Of all the promises made by candidate Muhammadu Buhari on the road to the 2015 presidential election, none resonated with people more than his commitment to fight corruption in the country. And this was quite rightly so for some reasons. First, corruption, to borrow Prof. Itsay Sagay’s words, “has assumed epidemic proportion” in the country. Before now, there were some sectors of our national life where issues and reports of corruption were only whispered in hush-hush tones. Unfortunately today, corruption is at best ubiquitous in our national life. Policemen and women no longer hide their bribe-money in the bushes, but even boldly offer change to motorists; motor licensing offices have become huge markets for touts and the official receipts never tally with the amount charged by VIO staff; bankers not only steal from their customers but now allegedly sell accounts information to kidnappers and fraudsters; university teachers now unashamedly ask their students for money to write long essays for them to graduate; and even Supreme Court judges now “visit” politicians on flimsy invitations, as we were recently told. How sad!
The second reason why President Buhari’s promise to fight corruption easily resonated with people was because he had done it in the past as military head of state. The old General more than any other Nigerian leader has managed to maintain his reputation as not only incorruptible but also ever ready to lead the line in the fight of what has clearly become Nigeria’s greatest enemy. In fact, during the campaigns, he clearly stated that “corruption will kill Nigeria if we do not kill corruption.” How apt that statement has become given revelations and allegations of the unbelievable magnitude of looting that has taken place in the national economy in the past 16 years of democracy, that is, if we leave out the heist supervised by the military regimes.
It must be admitted now that there is a growing doubt in the ability of Buhari to take on corruption headlong as a civilian President. This thinking is not unconnected to the fact that the President is aging. Naturally, human beings tend to become less strict and more open to letting certain things pass as old age draws nigh. What is more, politicking involves all manner of alliances, especially with strange bedfellows. As a matter of fact, the worst fears about the Buhari presidency is the belief in some quarters that the old stern and uncompromising no-nonsense Buhari may have been highly edited by the vagaries of partisan politics, especially the quest for power. Purveyors of this view argue that a lot of water may have passed under the Buhari bridge in the struggle for power. And they are quick to point that the President’s associates today are perhaps people he would not touch with long pole years ago!
As if to respond to these concerns, Buhari went straight-ahead to rejuvenate the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), which according to Hilary Clinton some time ago, “had fallen off” after Ribadu. The appointment of Ibrahim Magu as the chairman of EFCC was simply a signal from Buhari that the business of fighting corruption has resumed in earnest. Those who know Magu’s antecedents will readily admit that he fits the President’s seriousness and uncompromising attitude to corruption. Magu is known like the President, to be ascetic and incorruptible; he is uncompromising and passionate about fighting financial crimes. He knows no big man or small man, and once he is convinced, he is not ready to pull back irrespective of the position of who is involved. It was this uncompromising attitude and blatant disregard for political correctness that put his life and career at risk before, at the Commission.
But is the government playing politics with Mr. Magu’s confirmation at the Senate? It will be recalled that several months after the presidency forwarded Magu’s name to the Senate for confirmation, the upper chamber of the National Assembly is yet to consider that presidential request. The Senate is dominated by the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) whose cardinal policy for which they were elected into office is fighting corruption. And the President, their leader, has identified one man who in all honesty can help him achieve his target goal in the anti-corruption fight, yet the APC dominated Senate does not see any urgency in the matter of confirming the EFCC chairman so as to allow him concentrate on the difficult battle ahead in the interest of the Nigerian people.
Yet, the matter of Magu’s confirmation is beyond APC alone. It ought to be and indeed is a general Nigerian concern irrespective of party affiliation. Since it is a general consensus that corruption is the greatest enemy against the Nigerian state, it is in the public interest that the confirmation of the EFCC chairman should not be allowed to linger in the Senate. By delaying Magu’s confirmation, the Senate are working against the interest of Nigerian people who elected them. And they are further alienating themselves from the public who believe that they are sabotaging Buhari’s efforts against corruption. All manners of speculations are up in the air on why the Senate are delaying the confirmation of Magu as EFCC chairman.
Yet the Senate must realise that constitutionally, it is the chief arm of fighting corruption with its oversight functions. Already it is sad that the National Assembly has been noted by Nigerians as perhaps the most corrupt institution in the land. By continuing to obstruct the President’s anti-corruption war as they are doing with the politics of Magus’s confirmation, the Senate is certainly not covering itself in glory! And one more thing, the President must continue to insist on his candidate for the EFCC chairman. Not getting Magu to cross the Senate shenanigan of confirmation could be interpreted to mean that he is not yet ready to fight corruption in the country!
– Nwokoroigwe, a public policy analyst, wrote from Owerri.