Martins Hile, Editor, Financial Nigeria magazine
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Buhari's floundering anti-corruption 11 Mar 2018
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari
Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) 2017 is first of all a wake-up call for anyone who was under the illusion that Nigeria was making progress in ending corruption. Then, it quickly dispenses with the myth that President Muhammadu Buhari's administration is serious about its anticorruption crusade.
Irrespective of the limited scope of the CPI in capturing the different aspects of corruption, the index captures perceptions of the extent of corruption in the public sector through a survey of business people and other experts. In this regard, the latest TI index, which was released last month, shows that corruption and impunity in the public sector have prevailed under Buhari. Nigeria is ranked in the 148th position out of 180 countries and territories in the 2017 CPI, dropping 12 places from the previous year's ranking.
Using a scale of 0 to 100, where 0 is highly corrupt and 100 is very clean, Nigeria got a score of 27. This is below the Sub-Saharan African average score of 32 and global average score of 43. Compared with the country's position on the scale in 2016, Nigeria recorded a poorer performance, dropping by one point in the latest report.
The government's immediate reaction to this report was to describe it as "fiction," according to Garba Shehu, the President's Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity. But Vice President Yemi Osinbajo's reaction was to advise the country to take the report in good faith, while it hopes to do better in its fight against corruption.
Two years ago, Femi Aribisala, Chairman of Financial Nigeria's Editorial Board and renowned columnist, stirred the audience at an event organised by the Department of Jurisprudence and International Law of the University of Lagos, when he said, “There is no fight against corruption in Nigeria. And if there's no fight against corruption, you can't even talk about war.” The theme of the roundtable was, “Winning the War Against Corruption.” As always, Dr. Aribisala's remarks at UNILAG were not without perspicacity, even as the current TI index has shown.
Due to the pervasive corruption in Nigeria and the low level of public trust, President Buhari has enjoyed global recognition as Nigeria's and indeed Africa's anti-corruption czar. On January 28, 2018, he addressed the 30th Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union (AU) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, following the AU's endorsement of the president last year to champion the continent's fight against corruption. But unfortunately, Buhari is his own worst enemy in his beleaguered domestic anti-corruption drive.
At the AU, the president rightly said, “Corruption is indeed one of the greatest evils of our time." He noted that strong institutions are a necessary precondition for any country to win the fight against graft. However, he fails to see the irony that he has successfully weakened the institutional framework for anti-corruption by retaining Ibrahim Magu as the Acting Chairman of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), despite the Senate's rejection of Magu on the two occasions he was presented for screening.
According to reports by the Department of State Service (DSS), Magu has a past criminal record. He is accused of having close ties to corrupt individuals who have funded his lavish lifestyle. While the Senate insists Magu is compromised, the president has cleared him of any wrongdoing in respect of the allegations by the DSS. Clearly, there cannot be any credible anti-graft drive when the head of the EFCC is faced with serious allegations that besmirch his integrity.
Buhari has also turned a blind eye to the corruption allegations against Yusuf Usman, Executive Secretary of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS). Prof. Yusuf was reinstated last month after being suspended by the Minister of Health, Isaac Adewole, who had set up an inquiry panel to investigate the NHIS Executive Secretary. Among several allegations, Yusuf was accused of mismanaging N860 million budgeted by the agency he heads for training in 2016. According to a report by Premium Times, a member of the inquiry panel said Yusuf admitted his culpability in some of the allegations against him, although the Executive Secretary claimed ignorance of the public service code he had violated.
Buhari's nepotistical anti-corruption crusade is not lost on Transparency International or its survey respondents. The ranks of the All Progressives Congress (APC) keeps increasing as more members of opposition parties seek to enjoy the anti-corruption moratorium in the ruling party.
The government says its flagship whistle-blower policy has led to the recovery of $151 million and N8 billion in looted funds. But that is as far as the government is willing to disclose to the public. The opacity in the reporting of the recovered funds is only matched by the lack of transparency in the amount of money the government has spent on medical tourism for the president and his family.
The report on Nigeria's decline in the latest CPI was under-reported in the media for obvious reasons. Owners of media organisations in Nigeria know the government frowns at any unfavourable reportage. Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, told journalists last November unequivocally that the government needs "allies," not "antagonists." If this is not subtle repression of the media, I don't know what is. One major newspaper that reported the CPI news did so as fake news in the way it presented contextual information to mislead and promote a narrative that appears favourable to the government.
A lot of Nigerians voted for Buhari because he was promoted as a man who was above board. Somehow, he had not been tarnished by corruption. But he appears willing to condone corrupt individuals in his orbit. His anti-graft agenda appears to be floundering under its own weight of contradictions. Following the dismal performance in the CPI 2017, the president now has a chance to reset his agenda if he wants to retain that aura of moral rectitude in Nigeria and also in the global community.