By Bright Emenena
Lest we forget, like many past government, this administration rode to power on the back of the promise to fight corruption. It is safe to say though, that more than any previous administration, the present administration comes top on the perception that a government will actually fight corruption. For many Nigerians, the one reason why this government was voted into power was the belief that corruption which was perceived as the problem of Nigeria shall be brought to a stop. President Buhari then General Buhari was the symbol of this perception. For many who voted for him, he was an embodiment of integrity, a man capable of doing no evil, an incorruptible disciplinarian and in their view, was what Nigeria needed at the time. He was even applauded by many when he claimed he could not afford the presidential nomination form of his party despite having served as a military head of state, a key player in another military government adjudged as most corrupt by both local and international bodies, a former military governor, a petroleum minister and chairman of the Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF), an agency that was also alleged of corruption. This was perceived by his supporters as evidence of his incorruptibility.
Citizens did not care much about the economy or economic credentials of the then candidate Buhari. People did not even analyse how feasible it was for the naira to be equal to a dollar and how it can be achieved and sustained. They just assumed that fighting corruption was enough to get the economy going. In one of the campaign speeches, in his perception, blocking the leakages was equal to growing the economy. The people’s expectations were very high. For once, Nigeria may be rid of corruption. For the sceptics, only time will tell.
On 12th November 2015, about six months after the swearing in of this administration, the news of the first corruption scandal was broken. It was the president’s own party man, Senator Dino Melaye, who raised the alarm that the TSA policy which the new government had insisted on implementing may have been fraught with corruption. He alleged that while the appointment of a collecting agent (REMITA) was unconstitutional, it was also milking our collective purse. As ministries, departments and agencies were ordered to shut down their accounts with the banks and remit to the federation account their revenues, the collecting agency REMITA, already made 25 billion naira for doing nothing within six months. There was some uproar but the administration quickly came out to debunk the news calling those who unravelled it, scandal mongering individuals. In their defence, they were quick to agree that the idea of implementing a single treasury account was of the previous administration, implying that whatever may be wrong with it, is part of the failings of their predecessor. This was despite celebrating the applause that their implementing the TSA initially generated. The Senate on her part ordered her specific committee to begin a probe. The names behind the REMITA agency remained a matter of speculation. The Senate probe panel findings and report was never brought to light. Today REMITA has come to stay and whatever commission they earn is still ongoing.
On December 22, 2015, the president went to the floor of the National Assembly to present a budget to a joint session of the National Assembly. And was applauded by many including the Senate president Dr. Bukola Saraki for being the first president in recent times to have come before the national assembly to present a budget himself. His immediate predecessor had the minister of finance and coordinating Minister of the Economy presenting the budget. Also it was the administration’s first budget since coming to power and for the first time in Nigeria’s history, a 6 trillion naira budget was being presented. There was a lot of enthusiasm on the part of citizens.
But this enthusiasm was soon dampened with the news that the budget presented by the president to the national assembly was different from what the MDA’s prepared and presented to the budget office. The budget has been padded, “Padding” meaning additions to make fatter. The president was immediately absolved of any blame by his supporters as expected. But for many, it wasn’t just that such could still happen in an administration that pride itself as intolerant of corruption, it was about the response to the discovery of such graft. As it is for most issues, the president would not even comment on the issue for a while. When he eventually commented, it was indeed a tough talk. “Those who are involved in the budget padding shall not go unpunished”. Nigerians waited earnestly for the punishment that shall follow. Even the president’s support base was hopeful and boasted of how the “padders” shall be brought to book and appropriately punished. That should help to clean up the embarrassment this caused the administration. Now, let’s be clear. The president may not have been culpable of padding the budget, but being an “anticorruption czar” and at the time when he was going hard on members of opposition party on perceived corrupt practices, the expectation from many was that the president will go hard on the culprits in the same vein. This never happened. After many months of dilly-dallying, all that was heard is that 180 personnel in the budget office had been redeployed.
Redeployed? Was that the punishment promised?
Well, redeployment was the punishment served on the perpetrators of the crime of budget alteration for personal gain. Thereafter, was the budget padding scandal that rocked the national assembly. Understandably, the executive had no direct power over the legislature and the polity was laced with the argument of whether or not the legislative arm of government had power to alter the budget they were presented with. The national assembly did have their day in the court of public opinion and with the executive arm bent on proving that the NASS, as an institution was corrupt, this was well explored.
A few months after the inception of the present administration, precisely in October 2015, the NCC slammed the Telecommunications giant, MTN a $5.1b fine for failing to abide by the rules. At a time when the nation was struggling with rock bottom crude prices coupled with insurgency in the Niger Delta cutting down production, this was expected to provide some relief. After months of negotiations, the fine was largely reduced and terms of payment agreed. Shortly after, the news was that the president’s close senior aide who is also a close relative of his, has been bribed 500 million naira to help reduce the fine to the new amount. Eventually, this scandal caused those at the helm of the negotiations on the part of the MTN their job. But for the FG, nothing was said and nothing happened. Abba Kyari, the president’s chief of staff implicated in this scandal not only retained his job but continued to be a key player in the operations of government. In a bid to save face, a probe will usually be ordered, the report of which we will never hear of and they will never act on. Just as the dust was settling on the MTN’S scandal, comes another.
In October 2016, the House committee on the North East, uncovers a contract of N270m for grass cutting in an IDP camp in the NE awarded by the administration’s then SGF, Babachir Lawal to a company he allegedly owned.
At a time when the administration was putting people in handcuffs and showing them to the world via all media platforms as thieves of funds meant for fighting Boko Haram, when the last administration’s NSA is permanently locked in jail, despite several court judgement ordering otherwise, the former SGF in the present administration supposedly fighting corruption just had his company cut grass in the IDP camp for N270m (two hundred and seventy million naira). Camp for internally displaced persons resulting from same Boko Haram crisis. After so much foot dragging, another probe panel was set up while the alleged remained in his position boasting of how it was impossible to remove him. In one of his outburst, he referred to the news as “balderdash” and in another, he openly questioned the ability of the presidency to deal with him when he threw the question “who is presidency?” to reporters. Eventually, despite the probe panel’s indictment of him, it took the president almost one year and a public uproar in form of protest rallies before Babachir was removed. Till this very moment, no charges have been brought against him.
Like I once told a friend, the scandals in this dispensation are so many and frequent that it is becoming difficult to keep pace with. While that was ongoing, another bomb shell came. This time, from the president’s immediate family. The wife of the President and his daughter both openly state that despite huge budgetary allocation to the state house clinic, the hospital could not boast of even syringes. The president had just returned from his over 100 day’s overseas trip and there were speculations that the president’s wife had also gone abroad for a brief medical check up. Now to put it in proper perspective, what this allegations meant, let us be reminded of the budgetary provision for the state house clinic for the 2016, 2017 budgets.
In the 2016 budget, it is public knowledge that the State House Clinic had N3.87b in allocation, an amount more than the budgetary allocation to all the Federal teaching hospitals in the country. Despite this huge sum, the First Lady claimed she had to go to a private hospital for an X-ray. So the question therefore is what then happened to the budget? The permanent secretary’s defence is that zero amounts were allocated for capital projects.
So was N3.87b and N3.2b used for recurrent expenditure for two years? This is a unit of government that is in the President’s bedroom and yet there is so much they are unable to account for. For a government that is fighting corruption, this is definitely not what even his supporters expected. Like all the other scandals, it is the NASS once again that has tried to initiate a probe and as usual nothing really will come out of it.
The scandals went from drip, drip, and drip to an avalanche. The pace of occurrence of the corruption scandals have become so frequent that one may find it difficult to keep up with. The administration’s Minister of State for Petroleum wrote to the President who is also the Minister of petroleum complaining of how contracts totalling $26b had been inappropriately awarded in the NNPC, a parastatal under his ministry by the GMD without due process. The letter either by accident or deliberately was leaked to the public and there was another uproar. The letter has highlighted a lot of red flags in addition to the accusations of financial impropriety. But wait a minute, why will the president’s own minister in his cabinet and his deputy in the Petroleum ministry be needing a letter to communicate happenings in his ministry as grievous as these allegations to him? All the questions were quietly answered by individual citizens in their own quiet time. But everyone keenly awaited the President’s response. As Nigerians were still trying to make out what has become of this administration as regards the promise to fight corruption, this is another bomb shell.
And after the usual period of silence, the president finally did act. A separate meeting with both the minister and the GMD was held after which he ordered both aides to go sort out their differences and ensure they work together. By the next day, the photo ops of both men hugging each other flooded the front pages of most national dailies showing that reconciliation has taken place. That was the much done for a government that is fighting corruption.
And finally came the mother of all scandals: Mainagate. Ibrahim Maina is the pension boss who was sacked on allegations of corruption by the last administration and was on the run from prosecution. In October 2017, it was all over the news that he has not only been reinstated, but was also promoted after redeployment to another ministry, the ministry of interior. Even the chairman of the Senate committee on media said on national TV how much of an embarrassment this was for the country. For many, even strong supporters of the President, this was the straw that broke the camel’s back. The uproar was loud enough for all to hear. And the question on everyone’s lips was how did this happen. Those who will always defend the administration and absolve the president of any blame irrespective of the event and the facts, struggled this time to do so. There were denials on all sides. The involved ministries heads all pointing at each other. Shortly, there was a leaked memo that showed that even the head of service warned of the dangers of reinstating Maina, a fugitive.
For reasons not yet clear, the desperation to readmit Maina into the Federal Civil Service didn’t allow them to heed. They went ahead and he was redeployed and promoted. The specific Senate committee invited all alleged to be involved to the Senate for questioning. The revelations where grievous and shameful for any government, how much more one that pride itself to be intolerant of corruption. The president has been accused of being aware, even by the alleged. In another face saving mechanism, the president did ask for the firing and immediate arrest of Maina. Sacking was done, but arrest was never made. Until this very moment, Maina is still at large and has been bold enough to speak several times from his hiding and was even represented by a lawyer in one of the public hearing by the Senate committee. He has severally claimed that the President ordered his reinstatement. No doubt the reinstatement of Maina has hovered between the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Interior and the Presidency. At the senate hearing, the Minister of Justice did reveal that Maina requested for a meeting with him while he was in Dubai and he in turn sort clearance from the DG of the DSS to meet with him. Isn’t it ironical that the chief law officer is asking for clearance from the DG DSS to meet with an alleged culprit? There was clear evidence that so many things were wrong. The presidency has since denied complicity and as is with most other scandals, was quick to blame it on the last administration. Obviously, Nigerians must be tired of hearing that. And only recently, in a move that looked to further buttress the federal government’s complicity, the AGF had sought and secured court injunction prohibiting the Senate from continuing the probe. In the words of the Senate: “what do they have to hide?” We hope time will tell.
For staunch supporters of the president, who see him as incapable of doing wrong, and incorruptible, he will still be absolved of this scandal with the usual phrase of “the president is not aware”. But that will at least not absolve him of incompetence. If he is not an accomplice as they want us to believe, then he is grossly incompetent. However, the president has some room for his own redemption. Someone must take responsibility for this action or at least agree to be the fall guy whose head should roll. Would that happen? Only time will tell. Meanwhile, may we not forget that why all these are ongoing, the alleged pension thief in question is still at large. There are speculations again, that the failure to arrest him by security operatives is very deliberate. A few weeks ago, the president was quoted to have said “only God can judge looters”. Has the president resolved to fate? It is not three years yet in a four year term of the administration and all these are corruption scandals in the executive arm of government in a government that is fighting corruption.