To kill 29 birds with two stones, by Azu Ishiekwene
How a government whose single greatest promise was to fight corruption has been enmeshed in a fruitless argument over whether or not it is more corrupt than its predecessor is one of the most embarrassing legacies of the Buhari administration
The All Progressives Congress has no one but itself to blame for the back-and-forth with the Peoples Democratic Party over the “lists of looters” it released last week.
After the bazaar of the Jonathan era, that there’s any argument at all about who was named or omitted in the lists of who-stole-what, is a sign of how badly President Muhammadu Buhari’s government has performed; it’s sign of deep, self-inflicted injury. And to imagine that the government of Buhari had to release the list drip-drip at gunpoint!
In July last year, Justice Hadiza Rabiu Shagari ruled, in a suit by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, that Buhari’s government should tell Nigerians the circumstances under which looted funds had been recovered since it assumed office, from whom, and exactly how much had been recovered.
On another occasion, a court had also ruled that the government should publish the list of treasury looters since 1999 and disclose to the public the amounts recovered.
If the government had immediately complied with the rulings of the court or agreed to the common sense advice to publish periodic records of the status of the account and the account names, it won’t be fighting back at a time of low public confidence. But it simply ignored advice and decided to hug the list on the excuse that full disclosure was not in the public interest.
Not a few suspected that public interest could also have meant the interest of members of the ruling party who might have been implicated by full disclosure – the PDP wolves in APC clothing.
Months after, Buhari’s government continued to sit on the court rulings, using what was left to wrap its numerous excuses for sleepwalking. After much pressure, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, said Buhari had directed all relevant agencies to compile the names of suspected looters and to enforce the judgment of the courts.
As day was turning into night and still nothing was happening, the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, said the government was delaying because it didn’t want to jeopardise recoveries by publishing the names. That was the government’s way of ignoring the orders of the court by hiding in plain sight.
Many months later and after the recent repeated accusations by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo that Jonathan shelled out N100 billion and $295 million from the treasury days before the 2015 election, the government came under fresh pressure to show proof.
For nearly two weeks now, the country has been riveted on claims and counter-claims of looters’ lists, the first two containing 29 names released by force by the government, followed by a response from the opposition that it said was aimed at unveiling the corrupt sacred cows in Buhari’s government.
How a government whose single greatest promise was to fight corruption has been enmeshed in a fruitless argument over whether or not it is more corrupt than its predecessor is one of the most embarrassing legacies of the Buhari administration.
Jonathan’s government did not claim, or even pretend, that it was fighting corruption. The former president was clear that there was a difference between stealing and corruption and that sticker was conspicuously displayed at the executive floors of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation Towers, Abuja, where the then Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Allison-Madueke, shared the PIN numbers of the country’s treasury with members of the ruling party.
Those who couldn’t get oil blocks or sweetheart swap deals helped themselves by plugging into the country’s oil pipelines and diverting thousands of barrels of crude oil, estimated by The Financial Times at the time to be worth $1 billion monthly.
Yet, if in spite of the horrific corruption of that era, Transparency International is saying that perception of corruption has barely changed three years after Buhari took office, then the government needs to do more than wave a half-done looters’ list in self-defence.
In 2015, Buhari said he had ordered “a complete audit” of NNPC among other revenue generating agencies, “for better service delivery to the nation”.
Except if rodents have eaten the audit report, I’m not aware that the words have left the page since the President made them three years ago.
If anything, the NNPC under Buhari has not only become more opaque, claiming immunity from the FOI law. It is under executive instruction to retain an unknown and unknowable percentage of its revenue in an account known only to a few, including the Chief of Staff.
That is not fighting corruption; and even a list twice as long as Lai’s Roll Call does not justify running the NNPC in a manner less transparent than it was run under Jonathan. And yet the names of those doing the damage will never appear on any long or short list – at least not under Buhari.
Why has it has taken Buhari’s government forever to publish a list of 29 alleged looters, a number of whom the government has reportedly made recoveries from but none of whom has, so far, been convicted?
The government may argue that it has put its best foot forward but has been sabotaged almost at every stage by the judiciary and suspects fighting back with their dirty money. That may be true; but a few of the deep, potentially fatal injuries have been self-inflicted.
Where the Ministry of Justice under Malami has not bungled a number of cases outright, the Minister has been locked in a needless turf war with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, leaving suspects to exploit the loopholes and sometimes putting prosecutors and even the government’s own external counsel in difficult positions.
It’s also a sad commentary on the APC government’s promise to the fight corruption that over two years after the Acting EFCC Chairman, Ibrahim Magu, was called to the job he still does not have a letter of appointment. He is, in fact, despised and often double-crossed by influential persons in government who have their own personal agenda.
The Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission has not fared any better. Even though one of Nigeria’s best and brightest, Bolaji Owasanoye, has been appointed to retool the agency, he is unable to assume office – eight months after his appointment – because the Senate, where the ruling party has a majority, has refused to confirm his appointment.
If after nearly three years of fighting corruption all that Buhari has to show for it are two provisional scrap lists of corrupt suspects – all from one side of the aisle – his government has to take a long, hard look at the mirror, and reality.
. Ishiekwene is the Managing Director/Editor-In-Chief of The Interview and member of the board of the Global Editors Network.