The anti-graft crusade of the administration is falling to pieces

Last week, President Muhammadu Buhari approved the suspension of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) Managing Director, Ms Hadiza Bala-Usman over allegations of non-remittance of operating surpluses from 2016 to 2020 to the tune of over a hundred billion. While there are also counter-allegations of impropriety against the transportation minister, Mr Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, it is not lost on Nigerians that members of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) that came to power to ‘fight corruption’ are squealing on one another. In the process, this administration is now buffeted by several scandals.

Last week, the Senate Committee on Finance chaired by a member of the ruling APC raised the alarm that some government-owned agencies have failed to remit over N2trn to the federation account from 2014 till date. The monumental scandal running into hundreds of billions of naira in the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) that has been hijacked by the Minister of Niger Delta, Godswill Akpabio on the pretext of ‘forensic audit’ is still simmering. The allegation by the National Security Adviser (NSA) against the retired Service Chiefs on the money voted for the purchase of arms that could not be traced has been swept under the proverbial carpet. The probe of the suspended Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) chairman, Ibrahim Magu provided mere entertainment without any result. In all, the so-called war against corruption by President Buhari has been consumed by hypocrisy and duplicity.

Prior to his election in 2015, Buhari’s campaign slogan was “if we don’t kill corruption, corruption will kill Nigeria” and it resonated because a major pitfall of the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was corruption. Six years into his administration, Buhari’s campaign mantra is gradually becoming a prophecy foretold. Corruption is killing Nigeria and the country is bleeding due to unwholesome practices in all facets of the sectoral life of the nation.

To be sure, some practical steps have been taken: Implementation of Treasury Single Account, Biometric Verification Number (BVN) and the Whistleblowing’ policy. But the fact remains that by 2019, Nigeria had dropped to 146 and by 2020 ranked 149 in the annual Transparency International (TI) Corruption Perceptions Index. The TI ranks countries based on how experts and business executives perceive that country’s public sector. And it is a composite index, combining 13 surveys and assessments of corruption, collected by a variety of reputable institutions.

We have at different times challenged the current administration that fighting corruption requires some underlying doctrines that will inform the battle plans with the overall objective of carrying the people along. But with a campaign that has no foundation in public morality or ethical good governance beyond empty propaganda, fighting corruption has been reduced to the arrest of some opposition politicians and telling tales. Sadly, where leadership misdeeds anticipate no consequences, democratic governance can only abide by rules made by autocrats and enforced by a rogue judiciary.

What this administration ignores is the link between distortion of values and abuse of, or general disregard for, extant rules. Yet once rules are ignored, all templates lose their validity, submitting to collusions and arbitrary exercise of discretion that is nothing but grand corruption that has become very pervasive in the country, regardless of what officials are saying. Fighting corruption in an environment such as ours must go beyond the sensational arrest of some politicians to putting in place structures that will lead to trials and convictions of those that are guilty without tarnishing the reputation of innocent citizens.

As we have consistently argued, a war against corruption that is guided only by a blanket notion of naming and shaming opposition politicians will ultimately exhaust its ammunition and record ephemeral success.