Government’s indifference to the case will haunt the anti-corruption war

The controversy surrounding the alleged offshore investments of the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Tukur Yusuf Buratai, has refused to go away, despite being swept under a growing mound of unresolved eyebrow-raising developments in government circles. Yet, to the extent that the issue is being viewed by a section of the public that the federal government is habouring some sacred cows in its much-vaunted anti-corruption war, it is one scandal that needs to be properly addressed.

We note, for the record, that Buratai has been a good commander for the army whose valiant efforts to rid the nation of the Boko Haram insurgency must be acknowledged. We must also state that being a serving military officer does not preclude Buratai from having business interests, especially when those interests are seen to be driven by members of his immediate family. We also affirm that, notwithstanding the fact that those who make damaging allegations against serving public officers have a duty to prove same, institutions of state must investigate every weighty allegation and help clear the good name of any affected public officer. The duty of a responsible government in such circumstances is to protect all parties and maintain the rule of law.

However, the same law that allows Buratai certain rights as a free citizen also puts him under obligation to fully clarify any questions that may arise in connection with his enjoyment of those rights as a public officer. In the instant case, the military chief must be seen to have satisfactorily answered the questions raised by his accusers, whatever may be their motivations. “We have defeated the terrorists on the land and they have now migrated to the cyberspace. But I want to assure that we will follow these Boko Haram that migrated to the cyberspace to wherever they are. We will follow them and clear their doubts,” said Buratai recently in response to the allegations.

It is true that the Defence Minister, Mr. Mansur Dan Ali, himself a retired military officer, spoke in Buratai’s defence, albeit in a rather inelegant language and not very coherently. Even at that, it is not within Ali’s purview to speak on behalf of any serving officer in such circumstances. The minister therefore overreached himself and may actually have worsened the case both for the Chief of Army Staff and the federal government. Besides, not one of the official reactions on this matter, so far, has addressed the substantive issue of integrity being raised.

It should be clear by now that not only have the belated, poorly crafted and self-serving defence of Buratai from several quarters been most unhelpful to him, they have done incalculable damage to the image of the Nigerian Army. As things stand, the federal government is also looking increasingly less than sincere in its anti-corruption fight. In addition to the Buratai case and several others, there is now a brewing controversy over the expanded investigation into allegations of fraud connected with arms purchase over a period of eight years (2007 to 2015) by the military.

Beyond the question of guilt or innocence is the matter of state probity in the conduct of public business. Therefore, we fully support the government’s anti-corruption war and the sustained probe of military procurements, as this will lead to the recovery of stolen funds and create new standards of transparency in the public service. What we do not support are actions and inactions that may summarily undermine the intended gains of such efforts by creating the impression that the war against corruption is targeted at only some people while it excludes others.