The anti-corruption war of the Buhari administration suffered a streak of losses in recent weeks, the latest being the judicial defreeze of Ex- first lady, Dame Patience Jonathan’s $5m, frozen by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). Next was the discharge and acquittal of Justice Adeniyi Ademola who was tried for corrupt enrichment and abuse of office. The court found him innocent of the 18-count charge slammed on him in the aftermath of the celebrated Judges invasion by the Department of State Services (DSS), last year. Ex- Minister of Niger- Delta affairs, Godsday Orubebe was also freed after the State failed to prove its case of criminal diversion of N1.97b earmarked for compensation of citizens displaced for road projects in the Niger-delta.
Lagos Lawyer, Mike Ozehkome (SAN) was also a beneficiary of the apparent shoddy prosecution of anti-graft cases as the court also ordered the unfreezing of his N75m which he claimed were professional fees paid by Governor Ayo Fayose of Ekiti State. For an administration that has made the fight against corruption a major plank of its agenda, the recent turn of events is a big slap and continues to reinforce our believe that the anti-graft war is bereft of any discernible innovation or strategy to make it effective. The whistleblowing policy though has led to huge cash recoveries in recent times, we posit that this cannot substitute for effective prosecution of cases in which punishment meted out to convicts serves as a deterrent.
While President Buhari inaugurated a Presidential Advisory Committee on Corruption (PACAC), a few months after his inauguration, we are yet to see a blueprint or the policy document the Committee has drafted to aid the anti-graft war. Instead its chair, Prof Itse Sagay has joined the fray with political figures, most times taking critics to the cleaners instead of silently working on an anti-corruption roadmap that will give needed impetus to a faltering campaign. We have always believed the Sagay-led Committee should have a specific timeframe for its job, it should not exist interminably as a quasi-ministerial committee.
The bane of successful prosecution under this administration is its proclivity for unnecessary showmanship to herald arrests of suspects before conclusion of investigations. There has been more celebrated arrests of suspects, disclosure of allegedly looted funds than actual convictions. Instead of concluding investigations and building a watertight case before arraignment of suspects, the anti-graft agencies are always in a hurry to arraign while still gathering evidence. They end up bungling most cases with this approach.
Inter-agency rivalry has also hampered the success of the anti-graft war. The EFCC for instance publicly criticized the DSS invasion of Judges and insisted it was an encroachment on its forte. That same rivalry became more glaring when the DSS sent two separate reports on the acting EFCC chair, Ibrahim Magu to the Senate and the Presidency. A damning report was sent twice to the Senate while the allegedly favourable one is in possession of the Presidency. This largely contributed to the rejection of the nomination of the EFCC boss for the second time. The lack of synergy and coordination by these sister agencies is a cog in the wheel of the anti-graft crusade.
The administration is about 2 years into its tenure, the time to turn the tide is now. A crack team of prosecutors should be engaged for high profile anti-corruption cases. We don’t believe that only one man can prosecute the anti-graft war. Having been rejected twice by the Senate, the President should replace Magu and nominate a fresh hand as the anti-graft czar. “He who comes to equity must come with clean hands”, we believe that Magu is entangled in a web of conflict of interests that will not bode well for the anti-corruption crusade. The famed Aso-rock cabal is also divided over Magu, with the DSS Director-General Lawal Daura and Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari allegedly at loggerheads with the Ag. EFCC boss while he allegedly enjoys the backing of the National Security Adviser (NSA), Maj. Gen Mungonu. This makes sticking with Magu even more complicated. President Buhari should move swiftly and put an end to this power-play that has characterized the candidacy of Magu and distracted the anti-corruption war by nominating a fresh, strong-willed candidate to replace him.
We note that the Presidency has already stepped up efforts to bolster the faltering anti-corruption campaign as the Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo last week presided over an expanded meeting of anti-graft agencies, the DSS and the Attorney-general. The Vice- President was reported to have directed the agencies to cooperate and synergize instead of dwelling on petty rivalry. That is a step in the right direction. We ask that such high-level meetings be held periodically to examine progress made and address shortcomings in a coordinated manner.
The Sagay-led committee should be given a time-frame to submit its blueprint to the government. Where there is need for legislations to be enacted, the executive should lobby its party members who constitute majority in both chambers of the National Assembly to get it done. The administration will have to make do with the cooperation it receives from the leadership of the apex legislature having shot itself in the foot at inception with the “I belong to everybody, I belong to nobody mantra”.
Better synergy should also be forged with the judiciary to entrench institutional reforms that will put the bench on the same page with government. Respect for judicial pronouncements is also key to winning the confidence of the judiciary. We have observed instances of disregard of court orders granting bail to some high-profile corruption suspects. This must stop. There should be no short-cut to prosecuting the anti-graft war. The State must acquire the expertise and man-power to diligently prosecute cases and secure convictions. We risk a descent to a banana republic if this becomes a mirage.
President Buhari has barely one year before the start of electioneering to make a success of his famed anti-corruption agenda. What he does now to rejig the crusade and secure convictions will go a long way to determine how Nigerians will assess his performance in 2019. We also hope Mr President will summon the courage to fire those within his inner circle indicted for corruption so that the fading credibility of the anti-corruption war is restored.
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