president’s major selling point as the right candidate for the country was the promise that he could rid the government of the stench of corruption that has plagued it for as long as anyone can remember.
His campaign trumpeted his anti-corruption history as a military Head of State in the 80s and a man of incorruptible integrity that’ll rein in the practice of financial mismanagement in the country’s corridors of power.
With the results of the 2015 presidential elections, it is fair to say that the Nigerian people were clearly convinced.
However, more two years down the line, maybe it’s time to admit that we’ve been sold a dummy by the president.
Well before President Buhari’s electoral victory, his opposition had long pointed to the hypocrisy of his anti-corruption mandate, especially in light of the political company that he keeps.
Political detractors and neutral sceptics, for their own reasons, indicated that the president’s anti-corruption rhetoric was nothing but smoke and mirrors that’ll lack the sort of depth that the Nigerian people were desperately hoping for to arrest a very disappointing slide into financial anarchy.
Since the president assumed his mandate, it’s an understatement to say the war on corruption has been anything but underwhelming.
One of the most pronounced problems of that campaign is the absolute lack of any meaningful high profile conviction.
While Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, has maintained that the ministry recovers stolen funds, like, every day even though she won’t account for exact figures, the number of high profile offenders going to jail for stealing in the first place is practically non-existent.
For example, former governor of Adamawa state, Bala Ngilari, was sentenced by the state’s High Court to five years in prison on March 6, 2017, after he was accused by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) of processing a N169 million contract without due process.
Not only was he sentenced to a prison of his own choosing, he was controversially granted bail only weeks later after citing medical concerns that included high blood pressure, diabetes and insomnia.
On July 20, a Court of Appeal in Yola dismissed all charges against Ngilari and set him free due to lack of merit and sufficient proof of the allegations against him.
Ngilari’s case is representative of President Buhari’s administration’s anti-corruption campaign: disorderly and largely ineffective.
The government can make a case that it is recovering millions of stolen wealth all it wants, but without significant culprits to use as deterrents, it lacks required steam to front itself as a success.
The argument has been made several times by officials close to the presidency that corruption cases are very hard to prosecute especially in line with the dictates of the nation’s laws, and this has some merit to it, so one might have a problem blaming the president for something that’s so clearly out of his hands.
Except he isn’t doing so well with what he actually has power over.
After months of mounting pressure, President Buhari suspended Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Babachir Lawal on April 19 due to allegations of his complicity in the misappropriation of funds earmarked for the welfare of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) through the Presidential Initiative on North East (PINE).
The SGF was indicted by an ad-hoc Senate committee who alleged that he had awarded a contract of over N200 million to dispose of ‘invasive plant species’ in IDP camps to a company where he had vested interest.
Despite the Senate committee’s recommendation that Lawal be removed as SGF to enable a proper prosecution of the allegations, President Buhari suspended him as a stop gap measure and set up another committee to conduct an investigation that had already been done.
In an earlier defence of Lawal in January, the presidency had dismissed the Senate committee’s recommendation about the SGF’s removal, saying that the report “does not meet the principles of fair hearing.”
The new panel set up to investigate the allegations was headed by Vice President Osinbajo in collaboration with National Security Adviser (NSA), Babagana Monguno, and Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami.
Another subject under investigation by the panel was the Director of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), Ayodele Oke, who was also suspended after his public involvement in the controversial N13 billion loot recovered by the EFCC from an Ikoyi apartment in April. He had laid claim to the funds, saying it was earmarked by the agency for covert operations.
Despite the fact that the Presidential Investigation Panel was supposed to take two weeks in April to submit their report to the president, his 103 days away in London derailed that timetable and meant Nigerians had to wait for months on the outcome of that report.
Nevertheless, there were rumours that the panel did find enough to recommend that the president dismiss Lawal and Oke from their positions.
After his return to the country in August, President Buhari made quite a public spectacle out of receiving the report from the panel with the Vice President saying the decision to act on the panel’s recommendation rests on the president from that moment on.
While addressing the media after the presentation, Osinbajo asked for patience from the Nigerian people on finding out what the outcome of their investigation was.
“If you want to know what is in the report you have to wait, you really have to wait,” he said.
Now, in hindsight, those words are ominous as the Nigerian people continue to wait for the president to be done reading that document and deciding to tell the Nigerian people what they might already know.
Well over a month after the president received the report, he’s kept mum over what the way forward is and whether both federal employees will get fired and face subsequent investigations from anti-graft agencies.
President Buhari’s reticence in dealing with Lawal and Oke has been attributed to the long standing relationship between Lawal and the president which dates all the way back to 2002, through his failed presidential bids.
Lawal’s ties to the president appears to be the only reason why the SGF is not being hounded by the prosecution team of the EFCC just yet.
It’s reasonable to believe that Oke is also enjoying from that privilege because the president can’t take any action against him without Lawal’s situation being thrown into the mix, so it’s a delicate situation for the nation’s commander-in-chief.
For each day that passes without the president taking any definitive action on the perceived corruption right under his nose, the stench is going to overwhelm his government’s most defining highlight.
Regardless of what happens from now on, the president might have already proved the sceptics right about his real disposition on corruption as something only the opposition gets punished for.
The corruption episode with Lawal, especially, was a great opportunity for President Buhari to put his foot down and show everyone the sincerity of his own words.
However, with the erratic way the process has been handled, he has not done his administration’s anti-corruption war any favours.
The president might just have dealt the death blow to his own anti-corruption war.