Nigeria: Assessing Buhari’s Anti-Corruption War

With the year 2021 gradually coming to an end, Ugo Aliogo in this report examines the anticorruption fight of President Muhammadu Buhari in the year under review.

In 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari rode into office on the wave of popular expectation of fighting corruption in the country especially among the elites.

However, in 2021, which is six years after, there are fears in some quarters especially from the opposition party that the anti-corruption fight is targeted at political enemies of the administration.

Some Nigerians are of the view that six years after, the anti-corruption war of President Muhammadu Buhari has not impacted the Nigerian economy.

In a recent anti-corruption report on Buhari’s Six Years in Office by Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), it was revealed that with the 2023 election season already ramping up, and Buhari’s hands-off governing style largely unchanged, his government’s anti-corruption track record is set to go down in history as one characterised by missed opportunities and, in some respects, outright hypocrisy.

The report further explained that President Muhammadu Buhari’s 2016 promise to demonstrate zero tolerance for corrupt practices remains largely unmet, adding that some of the shortcomings of the administration includes Buhari’s willingness to appoint individuals of questionable integrity to key positions, his tendency to shield political allies from investigation and prosecution, his disinterest in how the ruling party funds its election campaigns, his failure to make key petroleum sector reforms, and his corruption-prone economic and fiscal policies. Many of these challenges remain largely unaddressed.

The report also examined President Buhari’s anticorruption record through the lens of three recent strategic developments facing Nigeria: the global pandemic, rising insecurity and democratic backsliding. Damaging in their own right, these challenges have also hindered anti-kleptocracy efforts and created new corruption opportunities for unscrupulous officials and their enablers.

There is also an argument from some quarters that despite various promises and commitments by the administration on anti-graft activities, corruption remains a menace crippling Nigeria socio-economic development including the fast-falling educational standard, dilapidating healthcare, bad roads, rising unemployment that precariously breeds social vices like crimes, vandalism, banditry, armed robbery, kidnapping, and youth agitation, poorly motivated security personnel, youth under-development, bad governance, and the eroded public services.

Public Views

To deepen the scope of the discourse, THISDAY spoke to some Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) CDD and Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) who have been monitoring the Buhari’s anti-corruption journey since 2015.

In his argument, the Executive Director, CISLAC, Auwal Rafsanjani, stated that there were many commitments and campaign promises made by the present administration to combat corruption in all ramifications without fear or favour, noting that it is quite disturbing that official corruption is deeply embedded, “and fast becoming a permanent fixture whose subculture melts seamlessly into the public servants’ daily life.”

Rafsanjani remarked that the administration’s emerging dwindling capability to constructively and conclusively handle high profile corruption cases, gives chances to culprits to walk freely on the street and positive signal to potential culprits to freely engage in corruption.

He observed that the manners in which systemic corrupt practices are encouraged and celebrated, especially in the public sector, if not rapidly addressed would ultimately erode citizens’ trust and confidence in governance and eventually backpedal the gains and recorded progress from anti-corruption in the country.

According to him, “As recovering stolen assets became paramount to Nigeria, given the extent of decades of looting of public funds carried out by corrupt leaders and officials, one of the prime promises of the then incoming President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration in 2015 has been to recover at least some of the stolen assets from abroad and domestically. President Buhari himself repeated the message to world leaders and domestically that Nigeria would continue to call for speedy and unconditional recovery of illicit assets stashed abroad.

“The anti-corruption summit in London in 2016 prompted the government to make specific commitments in regards to asset recovery like strengthening of the asset recovery legislation through the passage of the Proceeds of Crime Bill to provide for transparent management of returned assets and non-conviction-based approach to asset recovery.

“However, delayed passage of key enabling legislative framework like the Proceeds of Crime Bill (2014) constitutes a major impediment to accountable, efficient coordination and management of recovered assets. Also, given the amount of resources concentrated within the area of asset recovery, anti-corruption agencies fight for juicy mandate to claim leadership in the coordination of the recovery effort.

“The Nigerian public and international community are worried over re-looting of recovered assets if internationally accepted policies and guidelines are not implemented by a competent institutional arrangement. Lack of transparency and progress in this regard backpedal progress in seizing proceeds of corruption. Hitherto, there is no independent, and comprehensive review of how many assets could be repatriated by all agencies with the power to seize assets.”

On her part, the Executive Director, CDD, Idayat Hassan, stated that with the President Buhari anticorruption fight over six years now, the consistent factor has been a very strong anticorruption message by the president.

She also noted that at every occasion, the President has always spoken about his anticorruption stance or zero tolerance corruption, adding that the very important point is that it has improved financial centralization.

According to her, “The strict implementation of the Treasury Single Account (TSA) by President Muhammadu Buhari, though proposed in 2012 by the former President Goodluck Jonathan administration has been able to plug the financial leakages in the financial system itself, which is accompanied with the Integrated Payroll and Personal Information Systems (IPPIS). The IPPIS have been extremely useful in the fight against corruption. Some notable achievements are the strong anti-corruption appointments he made with the appointments of the Chairman, Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), Prof. Bolaji Owansanoye, former Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) Chairman, Ibrahim Magu and the current EFCC Abdulrasheed Bawa. I think some of these are also very important.”

She argued that earlier in his tenure, the president created two adhoc temporary audit committee to investigate the spending of the monumental fraud that happened under the former National Security Adviser, (NSA) Col. Sambo Dasuki.

She commended the administration for the creation of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Corruption, (PACAC) a government Tin tank, adding that the Special Presidential Investigative Panel on public property and others have been useful as well, “the administration has been able to introduce plea bargaining to tackle corruption in Nigeria.”

She further explained that the administration has made more corruption convictions than other previous administrations, stating that irrespective of the challenges, it is also important to note that the prosecution and conviction of Plateau State Governor, Jonah Jang and Taraba State Governor, Jolly Nyame, are very high-level convictions, which has not been seen in a long time.

Continuing, she added: “Also, the number of assets recovered by the Buhari administration has been very incremental at every point in time, in the last six years plus. But beyond this, there are still challenges that are important to point out. One of the challenges is the questionable senior appointments the government continues to make. The administration turns a blind eye to political corruption. If you look at the questionable appointment, one will not expect that president Buhari will appoint a Godswill Akpabio in his cabinet, considering the fact he is facing corruption charges before the EFCC. He made several of those questionable appointments and even some people that are caught red handed have not been able to immediately respond at every point in time. He has even turned his face to political corruption, we saw him campaigning for the Governor of Kano State, Abdullahi Ganduje, irrespective of the fact he was accused of stuffing dollars earlier on.”

Anti-corruption Strategies

Rafsanjani revealed that the current administration adopts majorly legal and institutional approaches in the fight against corruption, which includes creation of special committees to fast-track progress and impact, adding that the previous administration leveraged basically institutional strategies.

Idayat stated that when examining the anticorruption fight between both administrations what is important to note is that the Buhari administration have had consistent message, which is backed up by strong anticorruption stance, “it doesn’t matter if it is not been matched with actions, everybody knows that Mr. Buhari is against corruption, and beyond that they have also used a lot of innovation compared to the Jonathan administration.”

Anti-corruption Agencies

Rafsanjani commended the anti-corruption agencies for the role they have been playing in the anticorruption fight, but expressed displeasure that there is a lack of operational independence of the various anti-graft institutions that make their efficiency extremely difficult, “This is largely due to the system of appointments depending mainly on the presidency.”

He stated that there is also a general culture of the perceived right of those in power to use state institutions for power preservation and personal enrichment, noting that until this is changed, no law or policy would dramatically improve the chances to fight corruption.

He said: “Sincere anti-corruption efforts must prioritise and maintain total political distance. Independent of the anti-corruption commission must be ensured in terms of selection and appointment of leadership and staff. This will enhance high impact, efficiency and accountability in their operational activities.

For workability and sustainability, the independence must reflect in other spheres like legal, financial, human resource, detection and investigation, prevention and outreach, accountability and oversight.”

The CDD Executive Director stated that at every point in time the antigraft agencies continues to develop and innovate in various ways to tackle corruption in the country.

In her words, “Presently, I think the zeal among the anticorruption agencies is increasing. They have come to see the anticorruption fight as part and parcel of the president Buhari agenda. Every agency is trying to collaborate as much as possible in this. The anticorruption agency seems to be very powerful.

“The administration is not using the anticorruption fight to witch-hunt it’s opponents. Although, at every point in time we know that any government in power will go after the opposition. But we have seen the anticorruption agencies bring to book those who have run foul of the law, when you look at the constituency projects by the ICPC, it has targeted law makers from every divide both from the All-Progressives Congress (APC) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and other smaller parties.”

Measures to Address Corruption

The CISLAC Executive Director, expressed confidence that federal government can progress in the area of endemic through sincere implementation of various international commitments without fear or favour which includes the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC)-the only legally binding international anti-corruption multilateral treaty, “which contains general provisions promoting and strengthening measures to prevent and combat corruption more efficiently and effectively.”

He added: “The convention also provides how member nations can promote, facilitate and support international cooperation and technical assistance in the prevention of and fight against corruption, including in asset recovery as well as integrity, accountability and proper management of public affairs and public property.

“Deliberately delayed full implementation of these provisions continues to widen existing loopholes, create major setback and expose Nigeria to more dramatic situation as we are currently experiencing in our anti-corruption efforts with weak institutions.”

Idayat added: “Yes we can, but addressing corruption in Nigeria is a collective approach, it is that of a behavioral change where we as a people, we will stop encouraging corruption, all forms of corruption are bad be it petty, and ground scale corruption. It needs both the sanction change approach and the behavioural approach where citizens will come together collectively to shun corruption and work with the government to deal with corruption in the country.”

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