The War Begging Buhari’s Attention

Nigerians are in the midst of a familiar feeding frenzy. On the menu this time, former National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki. Prosecutors allege that Mr. Dasuki, a retired colonel of the Nigerian Army, took more than $2 billion that was budgeted for military weapons and divvied it up among highly connected, well-heeled politicians.

Buhari1Daily, the media unmask the names of more beneficiaries. And each revelation adds to the spree, fuels the frenzy. Resourceful pundits have fashioned a verb out of Mr. Dasuki’s name. The phrase, to be Dasukied (also Dasukification), has come to represent a sudden windfall or diversion of funds to an illicit purpose.

Nigerians are riveted, as attentive to the unfolding drama as Americans were when, in 1998, then President Bill Clinton was accused of carrying on an affair in the White House with a much-younger intern, Monica Lewinsky, or even the macabre thriller in 1994 when American football legend, O.J. Simpson, was accused in the barbarous murder of his ex-wife, Nicole Simpson, and her friend, Ron Goldman.

The scandal Nigerians have baptized Dasukigate has brought out the best and the worst of us. The usual pedestrian kind of disputation has taken root in social and print media. Some commentators have mistaken an indictment for a conviction. There’s a disturbing part of our psyche that yearns for the institution of mob justice. We forget, those of us who advocate this mode, that it’s a monster that, in the end, spares none. Others—typically Mr. Dasuki’s supporters—have raised partisan hell, questioning the prosecution of Mr. Dasuki when government prosecutors have turned a blind eye to alleged graft by members of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).

There’s a point, of course, in questioning the selectivity of prosecutions. Right from the Presidency of Olusegun Obasanjo, Nigeria’s ostensible war against corruption has been besieged by the reality and perception of its selective nature. Wily politicians and public officials quickly discern that closeness to or gushing profession of affection for the ruling president is the surest inoculation against EFCC trouble.

We’re witnessing the same trend today. The core of the APC’s membership came from the ruling PDP. For example, Jim Nwobodo, a former minister and ex-governor of Anambra State, last week defected to the APC. He had just been named as a recipient of N100 million from Mr. Dasuki.

Mr. Dasuki’s trial is in order, but President Muhammadu Buhari will labor under a major moral deficit unless he finds a way to expand the war against corruption, to make it party-neutral and tribe-blind.

If Mr. Dasuki and his co-accused cohorts were found guilty soon and sentenced to long jail terms, it would be an exclamatory boost. But that feat would not be enough to establish President Buhari’s legacy as an anti-corruption warrior. A lot more work is needed.

One task that Mr. Buhari should undertake is the reform of the Nigerian judiciary. Except in cases involving destitute defendants, who are often railroaded to jail, even when innocent, Nigerian courts have no track record for expeditious trials. Numerous cases filed by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) five or more years ago are still languishing in the courts, caught in a labyrinthine process that is easily exploited by rich defendants able to afford high-priced lawyers.

Given the judicial record, then, there’s the risk of Mr. Dasuki’s trial outlasting the first term of Muhammadu Buhari’s Presidency. The arraignment of the former NSA is important. But far more important, I believe, is a presidential proposal to reform Nigeria’s judiciary. With the country’s judiciary plagued with too many corrupt judges who sell the bench to the highest bidder, we need a more rigorous process for selecting judges and insulating the judiciary from influence peddling by politicians and the wealthy. The judiciary also needs to be retooled into a limber, self-confident and independent organism, able to dispense justice in a transparent way and at a faster pace.

The Dasuki case also underlines the urgency of rethinking aspects of governance in Nigeria. I believe that the decades of military rule had weakened institutions—such as the auditor-general and tenders boards—that were designed to ensure compliance with certain standards in public transactions. Today, any man or woman who occupies the post of state governor or president has close to absolute powers. A Nigerian governor or president can order the illegal movement of vast sums of public funds, and do so confident that no civil servant dare raise any question. This unchecked facility lends itself to impunity. And such impunity created the form of grave misappropriation of which Mr. Dasuki and a coterie of beneficiaries are accused.

To convict and jail the “Dasukis” of Nigeria is far from enough, even if Mr. Buhari found the spine to drive suspected embezzlers hiding in the APC’s tent straight into the hands of merciless prosecutors. A more enduring achievement for the president is, again, to initiate institutional reforms. He should lead the war to end the oddity called security vote, a corrupt contraption that enables governors and the president to superintend the disbursement of millions of dollars each month, without scrutiny or oversight of any sort.

President Buhari should also lead the cause for amending the odious immunity clause in Nigeria’s constitution. In most countries, the work of the immunity clause is narrow: to shield specified public officials from being sued on accounts of acts that fall within the legitimate exercise of their mandate. The drafters of Nigeria’s constitution choose a notoriously elastic immunity clause, providing shelter from prosecution even to officials who used their office to commit brazen crimes.

Eight months into Buhari’s Presidency, we’re at the early stages of the first serious prosecution. And we’ve seen only reports of alleged financial scams by the former NSA. We are yet to get details of what transpired in the oil industry, within, say, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation.

It all proves a point I made in a different column: the cancer of corruption has so widely metastasized in Nigeria that we simply don’t have the luxury of time to litigate our way to a solution. Ponder this, for a moment: If we were to prosecute every local government chairman, every commissioner, every vice chancellor, every minister, every permanent secretary, every director, every businessman, every ex-governor, every ex-president or ex-head of state, who embezzled or illicitly pocketed public funds, where are we going to find the courtrooms, the prosecutors, the judges?

Mr. Buhari, so far, has waged his anti-corruption war with the same tools used by his predecessors. That won’t do. He should do two things. One is to enunciate a policy targeted at reducing opportunities and incentives for corruption. He should adopt (or adapt) the Bribecode, a bold and impressive idea initiated by Chuma Nwokolo, a fine Nigerian writer, lawyer, and patriot. The code, which aims to identify and punish corporate corruption, is here:

For a second step, Mr. Buhari should send a bill to the National Assembly seeking the establishment of a restitutions commission. The commission’s task is to give looters of public funds the opportunity to return all or most of what they stole. Such a commission should have powers to scrutinize each “loot” declaration to ensure its comprehensiveness. Mr. Buhari should set a period—say, six months—within which plunderers and recipients of illicit funds must submit confessions and return their illegitimate acquisitions. Those who make restitution should be spared prosecution, but banned from ever holding public office.

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Written by
Okey Ndibe
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