Political Vendetta Or Anti-corruption War? By Zainab Suleiman Okino

For the lay person, the series of events in the last few weeks are convincing evidence that the anti-corruption slogan of the current administration is taking shape. Really? Well, not everyone would agree with this position.

Lest we forget, fighting corruption has always been tainted by political consideration, and will remain so for as long as anti-corruption bodies like the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) remain appendages of the presidency, which, more often than not, determines who should be investigated or not. I recall the era of Nuhu Ribadu, who then came up with a list of corrupt Nigerians that could not seek office, going by the dictates of his boss, President Olusegun Obasanjo. So, that tendency has lingered on till today.

As it was in the past, so shall it remain for long? As long as our kind of federal structure makes the office of the president almost absolute and the constitutional provision of 56 per cent of the nation’s resources for the federal government, so shall we contend with a mighty and super-powerful Presidency using our collective patronage for a selective war. Thus, the anti-corruption war will remain opaque and jaundiced, while greed and lack of transparency in the process remains unchanged.

But for President Muhammadu Buhari, who has made this war the fight of his life and on whose crest he rode to power, we had expected a more forceful and robust anti-corruption war that knows no boundaries. It is therefore appalling, that not much has changed over the years; as a matter of fact, the whole thing is muddled up in political complexities.

By the way, for a country that scored 27 points out of 100 in the 2018 Corruption Perception Index (CPI), ranking 144 out of 180 and whose development has been arrested over the decades due to this menace, the populace is always happy to rally round any effort to confront the monster, no matter how insignificant. So in a nutshell, I’m also in support of, not just the symbolisms and rhetoric of the corruption fight, but in its concreteness and tangibles.

Meanwhile, a peep into the last three cases does not indicate government’s readiness to give legitimacy to the ant-corruption fight. The federal head of service, Winifred Oyo-Ita had a four-day grueling ordeal with the EFCC last week, over an allegation of the embezzlement of N3 billion, before she was granted administrative bail. Details include monies allegedly traced to her aide’s account, cronies and fronts; contracts scams, proxy accounts, falsification of duty allowance (DTA) mismanagement, and abuse of office. The offences were alleged to have taken place while she was permanent secretary to a former minister, who is under probe too. There is nothing wrong in investigating past sleaze, as it were, but these offences had long been perpetuated before the woman was appointed as head of service. Why were they not discovered while she passed through security screenings previously – if any, and is she truly culpable? The insinuation out there is that the investigation was targeted at Tanimu Turaki, an erstwhile minister of special duties, (with whom Oyo-Ita served), who jumped ship to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and recently had the temerity to bail out Atiku Abubakar’s in-law during his own session with the EFCC.

Perhaps, another plausible explanation is that her time as HoS was up, and the government’s decoy was this allegation. Pray, how can we institute good governance and fight the scourge of corruption this way? Believability, credibility and right timing are of utmost importance in the war on corruption, if the government wants to be taken seriously. All the same, whether it is Oyo-Ita or Tanimu Turaki, they should face the full wrath of the law if found guilty.

The case of Okoi Obono Obla is another intriguing one. Less than a year ago and before the last election, commentators shouted themselves hoax over Obono Obla’s not too clean past, which was seen to be an affront to his new role as chairman of the Special Presidential Investigation Panel on the Recovery of Public Property (SPIPP). He was recently suspended by the secretary to the government of the federation (SGF) and asked to go answer questions from the ICPC, which is investigating him. The issue about his certificate scandal and corruption related offences have been there for long but the government chose to look the other way to avoid a scrutiny into their “spick and span” image.

After several allegations against the former helmsman, the National Assembly set up an adhoc committee in December last year to investigate him, and a guilty verdict was returned in an advisory to the president to sack him. The forgery and corruption allegations, according to a PREMIUM TIMES report of the ICPC investigation, indicted Obla thus: “He did not secure requisite academic credentials to enter the University of Jos to study Law or the Nigerian law School. He cannot build a career on fraudulently obtained-credentials”, the ICPC report averred. To have appointed Obla to head such a sensitive position requiring high moral standards, the president erred, and to have kept him this long, even after the national outcry and reports of his alleged involvement in a credit card scam abroad, among others, is even more puzzling.

So, why now? Has he served his purpose of helping the president win his second term election, and can now be dispensed with? Again, at this time, it does not really matter. We can only hope that more of such cases in previous and current administrations would be given timely treatment to avoid misinterpretation.

The latest in the renewed vigour to fight corruption in the corridors of power was the query issued to the chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), and Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s protégé, Babatunde Fowler. In this unfolding plot is a possible clash of interest among the chieftains of the ruling party. The query, which was issued by the president’s chief of staff, Abba Kyari, questioned the dwindling revenues at the foremost revenue service, in comparison with the period between 2012 and 2014: “We observed that the actual collections for the period 2015 to 2107 were significantly worse than what was collected between 2012 and 2014”. I’m still wondering where this unforced error of judgment in the query came from. After regaling us with the superlative performance of the revenue board and scatting criticisms of the past government, is the sentence in the query quoted above not an admission that the past was not as bad as it was painted by the current administration?

Again at what stage did the presidency realise the manifest inefficiency of the boss of FIRS? Why is the ‘discovery’ in 2019, for a malfeasance of 2015 to 2017, two clear years before the 2019 election? Is this not a clear case of self-indictment? The FG lauded the revenue agency in 2018 for collecting N5.3 trillion, considered to be the highest in the nation’s history. The highest in FIRS was N5.07 trillion generated in 2012 under Ms Ifueko Omoigue. So which variance was referred to in the query and who is lying with statistics? In the same vein, the query referenced a “significant variance between budgeted collections and actual collections for the period 2015 to 2018.”

To the best of my knowledge, no chief executive of a federal agency has ever been queried for not meeting targets, which in most cases are based on assumptions and sometimes unrealistic indices. When do we begin to match promises and plans with actions and deliverables? Who will give Buhari a query for cancelling all promises made to the electorate? Is the FIRS no longer generating humongous revenues and surpassing targets as we were made to believe?

Please where is Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, the “tax advocate”, whose only language is to continuously tax the poor to feed the rich, without commensurate development in all sectors to justify monies so collected? Have we been scammed all along, to think the government is working only for these snippets of lethargy to surface? How about Fowler’s assertion that the shortfall in revenue generation was due to the recession suffered at the period in question, thereby throwing the problem back to the government? And now the developing story of Ambode’s house search following the freezing of accounts allegedly linked to the former Lagos governor with its attendant political undertones. If all these are not incongruous, what else is? Are we playing high-wire politics at the top echelon or simply lying with statistics. Time will tell, though.

zainabsule@yahoo.com, http://www.zainabokino.blogspot.com; 08098209791, text only.

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Categories: Column, Opinion

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