Published On: Mon, Sep 3rd, 2018

Worsening corruption negates Buhari’s agenda

…as agency identifies 55 corruption in Nigeria

 By AYOOLA OLAOLUWA

President Muhammadu Buhari rode to power on May 29, 2015, on a sweeping mandate from Nigerians to give the country a new direction. Due largely to his reputation as a morally upright public individual, there were high expectations among expectant Nigerians that the newly elected president will at least fulfill three of his major campaign promises.

Apart from promising to stem the growing scourge of insecurity, particularly the Boko Haram menace in the North East and restoring the nation back to economic prosperity, the president was voted into power largely because of his vow to tackle corruption.

However, barely nine months to the expiration of his 4-year term in office, the illusion of a corrupt free country among Nigerians is in total ruins. Enraged citizens, who spoke with Business Hallmark, also passed a damning verdict on the president who had promised them a less corrupt government as the solution to the problems plaguing the country.

Apart from the harsh verdict from Nigerians, several damning reports from abroad have also dented President Buhari’s reputation as an upright person, as well as casting doubts on his claims to be winning the fight against corruption, thus putting his government under scrutiny as the 2019 presidential poll approaches.

Just last week, a report on corruption by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace slammed the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as being equally corrupt and inclined to using political power to steal public resources.

The report titled, “A New Taxonomy for Corruption in Nigeria”, said despite President Muhammadu Buhari’s anti-corruption posture, there was little difference between his party, APC, and PDP.

“Kleptocratic capture of political party structures is a sine qua non of gaining power and thereby unlocking corruption opportunities across a range of other sectors. Little distinguishes Nigeria’s two main political parties – the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) party and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) – in this regard. Both are constellations of fluid national, state, and local elite networks.

“Both are almost identically structured, non-ideological organisations. Both rely on misappropriated public funds to finance election campaigns. Neither values internal party democracy, allowing money and high-level interference to corrupt candidate selection processes,” the report said.

According to the report, top politicians in the two major political parties are always seeking, by hook or by crook, opportunities to secure lucrative public appointments or high-level backing for their ambitions.

It stated further that party officials always sought to monetise their influence over internal party processes by soliciting cash from aspiring politicians or seeking to be co-opted by them.

Giving an insight into the corrupt practices prevalent in APC and PDP, the report frowned at what it called “the symbolic relationship between legislative and bureaucratic corruption”, which resulted in the country having three “expensive and unnecessary” space agencies. It said it had identified 500 kinds of corruption in Nigeria.

According to the author of the report, Matthew T. Page, corruption in Nigeria is complicated, far-reaching, and multifaceted. Page, a former American envoy to Nigeria, added that corruption could be seen in how the government tended to “waste” limited resources.

He took a swipe at Imo State Governor, Rochas Okorocha. “Among the forms of corrupt behaviour, the taxonomy includes ‘legalised corruption’ and ‘deliberate waste’. These categories are not generally recognised as forms of corruption, but they make sense to include in the Nigerian context.

These tactics include legislators’ exorbitant salaries – roughly $540,000 annually –, vanity projects such as one governor’s decision to erect multimillion-dollar bronze statues of South Africa and Liberia’s former presidents, and Nigeria’s three – yes, three! – expensive and unnecessary space agencies,” Page explained.

Another report which was released almost the same time by the United States government mocked President Buhari’s anti-corruption crusade. The 2017 Human Rights Report indicted the All Progressives Congress (APC) led administration of massive corruption and festering of human rights abuses.

The report slammed the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for flagrant disobedience to court orders and not following the due process of law in its operations.

The Department of State Services (DSS) was accused and blamed particularly for arbitrary abduction of persons opposed to the government of President Buhari.

The list also included “denial of fair public trial; executive influence on the judiciary; infringement on citizens’ privacy rights; restrictions on freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and movement; official corruption; lack of accountability in cases involving violence against women and children; trafficking in persons; and early and forced marriages.

The report also berated the judicial system, saying it was compromised during the period under review. The US said the executive and legislative arms of government continued to interfere with the judiciary.

“Although the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, the judicial branch remained susceptible to pressure from the executive and legislative branches. Political leaders influenced the judiciary, particularly at the state and local levels”, the report stated.

Just in late February 2018, the Transparency International’s (TI) latest corruption perception index (CPI) concluded that corruption was getting worse in Nigeria under President Buhari’s regime, with data showing that Nigeria which scored 27/100 and was ranked 136th in 2016, now scores 28/100 but is ranked 148th out of 180 countries surveyed, a significant 12 places below where it was the year before.

Apart from these reports from abroad, the illusion of a corrupt free country among Nigerians is in total ruins. Angry citizens Nigerians who spoke with Business Hallmark also passed a damning verdict on Buhari who had promised them a less corrupt government as the solution to the problems plaguing the country.

The general consensus among Nigerians is that the present administration has failed to deliver on its promises to fight corruption to a standstill and is as corrupt as the government it succeeded.

BH findings revealed that the Buhari government began getting it wrong right from inception in 2015. Contrary to expectations, neither has corruption and cost of governance sufficiently reduced as promised.

Appraisals of the two budgets appropriations passed and executed by the government, as well as the ongoing 2018 budget, indicate that it is still business as usual.

In the 2017 budget and the 2018 appropriation act, several billions were budgeted for kitchen utensils, food stuffs, feeding and maintenance of the presidency. Several billions was also budgeted for furniture, televisions, air conditioners and computer systems that were appropriated for in previous budgets, prompting curious Nigerians to ask whether it is every year that the government changes the items.

The uproar generated by the decision of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to spend N6bn on policemen during the 2019 polls has not settled yet, with many perplexed Nigerians wondering why an amount that is more than the monthly federal allocation of several states would be used to feed few security men during an election that will last for just two days.

The revelation that senators each receive a whopping sum of N13.5 million monthly as running costs on top of their N700, 000 monthly consolidated salary and allowances also shocked the public.

“A journalist based in Lagos, Bayo Shoyode, said that it is an indication that nothing has changed in the area of corruption in governance despite the so-called anti-corruption war of the current federal government.

Another major dent on the administration’s anti-corruption war is that the fight has been largely limited to elements within the opposition PDP party or those perceived to be opponents of the presidency in the ruling party.

The president’s decision to surround himself with persons indicted for corruption, sundry frauds, common scams as well as forgeries has also cast a major doubt on his administration’s fight against corruption.

This is evident in his inaction over a forgery allegation against the Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, who was accused of dodging her compulsory national service and allegedly forged the NYSC Exemption Certificate. Despite her refusal to deny the allegation, she is still the minister of finance, a development described by many as double ‘standard’.

The police have also refused to investigate the allegation, while insisting that it has not received a petition on the matter.

While several prominent members of the current administration have been implicated in one form of fraud or the other, they are largely immune from investigation and prosecution.

For example, the bulk of the key leaders and power blocs in the ruling APC and members of Buhari’s cabinet are former leaders in the PDP and were part and parcel of the 16 years of corruption and treasury looting that the ruling party continue to blame for the economic woes of the country.

However, they are largely untouched and immune from prosecution. Those that have cases in courts, the cases are permanently stalled.

Of particular importance is the case of former Akwa Ibom State Governor and Senate Minority Leader, Godswill Akpabio. Akpabio, who has been under investigation for allegedly embezzling over N100bn, recently defected to the ruling APC. As if that is not bad enough for the administration that prides itself as a ‘Change’ agent, Akpabio is now a regular caller to the seat of power.

On Thursday, August 30, 2018, the Presidency announced that Akpabio will join President Muhammadu Buhari’s delegation to China on Friday, August 31, 2018 to participate in the 7th Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation scheduled to hold from September 3 to 4 in Beijing.

It would be recalled that on August 8, 2018, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) said that Senator Akpabio has a case to answer and that the case of alleged fraud involving him is not over.

The spokesman for the EFCC, Mr. Wilson Uwujaren, while responding to an inquiry, insisted that Akpabio’s case was still ongoing. When asked if Akpabio was still under probe, the EFCC spokesman said, “EFCC does not close cases or give clearance to anybody.”

Meanwhile, while the former senate minority leader is busy frolicking with top government officials in Abuja, two of his aides, former Akwa Ibom Government House Permanent Secretary, Etekamba Umoren and the former Accountant General of the state, Udo Isobara, who were alleged to have colluded with Akpabio to steal the funds are currently being prosecuted in a clear tale of double standard.

Three major storms have also rocked the Presidency. They include the involvement of the sacked Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal, in an N240million grass-cutting contract scandal; the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) fraud scandal and the controversial reinstatement of Abdulrasheed Maina, fugitive former chairman of the Presidential Task Team on Pension Reforms.

The Presidential Initiative for the North East (PINE), it would be recalled, became a racket under the suspended Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal, with companies raking in, through fraudulent procurement process, billions of naira and paying kickbacks to the embattled secretary.

After his refusal to act for several months, the President later buckled under severe pressure from Nigerians to sack Lawal. However, rather than prosecuting the former SGF like other indicted officials in the opposing PDP Lawal has remained a free man. He even boasted publicly on a national television that he is a frequent visitor to the seat of power and a close friend of the president.

Abdulrasheed Maina, on the other hand was suspended by the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan and subsequently charged to court on allegations of misappropriating N100 billion Pension funds while he presided over the Presidential Task Force on Pension Reforms.

The embattled pension boss evaded arrest and fled the country only to resurface in the country in 2017.

He mysteriously surfaced in the country in 2017 and instead of him facing the law for his deeds; was elevated from Deputy Director to a Director at the Interior Ministry with evidence of official exchange of correspondence amongst many government officials further discrediting the administration’s anticorruption war.

Rather than abating, several controversies continue to dog the administration.  One major indictment was the NHIS scandal. Despite the alleged stealing of over N25 billion meant for the health need of Nigerians by the embattled Executive Secretary of National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), Professor Usman Yusuf, from the account of the Scheme in the Treasury Single Account (TSA) and his subsequent suspension by the minister of health, Prof. Isaac Adewale, , he (Yusuf) was recalled after President Buhari took over power from his deputy.

To make matter worse for the president, the NHIS boss was being quizzed by the EFCC for alleged corruption when he was suddenly recalled. Till date, nothing has been heard on the outcome of the EFCC investigation while Yusuf has remained in office despite protests and condemnations from Nigerians.

Some Nigerians who spoke with BH on the development noted that the few symbolic cases show the contradiction that the Buhari’s anti-corruption war is filled with.

“The APC administration seems to surpass the record set by the PDP in the area of being corrupt. The weakness of the anti-corruption fight and its outrageously selective nature has given rise to cartoons and jokes in the public to the effect that membership of the ruling party automatically confers sainthood on any corrupt politicians.

“This is not fight against corruption but fight against opposition. This is not the government we supported. We will ensure that this government does not come back in 2019”, said Fela Durotoye, a leading human capacity developer.

“An anti corruption war that reinstated Maina, promoted him twice with all allowances and salaries paid, returned all Sylva’s initially confiscated houses, baptised Orji Uzo Kalu into a saint, allowed the grass cutter Babashir Lawal to be walking freely, looked away from allegations of fraud against Kemi Adeosun and corruption against Oshiomhole, Ameachi and Buratai is a satanic anti corruption war”, said Bayo Shoyede, a media practitioner.

Also, a public commentator, Bekeh Utietiang Ukelina, slammed Buhari’s anti-corruption tactics, insisting that they are not sincere.

“When Nigerians who were fed up with the impunity of the former government of the PDP went out to vote for Buhari because they believed he would clean up the system, I was skeptical then and I am now that he has the will power to fight corruption.

“It is impossible to advance yourself as an anti-corruption crusader when the major benefactors of your campaign are among the most corrupt Nigerians. After his election, Buhari gave voice to these people by appointing them to his cabinet and other governmental parastatals.

“Their anti-corruption agenda has been reduced to a witch-hunt of the members of the opposition party.  About three and half years after Buhari was sworn in as president, no major member of the APC has been prosecuted. Yet, a substantial number of the members of the ruling APC were formerly members of PDP who enriched themselves from the government coffers during the sixteen years that PDP ruled Nigeria.

“If Buhari needs his war against corruption to be taken seriously, he needs to first clean up his own house”, she said.

The conclusion of many Nigerians who spoke with BH, with the exception of few, is that the present administration’s anti-corruption war is a charade and has failed to live up to expectations..

 

 

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