Let’s commence by reminding ourselves that the final straw that broke the camel’s back before the last administration was booted out of power in 2015 was the stench of corruption oozing out of Aso Rock Villa, which had become unbearable.
Of all the allegations against the federal government under President Buhari’s watch, ranging from the lopsided appointments into public offices in respect of which l wrote and published several opinion articles including one titled ‘Federal Republic of Inequality?’, financial impropriety by top government officials has been the weightiest.
These include corruption allegations against about half a dozen members of the current federal cabinet in their previous functions; a military service chief, immediate past Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Babachir Lawal, ex Nigeria Intelligence Agency (NlA) Director General, Ayo Oke. The others are Group Managing Director (GMD), Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC); acting Head of Economic & Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), as well as the Inspector General of Police (lGP).
Except for the SGF and NlA DG that have been sacked after a long period of dilly dallying that created a negative impression of acquiescence in public eyes, the Presidency and the relevant agencies that are supposed to act on the multiple allegations and indictments against the seeming untouchables around the corridors of power by driving the investigations to logical conclusions, have been practically silent.
Given the aggression with which the same anti-graft institutions went after members of the National Assembly (NASS) accused of corruption while in fact they were being targeted for acting contrary to the ruling party’s dictates with respect to sharing of parliamentary offices, the lack of zeal to arraign the accused in President Buhari’s inner circles is quite unsettling.
Another arm of government, which has received the ire of the Presidency in its bid to tackle corruption even unconventionally, is the judiciary. When high ranking members of the bar and bench accused of impeding justice by being plied with proceeds of criminal enterprise were found at odd hours in their sleeping robes instead of court robes in detention facilities, members of the public were excited that if judges, including Supreme Court justices, were not spared, then the death knell for corruption had been sounded.
But the accused judiciary members who argued that they were only being victimised for refusing to do the bidding of government against opposition politicians, fought back and subsequent court trials have vindicated most of them.
Arising from the above, the impression created in the minds of the discerning members of the public locally and internationally is that the much-vaunted anti-corruption reputation of President Buhari and his government may be a ruse.
Sceptics are convinced that it is a political antic by the ruling party aimed at crushing the opposition.
As more Nigerians become aware of the current lukewarm attitude of the authorities to corrupt officials in the corridors of power as contradictory, President Buhari’s anti-corruption initiative is looking more like the pot calling the kettle black.
Indeed, l have heard some comments that suggest that labelling members of the former ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as corrupt is akin to giving the dog a bad name in order to hang it simply because the new ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) is no different.
An evidence of the lack of transparency and equity is that under President Buhari’s watch, which is just in excess of two years, is the N13 billion in assortment of currencies discovered in a flat in Osborne Road, Ikoyi, deemed to be NIA slush funds and the NNPC’s $20 billion worth of contracts awarded without due process as alleged by Ibe Kachikwu, the petroleum minister of state. There is also the fantastic Maina-gate scandal, which is about a fugitive civil servant that allegedly stole between N10-50 billion pension funds, got sacked by the previous government, fled Nigeria but found his way back into government after allegedly bankrolling the campaign for 2015 general elections that brought current government to power.
By every stretch of imagination, the alleged stealing of public funds by the current government already dwarfs the previous government’s flagship $2.1 billion Dasuki-gate scandal, which involves misappropriating funds meant to procure arms to fight Boko Haram insurgents by the former NSA, Ahmed Dasuki and the alleged $12 billion or so un-remitted NNPC funds to the CBN, which then governor, now Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, flagged before he was retired from the job by the government he accused.
By and large, given that President Buhari’s administration has only been in power for less than three years compared to 16 years that the immediate past government held sway, it’s easy to see why Nigerians may be feeling skittish if not frustrated over the inability of successive governments to rein in corruption despite all the public display of anger.
It is more so because the current government in power rode into Aso Rock Villa on the back of its presidential candidate, Buhari being a man of impeccable character with zero tolerance for corruption.
Against the backdrop of the embarrassing level of sleaze in government now, Nigerians may be more perturbed if not miffed by the apparent realisation that those who came to cleanup identified economic mess arising from corruption have turned out to be bigger mess creators.
The Bible says it is easier for God to forgive the man that did not know Jesus Christ at all than the one who knew Christ and still deliberately rebelled by revelling in sin. I won’t be surprised if the Quran has an equivalent injunction for Muslims.
So both on moral and spiritual grounds, there needs to be rectitude by this government.
And herein lies the moral hazard on President Buhari that he must deal with to regain moral authority.
He must rise above the current tactic of denial by his reputation managers in order to close the credibility gap that would enable him regain his fast waning moral authority so that he could continue to earn the respect of the hoi polloi that swept him into power.
Make no mistake about it, this type of moral dilemma is not unique to President Buhari and Nigeria.
In the USA, the bastion of liberal democracy and indisputable leader of the free world, it’s current president, Donald Trump, is facing serious cases of moral hazard.
For instance, the question: did Abdulrasheed Maina, suspected pensions funds fraudster contribute part of the stolen funds to APC and President Buhari’s campaign and subsequent victory in 2015?
It’s similar to the question being asked about Russia’s alleged involvement in USA’s presidential election that produced President Trump.
In the USA, a special prosecutor, Robert Mueller, has been appointed to investigate the allegation and he is leaving no stone unturned. All those involved and who are now appointees of Trump are being investigated and arraigned including Michael Flynn the former National Security Adviser (NSA) that Trump was forced to sack.
Incredibly, other close associates of the president amongst whom are Justice Secretary Jeff Sessions, Donald Trump Jnr, and the son-in-law of Donald Trump, Jared Kushner, who are advisers, are also being investigated.
Even Paul Mannafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman and a billionaire has been taken into custody and has been under house arrest in the past one month.
Could there be such a situation in Nigeria whereby Mr. President’s son and daughter-in-law would be made to face the full weight of the law?
Given the fact that Nigeria’s democracy is at infancy – after less than 18 years of continuous practice compared to the USA that’s in excess of 200 years, it may be too ambitious to expect Nigeria to be as liberal.
So nobody is expecting such extreme level of transparency in our country, but in order not to further tarnish his impeccable image of integrity, Mr. President should set up a proper investigative panel to unravel the mess concerning what is now being tagged Maina-gate, and other financial improprieties levelled against top government functionaries.
It’s also not being suggested that President Buhari should literarily throw his close associates under the bus, as the Americans would say. But there is more risk in delaying the day of reckoning by kicking the can down the road to the extent that his brand might become so diminished and thus render him unelectable and subsequently face inquisition by the opposition party that might take over from him in Aso Rock, if as a result of his failing to come clean, his party loses re-election.
Sadly, the nobility of being fair to every Nigerian no matter the creed or tribe do not seem to be the priority of concerned agencies in government who for lack of a better term, are now speaking from all sides of their mouths.
What such pussyfooting has done is to suggest to most Nigerians that our president is not wholeheartedly fighting corruption and as such, the so-called anti-graft crusade of this regime is either a hoax or a witch hunt of opposition politicians who have been complaining that they are victims of abuse of power.
To debunk this negative appellation and given the otherwise laudable objective of President Buhari in fighting corruption, the lukewarm attitude currently being exhibited by the Presidency must change.
Mr. President must lead by example and be seen to be doing so.
As tough and painful as it is for President Trump of the USA, he has allowed the appointment of a private investigator on the alleged Russian influence on his successful emergence as president of the USA.
The matter might not have become the gargantuan lump in the throat of President Trump that it is now, if he had not in his political naivety made suspicious decisions like sacking former FBI director James Comey.
President Buhari made a similar mortal mistake by not dealing decisively with the SGF and NIA fraud cases until it assumed a scandalous dimension.
In the USA, it is because the Russian investigation was considered an irritation and distraction by President Trump, that he hastily sacked Comey, who was investigating the matter. He thus inadvertently escalated the issue as the impropriety of the sack has triggered the appointment of an independent investigator to examine whether Trump’s action was not aimed at obstructing justice.
Clearly, independent inquiry is the minimum transparency standard required in an ideal democratic setting. Without such principled approach, most Americans could have lost confidence in President Trump and democracy, which thrives on openness. That’s also the irreducible minimum expected of President Buhari if Nigerians must continue to repose confidence in our democracy. Otherwise the system of governance in Nigeria might as well be referred to by any other name such as ‘militocracy’ or monarchy.
Considering that a lot of opposition politicians were arrested and paraded in the media for allegedly receiving funds from Ahmed Dasuki, former NSA to fund Goodluck Jonathan’s failed campaign for re-election in 2015, it’s unfair that APC and its leaders are similarly being accused of receiving money from Maina for 2015 campaign which launched them into office. The usually very vociferous Itse Sagay, who heads the federal government panel on anti-corruption is mute on the matter except to say that it was arrogant for Maina to say he wants to meet with President Buhari in order to disclose more details of the heist that he allegedly shared with some top government officials.
Apart from convicting opposition party members suspected of corruption in the media, what is the Sagay panel that has had opinion on all the other corruption cases and has in the process labelled practically all Nigerians as corrupt, doing about the Maina-gate and corruption indictments hanging over the neck of other government officials so far accused or indicted?
It will certainly not help President Buhari if he continues to ignore the deafening clamour by citizens for him to prosecute all involved in one sort of fraud or the other even if they are members of his inner circle.
If nothing else, it will reinforce his famous quote on his Inauguration Day on May 29, 2015 “l belong to nobody, l belong to everybody”, which should be a sort of desiderata of his government.
In my view, the only other mantra that resonated amongst Nigerians as much as President Buhari’s statement on his Inauguration Day is, Go On With One Nigeria. A slogan formed with the acronym of GOWON-the surname of the army general, Yakubu Gowon who led Nigeria through the civil war of 1967-70. It gave hope to Nigerians for a new dawn as the remark in President Buhari’s inaugural speech did.
Disappointingly, the potential benefit of that remarkable quote, which to me is the most galvanising comment by President Buhari, remains unharnessed.
That’s why it gladdened my heart when Mr. President during the recent EU-AU conference in Abidjan referenced the famous quote as the propelling force for proposing Akinwunmi Adesina as the president of Africa Development Bank (AfDB) despite the fact that he was the minister of agriculture under the opposition PDP that he defeated.
With President Buhari touting the spirit of inclusiveness inherent in the noble gesture to the AfDB president, my confidence that he is reading and listening to comments in the media and therefore abreast of the expectations of Nigerians was affirmed. That’s because in my piece titled ‘Anambra Elections: When Losing Meant Winning For APC’, l had counselled that Mr. President starts reflecting the letter and spirit of the famous quote in his policies and actions.
So when he attributed his support to Adesina to the philosophy in his Abidjan speech, l was elated because to my mind it is quite a significant change.
Finally, one thing that a politician would do without hesitation that President Buhari has not personally done and which strengthens his statement that he has upheld his Inauguration Day speech of belonging to nobody and belonging to everybody, is that he has not taken any overtly partisan action since he took office.
Let’s discount the fact that under his watch, government has been accused of engaging in lopsided appointments in favour of his kit and kin into strategic public offices, which l reckon is a collective decision and focus on personal idiosyncrasy such as feel-good actions that massage the ego.
Isn’t it rather fascinating that President Buhari did not, or has not fired those who do not show total commitment to his cause such as the Minister of Women Affairs, Aisha Alhasan, who openly declared that she would not vote for President Buhari even if he declared the intention to re-contest for office in 2019.
It is on record that the minister vowed to vote for former Vice President Atiku Abubakar if he decides to vie for the office of president of Nigeria against Buhari in 2019.
Typically, such vote-of-no-confidence on her boss could have earned Alhassan a sack but strangely she remains in President Buhari’s cabinet and that’s quite commendable.
The foregoing magnanimity towards Alhassan and kind gesture towards Adesina are rare strength of character and evidence that just like President Buhari is reluctant in sacking members of his inner caucus who get indicted for corruption and other infractions, he also does not take pleasure in sacking people in his government that are not on the same page with him. Otherwise ,the following people could also have been on the receiving end of president Buhari’s boot: Minister of State, Petroleum, lbe Kachikwu, for opening the can of worm in the NNPC; and Maikanti Baru, NNPC boss, in the centre of the alleged fraud, as well as the head of Federal Civil Service, Mrs. Winifred Oyo-Ita, who revealed that she shared her concerns about Abdulrasheed Maina’s reinstatement into the civil service with Mr. President and his Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari, who apparently engaged her in a heated argument in EXCO chamber which video went viral online. These are sort of embarrassing moments and indictments on Mr. President, which could have attracted repercussion.
But surprisingly, except in the case of Maina, who was summarily dismissed on President Buhari’s instruction, he has exercised restraint by not wielding the big stick. By so doing President Buhari has somehow proven that he is equally usually not in a hurry and perhaps it is not in his character to sack those opposed to him.
And to me, that makes him such an enigma and underscores as well as reinforces his l belong to nobody, l belong to everybody philosophy.
That’s why, as part of the change agenda, Nigerians are looking forward with baited expectations to more manifestations of such broadminded leadership exemplars promised by President Buhari.
*Magnus Onyibe, a development strategist, alumnus of Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and a former commissioner in Delta State, sent this piece from Lagos.
Interested readers can send their feedback comments to magnum.ng.