To say the government of President Muhammadu Buhari sang ‘anti-corruption’ song to power in 2015 is to sound trite. It was a song that reverberated around the world, perfectly supported by Buhari’s antecedent as a military ruler in the 1980s whose regime made a cardinal principle out of making his civilian predecessors accountable for how they managed or mismanaged the Nigerian system.
No one could dispute that Buhari would bring his predecessor to account once again as he returned to the saddle in 2015, notwithstanding that he had since transmuted from military dictator to civilian democrat.
The mantra, ‘a new sheriff in town’, rent the air soon after he was ushered into power, ostensibly aimed at distinguishing him from the immediate past where corruption seemed to be a way of life. Many wanted a clean break from the putrid past and Buhari fitted in perfectly as a symbol of the badly needed fresh air.
Wherever criticisms came, the critics were quickly regarded by supporters of the Buhari administration as whining losers. In no time, some of the critics were labeled outright as ‘wailers’. A few vociferous among the critics were also declared as having had their corruption funnel blocked and would therefore see nothing good in the new government.
Discoveries of stolen cash in local and foreign currencies were also made, with names mentioned. Many would recall the loads of stashed cash found in a shopping mall in Lagos as well as in a train station, abandoned buildings, sewage tanks and even on farmlands and in cemeteries. There were some who were said to have willingly turned in stolen funds to the authorities to avoid prosecution.
However, it soon emerged that lots of the discoveries were borne more of propaganda than actual fight against corruption, considering that prosecutions fell far short of expectation and for the most part left many questions unanswered.
Consider the amount of money budgeted for the State House Clinic in Aso Villa, which did not stop the president from embarking on medical tourism to the United Kingdom, during which he was heckled by Nigerians resident in London who exploited the situation to serve the world notice that medical care back in Nigeria was in shambles. Lots of Nigerians were being continuously conditioned to believe that corruption had only to do with officials stealing from state coffers and nothing more. Little did they know that the capital flight involved in the medical tourism being embarked on by the president also constituted unbridled corruption, especially with the amount involved always shrouded in secrecy.
Nonetheless, official sleaze has yet to abate. Curiously, it also seems abetted, ironically by a government whose arrowhead, that is, Buhari, is seen as incorruptible. Consider a ridiculous incident below, as revealed by a transaction in the Ministry of Petroleum Resources with regard to the purchase of stationery after the transaction had been exposed by a Senate Public Accounts Committee: Rather than institute a thorough investigation of the incident with a view to unraveling the perpetrators and meting out sanctions where necessary, a terse statement by a ministerial aide merely foreclosed the inquest. “Officials who spent N116million on stationery have either retired or been redeployed to other ministries,” the statement said in what looked a tone of finality. The statement linked its tone to a 2015 audit report submitted by the Office of the Auditor-General of the Federation in December 2020, which revealed that officials of the petroleum ministry spent N116million on stationery, with the breakdown showing that N14.5million was spent on the purchase of Schneider pens, N46million to print the ministry’s letterhead and N56million to procure toner for its photocopy machines.
In a curious move to extricate the current leadership of the ministry from the sleaze, the statement also said: “The general public should note that while it is true that the auditor-general raised audit observations on infractions committed by the ministry of petroleum resources, these infractions related to the 2015 accounts of the ministry of petroleum resources.”
Even more curious is the ministry’s turnaround to say the officials it claimed in the statement that had “either been retired or been redeployed to other ministries” are currently being investigated by the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC). The ICPC is a powerful anti-corruption organisation; but only on paper. So, it would take an incurable optimist to vest the organisation with the power to lead a war to rid this country of official sleaze. It is the same way that it would be taking optimism too far to rely on the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to rid the country of high-wire sleaze, considering how the leadership of the organisation has continued to be undermined especially by the appointing authority with very flimsy, if not asinine, reasons that erode public confidence in the organisation.