Are We Overly Presidentialising the Anti-Corruption Campaign in Nigeria?

by Bob MajiriOghene Etemiku

One of the reasons why anti-corruption activities reached their sexiest during the Muhammadu Buhari epoch was because of his much-vaunted image as an incorruptible person. As governor of Borno state, head of state, Petroleum Development Trust Fund, PTDF, and petroleum minister twice, Mr Buhari claims that he did not steal a dime of Nigeria’s monies. He even threw a challenge at that time, that if anyone out there had any record indicating that he ever dipped his fingers in the public purse, such individuals should make their reports public. Part of what made his election possible too was that there was a SAN and very respected pastor by his side as vice-presidential running mate. But as records have it today, the Buhari administration has gone down as one of the ineptest and corrupt. My reference to ‘records’ is not based on whim, but on a very credible report ascribed to the Human and Environmental Development Agenda, HEDA, titled Botched Hope – A Report of People’s Assessment of President Muhammadu Buhari Administration 2015 – 2023. On page 18 of that document, only 4% of Nigerians said that they believed that the fight against corruption under President Buhari met their expectations. About 63% of Nigerians said they were disappointed while 33% said that President Buhari partially met their expectations of his anti-corruption campaign.

This then brings us to the current epoch of President Tinubu. Quite unlike the vaunted Muhammadu Buhari clean record, President Tinubu comes with the heavy baggage of having been indicted for drug related offences in the US, and the records show that he actually refunded $460,000 to the US government. There are all kinds of certificate forgery allegations against him, including issues of his real age, state of birth and the like. During the campaigns when he was invited to participate in debates and outline and discuss his plans for key sectors of the economy, the now president Tinubu declined them all. According to him, a town hall does not need to be a place for bugaboo and hullabaloo. As we speak, there is no anti-corruption roadmap anywhere directly linked to President Tinubu or a policy statement that indicates the direction that President Tinubu seeks to follow. All that we have on the internet is an extremely vague reference to Tinubu ‘vowing’ to continue to fight corruption from where President Buhari stopped.

Consequently, it does appear that the fight against corruption in Nigeria will certainly face credibility issues. For instance, how do you entrust an anti-corruption task on someone who has been indicted by a court in the US, and who refunded $460,000 as a proceed of crime? What do you expect someone who has serious issues with his university, secondary and primary school certificates to say to the mmesomas of Nigeria?

From July 11-12th and 25th 2023, two anti-corruption giants in Nigeria organised seminars in Abuja. The first one was by HEDA, while the other was by the Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice, ANEEJ. Both organisations said that they were meeting with stakeholders to ‘set the anti-corruption agenda for the Tinubu administration’, after a review of the successes or failures of the Buhari admin in the fight against corruption. My participation was based on my curiosity at the kind of agenda that these expert groups would be setting for one as tainted as the man who sits atop the executive branch of the current administration.

At the HEDA seminar, a representative of PACAC was to promote a very intriguing agenda. While chairing the session on ‘fostering collaboration and partnership of agencies, institutions and stakeholders to effectively combat corruption and assets recovery: Issues and roles of CSOs, ACAs, LEAs, and professional associations in a new dispensation context’, the PACAC rep said that the anti-corruption attention in Nigeria was too unfairly focused on the Executive arm of government. According to the Prof, if the revenue sharing formulae of Nigeria gives about 52% to the Executive and about 49% or thereabouts to the State governors, why then is nobody beaming as much anti-corruption light on the governors and local government chairmen as much as the lights are beamed on the executive arm of government? The PACAC rep, a prof, was to canvass that same line of argument during the ANEEJ seminar.

I have engaged in very unfruitful deliberations with the PACAC rep and with very important people at both seminars who toe this very unfortunate line of thinking. At some point, I began to think that it is either these people have been paid to sustain this agenda, or that they have some kind of partisan agenda they want to promote, that is, in the face of the negative image of corruption resting heavily on the present executive.

In 2016 when the London anti-corruption seminar took place, it was Buhari who was the face of Nigeria at the seminar not a Nigerian governor. When Switzerland was returning those monies that Abacha stashed there, they returned those monies to the Nigerian government not to a governor. International Anti-corruption treaties, e.g. OGP, NEITI, and the UNCAC to which Nigeria is signatory bind Nigeria not state governors at subnational levels.

Globally, bucks stop at Mr President’s table. In my village though, we say rot of a fish begins from its head. The office of president is the highest office in the land with extremely high expectations. Therefore, the agenda we must set for Bola Ahmed Tinubu as president, bearing in mind his peculiar corruption related antecedents, is a very, very high bar, an increase in the tone of our voices and a galvanization on the tempo of scrutiny on the executive at national and sub-national levels, to include the legislature, that is, instead of the seeming lowering of standards that the Prof is canvassing…unfortunately.

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