By Godwin Onyeacholem
Of all the vote-catching strategies laid out by the ruling All Progressives Congress in the lead-up to the 2015 general election, its promise to prosecute an all-out war against corruption was unquestionably the most compelling and believable. This is because its presidential candidate, Muhammadu Buhari, is widely known as a man of integrity with very strong aversion for corrupt practices.
And so, due largely to its promise to fight corruption to a standstill and the credibility of the personality behind the pledge, APC was able to seize the mantle from the old guards of corruption and form a new government. Therefore, to refer to Buhari’s government as one of anti-corruption – one hoping to hinge its success in governance on how well it performs in this specific assignment – would not be out of place.
To this administration’s credit, the last two years, or at least since one doughty, no-nonsense police officer named Ibrahim Magu became Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the anti-corruption war has been waged in a manner that has never been seen in the history of Nigeria.
Amazing loads upon loads of stolen public funds in various currencies are being recovered and returned to government coffers. Thanks to the whistleblower initiative, more and more disclosures about the hidden loots are being made to the relevant agencies. And unlike what obtained in the past, the big guns of society, hitherto untouchable, are regularly being hauled to the law courts on account of fraudulent activities. But as yet, no conviction of note has been recorded.
As can be seen, it’s not been an easy fight. Corruption is refusing to be subdued. Government has lost some high-profile cases, while some others are stalemated. Cynics contend that failure to secure notable convictions is proof that government is shoddy in the way it is prosecuting the war; government officials counter that corruption is fighting back in a virulent manner.
In a way, both are correct. While those who have made corruption a lifetime occupation won’t give up easily, it is also true that this administration routinely shoots itself in the foot as far as the anti-corruption campaign is concerned. Take for example, the unhealthy relationship between the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, and anti-corruption agencies like the EFCC and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC).
Sensing that it is being overshadowed by the two agencies, the AGF is angling to show its muscle as the pre-eminent government department in all matters legal, and especially as far as prosecuting corruption cases is concerned. Okoi Obono-Obla, Special Assistant to the President on Prosecutions, man Friday and agent provocateur, is the arrowhead in this needless exercise of power that is clearly aimed at meeting some self-serving political ends.
At every given opportunity, Obono-Obla does not fail to reiterate the fable that the anti-corruption agencies are not co-operating with the office of the AGF. But the more likely position, in the assessment of many observers, is that these agencies are not willing to compromise in some high-profile cases in which the AGF might be interested.
That is why it is widely believed that other than crude, selfish politics, there can be no legitimate reason for the AGF’s latest threat, as conveyed by Obono-Obla, to report the heads of EFCC and ICPC to the presidency for refusing to hand over the case files of more than 35 former governors and senators. It is important to ask why the AGF wants these files. Why won’t he simply invite these agencies to a meeting to update him on the cases, and then explore ways of assisting in achieving diligent prosecution?
No one is disputing the AGF’s status as the numero uno in the circumstance, but he should refrain from bearing down on these agencies as though they don’t have a statutory mandate to perform certain roles corresponding with his. To paraphrase a local proverb, the sky is wide enough for every bird to flap its wings.
Instead of requesting cases started by other agencies, the AGF should initiate his own high-profile cases too to show that it not only barks but bites as well. Obono-Obla has accused the agencies of slowing down the anti-corruption war. Well, he has to show concrete proof of how this is happening before the charge can hold water, not by merely pointing to a refusal of the agencies to turn in files of the corruption cases they initiated.
In any case the last time anyone heard of one group of government official publicly expressing misgivings about the other, it was one prominent member of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC), also a senior Advocate of Nigeria, berating Obono-Obla’s boss for openly disagreeing with Acting President Yemi Osinbajo on the retention of Magu as the chair of EFCC.
This individual stopped short of calling for the AGF’s sack. Before then, this same member and another articulate colleague at a forum on corruption organized in Abuja by the Pyrates Confraternity, separately pronounced doubts about the commitment of the AGF to the anti-corruption efforts of the government on account of serial embarrassing defeats handed the government in key cases prosecuted by his office.
In fact, there are speculations – indeed strong belief – that the AGF is working with some equally highly-placed corrupt persons to scuttle the anti-corruption fight. He should rather strive to allay the fears of the public and restore confidence in his office, not perpetually bicker with other agencies over cases he didn’t originate.
Godwin Onyeacholem is a journalist. He can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org