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Rising rage of opposition against Buhari’s anti-corruption war

Rivers bye-election violence: No, Wike’s men did after discovering PDP was losing – Finebone

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In this piece ENIOLA AKINKUOTU X-rays President Muhammadu Buhari’s anti-corruption war amid allegations of bias

“I belong to everybody and I belong to nobody,” this was the nine-worded phrase uttered around 11am on May 29, 2015 by the newly inaugurated President Muhammadu Buhari shortly after being sworn-in as the leader of the largest black nation on the planet Earth.

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The phrase, though plagiarised from French President, Charles de Gaulle’s 1958 speech, resonated among many Nigerians but later developments began to raise concerns regarding the propriety and intention of the President’s anti-graft war.

Now limited by a constitution, a National Assembly with oversight functions and a slow-paced judiciary, Nigerians already knew that the President would not  be able to fight corruption the same way he did during his military rule between 1983 and 1985 when several governors and ministers were jailed.

However, most Nigerians expected an anti-graft war that would not be targeted at any set of people but would be all-encompassing, holistic and transformational.

The Buhari government was able to recover billions of dollars allegedly stolen by the last government and also saw to the signing of several treaties with other countries that would lead to the repatriation of funds stashed in foreign jurisdictions.

Although a few politically-exposed persons were successfully tried and convicted, most of them were acquitted for lack of evidence.

However, the biggest demerit of the anti-corruption war has been the seeming inability of the anti-graft agencies to take action against those perceived to be close to the President thereby plunging the anti-corruption war into a moral dilemma.

Focus on PDP’s campaign funding

The anti-corruption war of the Buhari administration has centred mainly on the campaign funds used by the Peoples Democratic Party during the build-up to the 2015 general elections. The anti-graft agencies believe the PDP campaigns were funded mainly by a former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke, and a former National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki (retd.) This has led to the investigations or prosecutions of over 50 PDP bigwigs nationwide.

Three years after, however, it is alleged that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission has not investigated the source of funding of the ruling All Progressives Congress and President Muhammadu Buhari’s campaign despite several petitions.

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For instance, the Justice George Omeregi-led Rivers State Judicial Commission of Inquiry set up to investigate the sale of state assets indicted former Governor Rotimi Amaechi and others for allegedly misappropriating N97bn through the sale of the state valued assets.

The Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, had alleged that $150m (N30bn at the time) was spent on Buhari’s campaign.

Amaechi, who was the Director General of the Buhari Campaign Organisation, challenged his indictment but lost at the Appeal Court. Amaechi, who was appointed as minister of transport by Buhari amid the allegations, was never invited by the EFCC. He was recently appointed as the campaign director of Buhari’s campaign a second time.

Vindication of Dambazzau and Buratai

Another major probe commissioned by Buhari was the Presidential Committee on Audit of Defence Equipment Procurement from 2007 to 2015. Among other things, the committee reported that about N2bn in Withholding Tax was not remitted to the government from 2007 to 2015. It was also alleged that contracts worth billions of naira were dubiously awarded to cronies.

The report indicted two former Chiefs of Army Staff — Azubuike Ihejirika and Kenneth Minimah, who both served under Jonathan.

But government critics immediately raised concerns about the exclusion of the name of a close ally of Buhari and the current Minister of Interior, Lt. Gen. Abdulrahman Dambazzau (retd.), who served as the army chief between 2008 and 2010.

The Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, had said the probe would continue and another report would be issued. However, the case has gone cold for over two years.

Similarly, the current Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai, who was the Director of Procurement, Defence Headquarters, was never indicted in the report.

However, Sahara Reporters in an investigative report revealed that Buratai allegedly bought two houses in Dubai worth about $1.5m. The Nigerian Army defended Buratai, insisting that he paid for the properties through his savings.

While demanding Buratai’s resignation, human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), said, “How an army general managed to save $1.5m has not been disclosed to Nigerians. Since the general was in charge of procurement for the Nigerian Army at the material time, the cock and bull story of the military high command is not acceptable.”

In defence of Babachir

Perhaps the biggest corruption scandal which brought Buhari’s anti-graft war to question was that of the immediate past Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal. The former SGF became a subject of investigation.

The Senate Ad hoc Committee on Mounting Humanitarian Crisis in the North-East, led  by Senator Shehu Sani, among other things, accused Babachir of awarding a N223m consultancy contract for the removal of invasive plant species in Komadugu, Yobe Water Channels to his company, Rholavision Engineering in contravention of Section 43(iii) and (iv) of the Public Procurement Act 2007.

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The Senate thus wrote the Presidency, recommending the sacking of the SGF. However, the President rejected the report of the Senate, insisting that due process was not followed in the investigation.

Senator Sani, who headed the committee, gave the President a dressing down, saying, “When it comes to fighting corruption in the National Assembly and the Judiciary and in the larger Nigerian sectors, the President uses insecticide, but when it comes to fighting corruption within the Presidency, they use deodorants.”

The SGF’s case became Buhari’s albatross as Babachir continued in his role for several months until he was suspended and eventually sacked in April.

A committee headed by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo subsequently investigated Babachir and recommended him for dismissal in October 2017, a year after he was indicted by the Senate.

Although the EFCC invited the SGF and claimed to be investigating him, nothing has been heard of the case in the last eight months apart from the anti-graft agency’s claim of “the matter is under investigation.”

Critics, however, believe that the case is not being taken seriously as Babachir is among the key figures running Buhari’s re-election campaign in Adamawa State. He also revealed during a recent interview on Channels Television that he still has direct access to the President.

Reinstatement of NHIS boss

Another case which impugned Buhari’s anti-corruption posture was the reinstatement of the Executive Secretary of the National Health Insurance scheme, Prof. Usman Yusuf. The NHIS boss, who had several petitions against him, was suspended by the Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, in July last year while the President was out of the country for medical attention.

A committee headed by a permanent secretary issued a damning report accusing Yusuf of fraud to the tune of N919m. The EFCC and the ICPC subsequently began investigating him separately.

Yusuf, who is close to the members of the cabal at the Presidency, had boasted that he was confident of his return and even, called the minister unprintable names.

While in the custody of the EFCC, the President, in a letter with reference number, ‘SH/COS/10/6/A/29’, signed by his Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari, informed the health minister of Yusuf’s recall, adding that he (Yusuf) had been “admonished to work harmoniously with the minister.”

The EFCC had claimed he was still under investigation while his passport had been seized. Soon afterwards, however, his passport was secretly returned to him and nothing has since been heard of the case.

Adeosun’s NYSC certificate

The recent allegation of forgery levelled against the Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, and the deafening silence of the anti-graft agencies and the Presidency has also given the opposition another reason to criticise the government.

According to a Premium Times investigation, Adeosun who graduated  in the 1980s from university at the age of 22 in London, allegedly failed to participate in the National Youth Service Corps scheme which is compulsory for  all Nigerians who graduate  before the age of 30.

Adeosun was said to have allegedly procured a fake exemption certificate in 2009 which she used in getting government appointments, an allegation she has refused to respond to for nearly two months.

The NYSC has also refused to speak on the matter, claiming that the matter is under investigation. However, a former senior NYSC officials including a former Director General of the scheme, Brig.Gen. Maharazu Tsiga (retd.), have insisted that the agency could not have issued such a certificate to the minister.

The police have said they cannot investigate the matter because there is no petition before them.

Also, it remains doubtful if the government will take the matter seriously as the Chairman of President Buhari’s anti-corruption advisory committee, Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN), has said the matter should be ignored.

Speaking recently, the senior advocate said, “There is nothing in this world that will make me remove such a woman from the government. The PDP can weep from now until there is no tear in their body; she is going to be there. We cannot afford to lose that woman.”

Asked if it was not an offence to skip the NYSC, Sagay said, “Who cares about youth service? I don’t bloody care whether she did youth service or not. It’s irrelevant as far as I am concerned.”

Ortom’s new sins and Akpabio’s sainthood

The defection of the Governor of Benue State, Samuel Ortom, from the APC to the PDP was met with severe criticisms by the Federal Government. However, the recent vigour with which the EFCC has been investigating him has fuelled allegations once more that the anti-corruption war is targeted only at members of the opposition.

According to the EFCC, Ortom allegedly diverted N22bn under the guise of security votes. The commission claimed it started its investigations nearly three years ago. However, the timing of the release of the report which coincided with Ortom’s defection made it difficult to believe there was no ulterior motive.

The EFCC’s temporary freezing of the account of the Benue State Government as part of the probe also drew criticism from a large section of Nigerians.

Ironically, however, Senator Godswill Akpabio who defected from the PDP to the APC has also been given a preferential treatment.

Akpabio, who is under probe for an alleged N100bn fraud perpetrated while he was the governor of Akwa Ibom State, was received by the President upon his defection.

Incidentally, on the day he defected, the EFCC temporarily froze the account of the Akwa Ibom State Government which is now being headed by Akpabio’s estranged protégé, Governor Udom Emmanuel.

Curiously, while the EFCC has neither charged nor indicted Akpabio, the commission has gone ahead to charge his former Commissioner for Finance, Senator Bassey Albert, who refused to defect along with Akpabio but decided to stay put in the PDP.

Expectedly, Albert, who is the only PDP Akwa Ibom senator, linked his recent troubles to his refusal to defect to the ruling party.

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