The recent release of names of alleged looters by the federal government continues to generate reactions from many quarters, with many people wondering if the move was aimed at battling corruption or setting the stage for the impending 2019 general elections, writes Iyobosa Uwugiaren
Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo first stoke the fire with his frequent allegations of massive corruption against former President Goodluck Jonathan-led PDP federal government.
Thereafter, the major opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), through its spokesman, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan, challenged the All Progressives Congress (APC)-led government to name any of its members convicted for any corrupt practice. And the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, responded with two lists of alleged looters peopled by PDP chieftains, who are currently being tried for corruption and financial crimes. They all served during the Jonathan-led administration.
â€œThe PDP has challenged us to name the looters under their watch. They said they did not loot the treasury. Well, I am sure they know that the treasury was looted dry under their watch. Yet they decided to grandstand. This shows the hollowness of their apology,â€ Mohammed said as he released the names.
But, the PDP spokesman, and many of those at home with national politics, especially as the 2019 general election approaches, said the recent naming of the alleged looters by APC, was parts of â€œself-importance and narcissismâ€ in preparation for what the electorate should expect from the ruling party, when the campaign eventually commences.
This is aside the swirling popular view by some legal experts that Mohammedâ€™s action was illegal, and might have done well in belittling the â€œself-proclaimed warâ€ against corruption by the Buhari-led government.
For sure, the date for 2019 general election is fast approaching, less than 10 months or so. And from his actions and inactions in the past few weeks, it appears Buhari and the APC are under suffocating pressure from the electorate to give account of their stewardship in office in the past three years.
At the beginning of his tenure, the president promised to tackle corruption uncompromisingly and frontally. He vowed to confront the fear-provoking insecurity challenges, created by the deadly activities of Boko Haram, Fulani herdsmen, ritual killing, cultism and kidnappers, and create a friendly economic environment for investors to create jobs for millions of jobless youths.
While the Buhari government appears to be partying over its â€˜hugeâ€™ achievements in the past three years, the harsh verdict by many Nigerians and a critical segment of the international community is that the government has failed. Not many political analysts doubt that the plans by Buhariâ€™s media strategists to rationalise the harsh verdict by the electorate on their boss may have informed the desperation by the ruling party to turn the heat on the PDP, even though the presidential spokesman, Femi Adesina, would stubbornly deny that.
However, for those who know the media strategy/campaign created by Buhariâ€™s spin-doctors, headed by the Minister of Information and Culture, the media design from Day-1 has been to â€œdemonise Buhariâ€™s predecessor and give the impressionâ€ that the present government was committed to fighting corruption, and present piping-hot excuses why the government could not perform to the expectations of many people.
Mohammed had on many occasions called press conferences, made up of senior editors, both in Abuja and Lagos, to announce the quantum of monies in different currencies that the anti-corruption agencies had recovered from Jonathanâ€™s appointees.
On his part, the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu, once said Nigeria had successfully traced and recovered $2.9 billion from alleged looters between May 2015 and October 2017. Magu, who recently reinforced his claim at the 7th Session of the Conference of State Parties to the United Nations Convention Against Corruption in Vienna, Austria, disclosed that the amount did not include smaller currencies such as Dirham and British Pounds.
Giving a breakdown of the recovered cash, Magu listed the sources as: $43 million recovered from Diezani Allison-Madueke, former Minister of Petroleum, and the N2 billion spread in seven accounts in three Nigerian banks laundered from the Federal Capital Territory Police Command Salary Accounts.
He added that using the instrument of the non-conviction-based forfeiture provided under Section 17 of the Advance Fee Fraud and Other Fraud Related Offences Act, 2006, the anti-corruption agency had also made a lot of recoveries locally.
The EFCC boss boasted: â€œWithin this year alone, the commission recovered stolen assets running into several millions of US Dollars and billions in naira. This includes the sum of $43 million recovered from Diezani Allison-Madueke, Nigeriaâ€™s former Minister of Petroleum and N2 billion spread in seven accounts with three Nigerian banks laundered from the FCT Police Command Salary Accounts.â€
On his part, Osinbajo has never missed any opportunity at public events to re-echo the widely publicised anti-corruption war by EFCC and by extension, the Buhari-led government.
He once said: â€œWhen we began this journey in 2014, our party, the APC was determined to change the dominant narrative of the country. We were determined to ensure that the notion of a country rich in natural resources and even richer in human capital but being destroyed daily by corruption and impunity in the looting of public resources will have to change that narrative.
â€œWe saw a nation, where a few impostors have so privatised the commonwealth, while oil prices were at their highest and we were getting growth figures as high as 70 per cent, the majority of the people remained extremely poor.â€
But in spite of the celebration by the Buhari-led government over its perceived success in the anti-corruption war, the respected global anti-corruption monitor, the Transparency International (TI) said recently that Buhariâ€™s government stinks.
In its recent report, the perception of corruption in Nigeria worsened between 2016 and 2017 as Nigeria ranked 148 out of 180 countries assessed in 2017 on the perception of corruption. The index showed that out of 100 points signalling maximum transparency and no corruption, Nigeria scored 27 points.
With the one-point reduction in the score, Nigeria slipped in the country-ranking by 12 positions, from 136 in 2016 to 148 in 2017. The rankings are from 1 to 180, with 180 indicating the country having the worst perception of corruption.
The report noted that while the rest of the world had improved in the perception on corruption, Nigeria slips further down as the fight against corruption deteriorates. And shamefully, on the African continent, Nigeria ranks 32nd position in Africa out of 52 assessed countries in 2017. While Botswana leads the continent with the record of competent and largely corruption-free public administration; Nigeria hopelessly falls behind with 27 points.
In West Africa, Nigeria is the second worst country out of 17 countries, leaving only Guinea Bissau behind.
The Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) is one of the most respected international measurements of corruption trends. It was established in 1995 as a composite indicator used to measure perceptions of corruption in the public sector in different countries around the world. The CPI draws upon a number of available sources which capture perceptions of corruption.
A local anti-corruption monitor, CISLAC said it was worried about the new but unfavourable trend in the fight against corruption in the country as shown in the TI report.
â€œThis fresh setback in the fight against corruption confirms that grand-corruption, political corruption, nepotism, favouritism and bribery persist in Nigeria at all levels,â€ the organisation said.
Continuing, it noted: â€œIt is CISLACâ€™s view that the negative perception is mainly a consequence of the inability to combat grand corruption and astronomical plundering of public coffers costing the Nigerian tax payers around 25 per cent of annual GDP.
â€œSince the current administration has come to power on the anti-corruption ticket, no significant politically exposed person has been duly sentenced on anti-corruption charges.â€™â€™
Aside the TI damaging verdict, the Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosunâ€™s, recent letter to Magu appeared to have also suggested that the EFCCâ€™s anti-corruption war and its reportedly recovered looted funds were more of publicity ecstasy than real war against corruption.
Adeosun lately asked Magu to clarify, where the cash recoveries from May 2015 to January 2018 had been deposited and provide associated evidence.
In a letter with reference number: FM/HMF/EFCC/S-EFCC-REC/2018/1, dated February 9, 2018 and entitled: â€˜Summary of EFCC Recoveries from May 2015 to January 2018,â€™ the Minister of Finance said the clarification became necessary based on the information available to the Office of Accountant-General of the Federation.
She said: â€œThis is to notify you of the records of cash asset recoveries in the custody of the EFCC from May 2015 till date based on information available to the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation (attached). It has however come to the attention of the Ministry of Finance, the use of recovery figures in media reports by the EFCC that do not reconcile with the records of the ministry.
â€œYou are therefore kindly requested to clarify where these cash recoveries have been deposited and provide accompanying evidence.â€
As the country approaches the 2019 general election, the trading of words by the ruling party and the major opposition party over alleged corrupt practices and the extensively perceived poor outing by the Buhari administration in the past three years, will surely be more pronounced, especially in the days ahead.