President Muhammadu Buhari’s overhyped anti-corruption crusade has descended into chaos. On Tuesday, his integrity suffered a grave blow when the Head of Service, Winifred Oyo-Ita, disclosed via a memo that she verbally cautioned him about the dire implications of Abdulrasheed Maina’s illegal reinstatement. In addition to a frightening number of Buhari’s men already tainted by scandals, the fresh revelations from the HoS painted a Presidency entombed in a sea of mud. Neither the HoS nor the Presidency has denied the authenticity of the leaked memo.
Maina’s secret reinstatement has struck at the core of the culture of impunity and parochialism. The HoS disclosed in the memo that after a Federal Executive Council meeting, she had warned the President of the surreptitious moves by the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, and others to reinstate Maina, a notorious fugitive in a 2013 N2 billion pension scam, as a director in the public service, and its implications for the Buhari administration’s anti-graft war. With no firm action by Buhari, the cabal went ahead to reinstate Maina. Oyo-Ita said “the move to recall Maina was at the instance of a series of letters from the Attorney-General of the Federation to the Federal Civil Service Commission to give consequential effect to the judgement that voided the warrant of arrest issued against (Mr. A.A.) Maina, which formed the basis for his query and eventual dismissal.”
The HoS, thereafter, dissociated her office from Maina’s scandalous reinstatement and his subsequent redeployment to the Ministry of Interior. Though the President belatedly ordered Maina’s sacking on the heels of public fury, it appears the Presidency is abiding in, if not abetting, corruption when it touches some individuals. Maina’s family had claimed at a news conference that the Buhari government invited their son to come and clean up the mess and generate more revenue for government by blocking leakages. “He has been working with the DSS for quite some time and he was given necessary security,” the family said. The fugitive himself also declared that another £6m pension fund was in London accounts generating interests for top government functionaries.
It bears repeating that, by some accounts, Maina had allegedly stolen N195 billion of pension funds at a time pensioners were dying needlessly, waiting to be paid their entitlements. To be sure, the Maina saga is just one in a very long list of explosive allegations against Buhari’s close aides and top government functionaries. Indeed, as mentioned in our previous editorial, right from inception, corruption scandals have continued to routinely upend the Buhari government. Until this week when he finally sacked Babachir Lawal and Ayo Oke, the President appeared to be on the horns of a dilemma about how to handle the report of a committee headed by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo that indicted both officials. In spite of the glaring evidence of the complicity of the AGF in the Maina scandal, the President has still taken no action.
Buhari, from the outset, laid the foundations for the failing anti-graft war. Apart from not acting swiftly in appointing heads of strategic agencies seen to be relevant in the fight against corruption, Buhari utterly displayed poor judgement when he finally did. His style of leadership has created a sprawling number of doubters and worriers among his ardent supporters and admirers. The Kaduna State Governor, Nasir el-Rufai, is one of them. In a September 2016 memo to Buhari, he assailed his Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari, and the recently-sacked Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Lawal, as men bereft of the experience and capacity their offices demanded.
Even the President’s wife, Aisha, once criticised her husband for his languid style, penchant for alienation and making wrong choices in his appointments. She vowed on a BBC Hausa Service programme in October 2016 not to campaign for him again, if the ugly tide did not turn before 2019. Her worry: among 50 people appointed to positions of responsibility, Buhari did not know 45 of them. “Those who didn’t do anything, who don’t even have voter cards, are the ones in position doing everything,” she noted. “What I am afraid for them is the rebellion of 15 million people,” meaning the number of those who voted for him in the 2015 presidential election. The Comptroller-General of Customs, Hameed Ali, recently blamed those in the corridors of powers, widely seen as aliens to the core values that underpinned the birth of the administration and the coalition that brought it to power. Ali’s scathing line: “Every day when you wake up, there is a story that makes you shiver.”
Now, Buhari’s integrity is under siege, his zero tolerance policy on corruption questioned. He has demonstrated lack of political will to bring the tainted members of his inner circle to book or make an example of them. His penchant for making appointments that are lopsided and preponderantly from a section of the country is undermining the legitimacy of his government.
What will it take for Buhari to earn public trust again, recover his tarnished reputation and fulfil the historic mandate he won to tame corruption? In his second inaugural address, Woodrow Wilson, the 28th president of the United States, said, “We are to beware of all men who would turn the tasks and the necessities of the nation to their own private profit or use them for the building up of private power.” The firm basis of government is justice, not patronage. Mainagate has ensnarled Malami; he should go.
Buhari needs to adopt radical transparency in his anti-graft war, evict liabilities in his inner circle, appoint the right people to critical posts and personally drive the anti-graft crusade. Unless he drops key operators tainted by corruption scandals and replaces them with individuals that share his burning passion to crush corruption, the crusade will continue to flounder. He needs a clear strategy on the anti-graft war and a coordinator with full presidential backing. Singapore’s Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong, recalled how the country’s founding father, Lee Kuan Yew, provided strong political will, “institutionalised a robust, comprehensive anti-corruption framework that spans laws, enforcement, the public service and public outreach.”
The four-point approach included reform and zero tolerance for graft in the public service and the judiciary, generous funding of the anti-graft agency, equal treatment before the law and appointing the right persons to law enforcement positions. It worked. The Inspector-General of Police, the heads of the State Security Service, Police Service Commission, Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission and the judiciary should be vigorous anti-corruption enforcers. The AGF as the country’s chief law officer is too strategic to be filled by an individual with doubtful anti-graft credentials.
There should be a clearing house for swift prosecution of high profile suspects, while seamless cooperation that is signally lacking today, should be forged among EFCC, ICPC, AGF’s office, SSS, police, National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, National Intelligence Agency and the Presidential Advisory Commission Against Corruption, with intelligence/information shared and prosecution strengthened.
He should transform himself to a truly national leader and become a president for all Nigerians. The President must, as he promised on inauguration day, “belong to nobody” and truly “belong to everybody.” He should stop alienating large sections of the polity through lopsided appointments. We repeat our earlier stance that corruption is not exclusive to financial malfeasance: sectionalism, nepotism and selective justice are definitive acts of corruption. He cannot effectively fight financial corruption against opponents when he continues to entrench an unprecedented level of sectionalism and nepotism.