When on 19th April this year President Muhammadu Buhari ordered the suspension of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr David Babachir Lawal and the Director General of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), Ambassador Ayo Oke, he instituted a three-man committee headed by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo to investigate the allegations against the duo. For those who felt that setting a committee to deal with straight-forward matters was needless, they were comforted by the fact that there would be a quick closure on the matter since the committee had just two weeks to submit its report.
However, more than five months after, the opposition politicians who dismiss President Buhari’s war against graft as insincere in conception and selective in implementation may be having the last laugh. In case the president is not aware, the talk in town is that the much touted war against corruption of his administration is more a weapon to deal with political opponents than an agenda to enthrone transparency and accountability in Nigeria. And he has done so much in the last two years to prove them right.
Regardless of all the tales about the former Petroleum Minister, Mrs Diezani Alison-Madueke and Dame Patience Jonathan, which is all that the corruption war has been reduced to lately, what discerning Nigerians can see is the same hypocrisy, deceit and double standards of the past. While I support all genuine efforts to rid our country of corruption and all forms of abuses within the system, such efforts must be blind to personal or political affiliations of the leader if it is to be enduring. Selective application of those to hold accountable and those to allow free reign can only undermine any attempt to fight graft. Unfortunately, that is what is happening in Nigeria today.
Indeed, there is a general perception that this administration protects its own and that may explain why many opposition politicians who have corruption cases against them are trooping to the All Progressive Congress (APC) where the broom is evidently big enough to sweep any and every act of corruption under the Aso Rock carpet. In a way, the statement by Senator Shehu Sani has become prophetic: “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.”
Against the background that President Buhari came to power with his personal integrity and a campaign promise that he would fight corruption in office, Senator’s Sani’s description, which fits, should compel introspection in Aso Rock. After several political big wigs in the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) have been called to account, including some of them being handcuffed to court, the big one came when a committee of the Senate, controlled by the same ruling party, indicted the SGF of fiddling with the money meant for the most vulnerable of our society: those displaced by the Boko Haram insurgency.
The expectation was that the president would use the opportunity to prove the credibility of his anti-corruption war. One, the president said, and quite correctly, that Lawal had a right to defend himself against allegations of impropriety, a right he believed the Senate denied his man before coming up with the report. So, one cannot fault the president’s decision to subject the Senate report to his own investigation. Two, the person involved is close to President Buhari who has a reputation when it comes to dealing with friends and associates. It is said that if you have the trust of the president, you can get away with any wrongdoing because he would defend you regardless of the evidence.
Given the foregoing, Nigerians waited eagerly to see how the president would handle this scandal. In the statement signed by presidential spokesman, Mr Femi Adesina, a three-man committee comprising the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, the National Security Adviser and headed by the Vice President was directed to investigate “the allegations of violations of law and due process made against the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr David Babachir Lawal, in the award of contracts under the Presidential Initiative on the North East (PINE).”
The same committee was also directed “to conduct a full scale investigation into the discovery of large amounts of foreign and local currencies by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in a residential apartment at Osborne Towers, Ikoyi, Lagos, over which the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) has made a claim.” The investigation, according to the statement, “is also to enquire into the circumstances in which the NIA came into possession of the funds, how and by whose or which authority the funds were made available to the NIA, and to establish whether or not there has been a breach of the law or security procedure in obtaining custody and use of the funds.”
As it turned out, the investigations commenced the day the president was travelling out of the country on a medical vacation that lasted more than a hundred days. But upon return, the report was submitted to him on 23rd August with so much song and dance. In fact, the weekly Federal Executive Council (FEC) that was scheduled to hold the next day was cancelled because, as we were told, the president was busy reading the report.
Unfortunately, more than a month after receiving the said report, the president has done nothing about the matter thus confirming Senator Sani’s declaration. Yet, if the war against corruption in Nigeria is to have any meaning, the targets of those to scrutinize and the reward system cannot continue to be selective. You cannot treat some corruption cases with insecticide and some others with deodorant and expect anybody to take you seriously.
To the extent that justice is the anchor of peace and the premise of social development, it is easy to locate some of the current problems in the country in the arbitrary use of power and the promotion of selective application of justice. And when such becomes manifest in the public space, as it is in Nigeria today, what follows is that the people will begin to lose trust in both the leader and the system.
The most significant appeal of President Buhari’s candidacy in 2015 was the national consensus then that he would be principled, decisive, firm and precise on matters of public morality. Sadly, his failure to act promptly and decisively at critical moments when the public expected clarity has dulled his original appeal and cast doubts on his sincerity. In the process, the dividing line between right and wrong in our nation has further blurred. Therefore, the burden for the president at this most critical period is twofold: first to salvage the credibility of his wobbly administration and, most importantly, to restore public confidence in his personal integrity as a genuine national leader and moral beacon.