Buhari Should Appraise Corruption Perception Report

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RingTrue with Yemi Adebowale, yemi.adebowale@thisdaylive.com; 08054699539 (text only)

RINGTRUE BY YEMI ADEBOWALE

Some of President Muhammadu Buhari’s men have been going about mocking Transparency International’s 2020 Corruption Perception Index (CPI). It is shocking to see these presidential aides attacking TI and blaming hapless Nigerians for our country’s poor rating. The President has also maintained a treacherous silence on this report which placed Nigeria as the second most corrupt country in West Africa, with Guinea Bissau in the first position. According to TI, CPI worsened under the Buhari government. The 2020 Index gave Nigeria 25 from 100 obtainable points, thus ranking this country 149 out of the 180 assessed.

Transparency drew its conclusion from 13 data sources that captured the assessment of experts and business executives on a number of corrupt behaviours in Nigeria’s public sector including bribery, diversion of public funds, use of public office for private gain and nepotism in the civil service.

If the Buhari government is truly interested in fighting corruption as it claims, then, the TI report should be properly engaged. Buhari and his men should spend quality time reading the report and working towards blocking the holes pointed out by the global anti-corruption body. Simply put, our President must take full responsibility for this country’s pitiable ranking in the global Corruption Perception Index. Just as SERAP noted, the Buhari government should see the poor anti-corruption ranking as an opportunity to raise its game in the corruption war and end the legacy of impunity in the country.

The truth be told, corruption under the Buhari government in almost six years has been frightening. This country has never had it so bad. Key officials of this government are deep into corruption. In this country, a serving army chief under Buhari bought a $2 million property in Dubai and shamelessly defended it with impunity. What a country! Evidence of corruption in MDAs abounds. The Office of the Auditor-General of the Federation persistently documents some. Also, a recent report by global auditing firm, PwC, revealed persistent corruption and several anti-business dispositions in some of Nigeria’s regulatory agencies. Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo was worried by the report and demanded sanction. Nothing happened thereafter.

This government hardly engages statistics constantly rolled out about its anti-corruption failings. Its war against corruption remains a fantasy. The memo written by the former Minister of State for Petroleum, Ibe Kachikwu on sleaze at the NNPC remains fresh in my memory. The cabal in charge of this administration tightened the noose on Kachikwu, forcing him to recant. Also, payments made by the Buhari government for some comical services often leave me wondering whether the interest of the public is paramount. One of such puzzling expenditures was the $4 million paid to an unknown lawyer from the Excess Crude Account (ECA) for God knows what. The office of the Accountant General of the Federation is still struggling to supply details of the lawyer who was paid the $4 million from the already depleted excess crude account, and the nature of the job done. There was also the controversial payment of $1.5 million to consultants from Malaysia to help set up three focused labs aimed at aiding the execution of its Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP).

What about the re-looting of recovered Abacha loot under Buhari’s watch? Despite outcry, dubious fees amounting to $17 million were allegedly paid to two lawyers for the recovery of $321 million, stolen by former military ruler, Sani Abacha. The Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, allegedly engaged the two Nigerian lawyers after the job had been completed by Enrico Monfrini, a Swiss lawyer hired by previous Nigerian government to work on the recovery. Monfrini openly declared that fresh lawyers were absolutely unnecessary because he had concluded all legal work.

Can you imagine a government fighting corruption approving a frightening N1.4 billion for the design of a 12-floor head office building in Abuja for the Department of Petroleum Resources? The architectural and engineering designers alone will pocket N1.4 billion. Yes, N1.4 billion. The Federal Executive Council gladly approved the contract. The total projected cost of the building when it is done is about N35 billion. I guess the building will be made all of gold. This is happening in a country where millions of people go to bed without meals and wake up not sure of where breakfast will come from. This profligacy is happening in a country rated among the eight hungriest in the world, with millions of people starving in the North-east. Daily, revenues that should go into the Federation Account are squandered by Federal MDAs in a supposed era of change.

I can still remember the then Minister of Trade and Investment, Okechukwu Enelamah, perspiring while defending the budgetary proposal of the ministry before lawmakers in 2019. The Senate Committee on Trade rejected the ministry’s budget proposal because it voted N42 billion for a firm, Nigeria Special Economic Zone Company, which the minister said was a government firm, but the lawmakers found out that it was a private company. The panel confronted Enelamah with facts and figures showing that the firm was private-owned. This should not be happening in an era of change.

Under Buhari, the NNPC is permanently into these trickeries. Which corruption is bigger than spending billions of Naira (unbudgeted) on petroleum subsidy? In 2018, the grossly mismanaged corporation reported that it incurred a loss of N228.1 billion between April and November, a period of just seven months. Money gobbling has been the name of NNPC’s game under Buhari. In 2017, this corporation once told a bewildered nation that petrol consumption had jumped to 60 million litres daily, with N1.7 trillion paid as subsidy. Rent seekers in the oil industry are obviously still collecting the proceeds of crude oil sales under Buhari’s watch. This is why the NNPC spent a monstrous $5.8 billion on the importation of 9.8 million metric tons of petrol in four months – October 2017 to January 2018. Many are questioning these figures. NNPC’s petrol import and expenditure claims are cloaked. The four refineries owned and operated by the NNPC are in shambles. They posted a cumulative loss of N114.3 billion in the first 11 months of 2018.

But for persistent protest by Nigerians, Babachir Lawal, the legendary grass cutter, would have remained as the SGF after allegedly mismanaging about N2.5 billion in the account of the Presidential Initiative on the North East, PINE. What about the sleaze allegations against the then Executive Secretary of the National Health Insurance Scheme, Prof. Usman Yusuf? This public servant, under investigation by anti-graft agencies, was reinstated with fiat. What about the then Director-General of the National Emergency Management Agency, Mustapha Maihaja, struggling to explain how he spent billions of Naira allocated to his agency? What about the pension thief, Abdulrasheed Maina, who was effectively protected by agents of this government for years?

What about the case of the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu and the sacked Executive Secretary of the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TeTFund), Abdullahi Baffa, who in 2018 alleged that he was forced out of office owing to his refusal to provide monetary kickbacks to Adamu. Baffa told BBC Hausa Service that the minister sent a contractor to him demanding his share of N200 billion disbursed by the agency to tertiary institutions in Nigeria.

Bafa alleged further: “If they bring any evidence indicting me, I’m ready to accept death punishment. I do not regret my refusal to obey the minister’s directives because I cannot sabotage my country. Go and ask the minister. Eight months ago, Mallam Adamu Adamu sent one of his biggest contractors to tell me that the minister was angry with me for three reasons. The third issue was that TeTFund disbursed over N200 billion to universities without remitting the per cent kickback, amounting to at least N20 billion at 10 per cent rate.”
Like so many other untreated sleaze cases involving government officials, our anti-graft agencies did not show interest in the Adamu Vs Bafa case.

What about the Abdullahi Dikko shenanigans? After the change of government in 2015 and removal of Dikko as the Comptroller-General of the Nigeria Customs Service, the EFCC moved against him over alleged corruption. While the anti-graft agency was working on the case, the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice struck a “non-prosecution” deal with the ex-Customs boss. Dikko agreed to restitution in lieu of prosecution. The agreement was based on the return of almost N1.6 billion to the coffers of the government being proceeds of the crimes Dikko allegedly committed while in office. Only God knows how Malami arrived at this figure. But Dikko made the refund and Malami signed the “non-prosecution” deal.

The Ibrahim Magu-led EFCC thought it could continue with the graft case against Dikko. It felt the loot Dikko needed to return was more than the N1.6 billion accepted by Malami. But the anti-sleaze agency was barred from going ahead with the prosecution of Dikko by a court as a result of the deal. Unfortunately, Magu himself was eventually enmeshed in corruption. A panel was set up to probe him. When the panel handed in its report, Buhari asked another panel to look into the report of the panel. I’m sure that by the time this new panel turns in its report, a third panel would be asked to review. Buhari will just keep going round in circles.

Fighting corruption in Nigeria is evidently a padi padi arrangement. That was why the United States Department of State, in March 2019, reported a climate of impunity in the Buhari government “that allows officials to engage in corrupt practices with a sense of exemption from punishment.” In the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2018, the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labour, said Nigeria had made little progress in efforts to limit corruption in its public service.

It stated: “Although the law provides criminal penalties for conviction of official corruption, the government (Nigeria) did not implement the law effectively, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.

Massive, widespread, and pervasive corruption affected all levels of government and the security services.”
The report stated further that Nigeria’s two key anti-corruption agencies, the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), had broad powers to prosecute corruption, but rarely applied such powers to conscientiously and logically prosecute corruption cases.
So, Buhari should sit down and genuinely tackle corruption within his government instead of showboating.

The Fire from Niger State
Stories coming out of Niger State are heart-wrenching.About five years ago, this state slipped into the inglorious bandit-infested club, with six local governments becoming killing fields -Shiroro, Lapai, Munya, Rafi, Mariga and Mashegu. It’s looking endless. Early this week, 21 people were killed and 40 others kidnapped in renewed attack on Shiroro communities. Over 300 gunmen on motorcycles stormed Kurege, Sabon Gida, Sararai and Rafin Kanya shooting sporadically. By the time they left, 21 dead bodies were waiting for the ill-fated people to bury. These bad guys were in Bassa area of the same Shiroro LGA, just days back. As usual, they killed and also kidnapped scores of people. Last week, they were also in Avu community in Lapai Local Government Area, where they kidnapped people.

Rafi Local Government Area is the epicenter of the attacks, with most of its towns and villages in ruins. Recently, the bandits raided Yakila community in Rafi, and left behind blood and tears. The District Head of Yakila, Mohammed Abdulhamid and three of his daughters were abducted. Bandits have repeatedly attacked these people, slaying and injuring. Withshops/businesses destroyed, Rafi natives are counting their losses.

Just as in other troubled parts of the country, the federal government and its security agencies have failed the people of Niger State. The responses to the attacks have been lethargic. Governor Abubakar Sani Bello has also not done anything reasonable in these troubled communities to justify his constitutional position as the Chief Security Officer of the state. This governor must go beyond showboating to protect the traumatised natives ofShiroro, Lapai, Munya, Rafi, Mariga and Mashegu LGAs. He should use his security vote wisely.

The other day, Sani Bello visited Rafi but offered no succour. The governor spent time accusing community members of working as informant to the bandits. This is clearly not the way to help wipe the tears of a bereaved community. I would like to see Sani Bello, creatively playing his role as the Chief Security Officer of the state. He must also compensate victims of attacks.