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Published On: Sun, Oct 8th, 2017

Anti corruption: The rot within

–              President Buhari’s men expose fragility of corruption fight

By Obinna Ezugwu

On May 29, 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari mounted the saddle of leadership after riding on the high horse of anti-corruption and unquenchable integrity to beat the then incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan.

President Buhari

Buhari had promised, in his campaign trail, to kill corruption, lest corruption kills the country. His victory over Jonathan, whose government was adjudged to have been very corrupt, was welcomed with fanfare. It was to be a new beginning for the nation, a new era of corruption free Nigeria.

It is now two and a half years with Buhari on the saddle, and hopes have given way to near despair. The only thing that seems to have changed with respect to corruption is its interpretation. The Buhari government seems to have effectively succeeded in reducing the menace to such acts that can only be committed by political opponents. But the rot continues within his government.

Last week’s revelation by the Minister of State for Petroleum, Dr. Ibe Kackikwu in a ‘leaked’ letter to Buhari inadvertently lends credence to this.

In the letter dated August 30 and addressed to the president, now a subject of heated political discourse, Kachikwu alleged that the Group Managing Director of Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Dr. Maikanti Baru had awarded contracts to the tune of $25billion (about N9 trillion) without recourse to due process. He revealed that Baru was engaging in illegal practices, disregarded due process and showed insubordination which according to him, was capable of hindering progress in the country’s petroleum sector or even reverse recorded strides.

While pleading with the President to “save the office of the minister of state from further humiliation and disrespect by compelling all parastatals to submit to oversight regulatory mandate and proper supervision which I am supposed to manage on your behalf,” the Minister noted that it was necessary that all parastatals in the ministry be aligned with its policy drive to achieve growth.

“Parastatals in the ministry and all CEOs of these parastatals must be aligned with the policy drive of the ministry to allow the sector register the growth that has eluded it for many years,” he wrote. “To do otherwise or to exempt any of the parastatals would be to emplace a stunted growth for the industry.”

The letter, according to the minister, was necessitated by his inability to access the president after making concerted effort; it was thus a last resort.

Two issues, analysts say, suffice here,namely, either the president has been completely hijacked by a certain cabal in Aso Rock, such that even his own ministers cannot reach him or he knew and had endorsed Baru’s activities.

The latter appears more likely. In the heat of the controversy last week, Aisha Yusufu, co-convener of Bring Back our Girls Campaign took to her twitter handle to declare that Buhari deliberately did not want to see the minister.

“Stop saying Kachikwu has no access to the president. The president doesn’t want to see Kachikwu period!” she declared.

“Kachikwu is the minister of state of the ministry that gives Nigeria its highest income, that Buhari is the minister. Buhari should be the one looking for Kachikwu. Kachikwu should be so overworked by Buhari himself and in close contact 24/7.”

The whole scenario is getting quite interesting. There is now little doubt that corruption is still endemic in the NNPC and judging by Buhari’s slow response to the allegations raised by the minister, some say it would be safe to conclude that he may have been aware of what is going on.

On Friday, the president met with the minister behind closed doors, nothing significant has been disclosed as the outcome of the meeting; it is beginning to seem, at best, as damage control, and for observers, it is a testament to the president’s double standard in his much touted anti corruption fight.

“The allegations are weighty, we will all see how things will play out,” said Lagos based lawyer and public affairs analyst, Barr. Okey Ilofulunwa.

“But this has shown that what he (Buhari) says is different from what he does. And what he does or says is different from what the members of his cabinet do. It seems that so many people in the administration don’t even believe in the said fight against corruption. It is just like music to them.”

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Kaduna Central senator, and a member of Buhari’s party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), Shehu Sani was quick to point out in an interview with Channels that the letter has raised issues about the whole structure of governance under Buhari.

“The content of that letter and the allegations made raise a number of issues not only about the NNPC but about the whole structure of governance as it exists today,” he said.

“In the very sense that if a minister of state can say it has been difficult for him to access channels through which he can present his issues, I think there is a system disconnect and it is simply giving credence to the fact that there exists a government within a government.”

Sani warned that it was important that Buhari took decisive action on the letter as failing to do so would cause him his much touted integrity. But things are fast assuming a tricky dimension. It appears that the power brokers in the presidency are more interested in calling to question, the minister’s credibility than in looking at the issues he raised.

On Thursday, a letter purportedly written by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and addressed to president asking him to endorse investigations into allegations of corruption involving the minister surfaced online. A development many have condemned as an attempted blackmail on the minister in the face of an overwhelming indictment of Buhari’s anti-corruption crusade.

There is already a pattern to it. When a corruption case involves individuals favourably disposed to the president, it is largely swept under the carpet. The former Secretary to Government of the Federation was accused of abusing his office by using a company he has interest in to attract a N270 million to cut grass at the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp in Borno. Despite senate probe and indictment, it took extreme pressure for him to be suspended from office, and till this day, the probe panel’s report headed by the vice president Yemi Osinbajo is gathering dust.

A few months ago, the EFCC uncovered foreign currencies and naira notes to the tune of $43.4 million, £27,800 and N23.2 million in an apartment located at 16 Osborne Road, Ikoyi, Lagos. Amidst the uproar that greeted it controversy arose over the owner of the money. Buhari’s minister of transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, was allegedly fingered; soon the matter was swept under the carpet.

In August, Senator Misau, who is representing Bauchi Central at the National Assembly accused the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Mr. Ibrahim Kpotun Idris, of collecting about N120 billion as bill for special security services.

Misau noted that such “unreasonably exorbitant security services” were being rendered to corporate bodies, such as oil firms, and highly placed individuals on yearly basis across the country and condemned what he called “series of fraudulent practices in the running of the Nigerian Police.”

The senator accused the IGP of collecting millions in bribes from police commissioners for favourable posting. His allegations were weighty, but even so, nothing was done by way of investigations. Last week, the Senator further accused the police chief of corruption, abuse of office and sexual affairs with female police officers.

While speaking at the floor of the Senate, Mr. Misau accused Mr. Idris of recently impregnating two female police officers and arranging for a secret wedding with one in Kaduna. He also accused Mr. Idris of awarding special promotions to female officers and ‘his boys’ at the expense of merit.

Earlier in the year, the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buruatai who was in charge of procurement during the infamous Dasuki Gate, was accused of acquiring properties worth millions of dollars in Dubai, he claimed he had acquired the property with family savings, the matter quickly died off.

Also minister of Internal Affairs, Lt. Gen. Dambazou was Chief of army staff when the contracts were awarded. The Presidential committee on Army contracts report, which allegedly indicted the two officers, has since been abandoned.

Meanwhile, Sambo Dasuki, the then National Security Advisor who had played a part in the toppling of Buhari in 1985 is rotting away in detention.

There is little to suggest that the Baru case will not go the same way, despite the allegation bearing semblance with that of former Minister of Petroleum, Diezani Allison Madueke. However, the Senate has set up an adhoc committee to investigate the matter.

The opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) is alleging that the administration is siphoning the funds for the 2019 polls. The party in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Prince Dayo Adeyeye, called for the immediate commencement of investigation into the allegations, urging President Buhari to,  without further delay, demonstrate that his anti-corruption credentials by speaking up on the alleged scam.

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Rights group, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, (SERAP) and Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice, ANEEJ on Thursday, called for immediate investigation into the allegation. The Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) had also lent its voice, warning that the revelations were too weighty to be ignored.

Pressure is mounting, more revelations are emerging. Following on the heels of the letter were two equally weighty allegations. One being that the National Petroleum Investment Management Services (NAPIMS), an arm of the NNPC, had directed operators in the petroleum industry to contribute to the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) Intervention Fund for the people of the North East as a letter to the operators obtained by the Guardian revealed.

According to the letter, contributions will be made to a proposed “Dedicated Account,” while specific areas of infrastructure development interventions were spelt out, which should be “treated as urgent.” This is even as there is already a Presidential Committee on the North East Initiative (PCNI) engaged in various intervention programmes in the region.

Shortly afterwards, another revelation came up to the effect that Mr Baru and the NNPC had failed to remit $793.2 million belonging to the Federal Government.

According to reports, the current NNPC management had stashed the money in different commercial banks instead of remitting same to the Treasury Single Account (TSA) as required by law.

Sources said proceeds from crude oil sale and other operations as well as interest accruing to the appropriate accounts have been kept away from the government and that the development may force the authorities to invite operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to look into the operations of the Corporation.

The money was said to be lodged in Sterling Bank, Keystone Bank, Diamond Bank, First Bank and Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).

Reacting to the allegation however, the spokesman of NNPC, Mr. Ndu Ughamadu, in a statement said: “We have no hidden accounts, adding that the amount in question was actually $231.8 million and not $793.2 million as widely reported.

He insisted that the media report alleging that the Corporation colluded with some banks to prevent the remittance of $793.2 million into TSA was not only misplaced but also misleading.

The next couple of weeks would be telling, but obviously, Buhari is not new to controversies in the oil sector.

During the Olusegun Obasanjo military government, the president served as Minister of Petroleum. He oversaw the newly formed NNPC which was at the time riddled with allegations of corruption. This had allegedly prompted an investigation by a senate committee led by the late Dr Olusola Saraki, father of the current Nigerian Senate President, Bukola Saraki, who was Senate leader in the second republic between 1979 to 1983 which allegedly indicted the him over a certain missing $2.8billion from the corporation.

A committee set up by the Shagari government led by Justice Ayo Irikefe to investigate the allegations however noted that although it found no evidence of missing money, Prof Ayodele Awojobi of the University of Lagos was said to have revealed that the barrel being used to lift crude from the country’s oil wells at the time was four gallons bigger than the standard international barrel.

The controversy died with Buhari’s coup of 1983 which toppled the Shagari government. But years later, Buhari was back in another oil sector corruption controversy. The president had served as chairman of Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF) under late military dictator, Gen. Sani Abacha and his tenure was fraught with accusations of graft with respect to several contracts worth N207 billion awarded by the Fund under him; different payments totalling N135.59 billion made by the Fund for various projects, leaving a debt burden of more than N70 billion owed numerous contractors, consultants, manufacturers, publishers and suppliers who had waged war on PTF; mysterious disappearance of N500 million among others.

Obasanjo who set up a committee to investigate the allegations however, came out in the run up to the 2015 election in which Buhari was candidate to absorb him of any wrongdoing in spite of available information that suggest the contrary.

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