Africans generally experiment democracy from a peculiar perspective. It’s rare to find in African leaders those who keep campaign promises and vows to the people when they are eventually entrusted with leadership.
Nigerians have a celebrated penchant for this tendency. But President Muhammadu Buhari (PMB) has proven to be a different kind of leader. His promise to confront the endemic corruption in Nigeria was his highest selling point during campaigns’. And obviously fed up with the destructive monster of corruption entrenched in the system, Nigerians massively voted out the then ruling PDP for a government of “Change,” as symbolized by President Buhari.
In his maiden address to Nigerians, President Buhari described the national malaise of corruption as pervasive. On Independence Day 2016, Buhari painted a graphic picture of the phenomenon thus;
“Corruption is a cancer which must be fought with all the weapons at our disposal. It corrodes the very fabric of government and destroys society. Fighting corruption is Key, not only to restoring the moral health of the nation, but also to freeing our enormous resources for urgent socio-economic development.”
He dislodged the seeming complacent leadership of the anti-graft agency- the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and appointed Ibrahim Magu as Acting Chairman.
Buhari kick-started the anti-corruption crusade by establishing the extent Nigeria was looted in the last few years. President Buhari disclosed to Nigerians that he has traced the country’s stolen crude oil wealth and discovered it was stashed in banks and institutions or proceeds invested in properties in some foreign countries.
Furthermore, President Buhari’s administration also intimated Nigerians that an estimated $200 billion stolen wealth from Nigeria is stashed in United Arab Emirate (UAE) and Abu Dhabi. He proceeded to sign agreement on Mutual Legal Assistance on Criminal and Commercial Matters with UAE for the repatriation of stolen funds and extradition of suspected Nigerians implicated in the looting.
This position was corroborated by Senator Shehu Sani, the chairman, Senate Committee on Foreign and Domestic Debts, who doubles as Vice Chairman, Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs. Frighteningly, the Global Financial Integrity estimated that over $157 billion was looted from Nigeria in the last one decade alone.
Back home, the anti-graft agency swung into action, as EFCC carried out mass arrests of former public office holders suspected to have embezzled public funds. One of the most celebrated cases involved Col. Sambo Dasuki, the former National Security Adviser to former President Goodluck Jonathan. The Presidency discovered his office diverted the $2.1 billion voted for the procurement of arms to fight Boko Haram insurgency in the Northeast.
It was later discovered that $15 billion was the actual amount embezzled and several prominent politicians’ were named in the sleaze. Some suspected persons returned the amounts standing against them under the plea bargain clause of the EFCC Establishment Act, while scores are being prosecuted in various courts.
Elsewhere, the EFCC clampdown on suspected looters became fierce and widespread. Former ministers, state governors, heads of federal agencies, prominent politicians suspected of looting Nigeria or states and laundered the money became guests of the anti-graft agency and eventually the courts. The courts have concluded some of the cases, but many are still pending.
President Buhari has also ordered the suspension and investigations of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Babachir Lawal over allegation of corruption alongside, Mr. Ayo Oke, the Director-General of Nigeria’s National Intelligence Agency (NIA) over corruption allegations.
During his first year report, the administration of President Buhari revealed to Nigerians an incredible recovery of looted wealth in cash and assets. Information Minister Lai Mohammed pegged the total value in cash and assets recovered by May 25th 2016 to a whopping $9.1 billion. More isolated recoveries of looted wealth have been made in the last one year of the Buhari administration, which has taken the amount a notch higher.
In May 2016, Magu, the EFCC boss disclosed that ‘‘In just six months of this year, we have secured over 140 convictions, including some elusive ‘high profile’ criminals. We have recovered billions of dollars’ worth of stolen funds, and blocked numerous avenues of money laundering.’’ And the number of convictions jumped to 187 by November of the same year.
The chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee on Anti-corruption, Professor Itse Sagay disclosed in June 2016 at a Lecture and Award Ceremony of the National Association of Judiciary Correspondents (NAJUC) Lagos State Chapter that the number of corruption cases unearthed by anti-corruption agencies in the country in just nine months were incredibly high and mind-boggling ever known to Nigeria’s history.
However, the prosecution of Political Exposed Persons (PEP) and other perceived public office holders has rather been slow due to the unwillingness of the judiciary to speedily conclude corruption cases. While declaring open a workshop for Nigerian Judges at the National Judicial Institute, Abuja, President Buhari bemoaned this trend stating that;
“I am worried that the expectation of the public is yet to be met by the judiciary with regard to the removal of delay and the toleration of delay tactics by lawyers.”
He added, “When cases are not concluded the negative impression is given that crime pays. So far, the corruption cases filed by government are not progressing as speedily as they should in spite of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act of 2015 essentially because the courts allow some lawyers to frustrate the reforms introduced by law.”
Despite the frustrations’, President Buhari is still pushing the anti-corruption battles with an unrelenting spirit. The Presidency introduced the policy of whistle blowing designed to encourage Nigerians to report financial and other related crimes to relevant authorities and earn 5% of the recovered loot. The policy has been in operation and the Whistle Blowing Bill itself is at advanced stage of being passed by the National Assembly.
Besides, President Buhari’s introduction and implementation of policies such as Bank Verification Number (BVN) and Treasury Single Account (TSA) are some of the many measures taken to checkmate corruption in the system.
Additionally, the Presidency is also contemplating the initiation of a Bill for special courts for financial crimes in the country. Sagay averred that his committee has finished the draft of the Special Crimes Act for judges who would be specifically mandated to probe into financial and related crimes expeditiously.
But it is not only the judiciary that is frustrating President’s Buhari’s anti-corruption campaigns. Other corrupt Nigerians in positions of authority have employed all tactics to rubbish his anti-graft war. The refusal of the Senate to conform Ibrahim Magu as the substantive chairman of the EFCC, citing a Department of State Security Services (DSS) report, claiming he has failed the “integrity test,” is one of the several obstacles placed on the path of Buhari’s efforts to fight corruption.
It is discernible from the altercations between the Presidency and the Senate over the confirmation of Magu as EFCC boss stems from the desire of the lawmakers to anoint a pliable character, who can easily compromise the anti-graft war, to head the anti-graft agency.
In spite of the setbacks, President Buhari’s resolve to fight corruption remains unbroken. In his 2017 New Year speech to Nigerians, President Buhari reaffirmed this resolve in these words;
“Our determination to wrestle corruption to the ground remains unshaken. This fight, which will be guided by respect for the rule of law and due process, will not spare anybody or organ of government.”
“It is a collective undertaking and resolve that must be seen to its logical conclusion in spite of certain distractions. The fate of our country lies partly in the success of this campaign. It will be unthinkable on my part to allow the boat of this crucial campaign promise capsize mid-stream,” he assured.
Nigerians expect that despite the deliberate obstacles set on the path of President Buhari’s anti-corruption campaigns’, he should not backslide. He should recover every looted kobo and punish looters in accordance with the prescriptions’ of the law. They believe this is the only way Nigeria can be reclaimed from the looters for the Nigerian masses.
Agbese writes from Abuja.