By Femi Qudus
Reaction of Nigeria’s Federal Government to Transparency International’s (TI) ranking of the country on its corruption index was not unexpected.
TI had said the country dropped two steps on the corruption index. For the opposition, it was an affirmation that President Muhammadu Buhari’s drive to rid the country of corruption was another farce. For the government, TI was prejudiced against it.
But for those who have consciously followed the anti-corruption drive of the Buhari administration, TI was somewhat kind in its assessment. Those who hold this view point to so many instances of crass blindness when corruption is alleged, and, or, established against the President’s men. Here, two instances stand out: Babachir Lawal and Abdulrasheed Maina.
Lawal was Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) and a very close ally of President Buhari. He was fingered in a contract scam and was investigated by a panel chaired by the Vice President, Yemi Osibanjo SAN.
The panel found him culpable in the allegation of corruption in a grass cutting scandal at an Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp. However, President Buhari foot dragged in removing him. When he did, he literally handed him a pat-on-the-back ‘sack’ by bringing in his close relation, Boss Mustapha, as replacement. Till today, Lawal has not been charged before any court on the basis of reasons he was removed from office.
To underscore the relationship between him and Buhari, Lawal had said during his thanksgiving church service at ECWA church in Abuja, sometime in 2015, that his relationship with Buhari was such that he could walk into Buhari’s home, in his absence, without hindrance, and eat whatever food that had been put on the dining table for him (Buhari) and walk away.
The disclosure was aimed at telling the congregation consisting of All Progressives Congress (APC) leaders and governors, that he and Buhari had come a very long way that his appointment as SGF was simply a reward for friendship and that no harm will befall him so long as he remained within that friendship circle. It also meant that Buhari will not approve that such a close ally be prosecuted for fraud.
On his part, Maina was indicted by a panel set up by the previous administration to investigate his handling of pension matters. He escaped from Nigeria before the long arms of the law could get to him.
For abandonment of duty, he was dismissed from service. After almost four years out of job, he was spirited back into the civil service and sent to the Ministry of Interior as deputy director of Personnel. When details of his re-absorption into the civil service became public knowledge, the presidency denied knowledge. But later disclosures indicated that the Buhari administration was fully involved in his re-absorption into service and approved payments to him.
Unable to keep the scandalous re-absorption down, Buhari ordered his removal. But, despite being declared wanted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Maina walked away peacefully. From the comfort of his home, he granted media interviews making claims about what he said were dirty sides of Police pension fund management. Till today, the EFCC that declared Maina wanted, and even had him listed on its website as a wanted person, looked the other way while Maina enjoyed his peace.
*Prof. Yusuf Usman of NHIS*
While these were on, the Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, in June last year suspended the Executive Secretary of National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), Prof. Yusuf Usman, over an alleged N292million bothering on “unapproved expenditures”. To the surprise of very few, he was reinstated to his job on the orders of President Buhari. Not even a further investigation of the allegation was made by the EFCC.
*Ahmed Saleh & Others*
Also, prosecutor in the trial of Justice Ngwuta over an alleged N500m bribery case, Mr. Charles Adeogun-Phillips, withdrew from the trial. His reason? That the Attorney General of the Federation had withdrawn a N2billion fraud charge against a Supreme Court registrar, Ahmed Saleh, and two others.
He wondered why the government would continue to prosecute Ngwuta over an alleged N500million bribe, but let go of Saleh, and two others, who were being prosecuted over a N2billion fraud charge. What Adeogun-Phillips probably did not realise was that the name Ngwuta, does not have the same geographic origin as Saleh.
Meanwhile, issues involving Maina and Lawal orchestrated media debates. So many authored articles and shared their opinions on what their cases represent for Buhari and his quest to fight corruption. But this is Nigeria. Their names disappeared from the radar as soon as they were removed and asked to go home and sin no more. Even the noisy civil society became mute.
As it stands, there are no more media reviews of their issues. No one is asking to know what happened to them. No one is taking EFCC up on these cases. It is like they never happened.
But that is classic Nigeria. Cakes, in Nigeria, are better eaten hot. Those two cases represent the classic Buhari. He has shown himself to be the strongman in dealing with those he considers enemies but extremely weak in dealing with close allies. This is robbing off negatively on his persona. Analysts argue that the development has rubbished the integrity Buhari claims to posses.
As it is, Lawal is forgotten. His crime is also forgotten. Maina is not remembered, so too for his alleged crime. In the end, it is about the Nigerian who sees crime from the geographical lens. Heads of anti corruption prosecutorial bodies are geographically aligned. So also is the Head of the Police Force. This means that their alleged crimes are treated like they don’t matter. Of course, they do not matter because those involved matter to some particular cause.
Nigerians will move on and pretend that all is well. But it takes the courage of TI to remind them that their country is sick. The sickness is accentuated by Buhari’s alleged selective prosecution of crimes bothering on financial impropriety, contract fraud and the likes. That is a signature of the Buhari persona; one which also characterized his first outing as Head of State in the 1980s.