President Muhammadu Buhari’s style on the war against corruption is doing more harm than good to the All Progressives Congress (APC). The beginning of this new year has already seen the APC being dazed with an outrage, and understandably so, because its Presidential Campaign Council for the 2019 General Elections features high-profile politicians facing a myriad of serious corruption charges. Following the folly was a worldwide fury at Buhari’s blatant attempt to prosecute, without due process, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen, on lesser allegations bordering on corruption. So, what does the president think he is doing with this litany of unforced errors or, rather, an unbecoming pattern of partiality? In case Buhari does not know it, which appears to be the case; he is ‘going to the well too often’—steadily exposing his storied integrity to the dustbin of history.
Recall that the worldwide goodwill that greeted Buhari’s victory in 2015 was uniquely quaint. The goodwill, remember, was not because of his intellectual capacity. It was neither because of his economic vision nor democratic credentials. Instead, it was due to his no-nonsense track record against corruption. Upon assumption of office, Buhari did not relent, never ending any brief without vowing to eradicate corruption. He followed by creating awareness, blocking streams of leakages, probing individuals alleged to have looted public funds, and flashing fearsome signals that suggest a true determination to cleanse the Augean stables in the world’s largest black nation.
Buhari’s first major strike was to detain, without bail, a former security adviser, Sambo Dasuki, for allegedly looting over $2bn meant for arms during the previous administration. The Acting Chairman, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu, would later captivate the nation by declaring that the regime has secured over 703 convictions. In fact, the agency made history in 2018 by convicting and jailing two high-profile politicians, Jolly Nyame, former governor of Taraba; and Joshua Dariye, a serving Senator and a former governor of Plateau to long prison terms. This is very significant. Besides the lone case of Olabode George, no prominent politician has served a jail sentence in the Nigerian soil from 2007 until Muhammadu Buhari returned to power.
The EFCC further claimed to have recovered over “N794 billion; $261 million; £1,115, 930.47; € 8,168,871.13; CFA 86,500”, hundreds of properties and other assets with specific mention of St. Solomon Health Care Centre, located at No. 24, Adeniyi Jones Street, Ikeja, Lagos. Any deep inquiry on the figures above ought to reveal a case in the EFCC website where it asserted that “N47.2 Billion and $487.5 Million in cash and properties have so far been traced to the former Minister of Petroleum Resources in the Ex-President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke” The website noted in particular “a $37.5m (N11.75bn) (Eleven Billion, Seven Hundred and Fifty Million Naira) property on Banana Island, Ikoyi, Lagos” and much more allegedly belonging to the same Diezani Alison-Madueke.
Not done, President Buhari appeared to demonstrate that no one is above the law by going after the leadership of the Legislature, Senate President Bukola Saraki, and his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu, for sundry corruption allegations, particularly forgery and failure to declare their assets. The snapshot of the President of the Nigerian Senate, Bukola Saraki, being docked at the Code of Conduct Tribunal shortly after Buhari took office was a welcome news and made headlines around the globe.
This impressive evidence on the war against corruption, which I am known to have roundly extolled, would have been enough to vault the APC to an easy victory in the 2019 elections. But Buhari’s modus operandi, which is widely believed to thrive only in injustice and stark opacity, has become a poisoned chalice. In other words, President Muhammadu Buhari is inadvertently becoming a liability to the APC on the war against corruption. The context, of course, is clear as crystal.
First, President Buhari has inexcusably refused to reveal the true identities of all the prominent Nigerians who returned corrupt proceeds and the specific amount of money or properties so recovered or seized besides the quotidian instance of Diezani Madueke. Second, the fight against corruption has been selective as evidenced by the repugnant opacity with the case of former Secretary to Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal, accused of looting public projects being executed by the same administration or that of Kemi Adeosun, his former Minister of Finance busted for fake credentials ; Buhari’s glowing praise, instead of condemnation, of his close ally and Kano State governor, Umar Ganduje, who was caught on multiple video tapes receiving bribes from a contractor, among many others. Fourth, the president has remained indifferent to many cases of underhand practices during the APC primaries, including his shameless acceptance of a N45 million nomination form purchased by a sham support group which only goes to negate the section of the electoral law designed to checkmate tainted money in Nigerian elections; and a string of graft allegations hanging around the neck of the National Chairman of the party, Adams Aliyu Oshiomhole. Fifth, the pace and content of Buhari’s second term bid is being dictated by a team featuring a bevy of notorious politicians facing serious corruption charges. The most dumbfounding is the sheer affrontery with Godswill Akpabio who was indicted for looting over N100 billions of public money while in the opposition camp but upon switching to the ruling party emerged an affectionate poster boy for Buhari’s presidential campaign.
The picture Muhammadu Buhari is painting is nothing but that of a man aiding, abetting, and celebrating corruption. Of course, his handlers argue otherwise, but witlessly so. For instance, their common pushback is that presumption of innocence is a legal right of the accused in the Nigerian criminal law, which is true. But that is errant nonsense in this regard. Common sense dictates that any serious charge preferred by the state against the citizen ought to have basis in fact. Moreover, Nigerians are appalled that the principle of presumption of innocence is commonly applied to the allies of the Buhari administration while similar reprieve is never considered for his political foes, for example, the developing case of Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, among many others. Very instructively, if the principle of presumption of innocence is to be generalized, some of us in the ruling party might as well apologize to the presidential nominee of the major opposition party, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar, who has continued to suffer emblematic stereotype as a virally corrupt figure based on mere allegations. Even worse, it is preposterous that the EFCC continues to inundate the name of Diezani Alison Madueke as a corrupt dame based on mere allegations while at the same time stoking a defiant audacity to shield the identities of other prominent politicians who are already found guilty of corruption or have returned their loot. One also wonders the rationale behind the specific reference to St. Solomon Health Care Centre without disclosing similar properties confiscated by the agency.
The objective fact is that Buhari’s pattern of partiality, which is said to be a handiwork of a prostrate cabal, has become grotesque and thus indefensible. This explains why, despite what his harshest critics would agree is a measurable success on the war against corruption, the latest Transparency International report within the same period rated Buhari’s antigraft record as worse than the inglorious effort during the regime of Goodluck Jonathan. Today, even with 2019 general elections on the line, it is becoming increasingly impolitic for the All Progressive Congress (APC) to flaunt Buhari’s integrity as a trump card.
An old saying goes that it is better late than never. Nigerians elected Muhammadu Buhari to be transparent and courageous to demonstrate serious consequences for corrupt activities without minding whose ox is gored. He can still rekindle the hope by correcting the apparent flaws in his war against corruption—no matter how close to the 2019 elections. After all, if Muhammadu Buhari can jump at any opportunity of doing the wrong thing at the wrong time, for instance, the bizarre plot to remove the Chief Justice of the Federal Republic without due process or an unabashed rash of one-sided appointments at this critical point in the history, nothing stops him therefore from making the needful amends on the war against corruption, regardless.
SKC Ogbonnia, a former 2019 APC presidential aspirant, is the author of the Effective Leadership Formula*