Be Not Deceived: There’s No Anti-Corruption War Going On– Femi Aribisala

By Ikenga Chronicles April 30, 2016

Be Not Deceived: There’s No Anti-Corruption War Going On– Femi Aribisala

I was invited to a Roundtable on Corruption by the Law Faculty of the University of Lagos, only to discover that some “Buharideens” had highjacked the occasion and were inclined to use it as a platform to promote the onslaught of “democratic dictatorship” in Nigeria.
 The topic was on corruption in Nigeria, but the mast-head in the hall was more specific. It read: “Winning the War against Corruption”. This was easily seized on by government agents to imply that President Muhammadu Buhari was well on the way to dealing a mortal blow to corruption in Nigeria.
The composition of the invited discussants was biased. Most of those on the panel with me were dyed-in-the-wool government apologists. The Chairman was Professor Itse Sagay, currently the Chairman of Buhari’s Presidential Advisory Committee against Corruption. As it turned out, he was not prepared to entertain any meaningful discussion about corruption in Nigeria. His agenda was to showcase ostensible government achievements in the anti-corruption campaign and to proclaim new promissory notes grandiloquently for public consumption.
Also there was Oby Ezekwesili of #BringBackOurGirls fame. She used to pitch her tent with the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). But now that the All Progressives Congress (APC) is in power, she has been romancing the new government. It was even speculated at one time that Buhari would reward her with a ministerial portfolio. Not surprising, she is no longer as strident in demanding government rescue of the kidnapped Chibok girls as she had been under Jonathan.
The kingpin of the government apologists on the panel was Femi Falani, a lawyer and human rights activist. He was chosen to give the keynote address. Falana had been heavily touted as Buhari’s attorney general. In fact, on the eve of the ministerial appointments, a list was widely publicised in the press that had his name penciled in for the post. But someone apparently put an eraser to it. Nevertheless, in order to remain in the good books of the government, Falana seems to have jettisoned his earlier dedication to the defence of human rights.

It was also not lost on me that if Falana’s proposal of “guilty until proven innocent” had been the norm, President Buhari himself would have been jailed when $2.8 billion of government money went missing under his watch as Commissioner for Petroleum in the 1980s. How soon they forget! At the time, Vera Ifudu, an NTA reporter, revealed to Nigerians that Senate Leader, Olusola Saraki, told her in an interview that the missing money was moved from the NNPC’s Midland Bank account to a private account.
It is amazing that, in spite of our nasty experience at the hands of General Buhari and his kangaroo courts in 1984, a civil rights lawyer would propose today that similar kangaroo courts should again be established under the same Buhari in the bogus name of democratic justice. But I guess we deserve that in Nigeria for being foolish as to elect as president under a democratic dispensation the very man who truncated our earlier experiment with democracy through a military coup.
In Buhari’s first coming, the Femi Falanas were few and far between to whitewash his authoritarianism. The special courts of that era, now being proposed under a different disguise, were military tribunals established to try civilians instead of regular courts of law, in clear violation of internationally accepted legal norms. Buhari created a secret police (NSO) under the infamous Lawal Rafindadi to harass and imprison Nigerians without trial. It is this same injustice that Falana was hired to re-table.
It is unconscionable that a so-called human rights activist would be used to champion this revanchist authoritarianism. As a military dictator, Buhari ran so rough-shod over our judicial system that the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) proscribed Nigerian lawyers from appearing in any of his kangaroo courts.
Buhari sent both corrupt and non-corrupt politicians to jail, sometimes for up to 300 years. He tried octogenarian, Michael Ajasin before his military tribunal. When he was discharged and acquitted; he tried him again. When he was discharged and acquitted again, he tried him a third time. When he was discharged and acquitted yet again, Buhari nevertheless continued to keep him in detention and refused to release him.
A judge claimed Buhari pressured him to jail Fela Anikulapo Kuti for failing to declare the foreign exchange he had legitimately procured for the up-keep of his band on a foreign trip; while the same Buhari sent his aide-de-camp to Murtala Muhammed airport in Lagos to facilitate the smuggling into the country of 53 suitcases by the Emir of Gwandu during the currency-change exercise.
Therefore, the onus fell on me at the Roundtable to warn our student audience that it would be madness to entertain proposals that seek to bring back Buhari’s sharp practices of the past under another guise. It is necessary to point out that, as Nigerians were deceived through vain promises promptly jettisoned after the election, so are government agents trying to deceive us again today. There is actually no real war against corruption going on today. There is not even a fight against corruption, how much more a war. What we have is a government attempt to decimate the opposition and create a de facto one-party state under the guise of fighting against corruption.
Once I started making these points, the students started cheering. It became apparent that they were not fooled by the government’s praise-singers and were glad that I was there to expose their duplicity. Before I proceed to elaborate on why I insist there is no real fight against corruption in Nigeria today, let me point out at this juncture the reaction of my fellow-panelists.
I only spoke for ten minutes, but the chairman, Itse Sagay, became enraged. He not only abused me, he also abused UNILAG students. He called them all “ignorant” for applauding my positions. He shouted: “We are here on a very serious business. And students, don’t behave like American electorates who are ignorant. The appreciation of unserious people shows ignorance.”
“How can someone come here and say there’s no war against corruption and there is clapping? This is a very serious discussion and I want us to be serious about it. If you are anti-government, please go and campaign against government and let your party win in 2019. This is not a venue for PDP campaign. We are here on serious business. Let’s maintain that seriousness.”
#BringBackOurGirls icon, Oby Ezekwesili, also asked for the microphone a second time to contribute to this berating of UNILAG students for applauding my presentation. She said, among other things: “I wasn’t surprised that some of you were clapping. The reason you were clapping is that you are a page in your own level of corruption. There are many whose exam malpractice is the basis upon which they have come to school. So when you are talking about the need to wage a war against corruption, they are completely disconnected from it. There is a complete dissonance from it.”
 
In Buhari’s first coming, he bamboozled Nigerians with a so-calledWar Against Indiscipline. This entailed treating Nigerians, young and old, like primary school children. We were forced to queue at bus-stops under the watchful eyes of soldiers wielding whips with orders to flog publicly those deemed unruly. Late-coming civil-servants were required to do frog-jumps. The pathetic thing about this was that the government actually believed such charade constituted cogent public policy. Once Buhari left, Nigerians stopped queuing. So much for the War Against Indiscipline.

The truth of the matter is that President Buhari is a retired military officer; he has little idea what constitutes effective public policy. As military strongman in the 1980s, he dealt with food shortages by sending soldiers to break into private warehouses and shops. He fought trade imbalances by taking Nigeria back to the stone age of trade by barter (counter-trade). He sought to extradite a Nigerian from Britain by drugging and crating him. These are the indices of a man bereft of modern and judicious policy ideas.

The same goes today for Buhari’s newfangled “war against corruption.” The whole thing is one big farce. The president clearly does not know what corruption means and how to fight it. As a result, he ends up with the contradiction of attempting to fight corruption with corruption; an exercise in futility.

As military head of state in the 1980s, Buhari failed to understand that imposing retroactive decrees and killing Nigerians under them was corruption. Putting the Igbo vice-president in Kirikiri prisons, while placing the Fulani president under palatial house arrest, was corruption. Detaining people like Michael Ajasin in jail, even after they were discharged and acquitted by kangaroo courts, was corruption. Jailing journalists for telling the truth was corruption. Shepherding 53 suitcases of contraband unchecked through customs during a currency change exercise was corruption.

Today, Buhari still does not understand that corruption is not limited to stealing money. The government claims to be fighting corruption, but at the same time it has been corrupting the political system. Disregarding the rule of law under a democratic system is corruption. Flouting judicial verdicts is corruption. Trying politicians on the pages of newspapers instead of in law courts is corruption. Unlawfully killing hundreds of Shiites in Kaduna is corruption. Detaining Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaky and his wife for over four months without trial is corruption.

Corruption cannot not be fought with human rights abuses and violation of the rule of law. It is better for the guilty to go free than for the innocent to be wrongfully accused and convicted.

If President Buhari were truly interested in fighting corruption, he would be faithful to the pledge he made to Nigerians in his acceptance speech as president in April 2015. He said then: “I pledge myself and the government to the rule of law, in which none shall be so above the law that they are not subject to its dictates, and none shall be so below it that they are not availed of its protection.” If he was true to his word, he would not have gone on national television to declare Dasuki and Kanu guilty without the benefit of trial in courts of law.

Not surprisingly, the State Department of the United States came out recently to accuse the government of the following abuses:“Vigilante killings; prolonged pretrial detention, often in facilities with poor conditions; denial of fair public trial; executive influence on the judiciary; infringement on citizens’ privacy rights; and restrictions on freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and movement.” These are not the indices of a government engaged in a war, or even a fight, against corruption.

The government claims to be fighting corruption but continues to create and sustain institutions that promote corruption. In its one-year in office, the government has not established a single institution or passed any legislation necessary to fight corruption. The much-ballyhooed Whistle-blower Act is still blowing in the wind. Instead the government has gone a long way to undermine anti-corruption institutions established under previous administrations.

EFCC, ICPC, and DSS are all legacies of past administrations. Under Buhari, these organs of government have been converted into organs of the APC for the persecution of the political enemies of the president and his party. Under Obasanjo, the EFCC went after the members of the president’s party first and foremost. Under Buhari, the EFCC goes primarily after members of the opposition.

Under Jonathan, INEC was a champion of free and fair elections. Under Buhari, INEC has become a champion of inconclusive elections. Under Jonathan, the privacy rights of Nigerians were respected. Under Buhari, the privacy rights of Nigerians are disrespected. Even the sanctity of the government house in Uyo, Akwa Ibom was violated by the DSS.

Buhari’s anti-corruption double-standards are becoming legion. The president insists Abacha never stole any money, and then institutes the probe of the PDP for the mismanagement of the recovered non-existent Abacha loot. He accuses the PDP of using public funds to finance its 2015 election campaign, but fails to disclose where the APC obtained the money to finance its own very expensive election campaign. The APC commends INEC for running the ostensibly free and fair election that brought it to power in 2015; then it challenges in court every election conducted by the same INEC in the same election cycle that APC lost.

The government fails to recognise that sustaining a wide margin between the official naira/dollar exchange-rate and the parallel market rate (currently 198 to 320) has created a major avenue for corruption in banking circles. It is corruption to employ the children, relatives and friends of members of the Nigerian political establishment into juicy positions in the Central Bank of Nigeriawithout the scantiest regard for professionalism. It is corruption to pad the 2016 budget with literally billions of naira of hidden fraudulent allocations; so much so that the budgetary process has become stalemated: the victim of a battle royal between a grasping presidency and a self-serving legislature.

Surely, President Buhari knows he cannot fight corruption successfully while he is surrounded and sponsored by corrupt APC politicians. Like charity, an APC war against corruption must begin at home; in the APC. The president makes a song and dance about fighting corruption, yet his APC party is steeped in corruption.

However, APC members are exempted from Buhari’s anti-corruption prosecution; except perhaps for Bukola Saraki who must be prosecuted for committing the same crime Bola Tinubu was absolved of. Saraki became Senate president by playing the same party-betrayal card Aminu Tambuwal played to the delight of the APC under Jonathan, which is now to the annoyance of the APC under Buhari.

If Buhari were serious about fighting corruption, he would have fought against the dubious protocol within APC that all presidential aspirants must fork out a nomination fee of N27.5 million to the party. Costly elections lead to corrupt governments, because the excessive money spent is inevitably recouped from government coffers. But instead of fighting against this dubious protocol, Buhari claimed he was constrained to borrow the money from his bank. A few months later, the president declared he has N30 million in his bank account.

The APC does not even pretend to be anti-corruption. Both the corrupt and the clean are welcome with open arms into the party. No politician with corruption allegations hanging over his head is ever denied membership of the APC. As a matter of fact, the party is a safe harbour for corrupt politicians seeking protection from APC persecution. A large chunk of APC membership is now made up of defunct PDP members; and the “navigator” of the APC is none other than Olusegun Obasanjo, PDP president for eight years.

Apparently, if you are a member of the PDP, you are deemed by Buhari’s APC to be corrupt. But once you cross over to the APC, you automatically become squeaky clean.

As military strongman, Buhari jailed Bisi Akande on corruption charges in the 1980s. But come 2014, the same Bisi Akande became the interim chairman of his anti-corruption APC. In 2015, Femi Gbajabiamila was the APC choice as Speaker of the House of Representatives. Today, he is the Majority Leader of the House. However, Gbajabiamila was convicted for professional misconduct by the Supreme Court of Georgia, U.S.A. in 2006 for defrauding a client of $25,000.

While the government is busy grandstanding about anti-corruption in the press, its APC legislators are busy fighting over “juicy” committee positions in the House and Senate. Surely, “juicy” legislative committees are anathema to anti-corruption. What makes a committee “juicy” is precisely its scope for providing avenues for corrupt enrichment to legislators.

APC’s anti-corruption crusade has become so lopsided, it is clearly no more than an instrument for check-mating and decimating the opposition. The standard retort is to insist the singling out of PDP members is inevitable because the party had been in power for 16 years.

However, some of the legacy parties of the APC, such as the ACN, have also been in power for long in the states. The EFCC has gone after PDP governors, such as Sule Lamido and Godswill Akpabio, but has ignored APC governors, such as Rotimi Amaechi and Babatunde Fashola.

A judicial commission of enquiry set up by the Rivers Stategovernment maintained that, under former governor Rotimi Amaechi, a whopping N53 billion disappeared from the Rivers State Reserve Fund. However, the EFCC has not even invited Amaechi for questioning. Neither has he been excoriated in the government’s media war on corruption. On the contrary, Amaechi has been awarded the “juicy” new super-ministry of Transport, which now includes road, rail, maritime and aviation.

Similarly, Babatunde Fashola was accused of spending N78 million of government money upgrading his personal website. Among other allegations, he was said to have inflated the cost of the Lekki-Ikoyi link-bridge from N6 billion to N25 billion. However, the EFCC hears no evil and sees no evil in the Fashola case without even investigating it. Instead, Fashola was awarded the “juicy” newsuper-ministry of Power, Works and Housing.

Abubakar Audu was under prosecution by the EFCC for misappropriating N11 billion of state funds when he was governor of Kogi between 1999 and 2003. Nevertheless, he was nominated as APC governorship candidate for Kogi in 2015. In spite of the fact that the EFCC had filed charges of corruption against Timipre Sylva for defrauding Bayelsa State of N19 billion between 2009 and 2012, he nevertheless became the governorship candidate of the APC for Bayelsa in 2016.

How can the government expect Nigerians to believe it is sincere in fighting corruption under such hypocritical circumstances?

Anti-corruption is good public relations, but it is no substitute for a viable programme for economic growth. In the final analysis, the government’s anti-corruption campaign is all sound and fury signifying nothing. Making a difference means fulfilling the government’s campaign promises. It means ending the petrol shortage. It means increasing electricity generation and distribution. It means providing jobs for unemployed youths. It means providing social security for the teeming poor. In these practical decibels of government, the APC is at sea. It simply has no idea what to do.

 

  .Aribasala resides in Lagos 
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