President Muhammadu Buhari’s often repeated promise to fight corruption with zero tolerance has remained “largely unmet”, a think tank has reported, saying the president’s failure fuels Nigeria’s worsening insecurity and undermines democratic promises.
The Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) slammed Mr Buhari for not doing enough to combat the endemic corruption in the public service, despite having gained power on the back of the promise to fight the ill, that is largely responsible for Nigeria’s rarely improving development crises.
“As the candidate who rode into office in 2015 on a wave of popular anger with entrenched elite corruption, he has made little effort to reform Nigeria’s patronage-fueled, scandal-prone public sector or hold his top officials accountable for their business-as-usual approach,” CDD said in its report, titled, “Buhari’s Anti-Corruption Record at Six Years: An Assessment.”
“With the 2023 election season already ramping up, and Buhari’s hands-off governing style largely unchanged, his government’s anti-corruption track record is set to go down in history as one characterised by missed opportunities and, in some respects, outright hypocrisy. His 2016 promise to “demonstrate zero tolerance for corrupt practices” remains largely unmet.”
Presidential spokesperson, Femi Adesina, did not respond to calls placed to have him comment on this report, nor did the anti-corruption aide, Abiodun Aikomo. But Mr Buhari himself in his Arise TV interview aired on Thursday said he would “ease out” any official found to be corrupt with “correct intelligence”.
CDD said, however, its criticism does not mean the Buhari administration has done nothing in the area of anti-corruption. It then gave an outline, including improved financial centralisation, referring to TSA and IPPIS; and higher conviction rates by anti-corruption agencies. The civic group also praised the president for appointing as a substantive EFCC chairman, Abdulrasheed Bawa, whom it described as “a dynamic and experienced investigator”.
Notwithstanding, CDD said it noted “several significant shortcomings,” including the president’s “willingness to appoint individuals of questionable integrity to key positions; his tendency to shield political allies from investigation and prosecution; his disinterest in how the ruling party funds its election campaigns; his failure to make key petroleum sector reforms; and his corruption-prone economic and fiscal policies.”
“Many of these challenges remain largely unaddressed,” CDD said.
“Two Pandemics: COVID-19 and Corruption”
In the name of controlling the spread of COVID-19 and cushioning the effects of the restrictions, CDD said the Buhari administration “opaquely” awarded contracts worth N450 million or $1 million to “briefcase firms” not registered with the Bureau of Public Procurement. It said the emergency spending was disbursed to politically-connected contractors and channeled through existing corrupt structures.
“Meanwhile, some government agencies used the pandemic as a pretext to spend lavishly on themselves The Niger Delta Development Commission, for example, disbursed 1.5 billion ($4.2 million) in large cash payments to its own staff members in the name of COVID relief. When questioned by legislators, the Commission’s managing director tried to justify the payments, saying: “we used it to take care of ourselves…we need to take care of ourselves”,” the think tank said.
Corruption and insecurity
Since Mr Buhari came to power in 2015, insecurity has intensified and spread, affecting virtually all parts of the country. In the north, apart from the Boko Haram in the North-east, armed bandits and terrorists alike are crumbling communities and mass-abducting students at schools in the North-west and North-central zones.
In the South, herders’ violence has intensified and armed militias of the separatist Indigenous People of Biafra are operating, with attacks on INEC and security facilities and personnel and innocent citizens. The separatists were initially unarmed and Nigerian forces under Mr Buhari extra-judicially killed scores of them betwe
en 2015 and 2016, a PREMIUM TIMES’ Global Shinning Light Award investigation found.
“Hollowed out by strategic- and operational-level corruption, Nigeria’s military and police appear incapable of safeguarding many parts of the country,” CDD said, drawing a link between the problem of corruption and insecurity, “The normalisation of security sector corruption means that military and police leaders failures’ offer them new opportunities to racketeer and profiteer, as well as embezzle from increased emergency security spending.”
It added: “For Nigeria’s top brass, peace is much less lucrative than perpetual low-intensity conflict. Yet President Buhari has done little to change their calculus, hold them accountable or exert strong oversight over their activities.”
“Under President Buhari, security sector corruption has become both a cause and a consequence of rising insecurity across the country. Defence procurement remains as opaque and graft-prone as it did under his predecessor and largely exempt from due process rules designed to prevent corruption.”
Democratic Backsliding Fuels Corruption
Under Mr Buhari, the civic space has continued to shrink, CDD said, mentioning violent crackdown on protests and moves to “impose tighter regulations on legitimate civil society groups while at the same time bankrolling hundreds of fake” NGOs.
“90% of Nigeria’s 360-plus progovernment NGOs have started operating since President Buhari took office, a correlation that suggests many enjoy high-level political support,” CDD claimed.
“At the same time, ruling party legislators have, in recent years, introduced two bills aimed at regulating NGOs through the creation of a new government agency. If they succeed, the Buhari government may be inclined to use such an agency to target civil society voices that criticise its governance, human rights and corruption record.”
The think tank expressed pessimism that the president would have the time or political capital to push through sustainable anti-corruption reforms, and called on other stakeholders to fill the gap.
“Integrity-conscious National Assembly members could, for example, introduce legislation outlawing security votes at the federal, state and local levels. Such a ban should be accompanied by transparent and comprehensive budgeting procedures and criteria for security expenditures that meet international best practices and incorporate robust oversight mechanisms,” CDD recommended.
It also called on Nigeria’s international partners to prioritise anti-corruption in their engagements and assistance toward the African nation.
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