President Muhammadu Buhari’s anti-corruption war is delicately poised. A series of allegations against Babachir Lawal, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, epitomise this. Lawal is accused of abuse of office, inflation of contracts and misappropriation of funds meant for Internally Displaced Persons in the North-East. The Presidential Initiative on the North-East had mobilised billions of naira on behalf of those displaced by the Boko Haram insurgency, but there is outrage about the harrowing living conditions in the IDP camps. Now, the President’s anti-graft crusade faces an acid test and it may succeed or fail by the way he manages the crisis.
Principally, a Senate ad hoc Committee on the Mounting Humanitarian Crisis probe on the IDP crisis uncovered widespread corruption in the management of the funds. It detailed how the SGF allegedly exploited his office, awarding a consultancy contract to Rholavision Engineering Limited, an IT company which he established in 1990. A controversial multimillion naira contract was also awarded to Josmon Technologies “on the removal of Invasive Plant Species along river channels and 115 hectares of simplified village irrigation operation” in an IDP camp in Yobe State in March. Shortly after, Josmon allegedly made suspicious payments to Rholavision in several tranches. If this is true, it is a subversion of the system.
The Nigerian state has an unassailable case against a public officer that exploits his position to benefit himself or his cronies, according to the Fifth Schedule, Part 1, of the 1999 Constitution. It states, “A public officer shall not put himself in a position where his personal interest conflicts with his duties and responsibilities.” The Senate report also tabulated other alleged violations by the SGF. Dantex Nigeria Limited, which was to supply 1,225 units of temporary tarpaulin cabins, had reportedly been paid N108 million, but had not supplied 125 units valued at N37.7 million, just like some other companies. These are weighty allegations.
Corruption is the Achilles’ heel of a typical Nigerian public officer. Stealing and diversion of funds meant for IDPs are perhaps the worst form of the vice. It is as terrible as the sharing of the $2.1 billion allocated for the buying of weapons to fight the Boko Haram war by the erstwhile administration of Goodluck Jonathan. The funds were diverted, allowing Boko Haram to occupy vast parts of the North-East zone and kill thousands of victims.
There is widespread suffering, malnourishment and deaths of children and the aged in the IDP camps because the funds to be used in catering for their welfare are being mismanaged by public officials. This is callous. Buhari must bring an end to this charade. We take exception to the defence of Lawal that the probe is a witch-hunt. This is tenuous. The proper thing is for him to step aside and surrender himself to a probe. This will pave the way for a decent investigation into the scandal. Although Buhari has asked the Attorney-General of the Federation to probe all the officials accused of corruption, the global best practice, which Buhari should adopt, is for the officials involved to step aside while investigation is being conducted.
In 2014, Maria Miller, the British Culture/Sports secretary, David Laws, Andrew Mitchell, Liam Fox and Chris Huhne all resigned from Prime Minister David Cameron’s cabinet following scandals. Lagos State set a good precedent recently when it suspended its Head of Service, Olabowale Ademola, who is standing trial alongside her husband, Adeniyi Ademola (a Federal High Court judge), on corruption charges.
Grave danger inheres in a system when corruption runs riot, particularly for a government whose key mantra is the combat of sleaze in national life. But recent allegations levelled against some of Buhari’s officials cast a shadow on this resolve. Ibrahim Magu, the acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, has had his confirmation rejected by the Senate, which claimed that “his integrity is in doubt.” The Senate based its decision on an investigative report by the State Security Service, which alleged that Magu had a chink in his armour.
He who comes to equity must come with clean hands. For Magu to lead the anti-graft war successfully, he must be seen to be totally clean. Even Buhari’s Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari, is not left out of these swirling allegations. The President should free himself of this burden by allowing an untrammelled investigation into the conduct of all his officials accused of corruption.
However, the current fiasco is capable of derailing the war against corruption. If officials saddled with the war are enmeshed in questionable deeds, it is possible for Buhari to miss the bigger picture. In all of this, it is evident that corruption is fighting back. There is systemic graft in the legislature, judiciary and other areas of national life, like the military, that has to be exorcised. Instead of forging ahead with the prosecution of National Assembly lawmakers such as Senate President Bukola Saraki and former governors in the Senate, the President will be forced to slow down because those in his inner circle are portrayed not to be on the same page with him.
For him to change the public perception that his anti-corruption crusade is selective and foggy, Buhari should move swiftly against perceived corruption among close aides. The impression that there are sacred cows is a disincentive to achieving success. Therefore, Buhari should first clean up his inner sanctum so that he will regain the focus of his anti-corruption agenda.