Issues in the Corruption-driven Governance of Nigeria: The Truth about Untruths

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Muhammadu Buhari

By Bola A. Akinterinwa

Political governance of Nigeria under President Muhammadu Buhari (PMB) appears to have become the most controversial question since the time of independence in 1960. This is because of the very critical issues often raised and which border much on dignity and honesty of purpose in the management and conduct of national business. When PMB was elected in 2015, he said his priority would be on three main pillars: economic recovery, security, and anti-corruption.

And true enough, good efforts were made to dislodge the territorial occupation of the Boko Haramists. Their national flags were uprooted and were actually pushed out into engagement in a guerrilla warfare. But this has not put an end to Boko Haram’s insurgency. On economic recovery, whether there has been improvement is, at best, controversial, especially in light of the new extent of foreign indebtedness and high costs of living. We should really be talking about growth, and not yet about development. As regards anti-corruption, the more we have reported cases of recovery of ill-gotten funds, the more the new cases of corruption. This necessarily prompts any right-thinking person to ask and challenge this observation.

We strongly believe that political governance under PMB is largely corruption driven. On the one hand, there is no disputing the fact that Government is not only truly carrying the anti-corruption battle to the door steps of many corruption suspects, but it is also reportedly winning in many cases of engagement of public officials and also recovering some funds. On the other hand, there are many newly reported cases over which Government has been keeping quiet.

And perhaps more disturbingly, political governance under PMB has come to be characterised by allegations, one after the other, but which are always promptly denied by Government. It is truth for the reporters but untruth at the level of Government. The first issue then is to ask about the genesis of the information. Why is there always ‘fake news’ whenever the information is about PMB, either at the level of his family or at the level of his presidency? Why is dishonesty rampant in his government?

In whichever way these questions are looked at, the truth remains that dishonesty has become the hallmark of political governance under PMB and this is why corruption-fighting at the top is necessarily neutralised by galloping corruption at the lower levels. Corruption is not, and should not, be simply considered in the way it is officially and legally defined in Nigeria. Government places emphasis, speaking generally, on bribe-giving and the corruptionists still holding public office.

Without doubt, an act of corruption is essentially about dishonesty. A corrupt person necessarily has a perverted character and not only destroys morally, but also destroys integrity and debases quality. Corruption is another word for any act of dishonesty. There can never be any engagement in an act of corruption without having a mind of dishonesty driving it. In fact, corruption is an intention. It is a purpose. The Presidency is therefore very corrupt in various ramifications, especially that it claims that aides of the Vice President were deployed and that there was no case of sack. Even the spokesperson, not to mention the Vice President himself gave the public an impression that there is nothing like.

Whereas, the same presidency was reported on Saturday, November 9, 2019 to have given reasons for the sack of the 35 aides. According to Saturday Sun, ‘the Presidency wishes to confirm that there is on-going, an unprecedented overhaul of the nation’s seat of government, arising from which a number of political appointments have either been revoked or not renewed in the Second Term.’ More important, the Presidency also has it that ‘the exercise, which has been ordered by the President, is to streamline decision-making, cut down multiple authorities and reduce the cost of administration. It is also an appropriate response to the general perception that the Presidency has an oversized and bloated workforce, which acts a drag on efficiency.’ To indulge in telling untruths, only to wake up again to jettison earlier pronouncement is an act of self-deceit and wrong doing. It is a manifestation of corruption.

In fact, every act of dishonesty is corruption and should be fought tooth and nail. But this hardly the case in Nigeria, and particularly under the administration of PMB. There are many manifestations of open dishonesty in the governance of Nigeria, all of which send wrong messages about the people of Nigeria to the larger world. Three illustrations will do at this juncture: PMB’s visit to the United Kingdom, the controversy surrounding the aides of the Vice President, Professor Osinbajo, and the dismissal of Abubakar Atiku’s appeal case by the Supreme Court.

PMB’s Private Visit to the UK
On October 28, 2019 PMB travelled to Saudi Arabia on official visit and was reported that, from there, he would be going to the United Kingdom on a private visit. As reported, he would not return to the country until November 17, 2019, that is, 21 days of continuous absence. Many issues are raised with the visit. What really should we mean by a private visit? In international relations, there are three main types of visits: official, unofficial, and officious. Each type still has its own categorisation. For instance, an official visit can be a State Visit or Working Visit, with their attendant implications for protocol.

It should be recalled here that when Alhaji Shehu Shagari was to pay an official visit to France in 1982, the Government of Nigeria considered the visit as a State Visit, while the Elysée authorities considered it an ordinary working visit. As a result, the French government assigned a Minister, with a low ranking, Mrs Georgina Dufoix, to receive Alhaji Shehu Shagari at the airport. But on knowing about the appointment of Mrs. Dufoix to receive the Nigerian leader, the Embassy of Nigeria in Paris protested and advised against the visit. This was why President Shagari boycotted the visit to France and travelled to Germany. Germany took advantage of the French saga to give a better red carpet welcome to Shehu Shagari.

In other words, a State Visit has more recognition than a working visit, which attracts little protocol. A private visit is one which does not have much of governmental involvement, especially in terms of protocolar reception and protection. It is also referred to as unofficial visit. Diplomatic protection is taken for granted in terms of safety, without which the international responsibility of the host State may be called to question. A private visit, is private to the extent that it does not even involve the government of which a president is the head.

In other words, if PMB is reported to have gone on private visit to the United Kingdom, it simply implies that he was going on vacation and not on any official business on behalf of the government and people of Nigeria. In this regard, room can still be given to the visit to include working scenarios, and then, the private visit can have the character of a working visit.
As regards officious visit, it is one that has both the characters of an official and a private visit. Like PMB is on private visit to the United Kingdom, he may still be invited to some official receptions during which state duties may be performed. It is the official and non-official character of a visit that define what constitutes an officious visit. In all cases, official visit, especially in the sense of a State Visit, is the highest and most important in inter-state relations.
In understanding the thrust of this column, the private visit of PMB will still need to subjected to other questions: is the visit really private? If it is private, what is the nature of the privacy of the visit? Depending on the nature of the privacy, should public funds be expended? We ask these questions because Abba Kyari, the Presidential Chief of Staff, was reported to have travelled to the United Kingdom to give PMB the Deep Offshore (amendment) Bill for assent on Monday, November 4, 2019.
If PMB is truly on private visit to the United Kingdom, why disturb his private visit with a bill to sign? Why not wait for his arrival? Who pays for Abba Kyari’s visit to the United Kingdom? Was he not officially received by the Foreign Service Officers at the Nigeria High Commission? Was PMB also not officially received by the Nigeria High Commission? We ask these questions with the objective of underscoring the point that there is absolutely nothing to suggest that PMB’s visit has an exclusive character of privacy and that government officials have become specialists in dishonest-story telling.

If PMB is going on medical vacation, he is entitled to it, because presidential functions can be very fastidious, and therefore can require rest and medical consultation. However, giving the public the impression that PMB is hale and hearty, rather than that he is physiologically not alright, is nothing more than a manifestation of dishonesty, and therefore, of corruption.

In this case, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu is also on record to have commended PMB not only for signing the bill, but particularly for Abba Kyari’s decision to take the bill to as far as the United Kingdom for signing. What is the total cost of Abba Kyari’s visit, in terms of flight, hotel accommodation, estacode, etc. Answers are needed in light of PMB’s reported policy of the need to reduce the costs of governance in Nigeria. Questions have been raised as to why the reduction in the costs of administration are limited to the staff of the Vice President.

Whatever is the case, problems can only be created for an amiable PMB when he is made to live at the epicentre of untruths. As told by the Sahara Reporters, the purpose of PMB’s visit to the United Kingdom is medical check-up. PMB has been diagnosed as far back as February 2017, to have Chrohn’s disease that affects the digestive system. The resurgence of the disease has been ascribed to stress.

As quoted by the Sahara Reporters, PMB ‘has really been stressed by all the drama that has been happening in the villa.’ This is a very good reason and justification for the visit. PMB is Nigeria’s president and all Nigerians should be much concerned about his health. There is no need engaging in any act of corruption to make a case for him. He does not need it. PMB cannot, on the one hand, claim to be fighting dishonesty while his aides are directly acting as special corruptionists. This brings us to the issue of Vice President Osibajo.

The Case of Yemi Osibajo’s Aides
The case of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo is quite interesting in terms of dishonesty of purpose and corruption. It raises the controversy about PMB’s disinterest in his Vice and the constitutional provision requiring PMB to transmit a letter to the National Assembly if he is travelling out and will not be able to perform his official functions. In other words, the trending controversy is that PMB is apparently undermining the Office of the Vice President, but which is strongly being denied by the Presidency. It is argued deductively that, if there is no intention to undermine, there would have been a written letter to the National Assembly, to create a basis for him to act the position of the President.

In this regard too, the issue of the aides of the Vice President has been raised. Reports have it that 35 of them have been sacked. Initially, the report was that they were asked to vacate their official residences within the Presidential Villa, on the basis that they had been redeployed to the newly-established Ministries of Humanitarian and Social Affairs. In other words, they do not need to reside in the villa. Not only were they asked to vacate, their entry permit were said to have been withdrawn.

Today, the report is not only that the new Ministries to which the aides had been redeployed are said to have rejected them on grounds of non-available positions. Have they been technically sacked? Is the sack an attempt to undermine the Office of the Vice President? In fact, the report is also that the Vice President is said to be waiting for the arrival of PMB to find out the extent of veracity about the decision to redeploy them.

But before then, fresh reports have it that no aide had been sacked and that there is not even an agenda to have the aides sacked. As explained by Senator Babajide Omoworare, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters, on non-transmittance of a letter to the National Assembly before travelling out on a long trip, ‘contrary to the claims by some individuals and groups, the President has not in any way undermined or relegated the Office of the Vice-President. He has no reason to do so… The President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria can work from any where he is in the world’ (vide The Punch, Thursday, November 7, 2019, p.13).

At the level of the aides, the allegation or the report of sack was not only initially denied, but now also confirmed that, indeed, sack letters had actually been given. In this regard, where is the location of the aides: Ministries or Presidency? Where do they live now? Were their entry permits into the Villa ever withdrawn? Was there any intention of PMB to discontinue with the hitherto close rapports with his Vice? Has the relationship between PMB and his Vice truly been tainted? Presidential lies cannot enable an honest followership, hence corruption cannot but continue to thrive.

Put differently, on Friday, November 8, 2019 the lead caption of the Daily Sun, is ‘As Presidency opens up on Osinbajo… Awo’s grandson, ex-gov Ajimobi’s daughter among sacked VP’s aides.’ Two observations are noteworthy about the report of the Daily Sun. The first is that the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Office of the Vice President, Mr. Laolu Akande, has submitted in his twitter handle, @akandeoj, that the alleged list of sacked aides was fake. In his words, ‘a list circulating in the media on d so-called sacked presidential aides is not genuine and ought to be ignored.’ Is it the list of aides that is not genuine or that there is no basis for any sack at all? The deductive truth here is that Mr. Akande is not denying the truth about sacking but has qualms about the names on the list.

The second point of observation is that the Vice President was quoted as waiting for the return of PMB for one consideration: ‘the affected staff were meant to be redeployed and not sacked. That was the situation before the President travelled out. Their appointment letters stated that they are the President’s employees but deployed to serve in the Vice President’s Office.’ If the aides were actually presidential aides, what then is the problem? The President who engaged them can also conveniently disengage them. The truth again, as one Yoruba axiom has it, ‘what is behind six is more than seven.’ The presidency has confirmed what it had held as untrue. This is corruption per excellence.

If truth be told, the trending report is that PMB is not happy with the Vice President on two grounds: confirmation of Walter Onnoghen as Chief Justice of Nigeria and the sacking of the Head of the Department of State Services, Lawan Daura, on August 7, 2018. Why should PMB be unhappy? The trending report to which little attention is paid is the factor of unhappiness of Mr. President. Tanko Yakassai has pointed to what the source of the problems is all about: Onnoghen phenomenon and sack of Lawan Daura, who in spite of the sack, he is still consulting for PMB.

In the words of Yakassai ,’from the time when Osinbajo removed Lawan Daura as the Director General of the Department of State Services and also when Chief Justice, I (Yakassai) suspected that he would not be in the good books of the President. I have been watching very closely, and from that time till date, the President has never handed over governance to him to act anytime he travels. I suspected that it didn’t augur well with the presidency that he nominated Onnoghen as the Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria. So whether he is being sidelined in the presidency, I don’t know, but I would not be surprised if that happens.’ This observation clearly shows the mania of governance in Nigeria, insincerity of purpose.

The insincerity of purpose, not only at the level of political governance, but also at the level of the people of Nigeria, is manifested at the level of ‘why the appointment of Onnoghen’? and ‘why the sack of the DSS Director General’? According to hearsay, the vice President gave instructions to Mr. Lawan Daura to which he responded that he only takes instruction from Mr. President. In other words, he was not prepared to take any instruction from Professor Yemi Osinbajo. The hearsay also says that the discussion was referred to PMB who directed that the Vice President should take appropriate measures. What is appropriate a measure in this case? What is known and beyond hearsay is that Mr. Lawan Daura had his appointment terminated and PMB is said not to be happy with the action. If the hearsay is not true, there is the need to seek explanations on what informed the actions of the Vice President.

On the Supreme Court Judgment
The judgment of the Supreme Court on the appeal by Alhaji Abubakar Atiku on the 2019 presidential election also points to dishonesty of purpose. As told by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Tanko Muhammad, on October 31, 2019, ‘we have examined all the briefs of argument and the exhibits for over two weeks and we have all agreed that there is no merit in this appeal. The appeal is hereby dismissed. Reasons to be given on a date to be announced.’

Renown constitutional lawyer, Professor Ben Nwabueze, has raised many issues with the announced ‘lack of merit.’ He quarrelled with the word ‘we’ and also explained that Atiku Abubakar was never given a fair hearing in the spirit of Section 36 of the Constitution. As Professor Nwabueze put it, ‘no examination of all the briefs of argument and exhibits as announced by the CJN in the statement quoted above can constitute a fair hearing required by section 36 of the Constitution in the absence of the parties.’

More interestingly, Professor Nwabueze has it that ‘not only is the hearing required to be conducted in the presence of the parties in order to be a fair hearing, Section 36(3) requires it to be held in “public.”… Section 36(3), he pointed out, says ‘the proceeding of a Court or the proceedings of any tribunal relating to the matters mentioned in subsection (1) of this section (including the announcement of the decisions of the Court or tribunal) shall be held in public.’

The trending news, rightly or wrongly, is that PMB knew well the outcome of the court judgment and that was why he could have the luxury of travelling out before the day of judgment. If there was no fair hearing, where is the legitimacy of the re-election of PMB. And true, the Supreme Court might have innocently not taken note of the requirements of Section 36(3) as pointed out by Professor Nwabueze. The implication and impact of the observation is that going to court in Nigeria to seek justice may no longer be guaranteed in light of application of technical arguments rather than addressing the issues of disagreement and absence of fair hearing.’