President Muhammadu Buhari’s anti-graft war is gradually losing steam and is therefore sorely in need of a shot in the arm, to avert an impending crushing defeat. Although a lot of stolen public assets have been recovered, it is still depressing to note that no high profile corrupt person has so far been put behind bars. For somebody who came to office on the strength of his anti-corruption credentials, the world expects much more from Buhari’s government.
For the avoidance of doubt, it should be clearly stated that the anti-graft campaign has to make an impact. To achieve that purpose, it does not just have to stop at the recovery of huge sums of money, but should ensure that those who purloin state resources are tried, convicted and sentenced in line with acceptable practices in other civilised societies. Doing so would not only send a message to the international community but also to some criminally-minded citizens that the government would not tolerate corrupt practices.
Obviously, the main reason for the failure of the campaign to root out corruption is not unconnected with the weakness in government’s litigation strategy, arising mainly from the lack of coordinated approach and undue rivalry among the anti-corruption agencies. This has proved to be counter-productive in the campaign, resulting in a string of losses of cases brought against high profile suspects.
In what should count as a major setback to the government, cases against Mike Ozekhome, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria; Joe Agi, also a SAN; and Adeniyi Ademola, a Justice of the Federal High Court; and his wife, Olubowale; were all dismissed within a space of days. In most of the cases, the judges cited lack of convincing prosecution.
Indeed, it has become apparent in some cases that the different agencies have been working at cross purposes, instead of working to enhance each other for a common goal. A Lagos lawyer and social critic, Femi Falana, said, “As far as I am concerned, the cases were lost due to official negligence and lack of inter-agency cooperation by the Federal Ministry of Justice, the anti-graft agencies and the State Security Service.”
This point was well noted, for instance, during the invasion of homes of some judges over alleged corrupt enrichment. The operation was carried out by the SSS in what many thought fell clearly under the purview of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. If there had been cooperation among them, there would have been nothing wrong in notifying the EFCC about the raid before it was embarked upon.
A further confirmation of this inter-agency rivalry was in evidence when, on July 25, the Special Assistant to the President on Prosecutions, Okoi Obono-Obla, alleged that two of the anti-corruption agencies, the EFCC and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, were not cooperating with the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, who is the chief law officer of the Federal Government.
In particular, the President’s aide said that requests made for the case files of high profile cases, especially those involving former governors who were being investigated for corruption, were rebuffed. “They don’t want to work with the office of the AGF,” he said. However, the reluctance of the EFCC to cooperate may have been informed by past experiences when such cases were deliberately bungled whenever they were taken over by the AGF in previous administrations.
A typical example is Michael Aondoakaa, a former AGF who was later barred from holding public office by a Federal High Court in Calabar for impeding the judgement of a court in an election matter. Besides being suspended as a SAN, he was also reportedly barred from entering the United States on account of his obstruction of the course of justice while in government. His role in freeing corrupt public office holders is well known.
But while Aondoakaa’s antics were possible because the government he served was not overly enthusiastic about fighting corruption, for the situation to continue under Buhari shows a clear sign of lack of leadership and direction. This has also been responsible for an agency under the Presidency writing two contradictory reports – one damaging, the other approving – on the person of the Acting Chairman of the EFCC, Ibrahim Magu, on the basis of which he was denied confirmation by the Senate.
With just two years left in the life of this administration, it is time to reclaim the anti-corruption war from those who have hijacked it by establishing a leadership that will coordinate activities of the agencies in a symbiotic relationship. There should be a clearing house with somebody in charge of all the agencies, to direct their activities and reposition the war against graft. It would be a very sad situation if the government fails in this all-important assignment of ridding the country of corruption.
It should be noted that after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the US, President George Bush realised the need for a coordinated approach to the country’s security. Rather than allow “a confusing patchwork of government activities,” he came up with the idea of creating a Department of Homeland Security to, among other duties of protecting the US, ensure “improved information sharing among our (American) intelligence agencies and deploy more resources and personnel to protect our (American) critical infrastructure.”
In coming up with the idea of a homeland security department, Bush envisaged his country was in a war situation and needed to deploy its resources more effectively. It is the same approach that Buhari should adopt in the war against corruption because Nigeria is at war against the scourge. That is why he once said that if Nigeria failed to kill corruption, corruption would kill Nigeria. All the agencies have to be organised under one leadership to offer this much-needed direction so that victory against graft will be ensured.