The anti-graft battle is gasping for air
President Muhammadu Buhari’s war against corruption is showing signs of stress and it will be unfortunate if a man who rode to power largely on account of his reputation for zero tolerance for graft is unable to rise to the occasion and reeve up the war. As he therefore returns to the country from his 10-day working leave, there are expectations that he will take critical decisions in the anti-corruption efforts.
The year opened on a rather worrisome note as a letter to the Senate responding to the legislative body’s indictment of two high officials of the president unsettled many adherents of the strenuous battles against graft. Dated January 17, 2017, the letter represented Mr. Ibrahim Magu for confirmation as Chairman, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and rejected the request for the resignation or removal of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr. David Babachir Lawal.
Based on the findings in the interim report of its ad-hoc committee on mounting humanitarian crisis in the North-east, the Senate had resolved that the SGF resigns his appointment or be removed by the president on account of alleged corruption. The Senate also rejected the request for the confirmation of Magu as chairman of EFCC, citing a security report by the State Security Service (SSS) which indicted him.
President Buhari responded to these developments by asking the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, to investigate the allegations against the two officials. But his curious letter to the Senate neither stated the findings of the AGF nor gave cogent and verifiable rebuttal of the allegations.
For Magu, the president merely represented him for the position without debunking the report that indicted him. Yet the said report emanated from a security agency, empowered by law to vet public officers proposed for public office positions, superintended over by the president. In the case of the SGF, the president relied on a legal technicality to shield a public officer accused of pilfering funds meant to alleviate the sufferings of a people devastated by an avoidable internal war. This is surprising because President Buhari has been vehement in protesting legal technicalities, having made many corruption-accused persons to escape justice.
We do not think that the president’s letter reflects a serious intention to do justice and rekindle public trust in the much touted fight against graft. Indeed, it has done grave injustice to the accused persons as the letter neither cleared them of the allegations nor resolved the doubts created in public minds by the resolutions of the Senate.
Worse still is the incalculable damage that this has done to the already waning image of the Buhari administration. Opposition politicians had dismissed its war against graft as insincere in conception and selective in implementation. Trends in the war may be bearing them out. Is it a coincidence that only opposition politicians are so far subject of enquiries of anti-graft agencies even when mounting allegations of corruption against many of its leading officials, including ministers, remained uninvestigated?
The perception that the Buhari administration protects its own is thickening; making many corruption-accused opposition politicians to find refuge in his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC). Senator Shehu Sani, an APC member, has put it more succinctly in his critique of the presidential communication when he said: “Corruption in the judiciary and others is treated with insecticide, while corruption in the government (executive) is treated with deodorant.”
To change this perception, President Buhari must take concrete measures to purge his government of persons perceived to be corrupt by being more thorough not only in his recruitment process but also in dealing with queries raised against his appointees.