Buhari, SGF And The North-East


President Buhari needs to set clearer goals in the fight against corruption

It would appear as if living in denial has become the hallmark of the Muhammadu Buhari administration when it comes to dealing with serious problems. At a time the United Nations was launching a $1 billion humanitarian appeal to combat poverty in the north-eastern part of the country that has been ravaged by the Boko Haram insurgency, the response from the administration was to condemn the “blatant attempts to whip up a non-existent fear of mass starvation by some aid agencies.”

Aside the fact that the challenge of livelihood in the affected areas (where many are dying daily of hunger and want) is real and requires a hands-on approach, there are reports that even the little resources being provided are being looted by some unconscionable officials of this administration. Last week, the Senate called for the immediate resignation and prosecution of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr. Babachir Lawal, over allegations that he used his position to exploit the poor victims of the insurgency.

This scandal about how the money meant to care for the internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the North-east has been mismanaged is a matter of grave public interest. It touches at the very root of Buhari’s anti-corruption posturing and raises fundamental questions. Therefore, it is not enough for the president to keep brandishing his own personal integrity as the sole bedrock of his anti-corruption stance.

Already, the anti-corruption drive is tainted by its excessively lopsided focus on key operatives of the Goodluck Jonathan administration and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) officials. Yet, there have been weighty and largely substantiated allegations of corruption against some of Buhari’s high officials. So far, there is little evidence that any of these officials so publicly named in corruption scandals has been subjected to credible investigation, let alone being cleared of the alleged wrongdoings.

In this particular instance, the choice before the public is between believing the Senate, the highest legislative body in the country, or the accused SGF. The Senate committee would seem to have adduced sufficient evidence to taint the office of the SGF. But Mr.Lawal’s response, to the effect that the Senate resolution was ‘balderdash,’ is clearly not enough. The president cannot afford to toe that line. The correct approach is to take an administrative perspective that will make the SGF render account by responding to the charges against him. For the drive for less corruption in the public sphere to retain any semblance of integrity, people around the president must be seen to be above board.

The theatre of this scandal (the North-east) makes it more important. In recent times, Nigeria has come under embarrassing international attention on account of the threat of starvation in the IDP camps in the area. It is bad enough that so much national and international relief resources have been committed or pledged in aid of our fellow citizens affected by the Boko Haram crisis. So far, reports of rampant abuse of these resources have largely gone unattended to, even when the president himself recently called for an investigation.

Given the nature and enormity of the allegations and the type of evidence so far adduced as well as the strategic position of the SGF, the president must intervene very quickly. Anyone engaged in the criminal diversion of the funds earmarked to ameliorate the dehumanising conditions of the IDPs has committed a crime against humanity and should face the full wrath of the law. Meanwhile, the 10 soldiers and policemen fingered and confirmed to have been involved in the rape of some women in the IDP camps should be prosecuted without any delay.

Clearly, there is a tragic mismatch between the reports of imminent starvation in the North-east and the proven resources that the nation has committed to relief efforts in the region. It also ought to concern us that while the military has waged a commendable campaign against the Boko Haram insurgency, there are no coordinated strategies for restoring the region to normal civil life in the aftermath of the campaign. Honest and serious effort should now be devoted to this aspect. And the best way to begin is to ensure that government officials entrusted with assignments in the region act above board.