By Azuka Onwuka
President Muhammadu Buhari campaigned on the platform that he would crush corruption. It was portrayed that corruption was the nation’s biggest problem, and if voted in, Buhari would deal a decisive death blow on corruption, exterminate it and set Nigeria on the path of growth and development.
It is generally agreed that the major part of Nigerian resources has been stolen by public servants, and that if such blatant stealing is stopped, there will be enough funds to fix and maintain Nigeria’s decaying and moribund infrastructure. Consequently, the quality of life of the Nigeria would improve.
With the election victory of Buhari in 2015, there was a feeling that corrupt people would run away to avoid prosecution. When Buhari was inaugurated on May 29, 2015 as President, everybody sat up, convinced that it would not be business as usual. There were indeed arrests.
However, months later, it was obvious that the fight against corruption by Buhari was not much different from what his predecessors like Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, Alhaji Umaru Yar’Adua, and Dr Goodluck Jonathan did. He is embarking on selective and tepid fight against corruption.
The problem with selective and tepid fight against corruption is that it is another form of corruption. Rather than make corrupt people feel remorseful, they simply feel that they are being victimised, while those on the side of the President feel like sacred cows that have the right to do whatever they like, knowing that no hard measures will be taken against them.
Last week’s revelation by the Minister of State for Petroleum Reources, Dr Ibe Kachikwu, that the Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, Dr Maikanti Baru, that he had been enduring humiliation and disrespect by Baru in the running of the NNPC, as Baru awarded contracts, including 25 billion-dollar contracts, without recourse to him or Board of the NNPC which he chairs, was mind-boggling.
Excerpts from Kachikwu’s letter will suffice:
“Mr. President, yesterday like many other Nigerians, I resumed work confronted by many publications of massive changes within NNPC. Like the previous reorganizations and reposting done since Dr. Baru resumed as GMD, I was never given the opportunity before the announcements to discuss these appointments. This is so despite being Minister of State of Petroleum and Chairman NNPC Board.
“The Board of NNPC which you appointed and which has met every month since its inauguration and, which by the statues of NNPC is meant to review these planned appointments and postings, was never briefed. Members of the Board learned of these appointments from the pages of social media and the press release of NNPC.
“Indeed, in anticipation of vacancies that would arise from retiring senior executives of the NNPC, I wrote the GMD a letter requesting that we both have prior review of the proposed appointments. This was to enable me to present same to the Board or give an anticipatory approval and then review with the Board later (Appendix 1). I wrote to the GMD given previous happenstance of this nature; in addition, thereafter, I called the GMD to a private meeting where I discussed these issues. Needless to say that, not only did he not give my letter the courtesy of a reply, he proceeded to announce the appointments without consultation or Board concurrence.”
A response signed by the Group General Manager, Group Public Affairs Division of NNPC, Mr Ndu Ughamadu, explained the nature of contracts involved and the rules governing the award of such contracts. The response noted that due process was followed by the GMD of NNPC in the award of all the contracts and called the allegations by Kachikwu “baseless.”
While the nation awaits who is right or wrong on this matter, it is important to look at the lament of Kachikwu that as the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, a sector that gives Nigeria the bulk of money that sustains the nation, he did not have access to President Buhari and had to resort to writing a letter to him after enduring the insubordination and non-adherence to due process in the award of contracts.
The letter he wrote to the President on August 30 was not acknowledged or responded to by the President until the media got a copy of the letter and published it in early October, over a month after it was written and sent to the President’s office.
Compare that to the position of the Nigerian Permanent Representative to the United Nations which became vacant since Prof Joy Ogwu retired. That position was only filled in May this year, over a year after. Similarly, since February 2016 when Dr Paul Orhii was removed as the Director General of the National Agency for Foods and Drug Administration and Control, no substantive DG has been appointed, leading to members of the agency embarking on a strike. Many issues have suffered a similar fate under the watch of Buhari.
It makes one wonder if President Buhari truly has the capacity to handle the demands of his office. And if he cannot, due to age or illness or any challenge, why does he not delegate many of these duties to ensure that national matters are not delayed?
The wall the President has around him as well as his extremely slow response to critical national issues encourages those under him to engage in acts of impunity and corruption. That is why many agencies and parastatals have been conducting underground recruitments and award of contracts since the coming into office of President Buhari. In spite of the uproar against these issues, the President usually does not say anything or take any action. This makes many to believe that those who engaged in these acts got his endorsement. These acts run against the President’s campaign promise of fighting corruption and impunity.
This attitude to corruption perpetrated by those appointed or favoured by Buhari also played out on the accusation levelled against his Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr Babachir Lawal, over the award of contracts under the Presidential Initiative on the North-East. Rather than show righteous anger over the allegations against his SGF, the Presidency cleared the SGF, leading to an uproar in the nation.
Similarly, the discovery of huge amount of money by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission in an apartment in Ikoyi was not well handled. There was national outcry about the money and the need to disclose the owner of the money. The President suspended the DG of the National Intelligence Agency, Mr Ayodele Oke, and constituted a committee led by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo to investigate the matter. The Committee was scheduled to submit its report in May but the President was away on sick leave. However, since August when the report was submitted to the President, it has remained in the cooler as if it is not important enough.
There have been other matters which got different degrees of attention depending on who was involved. Senator Shehu Sani consequently described President Buhari’s attitude towards corruption thus: “When it comes to fighting corruption in the National Assembly and the Judiciary and in the larger Nigerian sectors, the President uses insecticide, but when it comes to fighting corruption within the Presidency, they use deodorants.”
Corruption has eaten the soul of Nigeria over the past five decades. Nigeria has literally been raped to the point of death by its leaders. That Nigeria is still alive is because of the tenacity of her citizens.
It is sad that after raising the hopes of Nigeria to fight corruption squarely and frontally, Buhari has shown that he is not different from his predecessors. No wonder, corruption is sneering at him.
The Nigerian President that will make a mark in the fight against corruption will be an energetic president who will close his eyes like the symbol of justice and fight corruption honestly and dispassionately, starting from himself, his close friends and associates. Once Nigerians see such a leader, they will happily stand behind him, and corrupt officials will lose their boldness and know that the honeymoon is over