President Muhammadu Buhari, while campaigning for office in 2014, promised to tackle corruption headlong and bring it to its knees,premium times report.

The promise was rooted in his stint as Nigeria’s Head of State in the early 1980s, when the former military dictator built a reputation as a no-nonsense leader with a hard stance against corruption.

At a time Nigeria was battling an insurgency in the North-east and endemic corruption nationwide, Mr Buhari’s military experience and anti-corruption record became most persuasive to voters who chose him over the incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan in the 2015 election.

“If we do not kill corruption, corruption will kill Nigeria,” Mr Buhari often said as he rallied Nigerians for votes during campaigns and after coming to office.

On assumption of office in 2015, Mr Buhari’s regime took up the fight against corruption in Nigeria’s public sector to the applause of his many Nigerians.

Barely six months in power, Mr Buhari ordered the arrest of Sambo Dasuki, then immediate-past National Security Adviser (NSA), who served in ex-president Goodluck Jonathan’s administration.

Mr Dasuki, a retired army colonel, was indicted by an investigative committee on arms procurement for allegedly diverting over $2 billion entrusted in the care of his office. The heist later gained the appellation ‘Dasukigate. Mr Dasuki and other suspects who allegedly benefitted from the funds were later arraigned at different courts in Abuja.

Some leaders of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) were fingered and tried for the diversion of humongous public funds meant for the+ purchase of arms to battle Boko Haram terrorism.

Top military brass, including the then immediate-past Chief of Defence Staff, Alex Badeh, were also put on trial over alleged mismanagement of military funds, which hitherto, were never subjected to scrutiny by civil authorities.

In another major stamp of his anti-graft footprint, the State Security Service (SSS) at the behest of Mr Buhari, raided the homes of senior  judges in 2016. The jurists were suspected of stockpiling cash – funds considered to be proceeds of corrupt practices.

In the never-seen-before nationwide operation, scores of armed SSS operatives broke into the official residences of the judges, confiscating both local and hard currencies.

The clampdown, which started in Gombe State, saw the secret police move against Muazu Pindiga, a judge of the Federal High Court. Then operatives raided the official quarters of Sylvester Ngwuta (now deceased) and John Okoro both justices of the Supreme Court on Friday night of 7 October 2016, and dragged into early Saturday morning.

While the raids reverberated across Nigeria, the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, justified the action.

Mr Malami, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), said the raids were legitimate as they were part of routine investigations.

Of the seven judges who were arrested by the SSS, two of them – Sylvester Nguta of the Supreme Court and Adeniyi Ademola of the Federal High Court Abuja, were prosecuted.

The administration also took advantage of the non-conviction-based asset recovery proceedings to recover huge amounts of looted funds and assets acquired with proceeds of corruption and other criminal activities.

In July 2017, Mr Buhari earned the endorsement of the African Union (AU) to lead the fight against corruption on the continent.

Anti-corruption battle on reverse gear

But it did not take too long before public confidence in the administration’s anti-corruption war began to wane, with top administration officials becoming entangled in corruption allegations without any prompt and decisive response from the president.

The administration was accused of being selective in its choice of suspects to investigate or prosecute. Members of the opposition political parties with corruption allegations got appointments in the government, while the president pretended not to be aware of their pending cases.

Early signs of the administration loss in the anti-corruption war emerged early in the life of the administration, when the now jailed pension funds looter, Abdulrasheed Maina, was almost reabsorbed into the civil service with the help of the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, and other administration officials, until the scheme was exposed by PREMIUM TIMES in 2017. Mr Maina would later be jailed by the Federal High Court in Abuja in November 2021, as the EFCC doggedly ensured the fugitive was brought to trial.

In another instance, Mr Malami terminated the N25 billion fraud trial of a former governor of Gombe State, Danjuma Goje, based on political considerations.

Mr Goje’s prosecution by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) was at its tail-end when Mr Malami terminated it. He would later justify it in an interview with this newspaper last January that his action was in furtherance of “overriding public interest.”

Similarly, in what tuned to be a trend all through his time in office, Mr Malami in less than a month to the end of his stay in office,  withdrew the prosecution of a military officer, Nicholas Ashinze- a former aide to Mr Dasuki, the ex-NSA to President Jonathan.

The main case involving Mr Dasuki has lingered in court for eight years with little progress. His illegal incarceration for years with the backing of Mr Malami contributed significantly to the delay suffered by the case.

Some others the government charged with offences relating to diversion of funds of the NSA office were freed by courts.

In a similar fashion, the judges sensationally arrested by the government were acquitted.

Dealing the most devastating blow to the anti-corruption efforts was the pardon the regime granted to convicted former governors – Jolly Nyame, a former governor of Taraba State, and Joshua Dariye, a former governor of Plateau State – in 2021..

Messrs Nyame and Dariye’s convictions in May and June, 2018, bolstered the government’s avowal to defeat corruption, especially amongst politically exposed persons (PEPs). The pair’s trial had lingered for over a decade before a novel legislation – Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015 – quickened their trial and eventual conviction.

They two former governors’ conviction had been affirmed by the Supreme Court, and they were still serving their jail time when the Buhari administration pardoned them in a historic rollback of a rare success in the fight against corruption in the country.

The government’s action drew wide condemnation from the citizenry, with many saying the pardon granted Messrs Nyame and Dariye was at variance with Mr Buhari’s promise to disincentive corruption.

But a top adviser to the president on anti-corruption, Itse Sagay, disagreed with the assertion that granting pardon to the two former governors had diminished the outgone government’s achievements in combating sleaze.

In an interview with PREMIUM TIMES, Mr Sagay, a law professor and chair, Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC), said the action was a political decision collectively taken by the Council of State.

In his assessment of the government, Mr Sagay argued that Mr Buhari’s anti-corruption drive remained the most successful of his campaign promises.

“Convictions increased tenfold. The anti-corruption drive was a huge success,” Mr Sagay said, pointing to the administration’s “assets recovery success” and elimination of “fraud in constituency projects.”

MDAs under Buhari consistently violated audit law

When Mr Buhari mounted the saddle in 2015, he was touted to use his “body language” of an acclaimed spartan lifestyle to dismantle the bureaucracy that had bred corruption.

For six months, the gap-toothed former Head of State from Daura, Katsina State, ran the government without ministers. He used the core civil servants to kick-start the government.

His public perception as an anti-graft czar from his past as a retired army general seemed to keep sharp practices at bay but only for a little while.

By the time Nigeria’s Auditor-General’s report for 2016 was published, it shone the light on how ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) declined to submit their books for review since Mr Buhari came into office.

The report revealed that poor compliance of public institutions to submit their accounts for review as statutorily required was worse in Mr Buhari’s first two years as president than previous years since 1999, when Nigeria returned to democracy.

The Auditor-General’s report, showed that 324 MDAs failed to submit their accounts for audit in 2016, while 215 failed to submit in 2015. In each of the 22 previous years before that, the highest number of non-submissions was 148, in 2014 – under President Jonathan’s administration which was widely seen as corrupt.

The Nigerian Senate on 10 May, said Mr Buhari refused to act on the report that indicted top management of  MDAs, who spent over N1 trillion illegally.

In another instance, the parliament queried 558 MDAs for refusing to account for N969 billion “intangible assets” in the 2019 budget.

The lawmakers, while examining the 2019 report of the Auditor-General, said there was no disclosure by the MDAs to enable audit to confirm the assets.

Also, the Senate whose primary statutory responsibility is to oversight MDAs, said the incessant violation of extant rules like non-retirement of personal advances and grant of cash advances above approved limit, were a hindrance to public accountability and transparency under Mr Buhari’s regime.

The Chairman of the Senate committee on Public Accounts, Matthew Urhoghide, once lamented the “consistent contravention of relevant constitutional provisions and other Extant Laws by the office of the Accountant-General of the Federation.”

In December 2022, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), disclosed it had recovered N30 billion from the immediate-past Accountant-General,  Ahmed Idris.

Mr Idris and other co-defendants are being prosecuted over alleged corrupt diversion of N109 billion from public treasury.

Mr Urhoghide pointed out that the late submission of annual financial statements is a violation of Section 49(1) and (2) of the Fiscal Responsibility Act (FRA) 2007 and Section 85 (5) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Not even the Senate President, Ahmed Lawan, who is believed to have habitually pandered to the will of the executive, could stomach the lack of accountability of public institutions.

“This is one of our major responsibilities as a parliament, to hold the executive to account. Whoever is given the responsibility and the trust of running any agency with public funds must be accountable to the parliament on behalf of the people,” Mr Lawan had said during the consideration of the Auditor-General’s report.

Corruption worsened on Buhari’s watch

Having promised to fight corruption vigorously, Nigerians had hoped rampant misappropriation and outright theft of humongous public funds would be substantially reduced if not eradicated under Mr Buhari’s administration.

However, public corruption perception in Nigeria deteriorated between 2016 and 2017, a report by Transparency International showed.

The annual Corruption Perception Index, (CPI) by Transparency International (TI) of countries, ranked Nigeria 148 out of 180 countries assessed in 2017.

The CPI is TI’s tool for measuring the levels of corruption in the systems of various countries around the world. The maximum points a country can score is 100 points, and the least is zero. Zero signifies the worst performing countries and 100, the best-ranked.

The index showed that out of 100 points signalling maximum transparency and no corruption, Nigeria scored 27 points.

The results show a slight deterioration in perception of corruption in public administration in Nigeria compared to 2016.

For instance, in 2016, Nigeria scored 28 points and ranked 136th in the ranking of countries.

With the one-point reduction in the score, Nigeria slipped in the country-ranking by 12 positions, from 136 in 2016 to 148 in 2017. The rankings are from 1 to 180, with 180 indicating the country having the worst perception of corruption.

Again in 2019, Nigeria did not only slip from the 144th to 146th order of corruption ranking, but it slipped by 26 points – a minus of one when compared to its score in 2018.

Nigeria’s 146th position out of the 180 countries that were surveyed worldwide showed that its score of 26 was way below the global average of 43 and the 2019 average score of 32 for the sub-Saharan Africa region. Nigeria ranked 32nd out of 49 countries in the sub-region.

Again, Nigeria fell five places in the 2021 CPI ranking. Scoring 24 out of 100 points, it ranked 154the out of 180 countries surveyed, falling back five places from the rank of 149 in 2020 placing it as the second most corrupt country in West Africa.

It was Nigeria’s second consecutive year of a downward spiral on the TI’s CPI ranking, the country’s score having dropped from 26 in 2019 to 25 in the 2020 assessment, and further to 24 in the 2021 record.

Recently, Transparency International’s corruption perception index indicated that Nigeria dropped to 149th out of the 180 countries surveyed after scoring 25 out of 100 points.

Although Nigeria moved up four places in the latest 2022 CPI, it did not improve on its previous year’s point. Despite maintaining its previous score of 24 out of 100 points in the 2021 assessment, Nigeria’s position went up to 150th in the new index compared to its 154th position out of 180 countries assessed in the 202 rankings.

Selective, sabotaged war

Despite exploiting successive administrations’ failures to combat grand corruption in getting into office, Mr Buhari’s regime has consistently criticised unfavourable assessment of his government’s performance.

The Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), Mr Malami, in an interview with PREMIUM TIMES in January 2023, rated Mr Buhari high in fighting corruption despite what the data says.

Similarly, EFCC’s chairman, Abdulrasheed Bawa, recently said Mr Buhari’s anti-corruption drive was topnotch.

Mr Bawa referenced the increase in the number of convictions his commission secured. But anti-graft advocates argued that Mr Buhari’s anti-corruption strategy was selective, leaving out politically exposed persons who were close to the corridors of power.

A constitutional lawyer and anti-graft campaigner, Yusuf Ali, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), told this newspaper that Nigeria’s efforts in combating corruption was “selective.”

In Nigeria, statutory agencies like the EFCC, the ICPC and Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) set up to tackle corruption are often seen as cudgel to bludgeon political opponents.

Recalling Mr Buhari’s electioneering promises in 2014, Femi Falana, a constitutional lawyer and human rights activist, said he promised to “wage a relentless war against corruption.”

But after taking the reins of power, the battle was completely lost as politically exposed persons who were charged with money laundering running into billions of naira were freed by the courts, Mr Falana noted.

The human rights activist said Mr Malami derailed the government’s anti-corruption campaign by arbitrarily abusing his powers as Attorney-General by terminating “the trials of corrupt officials.”

“President Buhari allowed Mr Malami to collapse the fight against corruption,” Mr Falana said, adding that the minister helped “to sabotage the anti-corruption campaign.”

Mr Falana further said the magnitude of the sleaze that had occurred on Mr Buhari’s watch would be exposed by Nigeria’s new government.

Another lawyer and SAN, Ben Anichebe, described Mr Buhari’s regime as a “monumental failure” in terms of fighting corruption.

He said the government lacked a robust anti-graft strategy needed to cripple the menace.


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