EDITORIAL: Is it just us or is President Buhari’s anti-corruption fight flying off the rails?

When President Muhammadu Buhari finally won the presidential election in 2015 on his fourth attempt, Nigerians were excited that he will finally put his anti-corruption crusade into action by bringing the political will to fight corruption and also aligning government agencies with that purpose.

The initial days of his administration came with an excellent start to the anti-corruption fight. Daily, we were regaled with news of uncovered frauds and arrests, most notably that of the former National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki and the $2.1billion arms scandal, and all the arrests related to it.

His appointment of Ibrahim Magu as Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission was also celebrated as the man had built a reputation of being strict and uncompromising.

There are now numerous trials bordering on corruption especially against public office holders such as ministers, governors and presidential aides being prosecuted not just by the EFCC, but also by the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) and the Code of Conduct Tribunal, where Senate President Bukola Saraki is standing trial for false declaration of assets. Convictions have also been secured recently against some persons involved in the fuel subsidy scam of 2011/2012.

However, this anti-corruption battle seems to be in jeopardy with the recent controversy over the Senate twice refusing to confirm Magu as the substantive chairman of the EFCC. The rejection of Magu by the Senate over a report by the Department of State Services (DSS) which accused him of hobnobbing with Air Commodore Mohammed Umar (rtd) who is under investigation by the EFCC raises questions on President Buhari’s handling of anti-corruption issues.

How did he not know of the DSS report before it was sent to the Senate, since it is routine for the DSS to do background checks on all presidential appointees and nominees before it is made public?

Also, after the first rejection, why did the President not sort out existing issues or secure the buy-in of the Senators before sending Magu’s name the second time?

This situation now forces the President to begin the search for a successor to Magu as not having a substantive chairperson of the commission could put a lot of the work the commission is doing in jeopardy and might even have affect its cases in court.

Not only that, President Buhari has curiously refused to assent to four bills passed by the National Assembly that are intended to strengthen the fight against corruption: the Asset Forfeiture Bill, Foreign Assistance in Criminal Matters Bill, Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA) Bill and the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Agency (FATF) Bills. There is still yet to be any explanation for why these bills have been signed into law by the President.

Lastly, although the judiciary is an independent arm of government and the executive cannot be blamed for its delays in dispensing with court cases, there has been no effort on the part of President Buhari to introduce laws that will make the work of the courts faster.

A lot of the progress gotten so far in anti-corruption cases has come courtesy of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act whose signing was one of the last acts of former President Goodluck Jonathan. It is the reason why cases are moving faster through the system and a few convictions have been secured – most notably, that of former Adamawa State Governor Bala Ngilari whose case was started and concluded within a record time of six months.

Sadly, nothing has been done to build up on it.

Unless President Buhari acts very fast, he might risk having his anti-corruption crusade end up as mere rhetoric and providing sensational news through arrests but without achieving any real impact in terms of convictions secured.

His legacy hangs in the balance.

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