The Cattle Rearer Chronicles — When Corruption is winning the war 2.0

I am of a generation that heard the “in our days” line one too many times and found it mostly to be farcical or significantly exaggerated. Accepting things at face value has proven to be unwise, questions must be asked. This is why when the thought came to me that Nigeria is probably the country MOST synonymous with the word “corruption”, it had to be probed and the more I explored the more it made sense. What is fascinating about this is that Nigerians accept and embrace this tag (a country of 180million people), not with pride, but as an albatross worn around collective necks, one they were/are determined to overcome, thankfully . It somehow explains why everything is framed through the lens of corruption, why governments aren’t judged by how much they make lives better for the populace, but by how vigorously they fight or are seen to fight corruption. It explains how the last Presidential election was framed around one thing and one thing only; corruption.

In December 2016, I wrote the precursor to this piece, see here. At the time, my focus was on how the so called Change administration led by Nigeria’s supposedly lone incorruptible public figure had turned out be nothing but wolves in sheep clothing. From bribery allegations, to questionable wealth or dalliances, to perhaps the most despicable act of public malfeasance in the history of Nigeria; the misuse of funds meant for looking after Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the North East. Those closest to a leadership whose sole mandate (in the Supreme Leader’s eyes) was to kill corruption before it kills Nigeria, were the ones found to be perpetrating acts that made their predecessors seem like boy scouts. Yet Nigerians remained excited and optimistic; after all, the Judiciary was feeling the heat due to the actions of the Department of State Security (DSS) to bring corrupt judges to book.

2017 has however not gone according to script. Further discovery of corrupt practices among senior public officials have continued to come to the fore, putting the much vaunted “body language” to shame. This year, the sum of $43million in cash was discovered in an empty apartment in highbrow Ikoyi, Lagos. As the smoke cleared, it was discovered that the funds belong to the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) and initially the claim was that the apartment was a safe house and funds had been approved by the immediate past president for “covert operations”. However, the whistleblower blew this out of the water by providing further information that it is, in fact, the wife of the head of NIA that was seen going in and out of the apartment with huge sums of cash. A huge uproar ensued and a probe was initiated. This probe was led by the Vice President and carried out in conjunction with the probe of the suspended Secretary to the Federal Government for the misappropriation of funds meant for support of IDPs. The report on the probe was meant to have been submitted on May 8, 2017 but due to the illness enforced absence of the President, the report was finally submitted on August 23, 2017. Since then however, there has been no word from the President on further actions on both cases. Mum has indeed been the word.

The best was yet to come. The Buhari Presidency’s “Sanusi Moment” duly arrived with the recent leak of a letter written by the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources to the President. The letter was an expose on the Nigeria National Petroleum Company (NNPC) Group MD Maikanti Baru and his refusal to carry the NNPC board along in awarding contracts to the tune of $25billion, see full letter reproduced here. Baru is a Buhari appointee who took over from Kachikwu as GMD, the Petroleum Ministry is led by President Buhari who chose to keep that portfolio to himself. At the time Buhari chose to also act as Petroleum Minister, it was interpreted as a decision to provide hands on leadership for a cesspool that has been the key source of corruption and revenue leakage in Nigeria’s public space. Recent events have now put that reasoning to test and it’s not producing the assumed result.

Prior to Kachikwu’s letter being leaked, there had been an uproar when NNPC board appointments were announced and there was no representation from the South East, neglecting the Federal Character principle. This was clearly taken from a page out of the Buhari playbook, his disposition towards the region is well known. If the actions of the NNPC appear to mirror the President’s views, it is therefore not a stretch to imagine that these contracts Kachikwu mentioned in his letter were awarded by Baru with Buhari’s blessing, most likely received via someone in the Buhari kitchen cabinet (all bets are on Chief of Staff Abba Kyari). Buhari is not averse to managing public funds in an idiosyncratic manner that is open to abuse. During his time as Chairman of the Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF), Buhari appointed a company named Afri-Projects Consortium and handed over the end to end management of all PTF projects. They managed from identification of projects to award and disbursal of funds. Firmly focused on a mandate provided by their principal and sufficiently empowered, they oversaw the most skewed use of Federal Government funds in the history of Nigeria. Buhari’s near deification in the North is not just because he is deemed to be incorruptible, it was largely earned during his stint as Chairman PTF when he ensured projects of great significance were undertaken primarily in the north and also extended patronage to more individuals of northern extraction than of other parts.

What this does is to bring Buhari’s supposed anti-corruption credentials firmly under the spotlight. Buhari has displayed disdain for corruption only when he has no connection to the alleged corrupt party. He has been known to turn a blind eye to corruption within his own circle (the case of the Emir of Gwandu’s 53 suitcases of currency comes to mind). The notion that Buhari was the only one with the untainted reputation to tackle corruption was a myth and is now being proven to be so, day by day. The foolhardy quest for a “strong man” to fight corruption has failed spectacularly, as expected by the discerning few. As former United States President Barack Obama once said, Africa (read Nigeria) needs strong institutions, not strong men (the irony is he backed the strong man against the one that sought to build strong institutions during the 2015 Nigeria Presidential elections).

The naivete of young Nigerians displayed during the last election cycle has been cruelly exposed. A lot have gone into hiding, licking their wounds from what continues to be an incessant stream of disappointment from an administration they placed so much misplaced hope in. It is still early days, when electioneering kicks off in earnest in 2018, there may even more damning news (the foreign exchange space must surely bear fruit after the shenanigans of the last two years, watch this space). With Corruption maintaining its stranglehold, one waits to see how the 2019 election cycle plays out. For now, spare a thought for the broken hearted and do ensure that box of Kleenex continues to go round.

Nigeria needs a new ruling class; young, dynamic, intelligent and knowledgeable. Nigeria needs a viable new option to enable her rise from ashes like a phoenix.