As President Muhammadu Buhari’s fight against corruption continues, anti-graft agencies struggle to convince Nigerians that it is not selective, GBENRO ADEOYE writes
Many Nigerians have come to the realisation that corruption is a major challenge standing between the country and a good life for the citizens, hence their support for President Muhammadu Buhari, who many have dubbed as the “new sheriff in town”.
The administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan was largely derided by the public for its perceived failure in fighting corruption. The former President’s body language towards graft was often described in the media as permissive. The posture and antecedents of Buhari, a former military head of state, gave Nigerian masses the picture of a new sheriff coming on board to clean up the mess of past administrations.
His inaugural speech, in which he stated that he belonged to “everybody” and to “nobody” also endeared the President to some Nigerians, who were initially unsure of what to make of a septuagenarian president with dictatorial tendencies.
One thing is sure though, if the work of anti-graft agencies in Nigeria is in tandem with the President’s body language, then it can be said that Buhari’s body speaks louder than that of his predecessor, as anti-graft agencies like the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, have suddenly been spurred into action.
However, about five months into Buhari’s government, some analysts have already concluded that his body seems to be speaking a language different from that of his utterances.
While Buhari’s utterances avow that there would be no sacred cow in his war against corruption, the country’s anti-graft agencies have been perceived to be selective.
One of such persons is the Executive Chairman of the Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders, Mr. Debo Adeniran, whose organisation has petitioned the EFCC, ICPC, the President and Senate President alleging corruption and financial misappropriation against former Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, and a former Ogun State Commissioner for Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, both of who made Buhari’s list of ministerial nominees.
Adeniran told our correspondent that he had reasons to believe that while the President’s anti-corruption war has been going after some people, Buhari has been protecting persons like Fashola and Adeosun from the arms of the law.
A former Rivers State Governor, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi; and a former Ekiti State Governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, also made Buhari’s ministerial nominees’ list in spite of several petitions written to various anti-graft agencies against them.
Meanwhile, some others including Senate President Bukola Saraki; his wife, Toyin; a former Kebbi State Governor, Saidu Dakingari; his wife, Zainab; a former Akwa Ibom State Governor, Senator Godswill Akpabio; a former Minister of Interior, Abba Moro, have all been questioned by anti-corruption agencies.
“We have started writing petitions against Fashola to the EFCC and the ICPC since 2010,” Adeniran said.
“We have written about six or seven petitions and each time we wrote to the EFCC, we also wrote to the ICPC because the allegations concern both agencies. Recently, we sent a summary of our petitions to these agencies to the President for him to know what had been going on, so that he would be able to instruct the agencies to work on them. But he chose to nominate them as ministers.
“So till now, we believe that the President is interfering with the process of investigating Fashola and Adeosun, his nominee from Ogun State, who has a lot of corruption baggage hanging on her neck from her days as the Commissioner for Finance in the state. Buhari didn’t seem to have given credence to any of the allegations when he was nominating them.”
CACOL’s allegations against Fashola and Adeosun include corruption, misappropriation of public funds and contract inflation.
Adeniran has however threatened to sue the anti-graft agencies for their failure to investigate the duo based on the petitions against them.
In the same vein, a pressure group in Rivers State, The Integrity Group, wrote to a petition to the President, accusing Amaechi of N70bn fraud.
The group accused Amaechi and other functionaries of his administration of ‘’corruption, criminal breach of trust, unlawful enrichment and conversion of over N70bn state resources.”
Among other allegations, the former Governor was accused of fraudulent sale of Rivers State power assets and conversion of proceeds amounting to N60.48bn and unlawful enrichment of Messrs Collect Solutions (Nig.) Limited with public funds to the tune of N1.56bn.
Also, a Justice George Omereji-led Judicial Commission of Inquiry, which was recently set up by the Rivers State Government to look into the sale of valued assets belonging to the state, found Amaechi and some others responsible for misappropriating state funds to the tune of N97bn.
But there are no indications that Amaechi has been invited for questioning by the any of the anti-corruption agencies.
On September 29, 2014, a group, Save Ekiti Coalition, alleged that Fayemi misappropriated N20bbn as Ekiti State Governor in a petition it sent to the EFCC and the ICPC.
The petition, which was signed by the group’s secretary, Mr. Oke Ayodele, called for Fayemi’s investigation and prosecution, but there has been no record that the former governor has been called for questioning by any of the agencies.
Fashola, Amaechi, and Fayemi all contributed in various ways to Buhari’s success at the poll and experts have described their ministerial nominations and perceived exclusion from the probe list of anti-graft agencies as the reward for their labour.
The former governor of Bayelsa State, Timipre Sylva, has been questioned by the EFCC over financial offences committed while in office between 2007 and 2011. But since Sylva’s defection from the PDP to the APC, the anti-graft agency seems to have slowed down its pace in prosecuting the former governor, allegedly because of his political strength in the party.
To reward Sylva for his loyalty to the APC, he emerged as the party’s governorship candidate in Bayelsa State.
A similar case to Sylva’s is that of former Kogi State Governor, Abubakar Audu, who also recently emerged as the APC governorship candidate in the state.
Audu is facing a 32-count charge which includes stealing, criminal breach of trust and misappropriation of public funds to the tune of about N11bn, but he was his party’s preferred candidate in spite of its anti-corruption war.
A lawyer and social commentator, Mr. Liborous Oshoma, described the situation as wrong, saying that the President has been employing double standard in his fight against corruption.
He said that anti-graft agencies under Buhari’s government have only been seen to acting on petitions against his political opponents and the like.
He said, “Everyone with allegations should be invited for questioning and those who are bringing the allegations should come to substantiate their petitions and if they are weighty, they should be taken before the appropriate authorities.
“Don’t act like some persons are the only people who are corrupt while the others are not. What that tells some of us is that we are not serious about fighting corruption.”
Meanwhile, the EFCC has acted on petitions filed by a lawyer, Mr. Leo Ekpenyong, against Akpabio, a prominent member of the Peoples Democratic Party, by inviting him for interrogation.
In the petition titled, ‘Petition against former Governor Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom State for gross and uncommon abuse of public trust’, Ekpenyoung accused Akpabio of diverting taxpayers’ money for personal use.
Before Akpabio’s invitation, operatives of the Department of State Services had in September 2015 searched the Akwa Ibom State House, in a move allegedly aimed at getting implicating evidence to link Akpabio to illegality.
Saraki is currently facing a 13-count charge of corruption and false declaration of asset at the Code of Conduct Tribunal in Abuja.
Although, he is a member of the APC following his defection from the PDP, his prosecution has largely been seen by the public as a witch-hunt for going against the dictates of his party to emerge as Senate President.
Recently, Dakingari, a PDP member, was arrested by the EFCC over allegations of misappropriating N3.8bn public fund. His wife, Zainab, was also accused of laundering N2bn for her husband.
However, the PDP through its National Publicity Secretary, Olisa Metuh, accused Buhari of making the corruption war selective, saying it was targeted at members of his party.
But while Adeniran was in support of the investigation of the likes of Saraki and Dakingari for corruption, he said that CACOL was against the selective anti-corruption war, which seems to be overlooking some other people accused of graft.
He said, “All along, we have been expecting that the President would act beyond rhetoric on some of the petitions that have been pending with the anti-corruption agencies.”
Adeniran said his organisation had sent not less than six petitions each to the EFCC and the ICPC without concrete outcome.
He said, “High ranking Lagos State officials were questioned and interrogated by the EFCC around 2012. The agency has said that it has a discreet report but this has not been made available to us.
“We have demanding that the agency should let the world know the outcome of its investigation, even if it is that Fashola is not guilty. We should know why the agency thinks that he is not guilty. All of the projects Fashola did were at very high costs that are unrealistic anywhere in the world.”
On Adeosun, Adeniran said CACOL had also written to the EFCC and the ICPC to draw their attention to the alleged inflation of the costs of purchasing some Armoured Personnel Carriers bought in Ogun State while she Commissioner for Finance.
He therefore described the alleged selective probe by the current administration as bad for the country’s development.
“We are dissatisfied with the way the anti-corruption war is being fought and we are afraid that we may not achieve anything better than what we had before Buhari assumed office.
“Most of the people he is bringing to work with him are noisemakers who execute more projects in the media than they do in reality.”
Oshoma also expressed concern about the President’s anti-corruption war, saying his hope that the war would be better in Buhari’s had been dashed.
“We had expected a holistic approach but what we see is a far cry from that, so I’m not impressed with all of these gimmicks to fight corruption,” he said.
“When Saraki was charged before the code of conduct tribunal, I was one of those who said that he should step aside and answer to those charges and clear his name. In the same vein, I maintain that if a former governor, senator or any other person has a petition against him, irrespective of how spurious or irrelevant it is, it should be looked into and a conclusion must be reached.
“The world has moved beyond the argument that people can hold political positions once they have not been convicted. Where we are now is that if there are allegations hanging on your character, you should go and clear yourself before you hold any political office.”