Home Features The anti-corruption crusade and a President in the eye of the storm

The anti-corruption crusade and a President in the eye of the storm

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President Muhammadu Buhari Administration took over power in 2015 with the anti-corruption crusade being one of the major planks of his governance.

Things are no longer what they used to be long before the 2015 general elections especially since the goodwill, drawn largely from his stance on integrity and his anti-corruption, has suffered a big blow.

Drawing from recent experience, Buhari who many Nigerians are beginning to believe is fast losing the fight against corruption, this week reinstated the suspended Executive Secretary of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), Usman Yusuf suspended by the Minister of Health, Isaac Adewole, in June 2017, following allegations of gross misconduct.

A panel commissioned by the Minister after Yusuf’s suspension later found him culpable of infractions that ranged from nepotism to theft of public funds.

His letter of reinstatement, it was learnt got to Adewole on Tuesday evening.

The Punch Newspaper in its February 8, 2018 Editorial on this development, did not spare President Buhari the proverbial rod. In the piece titled: The scandalous recall of the NHIS boss, the paper said the President has demonstrated clannishness and lack of respect for procedure once more by reinstating Yusuf saying the recall sits uneasily with Buhari’s commitment to openness and transparency.

No wonder Yusuf had shamelessly and in an arrogant manner, boasted that only Buhari could suspend him. This obviously explains the position of the President who rather than follow due process, directed a letter through his Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari, reinstating Yusuf. The President informed the Minister that Yusuf had been admonished to work harmoniously with him.

Punch further described the recall as shocking and outrageous, squared and cubed adding that it once again, revealed Buhari’s true colours.

“Unfamiliar with the nuances of modern governance and insular to the point of self-entrapment in primitive provincialism, he does not give a hoot about the consequences of some of his missteps. The to-hell-with-you attitude that played out in his notorious admonition to survivors of Fulani herdsmen massacres in Benue State to learn to accommodate their tormentors is on display here again in the memo asking Yusuf to work harmoniously with the minister.”

The paper was not done yet. The incident, it said raises larger questions about Buhari’s stand on corruption and discipline. Is this how to fight corruption? Is this good governance in the face of so much moral rot in the land, which Buhari vowed to fight if he was elected? Corruption is defined most comprehensively by Transparency International as an abuse of entrusted power for private gain. Have both the EFCC and the ICPC cleared Yusuf of corruption allegations? Even if they did, should the decision and memo for his recall come from the Presidency or from the supervising Ministry that suspended him, in the first instance? The recall is a slap in the face for the Minister. This is unequivocally awful.

“No doubt, this Executive recklessness has left an indelible stain on Buhari’s increasingly tainted Administration. Allegations that the war is selective and vindictive are gaining traction by the day. It is disconcerting to watch how this government has been lurching from shambles to debacle.

“Indeed, the unfolding scandals involving Abdulrasheed Maina, and the former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal, as well as the intrigues of the Attorney-General, some Security Chiefs and Aides have tarnished Buhari’s once sparkling image.

“The Presidency has descended to a primitive form of arbitrary governance. The promise of change from the culture of graft and abuse of due process of the Goodluck Jonathan era has dissolved into a cauldron of incompetence and exclusivity. The recklessness and impunity by the Buhari government is quite troubling. Where the interests of the commonwealth matter and standards of public service transcend greed, the parliament would have been up-in-arms; alas, the House of Representatives, impetuous and retrogressive as ever, had earlier weighed in on the side of a public official facing corruption allegations.”

The paper did not end its editorial without this advice for the President.

“His provincial approach to governance is corroding the fabric of the union; he should step back and run a more inclusive and responsive government. Buhari should reverse himself and allow due process to run its course.”

Buhari’s experience with corruption did not start today. Going down the memory lane, Buhari who was the Federal Commissioner for Petroleum Resources in 1980 was mirred in a corruption scandal when Late Obafemi Awolowo alleged that $2.8b was missing from the NNPC account.

In an interview with Vanguard Newspaper, a former Board member of OPEC, Michael Olorunfemi, said the money never missed as alleged.

“We had this problem of $2.8 billion, and you know, it was mainly political. Awolowo was not able to win the election and Obasanjo handed over to Shagari, and when this $2.8 billion issue came up, Awolowo and others saw it as a way to discredit Obasanjo thinking that the money was lost, when indeed the money was not lost.

“And it was during the time Buhari was serving as Commissioner; there was no lost money anywhere. An audit was made then by an external auditor and they came with an interim report.

“The interim report was supposed to be given to the NNPC Management. It was not a complete report, unfortunately that day, there was no single photocopying machine that was working at our office then in Falomo, so they had to make photocopies.

“They went to another place to do it; unfortunately, one of the pages was left there, and that is where people saw it and reacted. People just wanted to hit at something, which is what happened. What happened again is that we just woke up one day and he was Head of State.”

Buhari later emerged Head of state in 1983 via a Military coup againt Shehu Shagari, stating economic mismanagement and corruption as the major reason for the action.

Matching words with action, in 1984, 4,000 officials of the ousted national and state governments turned themselves in to the Police as part of the new Military Government’s investigation of corruption.

The former officials were released, some after their passports were confiscated. But about 400 were reportedly still held under what was described as ”Military protection.”

At the same time, the Western diplomats and Nigerian sources said, many of the former officials who were on what the military Government called its ”most wanted list” managed to flee the country. Some who were abroad during the Military takeover decided to remain there.

As result of the action, the Government reportedly recovered millions of dollars in currency hoarded by the former officials and tried to retrieve millions more smuggled out of the country.

Tunde Idiagbon, then Buhari’s Second in Command, told reporters that the stockpiles of money ranged from $56,000 found at the home of late former Vice President, Alex Ekwueme, to $4.5 million at the residence of the then civilian governor of Kano state, Sabo Bakin Zuwo.

The Military were effectively acting as prosecutor, judge and jury in a corruption tribunal they set up, as members of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) refused to join..

Undeterred, Buhari and Idiagbon pressed on with the tribunals and several prominent politicians were convicted of various corruption charges and given massive prison sentences ranging from twenty to over two hundred years. Among those convicted were prominent politicians such as Anthony Enahoro and Jim Nwobodo. The tribunals effectively put Nigeria’s political elite in jail.

During this era, it became unwise for those with ill-gotten wealth to flaunt them – for fear of attracting the attention of Buhari’s anti-corruption drive.

Currently, nearly three years into his Administration as a civilian President, many cases involving corruption, money laundry and other crimes have been prosecuted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Comission (EFCC), with large chunk of them from the opposition parties, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) or their perceived ‘enemy’.

Notably, some member of the ruling party alleged to be corrupt were not even invited for questioning by the anti-graft Agency, not to talk of being investigated and prosecuted.

The recent one that comes to the fore is the case of former Secretary to the Government (SGF), Babachir Lawal, who allegedly used his office to get a grass cutting contract from the Federal Government, which contravenes the civil service rule.

After so much criticism and pressures from different quarters which included the opposition party, PDP, who called for his removal and prosecution, the investigative panel set up by President Buhari to look into the allegation and make its recommendation, the panel chaired by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo recommended Lawal’s sack, which was ratified by the President .

The timing if his invitation and arrest by the EFCC later drew many criticism, with some people saying the letter written by former President, Olusegun Obasanjo made the anti-graft Agency to invite him and detained him.

Away from the arrest saga, the question one needs to ask is that why was Lawal never invited for questioning since October 2017 by the EFCC immediately he was sacked and why didn’t the Probe panel make its findings and recommendations public?

Femi Adesina, the Presidential Spokesman had on one of his appearances on Channels TV, said the EFCC’s activities is not being interfered with by the Presidency that it could take the initiative to invite the former SGF for questioning if it deemed fit.

If the activities of the EFCC is not being interfered with, why the many delays till Obasanjo dropped his verdict ahead of the 2019 election. These are questions begging for answers.

With the look of thing, EFCC that does not waste time in raiding house of suspect would have done its job before it even got this stage.

The case of former Pension boss, Rasheed Maina briefly touched above, is another saga that has rared its ugly head and showing how porous the Civil Service is.

Maina, whose sack was recommended by the 7th Assembly due to embezzlement of pension funds was reinstated into the Civil Service.

This has created a lot of blame games among the Head of Service of the Federation, Winifred Oyo-Ita, Attorney-General, Abubakar Malami, and Chief of Staff to the President, Abba Kyari.

Oyo-Ita had tried exonerating herself, saying there was a memo written to Kyari, warning him of the issues surrounding Maina’s reinstatement. The development did not do justice to the Buhari government and its anti-corruption war but rather exposed it to public ridicule.

To worsen the matter, Maina and his lawyer said he has been receiving salaries. Is it that simple to just enter the Federal Civil Service, earn salary without working in an environment being controlled by an Administration said to be neck deep in the fight against corruption?

Some Ministers in Buhari’s Cabinet have been alleged of heavy corruption. Names mentioned include Rotimi Amaechi, Minister of Transport, Babatunde Fashola, Minister of Power, Works and Housing. It is an open secret to Nigerians that the two played key roles in the funding of Buhari’s run and eventual victory in the 2015 Presidential election. References to the corrupt allegations against the two, have repeatedly been waved aside by the President. This is not a surprise to many as even President Buhari has told Nigerians on many occasions that anyone with evidence of corruption against him, should come forward to do so.

So far, nobody has been able to prove beyond the hues and cries seen on the pages of newspapers and other media while the President marches on in his ‘resolve to defeat corruption.

But the storms are gathering as the ground appears shaky.