In spite of the awful performance of the Buhari government on the economic front so far, it was usual for people to say that the one thing that was still going for it was the president’s integrity and intolerance of corruption. No more.
The past few weeks have shown that the president isn’t the anti-corruption crusader Nigerians thought he was. Both the optics and the substance of his “anti-corruption” fight would go down in the annals, as the most brazenly compromised and selective since the restoration of democratic rule in 1999.
As corrupt as the Jonathan administration was, it was once railroaded by the force of public opinion to “accept the resignation” of former Aviation Minister Mrs. Stella Odua over her controversial purchase of MW armored cars worth $1.6 million.
But a man who rode to power on the strength of his credentials as a dogged anti-corruption fighter is looking the other way when his close aides are accused of corruption.
Firm, undeniable evidentiary proofs of Gen. Tukur Yusuf Buratai’s alleged corruption have been published. So have Lt. Gen. Abdulrahman Dambazzau’s, and now Babachir David Lawal’s. Rotimi Amaechi has been accused of bribing judges, and Abba Kyari has been accused of accepting a N500 million bribe from MTN, among others.
The president’s first public reaction to allegations of ethical impropriety against his associates was to defend them. “Terrible and unfounded comments about other people’s integrity are not good,” he said through his media adviser. “We are not going to spare anybody who soils his hands, but people should please wait till such individuals are indicted.”
But he appears to be “sparing” some sacred cows. SGF Babachir David Lawal of the multimillion naira “grass-cutting” infamy is the latest sacred cow enjoying privileged presidential protection.
People who are intimate with Buhari told me in the heat of my unrestrained enthusiasm over his emergence as president that he was morally and temperamentally unsuited to fight corruption. They said the undue premium the president places on “personal loyalty” causes him to ignore, excuse, and even defend the corruption of his close associates.
I was regaled with troubling tales of the mind-boggling corruption against close, loyal aides that he swept under the carpet at the PTF, The Buhari Organization (TBO), and at the defunct CPC. Babachir Lawal was a dominant figure in CPC; he knows President Buhari well enough to know that nothing will happen to him for all his villainous rape of vulnerable IDPs in Borno and Yobe.
I had hoped that the president would learn lessons from his past and change— at least for the sake of his personal legacy, given that he is old and has the privilege of a second chance to rule Nigeria. Apparently, I was naive.
If Buhari wants to reclaim whatever is left of his fast depleting moral capital, he should not only fire and prosecute Babachir David Lawal, he should also do the same to other high-level kitchen cabinet members arrogantly luxuriating in obscene corruption.
The presidential directive to “investigate” government officials accused of corruption isn’t good enough. It was intentionally vague and deceitful—like most things by this government.
Notice that it deliberately lacks specifics such as timelines for investigation, names of people to be investigated, terms of reference of the investigation, etc.
Unless the president really and truly wants the truth, the “investigation” will either be endless or will come out with a predetermined verdict of exoneration.
In any case, it has turned out that the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice doesn’t even have the constitutional power to “investigate,” which lends weight to the suspicion that the directive was nothing more than a flippant, hurriedly-put-together distraction.
Mr. President and Saraki
President Buhari’s laudatory birthday message to Senator Saraki was strange, but unsurprising. You can’t superintend over a government swimming in an ocean of corruption and not one day praise the very man your administration (rightly) painted as the byword for corruption.
After calling Saraki “one of the most influential politicians of our time who has made tremendous impact on the country,’” Buhari said “Saraki has successfully kept the memory of his late father alive by identifying with the grassroots in his home state.”
Under Saraki’s vicious grip, some Kwara workers were owed salaries for upwards of 14 months. Pensioners are owed several months’ arears and are dying. And now, Saraki, through his caretaker governor, is copying Buhari’s reverse Robin Hoodist governance template and has imposed steep taxes on poor people’s meagre incomes, houses, lands, domestic animals, etc. And this is the man the president says identifies with the “grassroots” in his home state”?