Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Is Buhari’s anti-corruption war a ruse?

The magic wand that secured President Muhammadu Buhari’s electoral victory in the March 28, 2015 presidential election was his anti-corruption antecedents and pledges. While he was a Head of State between January 1, 1984 and August 27, 1985, he set up several military tribunals to summarily try elected politicians of the Second Republic (1979 – 1983). Many of them were found guilty of graft and abuse of office and sentenced to long years of imprisonment. The electorate in 2015 wanted change from the deepening rot in governance and decided to vote for a man who they perceived had done it before and who had promised to do it again. That was how Buhari, on his fourth attempt as presidential candidate, was able to do the impossible in Nigerian history by defeating an incumbent President!
President Buhari has been in the saddle for the past eight months and expectations are high. Since his inauguration on May 29, 2015, Mr. President has taken a number of bold steps aimed at fighting corruption. They include the sacking of some purportedly corrupt heads of some government agencies such as Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, among others. He also decided to enforce the Treasury Single Account initiated by his immediate predecessor in office. He has also been junketing across the globe seeking help and signing bilateral and multilateral agreements with some countries for the repatriation of the country’s stolen wealth.
Just last week Tuesday, January 19, he signed the Mutual Legal Assistance on Criminal and Commercial Matters treaty, which will allow the United Arab Emirates government return monies hidden or invested in banks and real estates in the country. Since his second coming, all the anti-corruption agencies have become energised. Many past and present political office holders including ex-governors, lawmakers, ministers, commissioners and indeed a former National Security Adviser had been dragged to court to answer corruption charges.
We heard that some former top government officials have, of their own accord, decided to return part of their loot to government coffers. Nigerians await the official announcement of how much has been voluntarily returned, who collected the returned loot and where it is being kept. While it may be true that this administration, through its anti-corruption agencies, has charged many to court for corruption, it has been doing much of media trial than actual prosecution. Furthermore, very vital documents which should have been used to prosecute those arrested for corruption are finding their way into the public through various media outlets. There have been much of name-calling, labelling, spurious statistics of corrupt officials and how much they stole being bandied around.
Take for instance the recent alarm raised by the Minister for Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, that 55 well-placed Nigerians stole a whopping N1.34tn between 2006 and 2013. At a press conference he addressed in Abuja on Monday, January 18, to mark the beginning of the war against corruption in Nigeria, the minster was quoted as saying that, “Out of the stolen funds, 15 former governors stole N146.84bn; four former ministers took N7bn; 12 former public servants both at federal and state levels stole over N14bn; eight other Nigerians in the banking sector made away with N524bn, while 11 businessmen cornered N653bn.” How reliable are these figures? These are mere allegations that have yet to be proved in court. Moreover, they are sweeping statements devoid of details of the identities of those being accused.
Now, for a government that says it’s committed to fighting corruption, I found it difficult to reconcile that stance with the humongous amount allocated to the State House in this year’s budget. How on earth can a supposed austere government justify the purported increment of the capital budget of the Presidency from N4.3bn in 2015 to N19bn this year? What defence has the Presidency for voting a whopping N15bn as security vote; N3.2bn for the State House Medical Centre; N5bn for the Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System; N3.63bn for purchase of BMW saloon cars; and N800m for a website, to mention but a few? Why is the Buhari administration sustaining the profligate legacy of the past administration by voting monies for sponsorship of pilgrimages to Saudi Arabia and Israel?
A government that was voted to power on the mantra of change cannot rule the way of it predecessors and expect people to believe that it is different. Albert Einstein said it is insane to do things the same way and expect a different outcome. Given that a chunk of the 2016 budget will be financed through loans, then I expect to see none of those ridiculous and incredible budget sub-heads. If at all there is any justification for them to be there, under this zero-based budgeting, I do not expect the mind-blowing sums earmarked for them.
To expose the wrong priorities of this present administration, while increasing the budget for the Presidency, the total vote for nine anti-corruption agencies is put at a mere N27bn according to The Nation of January 12, 2016. The newspaper reported that, “The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, for instance, had about N13.8bn allocated to it in 2011. It suffered a decline to N10.6bn in 2012, N9.8bn in 2013, N10.2bnin 2014 and N10.4bn last year. The Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission received N3.6bn in 2011, N4bn in 2012, N4.5bn in 2013, N4.6bn in 2014 and N4.9bn last year. For the Code of Conduct Bureau, it was N1.4bn in 2011, N3.9bn in 2012, N2.9bn in 2013, N2.8bn in 2014 and N2.3bn last year. The Code of Conduct Tribunal was allocated N359.6m in 2011, N461.2m in 2012, N517.1m in 2013, N512.6m in 2014 and N806.9m last year. The Fiscal Responsibility Commission got N336.8m budget last year; the Bureau of Public Procurement had N1bn and so did the Nigerian Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. The Public Complaints Commission had N2.5bn and the office of the Auditor-General of the Federation had N3.2bn.”
The Chairman, ICPC, Mr. Nta Ekpo, was reported to have cried out that the anti-graft agency had been unable to successfully carry out its statutory responsibility of fighting corruption due to insufficient funds. Nta stated this on Friday, January 15, 2016 when he hosted members of the Senate Committee on Anti-Corruption and Financial Crimes headed by Senator Chukwuka Utazi in his office. The ICPC boss reportedly told his visitors that the yearly budget of his agency was insufficient to carry out its responsibilities and fight corruption. He said, “In 2015, the commission proposed N9.5bn, but N4.9bn was appropriated, while N4.2bn was released. Note the differentials between the amount budgeted and actual release.
If the anti-corruption agencies of government are starved of funds, how can this administration win the war against the monster? I laughed at the recent order by the new Comptroller General of Nigerian Customs Service, Hameed Ali, and Chief of Army Staff, Gen. Tukur Burutai, that all their personnel should declare their assets. While it may be a good idea, the question is: What follows? How will the CCB whose mandate is to verify these declared assets go about that operation in the face of dwindling financial resources for its operations? This administration, if it is serious about fighting corruption, should have ensured that the anti-corruption agencies are well-resourced starting from this 2016. It needs be emphasised that this administration will be judged, not on the number of media trials it conducted or indeed number of persons charged to court for prosecution but the number of persons convicted.