By Ifeanyi Ottah
Corruption has been described as the biggest among the challenges facing Nigeria. There is no doubt that the level of corruption in the country is found in all the entire sectors of the country and it is endemic in the system. Nigeria, which is the most populated country in Africa, has been ranked high in corruption by Transparency International Index and other notable organizations that checkmate the level of corruption in any country.
President Muhammadu Buhari who was earlier criticized for being slow and was also nick-named “Baba Go Slow” for his inability to hit the ground running shortly after he was sworn in as President now leaves no one in doubt that he was prepared to fulfill his campaign promises. His administration appears to have started gathering momentum, especially as it concerns the anti-corruption war.
President Buhari last week has said that the trial of former Public officers who looted the national treasury under the Jonathan administration and stashed the funds in foreign banks will commence in few weeks.
Buhari made this disclosure when he met members of the National Peace Committee led by former Head of State General Abdulsalami Abubakar at the Presidential Villa Abuja.
General Abubakar, however, advised President Buhari to follow due process in the prosecution of corrupt officials, reminding him that Nigeria was no longer in a Military regime.
The President who vowed to break the vicious cycle of corruption, unemployment and insecurity in Nigeria, stated that his administration would not only ensure that stolen monies stashed in foreign banks accounts were returned but that the looters must be tried.
He disclosed also that he was gathering documents which would serve as evidence against suspected culprits in the anti-corruption war.
Buhari, who regretted the sorry state of the country’s finances also told the committee that as part of his actions to address the national problems he inherited, he has ordered the reorganization of Nigeria’s revenue generating institutions.
The President declared that his administration was irrevocably committed to doing all within its powers to break the vicious cycle of corruption, unemployment and insecurity in Nigeria.
He said those who have stolen the National wealth “will be in court in a matter of weeks and Nigerians will know those who have short changed them.”
“Nigeria has to break this vicious cycle before we can make progress,” adding that his administration was diligently getting facts and figures pertaining to the nation’s stolen funds, before proceeding to the prosecution of identified culprits.
Buhari told General Abubakar and members of his committee that the Federal Government, under his leadership, would not only ask for the return of stolen funds that have been stashed in foreign banks, but would also ensure that those who stole the funds were put on trial in Nigeria.
The President also said that as part of its actions to address the national problems it inherited, his administration was reorganizing Nigeria’s revenue-generating institutions.
He explained that a single treasury account has been established for all federal revenues to ensure greater probity, transparency and accountability in the collection, disbursement and utilization of national funds.
Buhari added: “We have really degenerated as a country. Our national institutions, including the Military, which did wonderfully on foreign missions in the past, have been compromised, but we are doing something about it. The Military is now retraining and morale has been resuscitated.
“As Petroleum Minister under General Olusegun Obasanjo in the 1970s, I could not travel abroad until I had taken a memo to the Federal Executive Council, asking for Estacode. Now, everybody does what he wants.
“That is why security wise and economically, we’re in trouble.”Meanwhile the President had earlier in the week said that he was unwavering in the fight against corruption in the country.
He stated that corruption has no political party, no region and no ethnic group and as such there would be no partisanship in the fight against the scourge.
It would be recall that President Buhari was recently accused by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Senate caucus that he was selective in the anti-corruption war.
The 49 member Senate caucus of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) on Thursday kicked against President Muhammadu Buhari’s war against corruption, saying the drive was a selective anti-graft war that “lacks transparency and fairness.”
The PDP Senators at a Press Conference led by the Minority Leader of the Senate, Godswill Akpabio, said the anti-graft war was mainly targeted at opposition politicians.
The former governor of Akwa Ibom State, who is currently being investigated by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), noted that there is no transparency in Mr. Buhari’s efforts to rid Nigeria of Corruption as the administration targets its political opponents.
The opposition Senators however expressed support for the Buhari administration, saying they support Mr. Buhari’s efforts to change the country.
“The current war lacks transparency, fairness to all and appears to be aimed at political adversaries,” said the Minority Leader.
The PDP Senators further condemned the action of personnel of the state security service by hounding government opponents, saying security service intimidates electoral officials in Abia, Rivers and Akwa Ibom States, controlled by the PDP.
“It is on this ground that we condemn in particular what is happening in Akwa Ibom, Rivers and Abia States where election umpires are daily arrested, their families and associates hounded, judicial officers involved in election tribunals intimidated and questioned using trumped up petitions bordering on corruption.
“Yet these officials were part of the 2015 elections that produced President Buhari, an election adjudged to be generally free and fair by the international community. The PDP Senate caucus is worried, alarmed and shocked by the recent development in our polity where the DSS is now involved in electoral matters.
“A situation where officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in Rivers State, Akwa Ibom and Abia States (all PDP States) are daily being arrested, detained and questioned on politically motivated corruption allegations is worrisome and spells doom for our democracy unless the trend is reversed.
“Reports reaching the caucus has it that INEC officials are being forced by the DSS to produce falsified documents to support APC candidates cases before the tribunals. This is abominable and unacceptable. Mr. President and all well-meaning Nigerians must intervene to preserve the independence of the tribunals and that of INEC…”
However, in his reaction through his media aide, Mallam Garba Shehu in a statement, the President regretted the accusation, saying it was absolutely false and unfounded.
“We have noted with regret, the allegation by members of the PDP Senate caucus that the Present administration is being selective and partisan in its prosecution of the war against corruption.
“We state without equivocation that the allegation is false, baseless and totally unjustifiable. For the avoidance of any doubt whatsoever, we affirm that having made his zero tolerance for corruption clear to all and sundry, President Muhammadu, Buhari does not micro-manage or interfere in the daily work of Nigeria’s anti-corruption agencies. The wild allegation of bias and partisanship in the fight against corruption shouldn’t have come therefore from respected and distinguished members of the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“That claim belongs to the past and not the present. Public officials and other leaders accused of corruption by relevant agencies should plead their innocence, not malice. President Buhari’s unwavering stance is that whosoever is charged with corruption should face the law irrespective of whether they are members of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), or any other Political Party. As far as the President is concerned, corruption has no political party, no religion and no ethnic group.”
The Presidential spokesman also reminded the PDP caucus that President Buhari’s message during the campaign was to stamp out corruption in Nigeria, saying that he was wholly committed to the fight.
“It is important to remind the PDP Senate caucus and all Nigerians that right from 2003 when he started campaigning for the Presidency of Nigeria, President Buhari consistently promised to do his best to curb corruption in the country. The President remains wholly committed to fulfilling that promise and will not be deterred from the relentless prosecution of the war against corruption because he remains convinced that, as he has said, “unless Nigeria kills corruption, corruption will kill Nigeria.”
On the claim that the Presidency was meddling in the election petitions tribunal, Shehu also stated that president Buhari does not interfere in the constitutional duties of the tribunals:
He specifically mentioned Rivers, Abia and Akwa-Ibom States, saying they that the tribunals do not operate under the guidance of the President.
“The claim by the PDP senate caucus that President Buhari and his administration are meddling in election petition cases through the Department of State Services (DSS) is also untrue. The duties of the DSS and other security agencies are clearly spelt out in the laws establishing them. The Federal Government led by President Buhari does not give them instructions regarding their daily operations. Election Tribunals and the Independent National Electoral Commission in Rivers, Abia and Akwa-Ibom states do not operate under the guidance of the President.
“Any individual or group of individuals who think that their legitimate political and civil rights are infringed upon by the DSS or any institution is advised to seek protection and redress under our constitution and laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria instead of resorting to baseless allegations against the Buhari Administration.
On President Buhari’s watch the rule of law, not impurity, shall govern every aspect of life in Nigeria and there will be no room for sentiments, bias and corruption in the application of the laws of the land.”
He pointed out that the statement however reassured Nigerians of the commitment of the present administration to rid the country of corruption.
“President Buhari also wishes to re-assure all Nigerians that his administration will not discriminate against individuals or groups in the performance of its duties.
Meanwhile in a bid to show his government’s determination to rid corruption out of the country, President Buhari also appointed a Presidential Advisory committee against corruption headed by Professor Itse Sagay, a prominent professor of law and civil rights activist. The committee brief, according to the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, is to advise the present administration on the prosecution of the war against corruption and the implementation of required reforms in Nigeria’s criminal justice system. Other members of the committee which is also expected to develop comprehensive interventions for achieving recommended reforms, are Prof. Femi Odekunle, Professor of criminology, Ahmadu Bello University-member; Dr. (Mrs.) Benedicta Daudu, Associate Professor of International Law, University of Jos-member; Professor Bolaji Owasanoye, Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal studies Member/Executive Secretary of the committee among others.
In support of the Federal Government’s efforts, an Anti-corruption and Criminal Justice Reform Fund has been established by three international development partners namely the Ford Foundtion, Mac Arthur Foundation and open Society Foundation. The $5 million fund is to assist implementation of key components of the Action plan and the work of the Presidential Advisory Committee. The fund will be managed by Trust Africa, an international development Civil Society Organisation will programme presence in more than 25 African countries.
However, the fight against corruption in Nigeria which began in earnest during the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo refused to yield much positive result.
During that administration, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu was appointed Chairman Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFFC) and inspite of Ribadu’s effort to show Nigerians and the world that the commission was sincere in its fight against graft, the whole process collapsed simply because the EFCC anti corruption war was targetted at only Obasanjo’s enemies. And instead of the anti graft agency to arrest and prosecute those political office holders perceived to be corrupt, it however, shields those in Obasanjo’s good book who were as well regarded as sacred cows and arrested and prosecuted those who were not in the President’s good book.
It would be recalled that the Oputa Panel set up by the same administration to expose the country’s past corrupt leaders failed too when some of the past leaders like Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida and Muhammadu Buhari invited refused to appear before the panel.
The EFFC headed by Mrs. Farida Waziri during the late President Musa Yar’Adua and President Goodluck Jonathan administration could not do much simply for the reason that the commission was not armed with teeth to bite. Before Mrs Waziri was sacked over an alleged economic corruption, it was obvious that the commission had compromised. Many Nigerians believe that for anti-corruption war to work in Nigeria there should be no sacred cows.
Even though President Buhari had said that only Jonathan’s administration would be probed, some ex-Nigerian leaders who perhaps frustrated the efforts made by previous administrations to rid the country off corruption are up again to frustrate Buhari’s effort.
Former Military Head of State, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida recently hit back at Buhari who accused his regime of being behind the destruction of oil sector.
Babangida, a chieftain of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) threatened to expose. What he described as “holier-than thou-attitude” of President Buhari.
The former head of state, who spoke through Prince Kassim Afegbua, his media adviser, reminded Buhari that those who live in glass houses should not throw stones.
Besides, Babangida, urged: “It is not in IBB’s tradition to take up issues with his colleague former President. But for the purpose of record, we are conversant with Gen. Buhari’s holier than thou attitude.
“He is a one time Minister of Petroleum and we hae good records of his tenure as Minister. “Secondly, he also presided over the Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF), which records we also have.
“We challenge him to come out with clean hands in those two portfolios he headed or, we will help him to expose his “records of performance during those periods,” he said.
The speaker, Kwara State House of Assembly, Dr. Ali Ahmed on Wednesday said the anti-corruption war of President Muhammadu Buhari might be futile if he did not implement the Administration of Criminal Justice Act passed by the 7th National Assembly.
He also said it was important and urgent for Buhari to appoint the Attorney General of the Federation who, he said, should also put in place appropriate structures to prevent lawyers from taking advantage of some loopholes and scuttle the well intention of Federal Government’s anti-graft war.
Speaking during a media briefing in Ilorin, the Kwara State Capital, Ahmad also said the appointment of a Legal Icon, Prof. Itse Sagay, by Buhari to head the Presidential Advisory Committee against corruption was a laudable development.
Noting that corruption had inhabited national growth, he urged Buhari to remain courageous, decisive and follow the rule of law in his anti-graft pasture.
Ahmad, who was the chairman, house of Representatives committee on Justice, also said the whistle blower’s act passed by the 7th National Assembly should be assented to by Buhari to protect people including Civil Servant who will reveal corrupt acts.
He stated that currently there is no legal protection for whistle-blowers, adding that they might suffer-intimidation and some harm if the law was not assented to so that they might suffer intimidation and some harm if the law was not assented to so that they could be protected.
Ali said, “I am happy with the president’s pronouncement that the final days for corrupt officials will start in few weeks. Corrupt officials will start in few weeks. Corruption should be followed up. It is something that should follow due process. I must commend the president for his-appointment of prof. Itse Sagay. That is a good move.
“The war on corruption in my view, in a Political dispensation will be won this way; one in court as the president has said, and two by following due process. In court, the federal government is now fully armed with laws and bills that it can channel towards corruption in a democratic dispensation. The 7th legislature passed the Administration of Criminal Justice bill which was signed at the last moment of President Godluck Jonathan. President Buhari should take full advantage in implementing it. If President Buhari does not implement this law, I am afraid, his war on corruption will be scuttled in the law court by Senior Advocates of Nigeria.”
However, the ex-National Secretary of the People Democratic Party (PDP) and former Chairman, Board of Trustees of the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND), Dr. Musa Babayo, has said President – Muhammadu Buhari’s war against Corruption is in order.
Babayo, who, spoke at the weekended with a National Newspaper in Lagos, said the President should be hailed for waging a war against graft.
He said, “President Buhari is drederm lined to change people’s lives. He believes in the core values of integrity, service to humanity, building and moving the society forward and strengthening our institutions so that our country can progress. This is why I support his anti-corruption crusade despite that I am a People Democratic Party (PDP) chieftain.
“Buhari is the President of Nigeria, he is not the President of the All Progressives Congress (APC). He took an oath of office and allegiance and it is our responsibilities, based on his antecedents, based on his track record, he will perform; in fact, he is already performing.”
Babayo said contrary to the PDP opinion, the President was not slow. His words: “Basically, when people talk of being too slow or too fast, I laugh. Whenever you take an assignment, the first thing you do is to conduct a detailed diagnostic study of your internal environment because you have to know the depth of your problem. You don’t begin to prescribe solution; you don’t begin the treatment of a disease when the diagnoses are not complete. You may not get it right if you do that.
“Some people are saying Buhari should have done his homework before assuming office. But there are some assignments. You cannot do while outside, you need to be inside before you can do them. If a patient goes to see his doctor the doctor will first know his medical history. He will not prescribe panadol for you simply because you have headache. He will want to do something more by diagnosing, in order to give you the right treatment.”
The ex-PDP National Secretary and former Chairman of TETFUND Board of Trustees said President Buhari had the strength, moral focus and posture to fight corruption.
Said he, “Things are happening already and in the positive direction. I believe strongly that this is the right way to go. The change has begun, the change of attitude. If you are able to stop people who undermine Institutions, that is a monumental achievement. The fear of Buhari should be the beginning of wisdom, but the fear should be in the positive sense because the fear is providing leadership and he has started providing good leadership, from what we have seen.”