By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.
This column has lately become more passionate about goings-on in Nigeria’s political and economic spheres than is usual. I can’t help it. The country is perilously adrift. Hopes are sinking. And time is running out. I simply can’t afford the luxury of indifference and blithe unconcern.
In spite of the awful performance of the Buhari government on the economic front so far, it was usual for people to say that the one thing that was still going for the government was the president’s integrity and intolerance of corruption. No more.
The past few weeks have shown that the president isn’t the anti-corruption crusader Nigerians thought he was. Both the optics and the substance of his “anti-corruption” fight would go down in the annals, at least so far, as the most brazenly compromised and selective since the restoration of democratic rule in 1999.
As corrupt as the Jonathan administration was, it was once railroaded by the force of public opinion to “accept the resignation” of former Aviation Minister Mrs. Stella Odua over her controversial purchase of MW armored cars worth $1.6 million. Even Obasanjo, not exactly an apotheosis of integrity, fired a number of his ministers accused of corruption.
But a man who rode to power on the strength of his credentials as a dogged anti-corruption fighter is looking the other way when his close aides are accused of corruption. The president, it’s now obvious, is only interested in fighting corruption if his political opponents are the accused. So we have graduated from "stealing is not corruption" under Jonathan to corruption is not corruption when the people accused of it are the president's "anointed."
Firm, undeniable evidentiary proofs of Gen. Tukur Yusuf Buratai's alleged corruption have been published. So have Lt. Gen. Abdulrahman Dambazzau's, and now Babachir David Lawal's. Rotimi Amaechi has been accused of bribing judges, and Abba Kyari has been accused of accepting a N500 million naira bribe from MTN, among others.
The president’s first public reaction to allegations of ethical impropriety against his associates was to defend them, a privilege he doesn’t extend to others. “Terrible and unfounded comments about other people’s integrity are not good,” he said through his media adviser. “We are not going to spare anybody who soils his hands, but people should please wait till such individuals are indicted.”
But he appears to be “sparing” some sacred cows. SGF Babachir David Lawal of the multimillion naira “grass-cutting” infamy is the latest sacred cow enjoying privileged presidential protection. The evidence against him is so demonstrably damning that a serious anti-corruption government would fire him forthwith and prosecute him later.
People who are intimate with President Buhari told me several months ago in the heat of my unrestrained enthusiasm over his emergence as president that he was morally and temperamentally unsuited to fight corruption. They said the undue premium the president places on “personal loyalty” causes him to ignore, excuse, and even defend the corruption of his close associates.
I was regaled with troubling tales of the mind-boggling corruption against close, loyal aides that he swept under the carpet at the PTF, The Buhari Organization (TBO), and at the defunct CPC. Babachir Lawal was a dominant figure in CPC; he knows President Buhari well enough to know that nothing will happen to him for all his villainous rape of vulnerable IDPs in Borno and Yobe as long as he can impress the president that he is irrevocably "loyal" to him.
I had hoped that the president would learn lessons from his past and change— at least for the sake of his personal legacy, given that he is old and has the privilege of a second chance to rule Nigeria. Apparently, I was naive. Now "anti-corruption fight" has become the sauciest joke in Buhari's Nigeria.
If Buhari wants to reclaim whatever is left of his fast depleting moral capital, he should not only fire and prosecute Babachir David Lawal, he should also do the same to other high-level kitchen cabinet members arrogantly luxuriating in obscene corruption.
The presidential directive to “investigate” government officials accused of corruption isn’t good enough. It was intentionally vague and deceitful—like most things by this government. It looks like something that was written on a whim, and appears calculated to just deflect attention from the piercing, sustained, public searchlight on the corruption taking place right under the president's nose.
Notice that it deliberately lacks specifics such as timelines for investigation, names of people to be investigated, terms of reference of the investigation, etc. Plus, given the government's notoriety for invidious selectivity and double standard, I have no confidence that this government has the moral courage to find any of its key officials culpable of any infraction.
Unless the president really and truly wants the truth, the “investigation” will either be endless or will come out with a predetermined verdict of exoneration—well, unless enough people of conscience rise up and hold the government's feet to the fire.
In any case, it has turned out that the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice doesn't even have the constitutional power to "investigate," which lends weight to the suspicion that the directive was nothing more than a flippant, hurriedly-put-together distraction.
Mr. President and Saraki
President Buhari’s laudatory birthday message to Senator Saraki was strange, but unsurprising. You can't superintend over a government swimming in an ocean of corruption and not one day praise the very man your administration (rightly) painted as the byword for corruption. Now, Saraki's alleged corruption and Buhari’s toleration of corruption have merged. What else is left?
After calling Saraki "one of the most influential politicians of our time who has made tremendous impact on the country,’” Buhari said "Saraki has successfully kept the memory of his late father alive by identifying with the grassroots in his home state.”
Nope, Mr. President. Saraki does NOT identify with the grass roots in Kwara State; he exploits them. I am from Kwara, and know that Saraki is the worst evil to ever befall the state.
As I wrote in my October 24, 2015 column titled, "WhoWill Save Kwara COE Lecturers from Saraki’s Deadly Grip?" “Senate President Bukola Saraki is called Kwara State’s ‘Governor- General’ for a reason: He is, for all practical purposes, the state’s de facto governor, and Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed is merely his impotent, obsequious caretaker. Ahmed must dutifully take orders from Saraki or risk losing his cushy surrogate governorship. This isn’t a flippant, ill-natured putdown of Governor Ahmed, who seems like a nice person; it’s an uncomfortable truth that many Kwarans know only too well.”
Under Saraki's vicious grip, some Kwara workers were owed salaries for upwards of 14 months. Pensioners are owed several months' arears and are dying. And now, Saraki, through his caretaker governor, is copying Buhari's reverse Robin Hoodist governance template and has imposed steep taxes on poor people's meagre incomes, houses, lands, domestic animals, etc. And this is the man the president says identifies with the “grassroots” in his home state”?