It no doubt took time in coming, but like good food which takes time and resources to cook, the meal is ready and everyone who knows has shouted that a Daniel has come to judgment in what arguably has been the Achilles heels of this nation. Even antagonists of President Muhammadu Buhari cannot deny his commitment to getting things right and stemming corruption which has stultified growth in all sectors of development as well as tarred the country with a bad brush that has rubbed off negatively on the its image.
The reason it was so easy for Nigerians to root for him as leader was based on his antecedents as Mr. Integrity though the war had appeared slow and not as effective and quick as his traducers expected, people still felt the vibes that it is no longer business as usual.
What many never envisaged was that though some people he relied on to execute some aspects of his vision were not as clear sighted, committed with drive as he would want, Buhari never blinked from his focus. He took time enthroning what would be irreversible by strengthening the institutions that would entrench anti-corruption as a way of life in a society that had for long, been on the path of unenvious perfidy with a resounding global notoriety that made Nigeria a byword as one of the most corrupt countries.
Many lost hope while others in the usual chameleonic acrobatics, had started pillorying the President as having abandoned or lost focus in his personally sworn agenda; but those who know him well could still vouch that retired reticent General had some aces up his sleeves as an unbridled tactician which made him known and feared.
Though there had been some silent reformations leading to the anti-corruption fight being on auto-pilot, there were still gaps seen by those outside the kitchen cabinet which with latest trends, are becoming very evident with results though drowned by other factors currently on the front burner of nationhood
However, the process of enthroning requisite policies and institutionalise things had never for a second and any reason, taken a back seat which culminated in burnished hands-on moves which fruits are now obvious.
Before now, Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN) had worked out policies and programmes for the anti-corruption agencies with a clear vision that led to trainings and retraining, creation of committees and subcommittees, collaborations with sister agencies at home and abroad in a manner that drew international attention and respect for Nigeria. The yield became clear in information sharing, cooperation and better rating on the ease of doing business index.
Unlike in the past where effectiveness of anti-graft agencies were being measured in publicity, mostly sponsored, agencies, now the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) is taking bold steps to investigate, apprehend and prosecute successfully unlike in the past where shoddy handling of cases let people off the hook; the effect of such planned out approach are obvious and very effective.
Convictions in cases of graft have gained traction while recoveries are legion so that what used to be like bar-scene allegations of graft against civil servants and politicians have now started having concrete proofs due to programmes Malami worked out that plugged gaping holes in agencies under him.
Of course the beneficiaries fought back and are still fighting, but like flood which seeks no one’s approval to create its course, they soon realised that there is very little or nothing they can do about it. Like infections in the body that feel threatened by the presence of antibiotics, they come out to fight it and in the process are destroyed; that is the stage where Nigeria and its anti-corruption fight presently is.
Complaints that Nigeria could not make much progress with the once feared Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) based on the way it was constituted led to Nigerians and senior lawyers openly castigating the processes and procedures of the agency with some pointing out that they were merely bringing up cases to be settled. Their approach then was more like trial by the press and conviction in the court of public opinion instead of court of law. There were even allegations that they merely leaked cases being investigated so that people would move to stem it.
There were also those that alleged they were heavily and separately extorted even when they were innocent of any wrongdoing. Bold ones contested theirs in court and won while some bore the brunt with philosophical calmness but the agency had assumed the toga of a toothless bulldog with officials coming up once in a while to reel out figures of seizures and convictions which turned out to be those of smaller fries while high profile cases were either shoddily investigated and prosecuted in a way to secure conviction was a near impossibility.
Soon, things became so bad that anti-graft officials openly drove cars which values are far above their legitimate means, owned properties in excess of their explainable incomes to the extent that a senior lawyer once said there was no need to look far to see that all was not well. He pointed out that the bevy of exotic cars parked and driven by EFCC officials was a pointer that more water was flowing under the bridge or that the war was being compromised.
Things came to a head when the former EFCC boss, Ibrahim Magu was more than once, refused clearance by the Directorate of State Services (DSS) which gave a damning report on him living and possessing assets above his means. They were so thorough that they pointed out that he was living in a house above the cost of his approved limit while others alleged that some people who ought to be under investigation paid for the accommodation which amounted to a custodian preying on exhibits.
If the head of the agency had such baggage, the rest is then left to imagination of those under him though there are still officials who professionally executer their given duties. While some argued that the bug that bit the police had found its way into EFCC since the officials that started the Commission were poached from the police, others posited that the Commission simply morphed into the exact image of the Nigerian society, sometimes being used by those who have access and connection to even hound innocent citizens while corruption ran riot. They soon appropriated, though unofficially, the duty of collecting debts for people who they charged a certain percentage and their image sagged.
Then came the move to remedy the situation when the Justice (retired) Ayo Salami panel was vested with the duty to investigate and recommend way out for the EFCC train that had obviously left its track. The result of the investigation is said to be so damning that Magu, who though kept restating his innocence was replaced and far sweeping reforms recommended. The surprise may not have been in the findings and recommendations but in the political will of President Buhari to begin immediate implementation of the recommendations which people have warned could also affect the Commission especially the offloading of the over 800 policemen in the Commission to leave only those EFCC recruited and trained. Such sweeping reform which may appear too radical given that the Commission needed more hands to effectively perform its duties speaks to the urgency of redeeming the times there.
As a first step, a 40 year old cadet of the Commission, Abdulrasheed Bawa, a pioneer cadet of the Commission was announced a replacement for Magu with incalculable implications. The import of returning policemen seconded to the Commission became clear as those senior to him in rank had to leave, it being unprofessional for seniors to take directives and pay compliments to their juniors. The storm is still raging but with one clear message, President Buhari means business in his anti-graft drive.
Bawa graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Economics (2001) and also holds a Master’s degree in International Affairs and Diplomacy (2012) both from the Usman Danfodio University, Sokoto. He joined the EFCC as an Assistant Detective Superintendent in 2004.
Given his trainings, background and records, Bawa was tipped as replacement for Magu and had an easy ride through the Senate during his screening where he boldly dropped a bombshell that everyone had to explain his source of wealth.
Prior to his screening, those to be adversely affected by his appointment went to town with spurious allegations of graft which were however easily brushed aside and discountenanced as it gained no traction. He however denied the allegations which on a closer look, the alleged infraction took place long after he had left the station and was even said to be handled by a committee where he was not a member. That drew the sail off the ship and his accusers cowered in the shadows from where they hatched their plot.
However, the question on the lips of Nigerians is, will Bawa write his name in gold or be swallowed by the bug that had bitten others? One factor answers that question unequivocally and that is that the combination of the trio of President Buhari, Malami and Bawa completes a triangle in the anti-corruption effort which is ready to choke corruption especially coming at a time that other reforms in agencies under the office of the Attorney had been completed so that it is an assured forward movement.
With iron cast resolve of President Buhari to keep to his campaign promises, cardinal of which is to rid the country of corruption, the stage has been set for the return to the trenches where the issue would be decisively addressed in such an enduring manner that it becomes a norm in the society that corruption had to be curtailed and eliminated.
This effort is sure to outlive the administration of President Buhari and the officials he is using to entrench the fight but the beneficiaries of the effort is going to be Nigeria, especially its youths who had been adversely affected by the convoluted value systems that have seen them gasping in a lurch.
The present reform in the EFCC will soon produce enduring results and knowing who Bawa is, having the way smoothened by Malami with the resolve of President Buhari who is Mr. Integrity, Nigeria is on its way out of the stranglehold of the corruption menace.
––Engineer Amadi, a public commentator wrote in from Port Harcourt.