Opinion: Buhari’s year of sleaze by Paul Onomuakpokpo
It would have been an intriguing surprise if this year were to end without the government of President Muhammadu Buhari being further begrimed with its scandalous quest for $1 billion to fight insecurity. It is not unexpected that since the Buhari government has been bogged down by cases of corruption from the beginning of the year, it is ending it with the controversial $1 billion quest that betrays the vacuity of its claims to zero tolerance for corruption.
We should remember that the Buhari government has gleefully touted its successful trouncing of Boko Haram as a validation of its electoral mandate and a loud rebuke of the government of Goodluck Jonathan who floundered in the face of the insurgents. Now, the same Buhari government wants to deplete the Excess Crude Account by $1 billion to fight the already defeated insurgents. And this is after reportedly paying three million pounds for the release of some Chibok girls.
Thus, what we have witnessed throughout the outgoing year is an ample replication in Buhari of Joseph Conrad’s Kurtz who is consumed by the darkness that he sets out to dispel.For what is inherent in Buhari’s dining and wining with the corrupt in his government is a silent exclamation of “horror, horror” of Kurtz who is overwhelmed by the benightedness he is supposed to replace with his enlightenment. Such an exclamation is the infuriating silence with which he responds to the cases of corruption as they break with roiling regularity. But the further tragedy in the case of Buhari is that his backers claim not to see that he has been overwhelmed by the corruption that he has declared himself its nemesis. Yet, for the citizens who are alert to the depth of sleaze the Buhari government has sunk, 2017 could be considered in the annals of the nation as the year of official corruption.
In 2017, Buhari refused to sack his Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Lawal Babachir, after being found guilty of awarding a N220 million grass-cutting contract to himself. Buhari was not outraged that what was diverted was money meant to alleviate the suffering of those who have been subjected to starvation, rape and torture in their camps. Even after Buhari was forced to sack Babachir because of the persistent outcry of the citizens, he refused to prosecute him. Yet, if Babachir were one of his perceived enemies from another political party, he would have prosecuted him and consigned him to detention so that he would not frustrate the course of justice.
This is a year that Buhari reinstated Abdulrasheed Maina, the former boss of the Presidential Pension Task Force who was a fugitive from the law after he was accused of stealing billions of pensions funds. Buhari would have continued with his claim to integrity and that he did not know anything about the case if it were not revealed that the head of the civil service of the federation, Mrs. Winifred E. Oyo-Ita, warned Buhari against the dangers of reinstating Maina.
Before the citizens could overcome the shock, the scandal of the Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Maikanti Baru broke. Baru was accused of defrauding the nation to the tune of $25 billion by awarding contracts in foggy circumstances. While the scandal festered, Buhari did not speak on it. Instead of expressing umbrage at the egregious case of official abuse by Baru, Buhari’s seeming connivance made the accuser, the Minister of State for Petroleum, Ibe Kachikwu to be the hunted. While Baru could have easy access to Buhari, Kachikwu was seen as the enemy of the government, ostensibly for his failure to keep silent in the face of official ruination of the treasury.
No matter how much the Buhari government would attempt to justify its bid for the $1 billion, what should be the leitmotif of the citizens’ interrogation of this quest is whether the government can be trusted. Since the answer is no, it is the responsibility of all the citizens to stop the Buhari government from getting the $1 billion . It must be stopped from splurging this amount at a time there is mass poverty that has been compounded by a fuel crisis in the country. It is not enough to suspect that the money would be used to fund the re-election bid of Buhari. And it is equally not enough to know that the nation’s lawmakers are ready to support the president’s quest.
This is not surprising since the lawmakers are in Abuja for themselves and doing Buhari’s bidding in this regard is one sure means of serving their own pecuniary interests. The citizens must go further to insist that the government should continue its mop-up operation in the north-east with its statutory defence votes. After all, the defence votes of 2017 were made to reflect the fact that the country is at war with insurgents. But the government has the option of apologising to the citizens that all it has been saying about the defeat of Boko Haram is just barefaced deception. In that case, it must acknowledge that it has failed to fulfil a key promise of improving the nation’s security that gave it power in 2015.
Taking his own cue from his principal, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo demonstrated that the Buhari government is not ready to fight corruption. It was Osinbajo who begged the Kano State governor and the House of Assembly not to investigate the Emir of Kano Sanusi Lamido Sanusi who was indicted for misappropriating N6 billion of his emirate. Like his principal, Osinbajo believes that any associate, friend or politician of the All Progressives Congress (APC) hue can never be corrupt and the allegations of financial misdeeds against them should not be investigated in order to arrive at their veracity or otherwise.
This reminder in the twilight of 2017 of the sleaze of the Buhari government is validated by the need to crash the illusions of change in the coming year. Yes, the government may make promises. It may assure us that next year would be better than the outgoing one. Buhari and the acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Ibrahim Magu, would espouse the platitude that next year, the fight against corruption would be notched up. But as long as the Buhari government flaunts its identification with corruption like a badge of honour, it can neither fight the corruption of others nor engender development in any provenance of the nation.