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Corruption and the Buhari Legacy, By Jibrin Ibrahim

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 subsidizing who?” His answer was categorical, the then PDP regime was using fuel subsidy to fund corruption. The legacy President Buhari would leave was the 4 trillion naira 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, in response to their call for his 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 was not given fair hearing before the indictment. Nigerians were shocked at this attitude because an invitation had been sent to Mr. Babachir to come and defend himself and he had refusal to do so. The National Assembly had to intervene on the matter because the Ministry of Justice was not responding quickly to public calls that the SGF 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 shocked when it was realized that the monies involved were allocated 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 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 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.

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 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 arrested by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) over an alleged N80bn fraud. He has been suspended indefinitely by the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed. The EFCC said it has verified intelligence which show that the AGF raked off the funds through bogus consultancies and other illegal activities using proxies, family members and close associates. When the person with responsibility for the judicious and accountable public expenditure turns out to the 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 ASUU 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 organization concerned with economic and social rights in Nigeria, and on anti-corruption work, has alleged several corrupt infractions under the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari. Their website is full of reports on the huge scale of the alleged corruption cases, which are apparently systematic and mind-boggling. These include outright stealing of funds meant for 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 covered a disturbing failure to account for millions of naira spent by MDAs, failure to retire unspent funds, award of contracts without due process, spending of funds above statutory limit without official approval, payment of funds for contracts never executed and non-remittance of revenues generated by MDAs, among others.

It is interesting that the office of the Auditor-General of the Federation in the 2019 Audit report corroborated the allegations listed by SERAP. According to the audit report, federal MDAs failed to account for N323.5billion in 2019 alone! In several financial transactions, the report stated that 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, Prof Bolaji Owasanoye during his speech at the 3rd 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 results 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 and the legacy of corruption unfolds.

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