Corruption: Why Buhari may lose the battle

President Buhari receiving former President Olusegun Obasanjo at the State House, Abuja. PHOTO: State House

I am fully persuaded that what President Muhammadu Buhari needs at this juncture is not sycophancy – that not a few are offering through the social and traditional media at the moment. The Nigerian leader who is not enjoying robust health needs encouragement by way of honest critique of his policies and suggestions on how to succeed on apparently two-point agenda of his government generally believed to be very slow almost two years on. There is nothing in the convoluted APC-Buhari manifesto that is being implemented apart from security especially in the North East and war on corruption. Though resurgence of the insurgents in the northeast region has been frightening in recent weeks, there is no doubt that the armed forces can face that challenge squarely. The only curious attitude of Abuja about insecurity generally is inexplicable complacency over the well-known Fulani herdsmen who have become the new ‘unknown soldiers’. Only very few may understand why the deadly herdsmen are killing everywhere in Nigeria and they are not being arrested and no one is encouraging whistle blowing on their whereabouts. It is quite strange.

And so before we get lost in the labyrinth of inconclusive investigation of what my brother Opeyemi Agbaje aptly calls “found but not lost” in the Osborne-Apartments-Ikoyi affair, let us begin to remind the president and his men that unless there is a concomitant building of institutions that will continue to prevent corruption in public service as corruption is being seriously fought, at the end of his tenure in May 2019, there won’t be much to remember other than a few people arrested that are not prosecuted. And that is why there have been comments here and there including on this page that all told, government has been fighting a few corrupt people and not really fighting corruption. Before the reputation managers and government strategists and consultants open fire to describe this context as balderdash, let’s remember that not many citizens would even remember the high profile public officers that President Olusegun Obasanjo’s EFCC jailed and even removed from office. Not many would remember because just as is being observed now, he (Obasanjo) too was said to be fighting a few corrupt people without fighting corruption through the instrumentality of the civil service that he didn’t reform successfully. Obasanjo suffered from large-scale distraction by the mysterious third term agenda he has unsuccessfully denied. I hope we would recall that the then EFCC under Nuhu Ribadu, as an Assistant Commissioner of Police removed an Inspector General of Police, Tafa Balogun who was prosecuted and jailed.

I hope we have not forgotten too that Professor Fabian Osuji, then an Education Minister was removed when he was implicated in the first major whistle blowing by the then member of the House of Representatives from Borno State, Dr. Haruna Yerima, who in 2005committed some class suicide when he blew a whistle on the National Assembly’s alleged bribe-for-budget scandal and N48.5 millionnaira worth of telephone recharge cards that a telecom coampany was allegedly releasing to the federal legislators every month. Hon. Yerima, the first whistle blower, was suspended by the House for only one month in 2005 for his whistle blowing. Besides, it will be recalled that the bribe-for-budget scandal in the same 2005 led to the stepping down of the then President of the Senate, Senator Adolphus Wabara. Even for their alleged involvement in National ID card project scandal, Minister of Internal Affair then, Sunday Afolabi, who was said to have obtained PDP membership card for Obasanjo in 1998 was earlier disgraced out of office in 2003. Another Minister (of Labour and Productivity), Hussain Akwanga implicated in the same deal as a Permanent Secretary was also cashiered for the same reason. The EFCC then also investigated alleged transfer of fund from PTDF account to a band then known as Equitorial Trust Bank, which a businessman used to obtain a GSM license from the NCC. It was alleged then that an Acting President authorized the transfer to the bank. Besides, Nuhu Ribadu was said to have deposited with the Central Bank a whopping $15 million (as an exhibit) that he claimed a former governor used to bribe him to drop his (governor’s) case. Ribadu, a lawyer did not disclose the deposit to the media before leaving office as investigation was inconclusive on the former governor that was later jailed in the United Kingdom.

There are more examples of exploits on anti-corruption warfare by the Obasanjo administration. But the bane of the whole saga was that as soon as Ribadu was removed, the steam of the anti-graft fight ebbed. This was so because there was no concomitant policy thrust to institutionalise transparency and accountability in the governance system. Under President Obasanjo, Public Service Rules and Regulations as well as, Financial Instructions were reformed for operational efficiency in public and civil service. But at the same time, corruption crept into the mainstream civil service recruitment and promotion. There were pieces of evidence then that even the examination that was introduced into promotion of senior civil servants including those in the directorate cadre and permanent secretaries through the Federal Civil Service Commission and Office of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation was corrupted. Many mediocre directors and permanent secretaries were thus promoted through organized corruption as they allegedly paid their way to the top. How can the foundation of civil service that was corrupted be used to institutionalise fight against corruption in the public sector? How can directors and permanent secretaries who were generally known to have corrupted the system for posting to juicy agencies and beats be useful to anti-graft crusade? Unfortunately the inconclusive reform of the civil service of Obasanjo administration through the Bureau of Public Service Reforms (BPSR) remains till date and in fact, the system has remained largely in a state of anomie. Evidence No.1: the minor restructuring of the ministries done when the Buhari administration constituted his cabinet in October 2015 has not been completed for operational efficiency. For, instance, the officers affected by merging of Housing and Works with Power are still drifting about two years after. The point being simplified here is that a civil service that has lost its mojo cannot assist in institutionalizing anti-graft measures in the service generally.

That is why the Justice system, through the Federal Ministry of Justice and Office of the Attorney General of the Federation that should coordinate both the EFCC, ICPC and CCB, the three agencies to fight corruption, cannot assist because of the inherent institutional weaknesses in the bureaucracy, in this regard. The same goes for the Office of the Auditor-General of the Federation (AUD-GF) that should normally be more powerful than the EFCC and ICPC put together in fighting corruption. These two offices, Attorney General of the Federation and the Auditor General of the Federationare creations of the Constitution. And so, no one can argue about whether they need to be confirmed by the Senate as some are saying glibly about the Chairman of theEFCC. The 1999 Constitution provides for that. I mean here that if the presidential bureaucracy itself has been strong from the outset, the presidency (office of the president) should have depended on the powers in the office of the AGF & AUD-GF to build and strengthen institutions to fight corruption in the civil service that allows senior officers to apply for billions of naira and dollars and get approval without retiring them, after all.

This is what the Office of the Auditor-General of the Federation in conjunction with the Public Accounts Committees of the federal bi-cameral legislature should do for the country statutorily. This is what the constitutional provides for. And again, here is the thing, unless the President overhauls his government machinery to have a strong, resourceful Attorney General who will coordinate the EFCC, its legal department that is insulated from the Justice system will continue to come short of expectations of the people. In the same vein, unless the Office of the Auditor General of the Federation is revived from the stupor the military governments have put it, there will be no institutionalization of public account mechanism that is needed for the EFCC to work seamlessly. The senior civil servants everywhere know that there is no bigger whistle blower than the Office of the Auditor General of the Federation. That is if they are set off to work according to the schedules the constitution and their enabling laws assign to the office. The AUD-GF’s Office, according to the 1999 constitution, is independent and influential to the extent that they report to the Public Accounts Committees only for the purpose of submitting yearly Audit Report and Public Hearings on it. I hope we will note that it is conventional for the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committees’ Chairmen in both Chambers of the Legislature to be from the opposition party for the purpose of maintaining independence of the public accounts control mechanism.

The first deliverable in this connection is that President Buhari and Ag. Chairman Mangu should not fight corruption alone for the purpose of getting plaudits without radical reform of the civil service, the main source of official corruption. This was the case with Obasanjo and Ribadu. Despite the exploits of Obasanjo and Ribadu, as soon as Obasanjo left and his successor removed Ribadu as Chairman of the EFCC, the system that depended on the image of Obasanjo and Ribadu collapsed like a pack of cards. And so, not amount of whistles blown and billions of dollars recovered will be significant enough to reduce corruption if we do not build strong institutions that will outlive the Buhari administration. The second deliverable is that EFCC too should be reorganized to work within the construct of a strong justice system led by a strong Attorney General who can be what Attorney General is in the state of Israel where even the President or Prime Minister can be independently investigated and charged by the AGF . There is some significance in suggestions over the years that the Attorney General envisaged here should not be the Minister of Justice. But the starting point is to get an Attorney General that will work as a people’s Attorney. That seems to be what Professor Itse Sagay (SAN) and Mr Femi Falana (SAN) have been saying and doing from outside the justice system.

That was also what the late James Ocholi, (SAN) was saying at the Senate screening in 2015 about the criticality of proper investigation to make prosecution easy. Certainly, the need to build capacity in the EFCC now filled with police investigators who can be transferred anytime, is too urgent to be ignored. It is lack of capacity that is making the people to have the impression that the trouble with the EFCC is media trial before concluding investigation. And this trend helps suspects to be building their defence before investigations are concluded. It is mediocrity of the EFCC that is responsible for another presidential panel to conclude investigation of what the same EFCC had begun at the controversial Osborne flats where the rights of all occupants of the Tower have been needlessly violated. In the U.S criminal justice system, the FBI chief cannot make any facts available to the public without the approval of the Attorney General. So, the Office of the Attorney General cannot be insulated from the operations of the anti-corruption agencies that are clearly not equipped to handle the complexity they are facing at the moment. Instead of allowing Professor Sagay and Fanana to be doing the job of the AGF from outside the system, why not hire any of them to be the Attorney General of the Federation that can lead the anti-corruption crusade so seamlessly. In the same vein, why is the presidency that is fighting corruption, afraid of inauguration of the Public Procurement Council as the Public Procurement Act 2007 provides to remove procurement from the federal executive council (FEC)? Why is Fiscal Responsibility Commission ignored in the fight against corruption? Why is the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) not allowed to strengthen the whistleblowing policy that is just ad ho cat the moment?

The conclusion of the whole matter is that PMB and the APC should note that unless they reform the public service concomitantly with the anticorruption agency, recovery of loot and the whistle blowers too will be blown away by the wind of time after 2019. Just as it happened to Obasanjo whose exploits seem to have been forgotten because he failed to reform the public service, the main source of official corruption.



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