Presidential Advisory Committee: Buhari Has Taken Corruption Fight to Greater Heights

  • Admits corruption within anti-graft agencies

Iyobosa Uwugiaren in Abuja

Three years down the line, Executive Secretary of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC), Professor Bolaji Owasanoye, says President Muhammadu Buhari has set a huge record in the fight against corruption and remained focused. Owasanoye said in an interview with THISDAY that corruption was not at the same level it was when Buhari came in.

The PACAC head, however, admitted that there were bad eggs within the anti-corruption agencies, which the appropriate authorities in government were dealing with in order to sanitise the system.

Explaining his perception of the Buhari government in terms of transparency and accountability, the renowned expert in international economic law, human development and social justice activism said, “Three years down the line, the intensity of the focus, from the part of the president, has not diminished.

“So, that tells you that the government is determined, as long as it has the opportunity to continue to rein in corruption; and I think that the government is doing well and corruption is not at the same level at which it was in the past, unless we want to be uncharitable.

“Corruption is not at the same level; indeed, some of the people who are highly critical of the government are doing so today because a number of the avenues that they used to feast on government have been closed.”

The executive secretary added that even if one found any “humongous” case of corruption under this administration, it’s very unlikely that its approval can be traced the president, which he said was the case in the immediate past. He said that explained why a number of people currently being prosecuted said they got approvals from the former president to do what they did.

Further explaining how things had changed from the past, Owasanoye stated, “I heard it on good authority that a certain highly respected statesman, elderly person visited President Buhari recently and he was waiting to see him at the Waiting Room, and the place was very quiet.

“He was just there with one of the aides of Mr. President; and this same person just said that a few years ago he came there to see a former president, and the Waiting Room was like a market; he said there were all manner of people who were there waiting to cut one deal or the other.

“The second example that I regularly use is that one of the things we have found out in this assignment, and based on things that were revealed by anti-corruption agencies, is that in the past, a number of the big corruption scams got their approval right from the top; but not now.”

He stated that those were examples that might be very obvious to the public that had helped the committee to evaluate and come to the conclusion that, surely, things were different.

The executive secretary said he wouldn’t be in the government if he did not think that the Buhari government meant well and was determined to tackle corruption.

According to him, “I had been offered place in government before now; but I didn’t accept it. I didn’t accept it because I was not sure that there was the determination and the political willingness to make changes, no matter how small.

“I think that the government means well and the government is determined. When we started, a number of people wished us well, and people who were concerned as well felt that the whole thing was a flash in the pan. And they asked, Bolaji why did you accept this appointment? They had argued that the whole thing would not last; that it was a campaign gimmick. But three years down the line the government has remained focused.”

Asked whether he was worried that some persons within the anti-corruption agencies had become part of the problem, he said there were bad eggs in every institution and that the anti-corruption agencies were not excluded.

Owasanoye stated, “We have heard some of the complaints and reports that anti-corruption agencies themselves were corrupt or have been compromised; they have to be dealt with; and when those reports came up, we give them feedbacks that enable them take the necessary measures.

“One of the examples that are very prevalent is that when they recover assets they re-loot them. That is an allegation. When we started our assignment, as a think tank, we responded to it. We recommended to the government that the core mandate of anti-corruption agencies was to recover the asset, not to manage or hold it.

“One of the things that we recommended was that there should be an asset recovery account for the government, so that anytime you recover money, you put it there. That is going on as we speak. Two, when you recover physical assets, like car, jewellery and all that, it has to be not only recorded and accounted for, it has to be managed by a central asset management committee..

He explained further that one of the strategy documents that his committee designed was a framework for management of recovered stolen assets, saying the framework itself is an inter-agency agenda designed to remove some of the opportunities for abuse that had been prevalent in the past.

Owasanoye explained, “All the anti-corruption agencies are represented in the inter-agency committee that were recommended. Again, the intelligence committee is situated in the Ministry of Finance because the Minister of Finance, which by law is actually the custodian of government assets.

“You recall that President Buhari recently, I think it was in Jigawa State or somewhere in the North, made a statement that the assets should be publicly auctioned so that everybody will know exactly what has happened to them. We have heard those allegations of corruption within the agencies; and we’ve responded to them by creating and designing a framework that removes opportunities and the possibilities for any corrupt practices.”