Compared to his 1984 offensive President Muhammadu Buhari’s current war against corruption is looking like a child’s play. Granted, he does not have the same tools he had in 1984-85, the dictatorial powers which enabled him unleash a blitzkrieg which herded scores of politicians into prison. But it is also true that the tools he has now, moral leadership, freely granted him by the people, are grossly under-utilized. Then in 1984, he was literally a young man of 42 with all the impetuosity that comes with youth. But now he is wise, mature, deliberative but slow. There’s probably no other way to explain how he did not see the “security report” delivered to the Senate by the Department of State Services on his nominee for chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
A Nigerian president is a very busy man and is not expected to see most of the things done in his name. But the fight against corruption is considered Buhari’s priority on which he has staked his reputation and honour. He is expected to know the demands of Murphy’s Law, and if he would be unable to see the confidential information being forwarded to the Senate about his nominee, his leg man, his liaison to the Senate, should and ought to have seen it, because, conventionally, he is to shepherd the nominee through the confirmation process. Indeed, it is his primary task to ensure that the nominee is confirmed and it is required of him to do everything, including previewing the DSS report, before it ever gets to the senate chamber. He, the liaison man, ought to be the one to blow the whistle, to alert the President about the unfavourable DSS report, and to alert the President of the onerous task of securing the nominee’s confirmation, and, if need be, to ask for a replacement, given the negative report.
Thus, the investigation of whether Mr. Ibrahim Magu was suitable or not for the crucial position of the anti-corruption czar ought to have been done before his name was forwarded to the Senate. The vetting of any official whose position depends on a favourable confirmation by the senate must necessarily be done first by the executive branch with a more rigorous benchmark than the Senate’s, to prevent the kind of embarrassment which has occurred in the last few weeks. First, it was the $29.9 billion external loan, tossed by the Senate for lack of appropriate documentation. Now, even if the Senate has an ax to grind or is making political demands, the Presidency ought not to provide the body even better ammunition.
The worst case was that of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), an official who should be, like Caesar’s wife, above suspicion. It is awful to retain an official like the SGF after the kind of censure he received from the Senate, irrespective of whatever motive his defenders choose to assign the senate. What has become clear is that the Buhari administration has no internal mechanism to do background checks, to vet its officials, to ensure they conform to required integrity checks. Is it not disgraceful that after more than 18 months in power, the administration has not got its officials to fulfill the basic Code of Conduct requirement of completing asset declaration forms? Such basic matters ought to be completed before an official takes the oath of office. It also indicates to most Nigerians that apart from the President and Vice-President Yemi Osibajo, who publicly declared their assets, no one else in the executive branch seems committed to the President’s fight against corruption.
The picture is even worse in the legislative branch where only Senator Shehu Sani is the lone Federal legislator to have declared his assets publicly. There are 469 Federal legislators in Nigeria. The number of civil servants in Federal and State governments is close to two million. None is known to have declared his or her assets publicly. The three arms of government accuse each other of being more corrupt than the other. The judiciary has lately joined as subject of suspicion. In the past three months, at least five superior court judges have been recommended for either dismissal or compulsory retirement and quite a number has been arraigned in the law courts accused of corruption. The members of the National Assembly think that the civil service is more corrupt than legislators. The ministers think the legislators are the real looters.The most unnerving aspect of the war on corruption is that there is no war at all, given the disposition of all the important segments of society which are most affected by it. The legislators continue to loot the treasury as if there is no tomorrow. They are so brazen about it. They have done so for 17 years and not a single individual has been held to account even when they are caught red-handed. Officials of the immediate past government have been arraigned in dozens, have been let off on bail, but so far not a single conviction. Nothing has changed in the streets where there are all kinds of rackets at every corner. The great bastions of corruption – the police, the Customs Service, Immigration people, traffic officers and soldiers who man the numerous checkpoints that dot all the highways – carry on in regular fashion. The cynicism about the war on corruption is pervasive. The government recently introduced a campaign called “Change Begins With Me” which appears to be anti-corruption but is read to be far removed from the fight against corruption.
The rhetoric against corruption is popular and you’d hear even members of the Senate, the largest collection of the most corrupt people in the country composed mostly of former governors, party lords, and shady business moguls, speak so eloquently about the need to curb corruption. The same situation obtains in the House of Representatives which recently launched a campaign and a bill to legislate immunity for themselves against any kind of prosecution, seeing that one day, Nigerians, after so many years of playing dead to the looting of the nation’s treasury, might demand some accountability. The bill has gone through a second reading and is soon to become law.
In a few months President Buhari would have been through the first half of his tenure and it is sometimes difficult to know if his heart is truly in the fight because, being the moral leader of the country, there is no evidence he is trying to persuade his party to join him in the fight. That his ministers had not filed their assets declaration forms shows he does not seem to put them in the fight. Yet for a profound change to take place in an aspect of Nigeria’s life, millions of Nigerians must be enlisted especially the topmost leaders of the country who ought to lead the crusade. Right now, the war is by a two-man army, and the President is like a commander without an army. There is no sign that he’d be more successful than he was in 1984-85 unless, somehow, he can enlist his party, its legislators, the ministers, the civil service to be active in the war, and followed by millions of Nigerians who look up to him. Nigerians are good followers, especially, when they see leadership by example.