Corruption and the Buhari legacy, By Jibrin Ibrahim

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Nigeria’s ranking in the Corruption Index ranking released by Transparency International has continued to deteriorate. At the end of Buhari’s tenure, it would be fascinating to curate the tales of corruption around the Central Bank of Nigeria, which for now is composed of rumours and speculations. Those who voted for Buhari thinking they were installing an anti-corruption czar are now the most bitterly disappointed citizens. Their shock is likely to grow as the legacy of corruption unfolds.
As the Buhari administration winds up, the question of his legacy is on the table. Unfortunately for the president, who has always seen himself and built his image as an anti-corruption crusader, his legacy might well be that of running the most corrupt regime in the history Nigeria. At the core of the problem is the Ministry of Petroleum, which he has been minister of since his return to power. Of course, one dossier President Muhammadu Buhari is supposed to know very well is that of petroleum, after all he was petroleum minister from 1976-78. He was also head of state for 20 months, from December 31, 1983. When, therefore, he told Nigerians as a presidential candidate in 2011 that the fuel subsidy regime is a fraud, people believed him and the élan of hope on this anti-corruption crusader finally brought him to power in 2015. We all remember when he posed the basic question: “Who is subsidising who?” His answer was categorical – the then Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) regime was using fuel subsidy to fund corruption. The legacy President Buhari would leave is the N4 trillion he just got approved by the National Assembly to fund fuel subsidy, which, thanks to him, Nigerians now know means funding corruption within his government.

Nigerians will remember that in January 2017, President Muhammadu Buhari wrote the Senate in response to the lawmakers’ indictment of his then secretary to the government of the federation, Babachir Lawal, and their call for Lawal’s removal and prosecution for corruption. The letter provided some excuses why the president would not act against Mr Lawal. President Buhari complained that the SGF had not been given a fair hearing before the indictment. Nigerians were shocked at this attitude because an invitation had been sent to Mr Babachir Lawal to come and defend himself in the legislature and he had refused to honour the invitation. The National Assembly had to intervene on the matter because the Ministry of Justice was not responding quickly to public calls that the SGF should be investigated for corruption. It would be recalled that Mr Babachir Lawal was alleged to have given contracts to companies he owned, thereby violating the procurement code and procedures.

On the moral level, Nigerians were scandalised when it was realised that the monies involved were allocations to alleviate the suffering and misery of the people of the North-East living through the ravages of the Boko Haram insurgency. He was said to have taken millions of naira worth of contracts for himself in provocative grass-cutting ventures. There was concern when the president refused to even suspend him for months to allow for investigations. It was in that context that the Senate, in December 2016, asked President Muhammadu Buhari to suspend Mr Lawal and ensure his prosecution over the alleged breach of Nigerian laws, in handling contracts awarded by the Presidential Initiative for the North East (PINE). The interim report drew attention to the “mounting humanitarian crisis in the North East” at a time in which Mr Lawal appeared to be giving himself a N200 million contract to clear “invasive plant species” in Yobe State, through a company, Rholavision Nigeria Limited, in which he was a director at that time.

The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), a non-governmental organisation concerned with economic and social rights in Nigeria, and anti-corruption work, has made allegations of several corrupt infractions against the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari. The organisation’s website is full of reports on the huge scale of the alleged corruption cases, which are apparently systematic and mind-boggling.
Since then, the amounts involved in corruption cases have gone up astronomically. A former managing director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Mr Nsima Ekere, has just been taken into custody by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in connection with the mismanagement of N47 billion contracts awarded between 2017 and 2019. Of course, the big story this week was the arrest of Ahmed Idris, Nigeria’s accountant general of the federation, who was on Monday taken in by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) over an alleged N80 billion fraud. He has been suspended indefinitely by the minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed. The EFCC said it has verified intelligence showing that the AGF raked off the funds from bogus consultancies and other illegal activities using proxies, family members and close associates. When the person with responsibility for judicious and accountable public expenditure turns out to be one of the most corrupt public servants in our history, then it is the whole regime that is tainted. The person overseeing the single treasury accounts, the computerised wages and salaries payment system (IPPIS) and who has repeatedly told the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) that there is no money to pay for their demands, is the one siphoning the money.

The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), a non-governmental organisation concerned with economic and social rights in Nigeria, and anti-corruption work, has made allegations of several corrupt infractions against the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari. The organisation’s website is full of reports on the huge scale of the alleged corruption cases, which are apparently systematic and mind-boggling. These include the outright stealing of funds meant as running costs in the National Assembly, and non-remittance of money deducted from staff and members of the National Assembly to relevant agencies. It also covers a disturbing failure to account for millions of naira spent by ministries, departments and agencies of government (MDAs), failure to retire unspent funds, award of contracts without due process, spending of funds above the statutory limit without official approval, payment of funds for contracts never executed and non-remittance of revenues generated by MDAs, among others.

According to the audit report, federal MDAs failed to account for N323.5 billion in 2019 alone! The report declares that in several financial transactions, the spending by public officers violated Paragraph 415 of the Financial Regulations Act, which states that, “The Federal Government requires all officers responsible for expenditure to exercise due diligence. Money must not be spent merely because it has been voted.”
It is interesting that the Office of the Auditor-General of the Federation corroborated the allegations listed by SERAP in the 2019 Audit report. According to the audit report, federal MDAs failed to account for N323.5 billion in 2019 alone! The report declares that in several financial transactions, the spending by public officers violated Paragraph 415 of the Financial Regulations Act, which states that, “The Federal Government requires all officers responsible for expenditure to exercise due diligence. Money must not be spent merely because it has been voted.” Now we know why no action was taken on these findings.

The Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), through its chairman, Professor Bolaji Owasanoye, during his speech at the Third National Summit on Diminishing Corruption and Presentation of Public Service and Integrity, disclosed that the anti-graft commission uncovered 257 duplicated projects worth N20 billion in the 2021 budget. There is therefore no evidence of any concrete result in the regime’s anti-graft war. Nigeria’s ranking in the Corruption Index ranking released by Transparency International has continued to deteriorate. At the end of Buhari’s tenure, it would be fascinating to curate the tales of corruption around the Central Bank of Nigeria, which for now is composed of rumours and speculations. Those who voted for Buhari thinking they were installing an anti-corruption czar are now the most bitterly disappointed citizens. Their shock is likely to grow as the legacy of corruption unfolds.

A professor of Political Science and development consultant/expert, Jibrin Ibrahim is a Senior Fellow of the Centre for Democracy and Development, and Chair of the Editorial Board of PREMIUM TIMES.