MUDIAGA AFFE writes on the anti-corruption fight of the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration and how it has been interpreted differently by politicians, depending on their political camps

The anti-corruption war of President Muhammadu Buhari received a great deal of applause from the local and international communities when the President made it explicitly clear from the inception that there would be no sacred cow.

But the Peoples Democratic Party has claimed that the war is being used mainly as a political weapon to hound, intimidate and frustrate the opposition, while those accused of corruption in the ruling party are spared or treated with kid gloves.

This position was also shared by Senator Shehu Sanni from Kaduna State, who sometime in 2018 accused the ruling party of using insecticide against suspected corrupt people in the opposition and deodorant for those from the President’s camp.

The Director, Media and Publicity of PDP Presidential Campaign Organisation, Mr Kola Ologbondiyan, said the statement (Your sins are forgiven, once you join the APC) credited to the National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress, Mr Adams Oshiomhole, had exposed President Buhari and his party members as criminals, adding that the President’s anti-corruption fight was a ruse.

The APC, however, said Oshiomhole’s statement was misinterpreted. The ruling party chairman was said to have made the comment while interpreting what one of the defectors (who had admitted guilt) in his local language to English.

Giving a scorecard of the government’s anti-corruption war, the Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, said the Buhari-led administration had, in the last three and a half years, recovered billions of naira allegedly stolen by politicians, public office holders and senior managers in the private sector.

Some of these funds, he added, had been traced to the bank accounts of the suspects; in some cases, their cronies, within and outside Nigeria.

Huge sums of physical cash in local and foreign currencies were also reportedly traced to the homes of suspects by the anti-graft agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.

He said as of May 2018, “the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, through the whistle-blower policy, had recovered over N527bn, $53m, and £122,890.

Mohammed stated that as a result of the 16-year rule of the PDP, the bulk of corruption suspects among the political class was from the party.

He said defections by political gladiators from the former ruling party,  the PDP,  had brought about a mixture of suspects in the folds of the current ruling APC, and the opposition PDP.

While the fight against corruption may have made some level of progress, the ruling party might have got itself involved in the whole twist by allegedly shielding some of its members fingered as suspects by the anti-graft agencies and welcomed other suspects to its fold.

The development, according to analysts, has painted the picture of an anti-corruption war that is rooted in political fight.

Executive Chairman of the Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders, Debo Adeniran, said it was fast becoming a disturbing norm for the main charges against a suspect to be ignored, while unnecessary political arguments took the centre stage.

Adeniran fingered those accused of corruption as being behind the diversion of public opinion in order to curry public opinion in their favour.

He said, “Those involved in grand corruption would want to wriggle themselves out of the quagmire by any means. This is the reason why so many public servants and politicians, who have engaged in grand corruption, must introduce politics into their trials. Most of those who perpetuate corruption and those who help them to go scot-free are very powerful people who are highly influential.

“The political colouration has become an easy tool which they use to blackmail government agencies. For instance, look at what is happening to the embattled Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen.

“It is not as if those arguing do not know the right thing, they deliberately argue mischievously in the opposite direction and that is why the fight against corruption is taking a long, undulated course. Until we are able to get all the agencies to do what is right, we may just be dancing around the same circle.”

Also, the Executive Director of Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, Musa Rafsanjani, said politicising the anti-graft war had posed serious threat to the stabilisation of Nigeria’s democracy.

He accused the ruling party of worsening the situation by admitting corrupt suspects into its fold, adding that such development had a way of polluting the activities of the anti-corruption agencies.

He said, “Once you have institutions that have been turned into political machines through interference, the anti-corruption drive will be threatened. For instance, there are several politically exposed persons that are facing trial today, but due to elections, you would have observed how they have been defecting to the ruling party.

“The ruling party, on the other hand, made matters worse when its chairman welcomed them and reportedly told them that their sins were forgiven. There are also clear examples of people that have been accused of corruption; but because of their affiliation with the leadership of the ruling party, nobody is talking about their cases anymore. These are people who have clear cases of criminal charges, but they are being celebrated because they have defected (to the ruling party).

“So, really, this is not a good moment for the anti-corruption fight. The anti-graft agencies are being frustrated because their suspects are now given official cover. If a suspect is seen fraternising with the President, it sends a signal that he is ‘ours’. This will make the anti-corruption agencies to have a rethink.”

In the same vein, a Lagos-based public affairs analyst, Mr Kennedy Oikerhe, said the anti-corruption fight had created a wide divide in the polity.

He, however, said the situation could be reversed if the rule of law would be upheld.

Oikehrhe stated, “No doubt, the fight against corruption seems to have created a wide divide in the polity. It has taken a frightening dimension as it has created divisions along religious, ethnic and political affiliations.

“This is not an interesting narrative and a good path to tread. As it is now, the fight against corruption can be likened to a football match between two competing teams, passionately supported by two types of spectators and fans, ready to fight for their teams.

“Interestingly, this negative perception can be reversed. However, this journey or perception can be disabused until and only when corruption is fought holistically, no matter whose ox is gored. Again, there must be strict adherence to due process and the rule of law.

“It is instructive to note at this juncture that we cannot fight corruption by circumventing the rules. Clearly, that would amount to another form of corruption. It is only when things are handled transparently and devoid of any political colouration that justice can be done and be seen to be done.”

However, the President of the Nigeria Voters Assembly, Mashood Erubami, said the unfolding development indicated that Buhari and his party (the APC), did not prepare adequately to tackle corruption.

He said, “It is now evident, more than ever before, and I am quite sure that President Buhari did not prepare for the worst that could play out in his efforts to tackle corruption in Nigeria. The crusade against corruption and impunity is not a tea party and the APC did not prepare for the fight – from the politically exposed with the character of those that defected from the PDP when the first so-called alliance was being built.

“The new President (ostensibly after the February 16 election), which I believe will be elected on the platform of character and integrity, should shun the government of winners-take-all and adopt the concept of stakeholders-help-government based on the selection of cabinet on the basis of proven ability not only on party patronage.

“It is only when the Nigeria Labour Congress and the civil society become the oxygen of democracy and act as catalysts for social progress and economic growth that they can help represent the diverse interests of the populace.”

But a former Minister of Information. Brig. Gen. Anthony Ukpo (retd.), said the mere fact that the anti-corruption war was an agenda of a political party made a fight political. He, however, called on the government to put in place the machinery that would prevent further corrupt practices. Ukpo added that the present administration should stop wasting so much time on chasing those previously perceived to have engaged in corrupt practices to the detriment of moving forward.

Ukpo stated, “Most government will use the so-called fight against corruption to pull down their opponents. But I must acknowledge that there is corruption in the country. The concern is how to reduce it and not how to keep going after those that have been involved in the past; it will not solve the problem.

“They should put in place rules and regulations that will make it difficult for people to become corrupt. The government cannot spend 80 per cent of its time chasing previously corrupt people to the detriment of moving forward.

“The government has made progress in the anti-corruption fight because those who have the tendency to be corrupt have gone underground and the share-the-money principle of a political party in the recent past is no longer there. In terms of putting in place those things that can stop corruption, nothing much has been achieved because corruption is still going on.”

Copyright PUNCH.