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The Corruption Of Anti-corruption

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“Selective prosecution of political opponents undermines the legitimacy of anti-corruption reform efforts. It is the most cynical abuse of power…” – Elizabeth Spahn.

The arraignment of Senate President Bukola Saraki by the Code of Conduct Bureau before the Code of Conduct Tribunal on Tuesday is without doubt one of the most dramatic political events of the past week. The case, however it is resolved, will be remembered not just for what it says but also for what it fails to say, or rather its symbolism regarding the anti-corruption posture of the Buhari administration.

In order to comment fairly, this writer reveals upfront that he has never met Saraki, nor is he, as the readers of this column will recall, sympathetic to the shabby manner in which he emerged in his current position. But if that antecedent provoked turbulent ruminations, the current attempt to nail or get at him, through a so-called anti-corruption vehicle is even more rickety and ominous. As Emeritus Professor at the Boston Law School, Elizabeth Spahn, quoted above, informs, very few things are as corrosive of reform efforts as the targeting of political opponents through selective prosecution. To be sure, the criminalisation of opposition and dissent in our national life bring forward anxious reminiscences: Chief Obafemi Awolowo at the treasonable felony trial, Ken Saro-Wiwa, appearing before a military tribunal whose predetermined brief was to sentence him to death and several others. We can recall too in passing that Chief Bola Tinubu was incompetently arraigned before the Code of Conduct Tribunal in 2011, with the barely disguised intention of settling scores with a star opposition leader. In other words, political authorities have historically employed the legal system to indict those who fall out with them.

However, the All Progressives Congress, in particular, President Muhammadu Buhari told us that we would be starting on a new page, a page that will part ways with the cynical routines of the past. But the Saraki case thus far has been so ineptly handled as to give up the game right from the outset. The CCB significantly omitted to invite Saraki for clarifications; it went back to the early years of democratic rule to dig up alleged inconsistencies in his Asset Declaration Form without explaining why it took it several years to remember his transgressions. The Bureau, also did not tell us if this was the beginning of a widespread probe regarding office holders between 2003 and 2011 or not. Could it, one may ask, to satisfy the canons of elementary justice have arraigned a few other ‘offenders’ along with Saraki to disguise what appears to be naked power play masquerading as reformism? The questions are endless, but even if the political system or the faction of it seeking a pound of flesh achieves its prime target, the anti-corruption agenda of the administration would have suffered irreversible damage.

The foregoing should not be taken as holding brief for Saraki who, in the opinion of this writer, is as morally vulnerable as they come. It is rather to point up the dangers of subverting anti-corruption through the cynical manipulation of politicians at daggers drawn. Before proceeding with the comment however, I crave the reader’s indulgence to enter two short takes.

Rising insecurity symptomised by kidnappings and violent robberies is fast becoming the defining syndrome of these times. There is a long list of citizens picked up from their homes or work places by armed gangs recently. Two high profile journalists, Donu Kogbara and Steve Nwosu, whose wife was abducted and later released, bear the scars of the spiral of violence. There is also the most recent case of former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Chief Olu Falae, who was reportedly kidnapped on his 77th birthday. This raises the alarm concerning how dangerous and nasty life is fast becoming in peace time Nigeria. Considering also, that the fundamental reason for the existence of governments is the protection of life and property, the Buhari administration should see these tremors as a wake-up call to redesign and revitalise the country’s tottering security architecture and infrastructure.

The second take concerns the passing on Saturday of elder stateswoman and matriarch of the Yoruba nation, Chief HID Awolowo, an event which truly marks the end of an era in Yoruba land and the nation. Governing behind the stage, the revered HID, silently carried forward the legacy of her husband, who many years after his death remains a reference point in our politics. It is appropriate, that the Obafemi Awolowo Foundation has announced the formation of an HID Awolowo Foundation to celebrate and commemorate Mama’s legacy which nicely complements that of her husband. Although the Awo legacy far transcends his immediate family, the roles of the intellectually gifted and disciplined Dr Tokunbo Awolowo-Dosunmu as well as the soft-spoken and entrepreneurial Rev Tola Oyediran will be crucial in determining the political shape and relevance of the Awo dynasty in national affairs. Throw into that, the fact that Dolapo Osinbajo, wife of the Vice-President, is a granddaughter of the late sage, and you begin to appreciate that Papa and Mama Awolowo may be around, in a manner of speech for many years to come.

To return now to Saraki, our tally of suspicions and of smelling rat in this case grows when you factor that the Chairmen of the CCB and CCT are currently facing official inquires relating to allegations of corruption. As Jide Ajani revealed in an informative write-up in the Vanguard last Sunday, Mr Danladi Umar, Chairman of the CCT has yet to clear allegations of bribery against him, while Chairman of the CCB, Sam Saba, has a pending case relating to the alleged diversion of over a N100m with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. Ajani raised the question whether institutions whose leaders are facing official enquiries relating to corruption are in the best position to implement a serious anti-corruption project. Would it not have been tidier if these institutions as well as the EFCC are rejigged or thoroughly reconstituted for purposes of credibility?

This suggestion is made in the context of the cynicism that has been elicited by the garbled effort to convince the world that the number one moral issue the nation faces are the lapses of the Senate President. Unsurprisingly, critics of the administration have raised questions about such issues as the Haliburton scandal reportedly involving some former heads of state and the long playing trials of several former office holders, some of which were commenced in 2007. The administration, of course, has the choice of drawing the curtain at some point by for example taking up cases of corruption committed under its watch or go as far back as 1999. Whatever the government’s choice, it has the duty to make clear its agenda, order of priorities, and how far back in time it has chosen to go. What it must not do is randomly pick cases without making clear its selection criteria. Otherwise, it will lose credibility and damage the reform process irremediably.

Finally, as this columnist has repeatedly advocated, a proper reform project must both be able to punish offenders in a level playing field; as well as prevent corruption at source through institutional renewal.

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