Before his landmark victory in the 2015 election, Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari was widely reputed to be a no-nonsense retired military general who would not condone corruption and use a force of personal example to make an ethical impact on public service impact.
In many speeches, Mr Buhari repeatedly said he would incinerate corruption, Nigeria’s ravaging ill.
Therefore in 2015, many Nigerians heaved a sigh of relief when he won the election and they were hopeful that the president would be able to fight the scourge of corruption in the West African nation.
After more than seven years in office, Nigerians are struggling to reconcile the president’s actions and perceived anti-corruption credentials.
Mr Buhari has not made a significant ethical impact on the system by force of personal example and political will. He has continued to forge political alignments with individuals either indicted and being prosecuted or being investigated for corruption by the anti-graft agencies.
Most recently, the Nigerian leader conferred the national award of Commander of the Order of the Niger (CON) on the tainted governor of northwestern Kebbi State, Abubakar Bagudu.
Mr Bagudu, 60, received the national award, one of the greatest honours conferred by the Nigerian state, alongside other honorees, including UN’s Number 2 Amina Mohammed and WTO’s chief Okonjo Iweala, in October.
A former senator, Mr Bagudu is long known as a bagman for the infamous late military dictator, Sani Abacha.
Mr Abacha, who died in 1998, was a relentless kleptocrat who, with his family and associates like Mr Bagudu, stole billions of dollars from the country’s coffers. Since 1998, Nigeria has recovered at least $3.6 billion in Abacha loot following an intricate international hunt.
PREMIUM TIMES reported that Mr Bagudu was the gas that powered Mr Abacha’s extensive theft and money laundering operations.
Despite this and awareness that Mr Bagudu had since 2003 admitted to financial irregularities as he agreed to return about $163 million to Nigeria to avoid extradition to Jersey from the U.S., Mr Buhari rewarded the governor with one of the highest merit awards of the land.
The national honours are intended to serve as celebrations and recognition of citizens’ and residents’ values to the nation and their valour in the service of the nation.
The president honoured 447 people with the awards this year and among the recipients are some of Nigeria’s outstanding minds, including tech innovators, high-flying technocrats, public servants, entrepreneurs, athletes and world-acknowledged music superstars.
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Aside from Mr Bagudu, Mr Buhari also rewarded his close allies such as his personal assistant, Sabiu Yusuf; his media aide, Femi Adesina; his aide on domestic affairs, Sarki Abba; his personal physician, Sanusi Rafindadi; the State House chief of protocol, Lawal Kazaure; the State House administration officer, Abubakar Maikano; his in-law, the Emir of Bichi, Nasir Bayero; and his nephew Mamman Daura, among others.
“It was an unpretentious practice of nepotism and state-sanctioned middle-finger to Nigerians,” wrote Gimba Kakanda, a columnist and public affairs analyst.
“The nomination of the president’s aides and ministers, especially unanimously-acknowledged underwhelming ones, echoes past debate on the suitability of honouring serving public servants, and the wisdom of doing so years after their service to the nation,” Mr Kakanda wrote.
The Man Bagudu
Mr Bagudu is an ally of the president and also heads a forum of the ruling All Progressives Congress governors. In June, he oversaw the party’s selection of Bola Tinubu as its presidential candidate for next February’s general elections.
He is also a key player in Mr Tinubu’s presidential campaign council.
Prosecutors in the US and the United Kingdom established how Mr Bagudu, working with some members of his own family and Mohammed, Mr Abacha’s eldest son, used an intricate network of phoney companies to siphon hundreds of millions of dollars from government treasury into offshore bank accounts he controlled.
The money-laundering operations Mr Bagudu ran on behalf of Mr Abacha are well-documented in suits filed in the United States and the Bailiwick of Jersey, a British Crown dependency in the Channel Islands.
The governor was once arrested for his role in the Abacha money laundering enterprise and spent six months in a US federal detention.
Mr Bagudu reached a settlement with the Olusegun Obasanjo administration in 2003. That arrangement allowed Mr Bagudu to return $163 million to the Nigerian government, which in exchange dropped all outstanding civil and criminal claims against him, according to court filings.
He had been released on bond to Nigeria where he was meant to be prosecuted for money laundering. However, on returning to Nigeria, he was not questioned. He was instead cleared to contest in three different election cycles – one as a senator and two as governor – all of which he won.
Between 1998, when Mr Abacha suddenly died, and 2020, about $3.6 billion have been recovered from the Abacha family and Mr Bagudu. The latest recovery – $23.5 million from the UK was forfeited by Mohammed Abacha and Mr Bagudu, PREMIUM TIMES reported.
Before then,$308 million was recovered from Jersey in 2020 – money laundered by Mr Bagudu.
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