THE ARMS DEAL PROBE: Anti-graft War or Score Settling?

07 Dec 2015

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Monday Discourse

President Muhammadu Buhari’s approach to the fight against corruption is beginning to generate concern, writes Iyobosa Uwugiaren. Additional reports by Ademola Adeyemo and Shola Oyeyipo

Those very close to him had said they never thought President Muhammadu Buhari could win the 2015 presidential election. And as one of the members of the National Working Committee (NWC) of the All Progressives Congress (APC) put it recently: “In spite of our campaign bravado, Buhari’s victory came as a surprise to many of us.”

To be sure, few days after the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) declared Buhari winner of the presidential election, a sitting governor from the Northern part of the country, who worked tirelessly for the victory – materially and financially – was said to have regretted ever contesting the governorship position.

The governor, who is influential in the present administration was quoted as telling many of his close friends that if he knew Buhari was certain to win the election, he wouldn’t have contested the governorship but would have waited to be appointed Buhari’s Chief of Staff.
A chieftain of the APC privy to this claimed the governor’s reason was predicated on his feeling that in spite of Buhari’s high and sound ethical uprightness, he does not believe the president has both the energy and intellectual capacity to govern a multi-faceted country like Nigeria.

The governor’s assumption is that a powerful chief of staff to the president would technically be in-charge of the nation’s affairs. THISDAY gathered that the discussion took place before Buhari was sworn in on May 29 this year.

Consequently, the outspoken governor had predicted in May that in the next six months, those praising Buhari would start abusing him for lack of performance and that when this happens, Buhari would start arresting prominent political opponents and some not-too-trusted APC members for alleged corrupt practices in order to turn away attention from the issues of practical governance – an action, of course, that will interest as well as attract commendations from the naïve.

Today, many associates and fans of Buhari may dismiss it still with a wave of the hand, but some political thinkers strongly believe that what is currently playing out is what the governor predicted about six months ago – a deliberate political action by Buhari to divert people’s attention – having seen that he is fast losing his political and economic direction to the huge disappointment of the electorate, who once believed in his capacity. Perhaps, so!

In the last few days, operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Department of State Services (DSS), had swooped on prominent Nigerians, most of them public figures, who served during former President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration, over alleged $2.1 billion arms procurement deals.

In what some dailies have already described as “harvest of arrests”, the EFCC had interrogated and detained former governor of Sokoto State, Alhaji Attahiru Bafarawa and his son, Sagir; the founder of Daar Communications Plc., Chief Raymond Dokpesi; Dr. Bello Haliru, former Minister of Defence and Chairman of the PDP Board of Trustees (BoT) and his son.
Others are a former Director of Finance and Administration in the National Security Adviser (NSA) Office and staff of the National intelligence Agency, Mr. Shuaibu Salisu; former General Executive Director, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Mr. Aminu Baba Kusa; Mohammed Baba-Kusa; Abba M.T. Usman and Evegny Kundaev. The list is not ended. There still are the likes of Attahiru Maccido; Salisa Umar Garu; Oyinmiebe Bribena; Olukoya Olusegun Godwin, and Olukayode Raimi among others.

EFCC sources claimed over 22 suspects are being detained in connection with the alleged arms scam. The fruitage of arrests happened together with that of the immediate former NSA, Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd), by the DSS operatives. The former NSA had been put under house arrest for nearly a month. Buhari had ordered his arrest for allegedly stealing more than $2billion intended for purchase of weapons for the military to fight the terrorist group, Boko Haram.
As if the federal government had already tried and convicted the former NSA, Mr. Femi Adesina, the Special Adviser (Media and Publicity) to the president had said in a statement that "thousands of needless Nigerian deaths would have been avoided" if the money Dasuki allegedly wrapped had been properly spent.

The presidential spokesman accused the former NSA of awarding "phantom contracts" to buy 12 helicopters, four fighter jets, and bombs and ammunition worth $2 billion that were never supplied. Adesina also alleged that Dasuki got the Central Bank of Nigeria to transfer $142.6 million to a company with accounts in the United States, the United Kingdom, and in West Africa for unknown purposes and without contracts.

But Dasuki had denied any wrongdoing. He said he was proud that in the final months under his watch, Nigeria's military ousted Boko Haram from a large swath of territory it had seized in northeast Nigeria, a submission that was not just true but which a majority of Nigerians could relate with.

Yet, the DSS has kept Dasuki under house arrest for over a month in spite of a Federal High Court order allowing him to travel abroad for medical care. The court granted Dasuki bail after he pleaded not guilty to other charges of money-laundering, involving more than $423,000 found in cash, and the illegal possession of arms seized at two of his homes.

The EFCC had also claimed it traced about N4 billion to the account of Bafarawa’s son, Sagir, which was said to have come from Dasuki’s office. Sagir is said to be a forward-facing in the deal. For Dokpesi, the owner of Africa Independent Television (AIT) and RayPower FM, N2.1 billion was said to have been traced to his private account.

The president, in August, had constituted a 13-man panel to investigate arms procurement deals between 2007 and 2015. And in the estimation of the president’s men and political strategists, the idea behind the many arrests by EFCC and DSS is beginning to yield overwhelming result. Thus, arguably, some Nigerians currently believe Buhari’s anti-corruption war has started and that indeed, he is doing well, albeit without looking beyond the façade of allegations.

For instance, addressing a press conference in Abuja recently, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) president, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, said the ongoing detention of some persons by EFCC, in connection with the alleged stealing and diversion of monies meant to prosecute war against insurgency in the Northeast, justified the union’s calls for summary execution of corrupt public officials.

“The revelations by former National Security Adviser, his erstwhile Director of Finance, Shuaibu Salisu, which we believe are just the tip of the iceberg, are mind-boggling and justify as well as reinforce our call for capital punishment in cases of corruption in public office”, the NLC stated, adding that “We believe with prescription of more stringent punishment for corrupt cases, few will dare to go to this extent. We need not telling that massive corruption in the system, is responsible for our lack of development and our present economic woes.”

Wabba called on President Buhari not to relent in his war against corruption, adding that Nigerians would salute him for it.
“On our part, we urge President Muhammadu Buhari not to relent in his war against corruption. Even if it is the only major achievement in four years, it will suffice. At least, it would have succeeded in loot recovery as well as set a national moral barometer capable of attracting international confidence and respectability,” he added.

But the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has come out to describe the arrest of some of its key members as the continuation of political persecution and witch-hunt of the opposition by Buhari. The National Publicity Secretary of the PDP, Chief Olisa Metuh, noted that more notable PDP leaders had been listed for arrest over unproven allegations pursuant to the plot by the APC to cow and silence opposition in the country.

While the opposition said it is not against genuine war on corruption, it demanded a proper investigation and lawful prosecution instead of what it described as “the reprehensible resort to outright political persecution, which can only have a place in a military regime.
“Finally, we call on the international community and rights bodies worldwide to note the growing impunity and gross violation of human rights by the President Muhammadu Buhari-led government tailored to decimate the opposition and cow the media in Nigeria,” the PDP added.

The PDP is not alone in this view. In the last few days, some political analysts had also described Buhari’s action as “hypocritical” and “twofaced.” The argument is that the billions of dollars the President spent for his presidential campaign was slush fund – a huge part of it from some corrupt former APC governors.

To be sure, two former APC state governors, who are currently heading strategic federal ministries, were said to have donated billions of naira towards Buhari’s presidential campaign and have been indicted in their states for diverting the states’ funds for Buhari’s campaign. Buhari and EFCC had been dared to also investigate the former APC governors if he was actually serious about fighting corruption.

The PDP said despite the “holier than thou” posture of the present APC government, there is incontrovertible evidence that grave corrupt practices are ongoing and allowed to fester by associates and cronies of Buhari, including former and present APC governors as well as others, who played major roles in financing his campaigns with alleged stolen state funds. Indeed, a majority of those, who were friends of the Jonathan administration, were alleged to have also funded the Buhari and Jonathan elections contemporaneously.
The party said this has created a system that is neck deep in corruption, while the government hoodwinks unsuspecting public with propaganda.

The PDP said while the party is not averse to the fight against corruption, the onus lies on Buhari to wage a credible and holistic anti-corruption war by first purging himself of unclean association and coming out clear on sleaze already going on in government quarters since he took office in May.

“Whereas the PDP restates its respect for the person and office of the president as well as our support for the war against corruption, it is incumbent on us to alert Nigerians of the prevailing circumstances around this government that are capable of fundamentally undermining good governance if left unchecked.

“Charity, they say begins at home. For the APC-led Government, it has now become a question of physician, heal thyself. Every discerning mind knows that this administration is not executing a credible holistic war against corruption because it is a product of corruption, surrounded by corrupt persons; a factor apparently responsible for its obvious blind eyes to huge sleazes now being perpetrated in government agencies by persons claiming closeness to the president.”

The present argument, which is gaining ground is that in so short a time, an administration that rode to power on claims of anti-corruption credentials, has broken the records in constitutional violations and abuse of regulations, especially in its adamant stance to run a government without the necessary components of a full cabinet, thereby creating loopholes for APC’s interests to invade key government agencies for inflated concessions, allocations, jobs and other financial sleazes.

Critics of Buhari’s administration said this is in addition to ongoing manoeuvrings in the oil sector, where clandestine moves are on to award oil refining licenses to cronies without the due process of open bidding, as well as statutory guidelines and checks by the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR). And these critics had invited Nigerians to note that the APC-led administration has not been forthcoming on how it has been “depleting the funds” it inherited in the Excess Crude Account (ECA) and other government savings, wondering whether they are the source of the funds now being circulated to pay back huge contributions for APC presidential campaign expenses.

They also wondered why the Buhari-led administration has “deliberately” turned a blind eye to the corrupt acts of most APC leaders, who as governors, ministers and labour leaders are alleged to have been the worst corrupt set of people ever to bestride the political landscape of the country.

The critics, who may have been pissed off by Buhari’s lack of political will had challenge the president to show integrity and commitment in the fight against corruption by first cleaning his own house and coming out clear on the numerous sleazes going on presently under its watch.
To be sure, the Chairman of the National Assembly and President of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki, believes the current process of fighting corruption is not transparent.

“The ongoing fight against corruption is very subjective. Politics goes into it. You sometimes see cases where it is politics that is driving the process not corruption driving the process. That is where you know who comes into it. When the process is transparent, the institutions are strong, then you can't bring in politics,” the number three public officer in the country told THISDAY recently during an exclusive chat.

“When you have an agenda to persecute and not prosecute, that is selective. If we want to fight this corruption, we have to fight it transparently, with all sincerity and honesty. But where we say we don't like this man, go and pursue him, at the end of the day, the whole corruption process itself, everybody will lose interest in it.”

Governor Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti State also shares Saraki’s view and accused Buhari of “seeking vengeance with corruption fight.” The governor, who reiterated his support for the fight against corruption, insisted that it must be fought within the ambit of the law and must not be used to seek vengeance.

He called for thoughtfulness on the information being giving by the federal government to the public on its anti-corruption, saying trying people in the media as being done by the Buhari Administration was dangerous to democracy and rule of law.
The governor asked: “Is it the duty of the DSS to investigate fraud? If Dasuki committed fraud as being alleged, why not let the appropriate government agency handle his matter? Why first torturing him emotionally with the DSS siege on his house?”

While members of the public, including the international community, continue to express serious concern over Buhari’s style of fighting corruption, analysts hope the well-advertised “new and born again democrat” will stick to the rule of law, will be holistic in his approach and restrain himself from fighting perceived political enemies.

The Speaker of the Kwara State House of Assembly, Hon Ali Ahmad, also said the current war on corruption by the Buhari administration as presently being fought cannot succeed. “I’m raising the alarm so that we’ll all reconsider the current strategy. I remember raising similar alarm on August 16 about the absence then of an Attorney-General of the federation and the implication on the declared war on corruption.

“I reasoned then that even if other ministers could wait, the Attorney-General is the only constitutionally mentioned Minister in S. 150 of the Constitution and that he alone could have been appointed while others waited. I might be proven right by the Supreme Court since at least two cases will end up there soon. The first of course is FRN V Saraki, where it is being contended that no one may prefer charges at the Tribunal where there is no sitting Attorney-General of the Federation. The Second is the decision of Justice Mohammed Yunusa of the Federal High Court being appealed by NDLEA, where the judge held that the Agency lacked the power to freeze millions in the account of an alleged drug baron when there was no sitting Attorney-General. 

“Unless I’m not properly informed, the current strategy of fighting corruption seems to centre on prosecution in law courts. I believe five things are wrong with the current strategy of focusing the fight against corruption mainly in law courts. The President can do nothing with the first three but he may quickly intervene in the last two. These are: 1. Powerful nature of these defendants and their lawyers, 2. The true nature of courts as a formal, deliberative process, where facts must be proved beyond all reasonable doubts, 3. Pervasiveness of corruption in Nigeria, 4. Doubtful constitutionality of S. 306 of ACJA, prohibiting stay of proceedings, and 5. Detachment of the Executive from the National Assembly. 

“You want to solely rely on adjudication to fight endemic corruption; after all you know that politically exposed persons are no ordinary defendants when it comes to hiring the services of defence attorneys, who have clouts in and outside of the courtroom. You want to rely on adjudication knowing full well that by their nature, our courts are accusatory, too formal, too inflexible, requiring too high a standard of proof from the prosecution (beyond reasonable doubt), and overall tilting the balance so much on the side of the accused or defendant.

“I do not wish to be misunderstood as saying that courts are irrelevant in the war against corruption. What I am saying is that Nigerian courts are presently not suited to perform the function of a primary platform of fighting widespread corruption. Even under a fully implemented administration of Criminal Justice Act regime, how many cases can our courts handle from trial courts to the Supreme Court in four years?  Well, if adjudication is the choice of the administration, certainly the Code of Conduct Tribunal cannot be the choice forum.

“A government has already lost the war on corruption if its new-found strategy is to use a three-man Code of Conduct Tribunal to checkmate 469 federal legislators, 36 governors and 36 ministers and a host number of state officials and civil servants. No doubt, the Tribunal cannot but be selective in choosing the cases it adjudicates upon as we are presently witnessing. But in being selective, we have compromised and tainted the very essence of the fight against corruption.

“Even if you want to solely rely on adjudication by extending it to regular courts, you will still be missing the point if the Criminal Act that ensures fast-tracked resolution remains unimplemented as enunciated above and its doubtful constitutional veracity still looms large.
“To me, an undisputable platform of fighting corruption in a democracy such as ours should be the National Assembly; at least that is what the Constitution provides. The National Assembly it is that is empowered in S. 88 of the Constitution to direct or cause to be directed investigation of any person or authority with the aim of exposing corruption. How do you win the war on corruption despite abundant political will if the legislature, which is constitutionally empowered to expose corruption, believes it is kept at arm’s length? 

“I think a robust strategy for an administration that has only four years and that seeks to attack corruption frontally will be to support the legislature in exposing corruption, support the media in monitoring the process and mobilising the citizens accordingly. The executive will then implement the legislative recommendation as it deems fit, and then the few that so deserve are now turned over for adjudication.”

PDP’s Director of Communication in Osun State, Mr. Diran Odeyemi, who dismissed the corruption war of President Buhari as selective and a witch-hunting of the opposition, accused the president of deliberately using the Code of Conduct Tribunal to silence key opposition elements.

“Since Buhari came, all hell has been let loose. The hypocritical APC suddenly remembered that Saraki is corrupt, that he looted Kwara State, Societe Generale Bank and to cap it all, the Code of Conduct Bureau has suddenly removed the cataract that blinded their eyes from the alleged inconsistencies in his assets declaration in 2003 – some 12 years ago and long before he became senate president, not minding that subsequent assets declarations were made in 2007, 2011 and 2015 which largely reconciles whatever he declared before, all of which the CCB itself don’t seem to have any problem with.

“Characteristically, APC noisemakers have rented loudspeakers deafening our ears with tales of Saraki’s corruption and how the code of conduct bureau trial is part of Buhari’s war on corruption. Would Saraki have been prosecuted for anything at all if he had toed the party’s line? The answer is obvious. Had Saraki toed the party line, he would obviously have remained a saint with no sin as all the criminals, who joined the APC were christened.”

However, supporting the anti-graft war, Hon. Adelodun Abass, APC Chieftain in Lagos State said the ongoing fight against alleged looters of our treasury should not be seen as selective, but rather as a commitment to fulfilling part of the campaign promises of Mr.

President in recovering stolen money from past leaders to rebuild the nation.
According to Abass, “All politicians think about the next election while all statesmen think about the next generation. Buhari is not thinking about the next election, but the next generation. Therefore, in cleaning the Augean stable, election should be the last thing on his mind. That he is looking into some activities of the past President Jonathan’s administration does not mean he wants to probe Jonathan. I think he was clearly misunderstood there.

“What this meant is that in other to clear this, Jonathan administration becomes that sign post of what transpired before him and that does not preclude individuals from approaching the anti-graft agencies to challenge the activities of men. Again, note that crime and corruption do not have time limit. So, the present government has just given Nigerians impetus to challenge past administrations because it is not only the work of government alone to fight corruption or any form of crime. We are all involved.”

But Senator Kola Balogun disagreed completely that Buhari’s anti-corruption war is not selective. Balogun, a PDP stalwart in Oyo State said the presidency is once again up to the game he knows better and that is going after his perceived political opponents just as he did in 1985 by jailing people between 20 to 100 years on corruption charges.

“Nigerians are not surprised because Buhari cannot change his style. He jailed people in 1985 and thirty years after he has come back to continue jailing his opponents. All the people he has been going after since he assumed office are people, who have had one business to do with Jonathan administration and all PDP members. I challenge anybody to point out real APC or even ACN or CPC member that is on trial.

“The talk that even APC members would not be spared is a smokescreen to deceive Nigerians into believing that he is on the right track. Definitely not true. Do remember also that on assumption of office he said he would not probe Jonathan, but what is happening now? Selecting a few of Jonathan’s aides to taste the waters but his final target is former President Jonathan to cripple the opposition.”
The PDP chieftain is of the view that the present administration has a lot to focus on rather than embarking on a witch-hunt of immediate past government that conducted one of the best elections in Nigeria and paved the way for the opposition to assume office after 16 years, saying that alone is a feat that should be celebrated and not castigated for.

“If Buhari wants to probe corruption, let him go the whole hog and let us know that he used four years alone to recover stolen money from politicians and their collaborators. To say that he will only concentrate on Jonathan’s administration confirms the fears in many quarters that he is after the man and the party that handed over power to him.

“What Nigerians want now is for him to create jobs, start payments of allowances to unemployed and post-NYSC as promised and not the probe mantra that is making rounds. It would hunt him if he continues to go after some people in the name of fighting corruption. I advise the presidency and his team to leave Jonathan alone and face the APC programmes and perhaps lead us to the next level. Probe would not take him anywhere.”

Asked if he shares the sentiment that the former NSA is a victim of political persecution, Nigerian lawyer, Mr. Kayode Ajulo who contended that the case against Dasuki is subject of media razzmatazz than the legal, also argued that there is nothing to write home about the procedure of the investigation.

“It is very clear that there is a political undertone. It is as if you know what is on my mind. I was about writing that I would not be surprised if someone like Prof. Wole Soyinka labels President Buhari as a government that is being driven by rumour and propaganda.
“Government, particularly Nigeria is a republic; it must be ruled by regulations and not whims, caprices and sentiments of some people. That is why we have a constitution and other laws, including bye-laws, to guide government and agencies in their undertakings but with the arms deal investigation, it is a negation of rule of law. There is standard investigation procedure but what you are seeing is that every investigation is by sentiment. Nigerians are being entertained with palatable but unverified facts.

“As a lawyer, I know this is not the right procedure of investigation. If the agency of government has anything against Dokpesi and others, the only place they can be prosecuted is in the court of law and not by sensational headlines that have shown the biasness of government in the whole saga. We cannot win the war against corruption through this process,” he said.

Sharing near similar point of view with Ajulo, the National Secretary, Kwara Youth Coalition Group and Assistant Publicity Secretary, Kwara State PDP, Mr. Femi Yusuf, who claimed that his party had taken a supportive position to the Buhari anti-corruption drive, however advised government to pay more attention to ameliorating the sufferings of Nigerians.

“The PDP position in Kwara State is that we support the administration’s anti-corruption initiative wholeheartedly and whoever that is involved in any anti-corruption should be sincerely prosecuted and dealt with. Our party didn’t put anybody in power to embezzle money. What we are clamouring is sincere implementation of the rule of law in the procedure. It should not be seen as a means of witch hunting and it should not be one-sided.

“For Dasuki mentioning names, if it is thoroughly investigated and they are found wanting, then the law should take its course. But our candid advice to the government of the day is about facing the hardship that is presently killing people in the country. People are dying of hunger. When you are hungry, you get sick and go to the hospital. When you cannot pay school fees, it is a disease on its own.
“People are suffering at the petrol station. So, they should not make a lot of noise about Dasuki. They can handle that quietly because Nigeria will not rate their performance on that but rather on the improvement they can bring to our lives,” Yusuf said.

National President, Professionals for Change, Mr. Tunde MacAlabi did not see it that way. To him, the Dasuki saga is simply part of the much talked about anti-corruption crusade of the current administration.
“There is a general war on corruption. If there are cases of infraction or suspected foul play, due process should be followed and whoever – no matter how highly placed should be brought to book. Corruption fight is a life-long process. Humanity is corruption, so, the war against corruption is being fought everywhere.

In China, they are even executing people for corruption and they are still being caught. Corruption is in human psych – in human make up. It started in the Bible. The two thieves that were on the cross with Jesus were examples of corrupt people. They were stealing and killing people to take their substances – stealing is corruption,” MacAlabi said.
A Lagos-based public opinion moulder, Mr. Adeyinka Adeniji sees no reason why anyone should consider the ongoing investigation into the arms deal as political witch hunting.

“If some says he (Buhari) is doing what he is doing to even up with the suspects, then objectivity should come in now. The question is: have they committed the crime they are being accused of? If yes, what does the law say we should do with them? Is the president and government of the day doing otherwise by going after them? Whoever says he is on a vendetta mission as a way to score cheap political goals should answer these questions, if the answers are in the affirmative, then such one should look for other ways to aid and abet because that is tantamount to aiding and abetting crime though in retrospect.

“From my lay man point of view, if we look at those that have been named, they are people with tendencies to have done some things with the past government because they were close to the former president under whom that happened.
“We know how Dokpesi for instance stuck his neck deeply into the politics of the last election. Being a card carrying member of the PDP, they enjoyed patronage where money could be involved,” he noted.
Former Commissioner for Information in Kogi State, Dr. Tom Ohikere also argued in favour of the current anti-corruption crusade of the APC government.
“The Dasuki issue is not political. There is nothing political about it. It is just an aspect of the anti-corruption war declared by the president. It is part of the policy initiative of the APC that all those that have milked our country dry should pay for it,” Ohikere said.

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