FACED with widespread criticisms over concerns that his administration’s anti-corruption campaign is not effective, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has explained that it is not easy to fight corruption under a democratic government.
Buhari made the observation in an interview with the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) on June 11.
Responding to a question concerning his administration’s faltering campaign against corruption, Buhari observed that during his time as a military head of state, he was able to arrest and jail public officials that were suspected of corruption.
He noted that it was not possible to do the same thing in a democracy.
Seemingly giving an excuse for his inability to live up to expectations on his promise to fight corruption, Buhari said, “I would like to repeat what I used to say. When I was younger in the uniform, when I came, I arrested the President, Vice President, ministers, governors and commissioners and put them under detention and told them that they were guilty until they could prove themselves innocent.
“Now, this is opposite the democratic system as people would like to believe.”
Campaigning ahead of the 2015 presidential election, Buhari had vowed that “anyone who steals Nigeria’s money will end up in Kirikiri Maximum Prisons” and the fight against corruption was among the major agenda of his administration when he assumed office as president on May 29, 2015.
However, about six years after, his anti-corruption efforts have not recorded much success – rather it appears that the level of corruption has increased.
In Transparency International’s 2020 Corruption Perception Index (TI-CPI), released in January, Nigeria slumped to 149 (out of 180), scoring 25 points out of 100.
It was Nigeria’s worst ranking since 2015, placing the country as West Africa’s most corrupt nation after Guinea-Bissau.
In 2019, Nigeria was ranked 146th, with a total score of 26 (out of 100). In 2018 and 2017, the country maintained a CPI score of 27, ranking 144 and 148 respectively.
Nigeria had ranked 136 out of 176 with a score of 27 in 2014 one year before Buhari was elected.
Although the Nigerian government had faulted the Nigeria’s low rating in the 2020 Transparency International Corruption Perception Index claiming that it did not truly reflect the efforts being made to fight against corruption, the latest ranking indicated that corruption had continued to thrive in Nigeria despite the pledge by Buhari and his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), to fight corruption.
Buhari, in the interview with the NTA, also suggested that some elected political office holders at the state and federal levels are corrupt.
He said, “Nigerians, I think, are very forgetful. I am very pleased that the majority of Nigerians think that this administration, under the circumstance, are (sic) doing their (sic) best but people who misappropriated funds are elected members either at state or federal level.
“You can accuse them or try to prove that when they were elected members of the House of Representatives and they are given ministries and so on, they had only one house and maybe a wife but now they have several houses maybe in Abuja, maybe in Lagos.
“So, rarely, if you try to work out their legitimacy limit, viz-a-viz their expenditure, they will be exposed.”
Although Buhari made a case for the establishment of a special court to prosecute corruption cases, which he said would boost his administration’s anti-graft war, the country’s main anti-corruption agencies, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Related Offences Commission (ICPC) have been losing corruption cases in court.
Many high profile corruption cases, such as the N1.6 billion fraud allegation involving an ex-presidential aide, Warimapo-Owei Dudafa, were dismissed by courts on the grounds of insufficient evidence.
In an earlier report, The ICIR had noted that, after about five years in office, the Buhari government was yet to deliver on the anti-corruption fight.
The report observed that it was still business as usual, with public officials and politicians continuing to misappropriate public funds with little or no consequence.
Many cases of corruption that have taken place under the Buhari administration are well documented in the media and civil society and international organisations have also reported about unbridled corruption under Buhari’s watch.
The current state of affairs in the country led to Nigeria’s poor ranking on Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index.