Millions of Nigerians who closely followed the historic events would still recall the words on marble, after President Muhammadu Buhari took his oath of office for his first term on May 29, 2015. In one such sound bites, President Buhari proclaimed, “if Nigeria does not kill corruption, corruption will kill Nigeria.” By alluding to the possibility that the nation could literally die as a result of the debilitating consequences of corruption, the President rekindled thoughts of Nigeria’s manifest destiny in the minds of compatriots. Buhari’s words stirred a national conversation on the need for a collective national effort to vanquish corruption, and its damaging effects on the polity. Beyond the President’s rousing rhetoric aimed at rallying citizens to join the push to vanquish corruption, there has been interest in the nature, character and impact of his administration’s anti-corruption programme.
Although there have been many anecdotal attempts to characterise, and make value judgments on the achievements or failures of Buhari’s anti-corruption agenda, not many of these postulations have offered any balanced or nuanced insight. For instance, while official government press statements on the “achievements” of the President in the area of anti-corruption tend to be replete with self praise, opposition charaterisation tends to be condemnatory and dismissive. Beyond these two opposing political perspectives, a recent assessment by Buharimeter a citizen accountability platform promoted by frontline pro-democracy think tank, the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), has solved the problem of political extremes in the attempt to understand how the anti-corruption drive of the administration has fared. The non-partisan, evidence based and data-driven insight into how President Buhari’s anti-corruption agenda has fared in the last half decade provides an objective interpretation of the facts and the overall body of evidence. In the first place, the five year assessment situates anti-corruption as a signature issue around which President Buhari has built a personal political brand, making it the major plank on which he won the historic election of 2015. This popular appeal, which played a big role in the defeat of then incumbent, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, also served to raise very high expectations of citizens that corruption would be quickly dealt with.
As the assessment shows, the expectation that the President’s personal Spartan disposition would suddenly address the deep rooted systemic issues of corruption has proved not to be the case. The President therefore had to implement a number of policies and programmes to reduce corruption in the polity. The assessment documents the various steps taken by the administration, the achievements recorded and the shortcomings which demonstrate the gaps in the President’s approach. The five year assessment concedes that President Buhari has elevated the fight against corruption by making it a national policy priority. It further notes that anti-corruption agencies have been empowered freeing them up to pursue far-reaching investigations into political and bureaucratic corruption. In the context of empowerment of those agencies in the frontlines of the fight against corruption, the assessment reckons that “appointing capable practitioners to lead the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) has been key in reinvigorating them.”
Referencing data from multiple documentary and online sources, the report adds that there has been an uptick in corruption convictions and asset seizures by anti-graft institutions on the watch of President Buhari. The assessment equally documented that the President pushed through a few key financial management reforms, which have been critical in preventing opportunities for corruption to thrive. One of such reforms is the mandatory use of the Treasury Single Account, which has ended the lax and opaque system wherein government monies sat in disparate accounts, which made proper oversight impossible. The report talks of achievements like the TSA as signs of improved financial centralisation. The assessment points to the directives issued by the President mandating all government ministries, departments and agencies to use the TSA under the watchful eye of the Accountant General of the Federation, rather than maintain their own corruption-prone bank accounts. “Over the decades, such off-the-radar accounts had proliferated uncontrollably, allowing corrupt officials to siphon public funds with ease. President Buhari has likewise pushed for tertiary educational institutions to join the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) that other government entities are already required to use.”
In a similar vein, the assessment notes the consistency of anti-corruption messaging as another major anti-corruption milestone on the watch of Buhari. In this area, it is reckoned that the Buhari administration has stayed on message by repeatedly restating his government’s commitment to fighting corruption. At the level of rhetoric, this commitment to staying on message and the constant announcements about readiness to fight corruption, the report argues, sets the right tone. In the aspect of human resource leading the anti-corruption fight, the report scores the President high. It notes that the administration has mostly appointed experienced practitioners to lead Nigeria’s anti-corruption bodies. It states: “EFCC chairman Ibrahim Magu is an experienced anti-corruption law enforcement officer. ICPC chairman Bolaji Owasanoye is a policy expert and veteran legal scholar. Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) head Waziri Adio—a respected journalist—has also performed well. Such appointments are important because the capacity and effectiveness of government agencies often depend on skill and integrity of their senior staff.”
Also, the President got the thumbs up in the assessment for creating task-specific anti-corruption bodies. Specifically mentioned are the two ad hoc temporary audit committees set up by the government. One was to investigate spending by the Office of the National Security Adviser and the other was to scrutinise defence procurement. According to the assessment, these task-specific bodies have been important in the anti-corruption architecture because they helped unearth valuable information, including details of how several former military chiefs, stole as much as $15 billion. The work of the committees similarly brought to light mind boggling information on how former National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki allegedly siphoned a further $2 billion from the security budget. The report gives a favourable impression of the creation of a Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC), which was given the mandate to produce policy recommendations and procedural guidance aimed at making anti-corruption efforts more effective. Similar high score went to the administration for creating the Special Presidential Investigative Panel on Public Properties (SPIPP) with the mandate to recover stolen public property.
Importantly too, the Buhari administration according to the assessment achieved in the area of securing more corruption convictions. Although the report provides a caveat about the data, specifically, EFCC claims that it recorded over 2,000 convictions since 2015. The report nonetheless notes that in 2019 alone the EFCC won over half of these convictions due to a sharp increase in successful cybercrime prosecutions. “In other words, these laudable gains do not translate into a spike in high-profile corruption convictions under President Buhari, a fact which government press releases touting this achievement fail to mention.” Equally noteworthy according to the report is the increased forfeitures of stolen assets to the government. The assessment notes that in the period under review, the President regularly directed anti-corruption agencies to recover stolen or corruptly acquired assets. The assessment therefore commended the administration for the increasing use of “innovative legal tools to seize suspected proceeds of corruption from former officials who would be difficult and time-consuming to convict. As a result of this strategic shift, more stolen assets are being recovered than ever before.” The report however notes the need for greater transparency in the holding and management of recovered assets.
On the flipside however, the assessment goes on to outline a number of the failings, described as shortcomings which assailed the fight against corruption. It talks about the opportunities missed by the President to institutionalise the so-called the fight against corruption by capitalizing on the ‘Buhari Effect.’ It would be recalled that the term “Buhari effect” entered Nigeria’s political lexicon in the immediately after the election of the President. It describes how the President Spartan discipline and his ascension to the presidency would itself deter corrupt practices. Contrary to what many stakeholders expected, the assessment notes the reliance of the nation’s helmsman on an enforcement-based approach to combating corruption. In doing so, the report reflects that the President largely failed to enact a wider and more durable range of political and institutional reforms designed to achieve lasting change. Consequently, the assessment knocks the President for his tendency to condone corruption within his own administration and the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) party. In this regard, President Buhari gets the flak over accusations that he “consistently turned a blind eye to malfeasance by some of his own appointees and resisted independent oversight of Nigeria’s most scandal-ridden agencies.” On top of this, the report notes the untenable situation wherein the Buhari cabinet includes several individuals tainted by accusations of corruption. It went on to document that in the five years under review, the APC nominated, while the President personally campaigned for many notorious kleptocrats.
On the vexed issue of opaque use of security votes, the administration gets the whip for the use of corruption-prone slush funds known as ‘security votes’. The government was also called out over the continued the practice of awarding crude oil lifting contracts to middlemen firms, including those implicated in the 2010 fuel subsidy fraud scandal. Another shortcoming identified by the CDD Buharimeter Five Year Assessment is the failure of the government to achieve the required reforms in the petroleum sector. President Buhari who doubles as the Minister of Petroleum Resources, the assessment avers bears personal responsibility for his government’s failure to undertake basic, and long overdue, reforms to the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). “Widely seen as one of the most corrupt and mismanaged national oil companies in the world, the NNPC continues to conceal illicit financial outflows from public or legislative scrutiny, inflate internal administrative budgets and withhold oil revenues from the national treasury.” The assessment lists the President’s opposition to reforms such as plans to sell off Nigeria’s refineries, and his preference for corruption-prone refinery refurbishment contracts, as part of the shortcomings of his anti-corruption drive.
In the area of security sector corruption too, the Buharimeter assessment knocks the President for failure to curb defence and security corruption. The assessment asserts that expenditures in the defence and security sector continue to escape public and legislative scrutiny, and mostly occur under emergency procurement processes that lack basic anti-corruption safeguards. “Belying his role as commander-in-chief, President Buhari has exercised weak civilian oversight over his long-serving service chiefs, giving them wide leeway to manage military affairs. He has also failed to rein in security votes—opaque slush funds that remain one of the most glaring examples of security sector corruption in Nigeria. In fact, the number of security votes tucked into the federal budget has markedly increased during his tenure from about 30 in 2016 (N9.3 billion or $46.2 million in total) to over 190 (N18.4 billion or $51 million in total) in 2018.”
Added to the other shortcomings outlined in the assessment, is the issue of declining fiscal transparency on the watch of the President. The assessment notes that the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) exemplifies this shortcoming as it has become less transparent and more vulnerable to political influence on fiscal and monetary policy. It asserted: “the bank’s oversight role has diminished and the relationship between it and the nation’s commercial banks has become too cozy. Since 2015, sales of discounted foreign exchange to privileged recipients have become more opaque than ever before.” Yet another source of poor rating for the administration’s anti-corruption credentials is the lack of transparency in the use of $1 billion withdrawn from the Excess Crude Account. According to the assessment the Buhari government has still not provided information on how the money was spent, thereby justifying suspicions that it was used to oil the APC political machine in the build up to the 2019 general election.
It is also pertinent to note that the assessment did not stop at the point of diagnosing the good, bad and ugly of the anti-corruption drive. It goes one step further to provide informed recommendation based on the anomalies identified. Among others, the report calls on the government to improve transparency and accountability surrounding government budgets, actual expenditures and contracting processes. This it notes is critical to the push for openness especially in such sectors as petroleum, power, defence and humanitarian sectors. The report equally calls for detailed records of government transactions to be published online. The assessment also calls for the timely release of budgeted funds to anti-corruption agencies, especially the ICPC and CCB. Also recommended in the report is the need to appoint respected technocrats, jurists, and civil society figures to serve on the boards of the anti-corruption agencies. Government was also called upon to invite respected civil society groups working on anti-corruption issues to interview candidates for positions in the anti-corruption agencies and provide written feedback to the Presidency on their suitability for the role, among others.