We shall strongly battle another form of evil that is even worse than terrorism – the evil of corruption… corruption will not be tolerated by this administration; and it shall no longer be allowed to stand as if it is a respected monument in this nation. — Muhammadu Buhari’s Acceptance Speech, March 31st 2015 Of the three main priorities for which President Buhari obtained Nigerians’ mandate in 2015 – fighting corruption, assuring security and growing the economy – fighting corruption was both the most clearly articulated and the most effective in winning him the votes of millions across the country (including the writer’s vote). He correctly labelled corruption an “evil” and affirmed that it “is even worse than terrorism”.
President Muhammadu Buhari addresses the guests during the Democracy Day Lecture held at the International Conference Centre in Abuja Then, he promised Nigerians that “corruption will not be tolerated” by his administration and gave us all the hope that “it [corruption] shall no longer be allowed to stand as if it is a respected monument in the nation.”
In addition to his clarity on the nature of the problem of corruption in the Nigerian milieu and the specific commitment to zero tolerance of corruption under his watch, he also enjoyed a reputation for integrity. Again, I shared the perception of Buhari as a man of integrity: “…having a president with unquestioned integrity as the anti-corruption champion is a necessary condition. Yes, it is not a sufficient condition, but without it almost all anti-corruption efforts tend to have only limited impact on reducing corruption, at best; and at worst, anti-corruption efforts end up as mere sloganeering or tools for harassing and punishing political opponents, or a combination of these negative outcomes” (“Advice on fighting corruption, Vanguard, April 28th 2015). It is against this backdrop that I provide a preliminary scorecard for President Buhari as anti-corruption champion, close to three years since he assumed office.
Has Buhari administration demonstrated zero tolerance for corruption? Has his administration “strongly” battled the “evil of corruption”? And has corruption ceased “to stand as if it is a respected monument in this nation”? In the second part of the essay I proffer some suggestions on the way forward with the fight against the evil of corruption in Nigeria. Buhari Administration Scorecard At the level of diagnosis of the problem of corruption and explication of its dimensions, the Buhari administration deserves high marks. During the second year of the administration, Vice President Osinbajo underscored the enormity of the problem as follows: “All the institutions of government, I mean, the executive, legislature and the judiciary, are corrupt…”
Punch, October 21st 2016. (However, it’s worth mentioning that in 2008, seven years before assuming office, General Buhari, alongside Generals Babangida and Abubakar, was an apologist for Abacha’s looting – Premium Times, April 13th 2018). Zero tolerance for corruption? Although the adoption of zero tolerance for corruption is widely acknowledged in the literature on the subject as good practice, Buhari administration has failed to practice what it preaches. It took far too long for the president to sack Babachir Lawal, his first Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), who was embroiled in a corruption scandal barely one year after he assumed office. It took a National Assembly probe and a parallel probe at the level of the executive (chaired by the vice-president) before the SGF was removed from office in October 2017 after a six-month suspension.
Then, there is the unresolved riddle of the reappearance, double promotion, and disappearance of Abdulrasheed Maina, former chairman, Presidential Task Force on Pension Reform. He had been dismissed from the civil service in 2013 and declared wanted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for corruption before Buhari assumed office. Although the president had ordered Maina’s sack in October 2017, he has remained at large to date! The story in the print media is that Maina was smuggled back into the civil service by a cabal in the presidency and with the cooperation of the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF). Without question, these two widely reported corruption cases directly within the presidency contradict Buhari administration’s advertised claim of zero tolerance for corruption. And they are difficult to reconcile with his assertion: “I’ll be merciless in pursuing looters, says Buhari” (Punch, March 16th 2016). Strongly battling corruption? When president-elect Buhari promised to produce an anti-corruption strategy early during his tenure, I interpreted this as a step in the right direction: to fight an anti-corruption war, you need a strategy just as a general needs a strategy before going to war. Well, Buhari administration’s anti-corruption strategy – National Anti-Corruption Strategy (NACS), 2017-2021 – was not adopted by the Federal Executive Council until July 2017, more than two years after he had assumed office.
This is not consistent with a strong determination to battle corruption. Worse, the two key institutions he inherited for fighting corruption – the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) and EFCC – that had been battered, in varying degrees, under the watch of his predecessors, have been further undermined by internal contradictions within the presidency (negative reports sent to the National Assembly by the State Security Service in respect of the president’s nominee for EFCC chairmanship) and uncooperative legislature/executive relationship regarding pending confirmation of the heads of both the EFCC and ICPC.
Strongly battling corruption would require these two key anti-corruption agencies to be performing at their optimum, not to be undermined by bizarre weaknesses within the presidency and avoidable poor executive/legislative relationship. Judiciary as a corrupt institution VP Osinbajo correctly cited the judiciary as a corrupt institution. Yes, you can set a thief to catch a thief but a corrupt judiciary cannot help to strongly battle corruption.
For example, between June 2015 and April 2018, “big fishes”, including former and serving presidents, have been punished for corruption in Brazil, Peru and South Korea: presidents of Brazil (Dilma Rousseff) and South Korea (Park Geun-hye) were impeached and removed from office over corruption scandals in August 2016 and March 2017 respectively. Furthermore, Rousseff’s predecessor, Luiz Lula da Silva, was found guilty of corruption and sent to prison for twelve years in April 2018. At about the same time, South Korea’s Park Geun-hye was sent to prison for twenty-four years. And in March 2018, President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski of Peru resigned from office amid a corruption scandal. No thanks to legal “technicalities” and a virtual amnesty for former presidents, all our “big fishes” involved in mega corruption scandals, including some judges and justices, are enjoying their loot.
Maybe our EFCC and ICPC can learn some lessons from Brazil, Peru and South Korea. With only serial reports of indictments for corruption in the media – there are about 3,800 ongoing corruption cases in various courts by one estimate – and no convicted Politically Exposed Persons to flaunt, Buhari administration recently resorted to publishing lists of “looters”.
Whilst the name and shame value of the lists needs to be acknowledged, the exercise cannot cover up the administration’s failure to punish corruption. And we are stuck with the problem of unpunished corruption that deepens corruption and further entrenches the evil. However, two initiatives of the administration that are focused on reducing corruption deserve to be highlighted.
Treasury Single Account (TSA) was introduced in August 2015 to promote transparency, accountability and efficiency in managing public finance. TSA requires that all public sector revenue receipts and payments are done through a consolidated revenue account at the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) with a view to blocking revenue generation leakages. By early 2018, N8.9trn was in the TSA. However, the National Assembly and the Judiciary have continued to operate outside TSA. The Whistleblower Policy was introduced in December 2016 to help curb mismanagement of public funds and financial malpractice. The policy provides for citizens who provide tips (blow whistle) about corrupt practices and financial crimes to be rewarded with between 2.5 and 5% of the money recovered.
From the 534 investigations concluded (out of over 1000 tips received) by April 2018, N7.8bn, USD378 million and GBP27,800 had been recovered (The Nation, April 17th 2018). It’s important to add that the Policy will only become institutionalised when the Whistle Blower Protection Bill that is pending in the National Assembly is enacted. Only modest results recorded Notwithstanding the sharp focus of both initiatives, only modest results have been recorded. Overall, then, one has to score Buhari administration low regarding the fight against corruption. Specifically, corruption has continued “to stand as if it is a respected monument in this nation.”
The 2017 Corruption Perception Index (CPI) of Transparency International – the world’s most credible measure of public sector corruption – confirms this reality when it ranked Nigeria among countries with high level of corruption. And there was a slight decrease in the country’s score: from 28% in 2016 to 27% in 2017. It is no consolation that average CPI scores under Buhari’s predecessors were lower: Obasanjo 16%; Yar’Adua, 25% and Jonathan, 25%.