At Chatham House in London February, Muhammadu Buhari declared that if elected president of Nigeria, he would prioritise the fight against corruption, as well as insecurity and unemployment.
“In the face of dwindling revenues, a good place to start the repositioning of Nigeria’s economy is to swiftly tackle two ills that have ballooned under the present administration : waste and corruption,” Mr. Buhari said.
“And in doing this, I will, if elected, lead the way with the force of personal example.”
As President Buhari marks his first 100 days in office Sunday, not much seems to be happening to prove the anti-corruption war is on course.
Taofik Gani, a leader of the main opposition, Peoples Democratic Party in Lagos State, said the anti-corruption efforts of the government have been more of “noise-making than action”.
“And it is our take in Lagos PDP that General Buhari may not be serious about fighting corruption in view of two readily available evidence,” said Mr. Gani, Publicity Secretary, PDP, Lagos State.
“First is that General Buhari himself cannot defend himself as incorruptible for the reason of taking over a democratically elected government in 1983. Two, for being able to contest presidential elections at four different times, it would take only a super-rich person to do that.
“He was president, minister of petroleum, coordinator of Petroleum Trust Fund. In this capacity, he amassed wealth, so he should not over rate himself as being incorruptible.”
Mr. Gani said corrupt officials, including “former governors, ministers, and vice president”, are still associating with the president.
“If he was serious about fighting corruption, some people would have fled this country, but they are comfortable, moving along with the president’s entourage,” said Mr. Gani.
“In his first 100 days, the only area General Buhari has made effort to perform is on anti-corruption. And he has failed.”
While the Buhari government has accused the immediate past administration of Goodluck Jonathan of monumental corruption, ministers who served under the government, have defended their performance and have characterised the new government’s corruption effort as more of media campaign.
According to the ministers, Mr. Jonathan did not only fight corruption vigorously, he supported the institutional development of strong systems and mechanisms to curb corruption in the public service and plug revenue leakages.
However, many Nigerians also believe Mr. Buhari’s presence, or “body language”, alone, has changed the game.
Ever-declining electricity megawatts suddenly climbed to new peaks, nearing 5,000 with the government investing no extra kobo.
The ministry of power said last week that since Mr. Buhari took office May 29, no case of pipeline vandalism had been recorded. Attacks on oil and gas facilities occurred almost weekly just before May, weakening the country’s energy output.
“If you have to compare with those who came before him, he’s doing very well,” said Debo Adeniran, Executive Director, Coalition Against Corrupt Leader.
“He really has not done anything on his own, just his body language is putting everybody under pressure.”
Mr. Buhari rode to election victory on the back of his perceived no-nonsense stance against corruption.
His election campaign speeches were incomplete without a mention of how corruption had debilitated the country and its institutions and how a President Buhari would turn things around.
“We plan to put priority on tackling corruption which has become blatant and widespread,” he said at one rally, vowing to rescue the nation from the “stranglehold” of the PDP.
“The rest of the world looks at Nigeria as the home of corruption. Nigeria is a country where stealing is not corruption.”
At his last campaign speech before the presidential election, Mr. Buhari emphasized that his government would have zero tolerance for corruption.
“I will set a personal example and run a government that truly serves the people rather than serve themselves and a privileged few,” the then presidential hopeful told a band of journalists in Abuja two days before the election.
“Like I have repeatedly maintained that if Nigeria does not kill corruption, corruption will kill Nigeria,” he warned.
As far as leading by example goes, many Nigerians believed by declaring his assets publicly within his first few weeks in office, Mr. Buhari would have set the tone for his war against corruption.
The president and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo finally did so last week after foot-dragging for over three months.
In August, the president inaugurated a Presidential Advisory Committee against Corruption to advise his administration on how to reform Nigeria’s criminal justice system, and steps needed to fight corruption.
Also, in support of the government’s efforts, a US$5 million Anti-Corruption and Criminal Justice Reform Fund was established by the Ford Foundation, MacArthur Foundation, and Open Society Foundation to assist the work of the committee.
Mr. Buhari has yet to appoint ministers 100 days after taking office, and he has angered even his supporters with his choices for key administration positions. Critics see the appointments as regionally skewed.
The president said in July he was reforming the government before naming his cabinet. Officials also say the president is careful not to appoint corrupt people into offices.
While he has been lambasted for not adhering to the constitutionally stipulated regional balance in his appointments, Mr. Buhari has faced less criticism for over the integrity of those he has appointed so far.
“The president’s distaste for corruption is evident in his selection of people that don’t carry excess baggage,” said Onyekachi Ubani, a former chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association, Ikeja branch.
“We want him to sustain the tempo and not be distracted by some of the forces that are actually fighting back.
“And I want to say this with every sense of seriousness, they should not engage in any press war with any person. And no press trial too,” sad Mr. Ubani.