On Buhari’s Anti-corruption campaign

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With a promise to tackle corruption as the central goal of his administration, the controversy that has erupted over President Muhammadu Buhari’s decision to limit his audit of government to just the immediate past administration is a commitment that cannot but please all those who wish Nigeria well because if Nigeria does not kill corruption, corruption may eventually kill Nigeria. Obviously, the audit, which is part of a national anti-corruption campaign, will lead to investigations, arrests and prosecution of people against whom allegations of misconduct are made. The expectation is that all Nigerians would join the anti-graft agencies in this crusade. What is not expected and would not be accepted is when such investigations are done in a manner that engenders impunity. Any acts of overzealousness would only undermine the credibility of the anti-corruption campaign and vindicate critics who charge the administration of simply embarking on a
witch-hunt and political vendetta against its enemies.
The President has announced a series of probes but at the center of the controversy is the fresh probe into the “missing” $20 billion non-remittance by the NNPC. It would be recalled, that in September 2013, then CBN governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi wrote a letter to President Jonathan alleging that a whopping $49.8 billion was missing from the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation! The NNPC quickly debunked the allegation. A reconciliation committee set up estimated that $10.8 billion was unremitted, which the government said was used to pay for fuel subsidies. The CBN said it was $12 billion. Later, the CBN told a Senate committee that the amount was $20 billion. A forensic audit conducted by renowned accounting firm, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) concluded that only $1.48 billion was actually missing. PwC did not just do a probe in the ordinary sense of the word; rather, it carried out what financial experts call forensic audit, which is understood
to mean the audit, was scientific, thorough, in-depth and rigorous enough to be trusted. That should settle the matter.
The truth is that no amount of probes would stop corruption in Nigeria. Otherwise, thousands of past probes would have done it. Instead of wasting time and resources, the government should accept the PwC report, close the chapter and move on. The controversy comes in the wake of the condemnable shoddiness of the DSS that jarred public consciousness. The agency’s operatives decided to investigate the immediate past National Security Adviser Col. Sambo Dasuki and Chief Security Officer Gordon Obuah, both aides of erstwhile President Jonathan. They laid siege to Dasuki’s home after his military guards resisted arrest, leading to a tense stand-off that lasted ten hours. Eventually, the DSS gained access and made away with several guns, luxury bullet-proof sport utility vehicles and $40,000 in cash. They even broke into his father’s home while the old man was away in London. Few are surprised by Dasuki’s fate. The grapevine has it that 30 years ago,
Dasuki and a group of fellow mid-ranking army officers walked into Dodan Barracks in Lagos and arrested Buhari, then military Head of State, at gunpoint. They were the key players in the coup by Gen. Ibrahim Babangida which overthrew Buhari. And his humiliation by the DSS was obviously a signal that it is payback time.
Such overzealousness that borders on impunity would not help the government as they hold the potential of eroding the high moral ground from which the President intends to fight corruption. To help the President fight corruption, government agencies must operate within the ambits of the law, and with manifest sincerity of purpose. If the arrest and investigation of officials of the past administration leads to illegalities, government agencies responsible for them would easily lend themselves to the charge of orchestrating a witch-hunt. And of course, nobody but the president would bear responsibility for such conducts. To be taken seriously and be seen as doing a sincere work, the anti-graft agencies must perform their duties without unnecessary publicity and controversy. They should do a professional investigation and resist the temptation of resorting to public showmanship that traumatizes the nation.
The constitution deems any accused person innocent until found guilty by a competent court. Anti-graft and security agencies rather nibble away at their credibility by harassing and meting out other forms of indignity to citizens in a bid to show that they are working. The least the agencies can do to support the president’s crusade against corruption is to be professional. And this should be strictly in consonance with the laws of the country. Nigerians would be more interested in the convictions of corrupt persons than the charade of disparaging suspects who are never prosecuted, nor sent to jail. Nigerians want an effective prosecution of all cases of corruption to deter others; not the made-for-media dramas being staged by the nation’s security agencies.
Given the hydra-headed nature and the huge resources at the disposal of corruption perpetrators to fight back – they have the ill-gotten wealth to hire the best legal defence, to corrupt or delay the judicial process ad-infinitum, to make key witnesses recant or disappear entirely – the president must plan his strategy accordingly and act firmly on his resolve. As in all wars, tactics matter because not one method may work in every case. The point must be emphasized that the anti-corruption war is to get justice not vengeance. So, due process and the rule of law must also be scrupulously respected.
Buhari defied the odds and swept to office on the back of a near hysterical clamor for change. He knows many Nigerians have their reservations about some of his closest political allies. During the election campaigns, many people asked how a man with a towering reputation for personal integrity could be mingling with some of Nigeria’s most notorious politicians. But it would have been politically unwise, in the heat of the dollarized election, for a man of modest resources, who was determined to become President of Nigeria, to discard the dirty money that boosted his electoral war chest.
As a man whose unique selling point for the presidency was integrity, it is inconceivable that he will condone corruption. In this fight, President Buhari has said he would move against even members of his party. This is right. Buhari, indeed, has no choice in the matter for a man who declared in his inaugural speech that “I belong to everybody and I belong to nobody.” Precisely on account of this, Nigerians are watching to see how he will manage his relationship with his closest political associates and electoral financiers. The question now is whether he will surrender the task of governance to political gladiators within and outside the APC who brought him to power; or courageously take the driver’s seat in tackling corruption and discharging his duties to the nation.

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