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War Against Corruption or War Against Opposition?

President Muhammadu Buhari’s war against corruption is yielding visible results yet more money is being looted from government treasury than ever while loyalists and core APC members appear exempted from prosecution.

Five years into the eight President Muhammadu Buhari has to leave indelible marks on the sands of time, some loyalists are getting worried that he may not achieved his lofty target to rid Nigeria of corruption. Nigeria’s anti-corruption irony sees official corruption fledging despite the roars of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, and Independent Corrupt Practices and other related Offences Commission, ICPC.

During the time of Goodluck Jonathan as president, government officials, party stalwarts and security chiefs converted public funds to private use and recklessly invested it in real estate business in places like Abuja. Then, Abuja was rated the fastest return on property investment in the world. Conversely, under Buhari, even more money is being stolen, according to insiders. If that is true, then the beneficiaries of such loot appear not to be able to invest it openly. And they cannot put it in the bank because of fear of being detected by the Nigeria Financial Intelligence Unit, NFIU, and confiscated. A bank official told Tell this is the worst form of corruption as it deprives the banking system of needed liquidity.

On May 29, Buhari quietly marked his five years in power due to the coronavirus pandemic. It saved him the opportunity to face Nigerians at Eagle Square and give his scorecard. Five years ago, he made his famous promise at this arena: “I belong to everybody and I belong to nobody.” A lot of Nigerians insist that Buhari failed to match his words with action as the nation fragmented under him.

However, slow as he is, Buhari has made progress in the anti-corruption fight in some sectors. Under fiscal reforms, the government says well-targeted programmes by the anti-corruption agencies are plugging leakages and saving public funds. One of these is the whistle-blowing policy of the government.

According to the State House, the whistle-blowing policy introduced by the Federal Ministry of Finance in December 2016 has yielded several billions of Naira in recoveries from tax evaders and public officials. In the first two years alone, it yielded N7.8 billion, US$378million, and £27,800 in recoveries from public officials targeted by whistle-blowers. Government in 2019 drafted the Whistle-blowing and Witness Protection Bill, which when passed into law by the National Assembly, will standardize the policy and reinforce public confidence in the system.

Between 2015 and 2019, EFCC recovered N794 billion in addition to hundreds of properties and other assets.

On its part, ICPC scrutinized practices, systems and procedures of ministries, departments and agencies’ (MDAs) personnel cost from 2017 to 2019, and recovered more than N41 billion from inflated personnel cost. Likewise, ICPC’s scrutiny of the budgets led to the recovery of N32 billion worth of Land, Buildings and Vehicles. ICPC’s audit of constituency projects covering 2015 to 2018 led to the recovery of N2 billion of diverted funds and assets.

According to the government, there is increased oversight of MDAs under Buhari. It says it is addressing the issue of poor remittance of operating surpluses by MDAs. As a result, from remitting only N51m between 2010 and 2016, the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board, JAMB, has remitted over N20b to the Federal Government since 2017.

The Presidential Initiative on Continuous Audit, PICA, was set up by the Buhari Administration to strengthen controls over public finances through a continuous internal audit process across all MDAs. This is manifest in the payroll activities of PICA, in which more than 54,000 fraudulent payroll entries have been identified and removed, with payroll savings of N200b per annum. But in all that, no officials were held responsible and prosecuted for this massive recurrent robbery.

Another of Buhari’s act of courage is implementing the Treasury Single Account, TSA. The TSA was designed by Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and launched in 2012 during the Goodluck Jonathan administration but the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP administration did not have the political will to implement it. Buhari has expanded the coverage to nearly all MDA’S with the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, currently on strike trying to resist the implementation in Nigerian universities.

On August 7, 2015, President Buhari issued a directive to all MDAs to close their accounts with Deposit Money Banks, DMBs and transfer their balances to the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, on or before September 15, 2015. By May 2018, the TSA system had been implemented in 92 percent of all MDAs.

The Ministry of Finance says “The TSA allows managers of government’s finances, including but not limited to the Ministry of Finance and the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation, to have, at any point in time, a comprehensive overview of cash flows across the entire government.”

It is a public accounting system that enables the government to manage its finances (revenues and payments) using a single/unified account, or series of linked accounts domiciled at the Central Bank of Nigeria.

It says this decision to fully operationalise the TSA system has resulted in the consolidation of more than 17,000 bank accounts previously spread across DMBs in the country, and in savings of an average of N4 billion monthly in banking charges.

The benefits are numerous: it improves transparency and accountability in the management of all FGN receipts by providing a consolidated view of government’s cash flow. It blocks the leakages and abuses, which hitherto characterized Public Finance Management in Nigeria; ensures availability of funds for the execution of government policies, programmes and projects and controls aggregate cash flows within fiscal and monetary limits. It also improves management of domestic borrowing programme and enables investments of idle funds.

The Ministry of Finance says it fine-tuned the system to improve its efficiency, and has commenced an audit to ensure that all funds due to the TSA are remitted into it.

To further check corruption in public service, government says it has expanded the Integrated Personnel Payroll Information System, IPPIS coverage despite ‘great opposition’ to it by the armed forces, Federal Universities and other academic institutions. It has equally deployed BVN for Payroll and Social Investment Programmes.

The use of BVN to verify payroll entries on the Integrated Personnel Payroll, IPPIS platform has so far led to the detection of 54,000 fraudulent payroll entries. It has deployed BVN to serve as the verification basis for payments to beneficiaries and vendors in the Anchor Borrowers Programme, ABP, the N-Power Scheme and the Homegrown School Feeding Programme, HGSFP.

The Federal Ministry of Finance launched the Asset Tracking and Management, ATM, Project in 2016. Through this, government says it is able to locate, identify, assess and evaluate all its moveable and immoveable assets on a real time basis.

Similarly, a Central Asset Register has been created and domiciled in the ministry of finance for recording the actual quantity, value, condition and location of all the capital assets belonging to the Federal Government. These initiatives are said to be in line with the requirements of the International Public-Sector Reporting Standard (IPSAS), which has been implemented by the Ministry of Finance.

To further plug all the loopholes for corruption, government has replaced old Cash-Based Accounting System with an Accruals-Based System. This system is said to provide greater transparency in public financial management, provides comprehensive information on government’s current and projected cash flows, leading to better cash management. This conversion led to the discovery of unrecorded debts owed contractors, oil marketers, exporters, electricity distribution companies and others.

Nigeria, in July 2016, joined the Open Government Partnership, OGP, an international transparency, accountability and citizen engagement initiative as the 70th member. Government set up a National Steering Committee which developed a National Action Plan (2017–2019) to deepen and mainstream transparency mechanisms and citizens’ engagement in the management of public resources across all sectors.

Early in Buhari’s administration in November 2015, the government created the Efficiency Unit to spearhead the efficient use of government resources, and ensure reduction in recurrent expenditure. It is supposed to reduce wastages, promote efficiency, ensure prudence and add value for money in all government expenditure.

According to the ministry of finance, this unit helps the MDAs in identifying and eliminating wasteful spending, duplication and other inefficiencies, and identifying best practices in procurement and financial management.

The government says it has carried out justice reforms to shore up the war against corruption. It established the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, PACAC in August 2015 to promote the reform agenda on anti-corruption effort and advise the government in the prosecution of the war against corruption and the implementation of required reforms in Nigeria’s criminal justice system. That this was the very first committee Buhari set up in office shows the seriousness he may have attached to the anti-corruption crusade. The ministry of justice says PACAC has empowered judges and prosecutors to operate effectively in carrying out their responsibilities.

This committee has carried out workshops on the new Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015, trained both Federal and states prosecutors on proper drafting of charges, and helped anti-corruption agencies devise clearer strategies for obtaining forfeiture of assets suspected to have been acquired fraudulently before prosecuting suspected culprits.

The Committee reviewed existing Laws: the Money Laundering Act, 2004; the EFCC Act, 2004 and the ICPC Act, 2000, to identify and highlight sections directly conferring powers of forfeiture on Nigeria’s anti-corruption agencies. This advocacy has led to a significant increase in the use of Non-Conviction Based Asset Forfeiture Mechanisms by anti-corruption agencies.

The Committee recommended the establishment of a Central Asset Management Committee, called the Presidential Committee on Asset Recovery, headed by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo. It manages a dedicated Central Bank Account that receives all recovered funds and ensures transparency in the management.

Buhari signed the Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Bill, an executive bill, into law in 2019. It “facilitates the identification, tracing, freezing, restraining, recovery, forfeiture and confiscation of proceeds, property and other instrumentalities of crime, as well as the prosecution of offenders in criminal cases regardless of where in the world they might be.”

With all these programmes in place, Nigerians expected a clear direction for Buhari’s anti-corruption war but it is still weighed down by politics, ethnicity, cronyism and corruption in the judiciary, which enable cases to go on without end.

Be that as it may, Ibrahim Magu, chairman of EFCC, says the Commission has made clear progress over the past five years. He told TELL that 3,379 convictions were made between May 29, 2015 and May 29, 2020.

On funds recovery he confirmed, “In the last five years, we have recovered funds in excess of N800 billion. Specifically, we have recovered N828, 654,362,403.3; $271, 348, 079; £1,887,585.47, €8,358,046.13 and 87,000CFA.”

A lot of Nigerians worry about what becomes of the recovered assets and money; but Magu says they are safe. “Recovered funds are usually sent to the Consolidated Revenue Account in the Central Bank of Nigeria. Properties recovered so far are in different categories. Houses, shopping malls; estates; vessels; automobiles; trucks; filling stations; jewelries; hospitals; landed properties have all been recovered. They are all well-documented. These assets are being disposed of in line with the Procurement Act,” he said.

Another area giving Nigeria a bad name is internet fraud by ‘Yahoo Boys’; the commission is tackling them strongly with many arrests and convictions.

“Our approaches are technical. I cannot be telling you our operational modalities here but you can see the results everywhere in the country. Every Yahoo Yahoo fraudster in Nigeria knows that EFCC is real and we keep chasing them across the country. We have impressive convictions of these sets of fraudsters in our courts. Internet fraud has international angles.

“Our investigations concerning this fraud showed that it is a trans-national, borderless fraud with syndicated networks across Europe, Asia, Africa and South and North America. In 2019, we noticed a sharp rise in online fraud targeted at blue chip companies in Europe and America and the source of the fraud was traced to Nigeria. Based on this, we identified several organized syndicated networks comprising local and international fraudsters. We collapsed their networks and made some useful arrests.

“Through synergy with other law enforcement agencies across the world like the Federal Bureau of Investigation, FBI and INTERPOL, we are succeeding in tackling the fraud. More than 200 ‘yahoo yahoo’ fraudsters have been jailed in recent times. A particular one was convicted alongside his mother. He perpetrated Business E-mail Compromise of an American company to the tune of $200,000.

“I’m sure you are aware of the arrest and prosecution of flamboyant internet celebrity, Ismaila Mustapha ( a.k.a Mompha). His dramatic arrest and his associate, Hamza Koudeih are some of the landmark cases of internet connection. So, considerable progress is being made in this regard.”

In the past one year – May 29, 2019 to May 28, 2020 – EFCC has made some high profile convictions.

Calistus Obi, a former acting director-general of the Nigeria Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA, was in May 2019 found guilty of charges of conspiracy, conversion and money laundering to the tune of N136 million by Justice Mojisola Olatoregun of the Federal High Court, Ikoyi. The judge convicted him alongside Alu Dimas.

Damilola Ahmed Adeyeri and Alaba Kareem Adeyeri, mother and child, bagged 12 Years jail term for internet fraud following a four-count charge of conspiracy and obtaining money under false pretence to the tune of $82, 570. 00 preferred against them by the EFCC.

Elsewhere, the Federal High Court, Abuja, convicted and liquidated P&ID for fraud and tax evasion after it pleaded guilty before Justice Inyang Ekwo to an 11-count charge of fraud and tax evasion brought against it by the EFCC. It also ordered its assets to be forfeited to the Federal Government. The company was awarded $9.6 billion in an arbitration decision by a United Kingdom court following a failed 2010 project to build a gas-processing plant in Calabar, the Cross River State capital.”

Another high profile conviction was that of Orji Uzor Kalu, senator representing Abia North, and a former governor of Abia State, on Thursday, December 5, 2019. He was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment for defrauding Abia State of N7.65bn by Justice Muhammed Idris of the Federal High Court, Ikoyi, Lagos.

He was arraigned alongside his company, Slok Nigeria Limited and Udeh Udeogu, his director of finance and accounts at the Abia State government house. The Supreme Court has however quashed the judgment because Justice Idris delivered the judgment out of jurisdiction, having been raised to the Court of Appeal.

Dele Oyewale, head, media and publicity of EFCC, told the magazine, Friday, June 5, that the Commission was ready for retrial of Kalu once the court is ready.

Olisa Metuh, former spokesman of the PDP, was also convicted of N400 million fraud through the office of the National Security Adviser by a Federal High Court, Abuja on February 25, 2020. He was sentenced to seven years imprisonment, and ordered to refund the N400 Million to the federal government.

Oyewale said there are other ongoing high profile cases such as that of Muhannad Dangana, an executive assistant to the Financial Controller, ECOWAS Commission Secretariat, Abuja,who is facing prosecution on a 15-count charge bordering on criminal diversion of funds, misappropriation, and money laundering to the tune of over N587.7m.

Winifred Oyo-Ita, former head of service of the federation, was on March 23, 2020, arraigned for her alleged involvement in a N570 million fraud.

Abdulrasheed Maina is facing a 12-count charge for allegedly diverting N1.2 billion pension funds, operating fictitious bank accounts, official corruption, and money laundering. His son, Faisal is facing a three-count charge of money laundering, corruption and lack of full disclosure of assets.

Shehu Sani, a former senator who represented Kaduna Central in the Eighth Senate, is being prosecuted by the EFCC for allegedly collecting $10,000 from a popular Kaduna-based car dealer, Sani Dauda, under false pretence. Sani was arraigned on January 27, 2020. There was however, some controversy over the allegation against Sani. First, the prosecution witnesses denied in court that money was transferred to the senator, then the senator also complained on his his twitter handle that “When their own witnesses failed to indict or implicate me for $25k ‘extortion’, they now posted on their Twitter handle that its ‘$10 Million fraud’. Sani had earlier alleged that the allegation was politically motivated.

Yusuf Ibrahim Gokaru, a former account-general of Bauchi State was on Wednesday, March 18, 2020 arraigned with the State director of finance, Ibrahim Muhammed Lele for allegedly obtaining N258 million by false pretence, conspiracy, money laundering and concealment of the source and origin of the money. They were arraigned before Justice A.H Suleiman of the Bauchi State High Court in Bauchi State. At their arraignment shortly before the lockdown due to covid-19 pandemic, the defendants pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Likewise, Nicholas Mutu Ebomo, a federal lawmaker and former Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Niger Delta Development Commission, was arraigned for an alleged N320.1m fraud. He also pleaded not guilty to the charge.

A former Minister of Power, Muhammad Wakil was re-arraigned on May 27, 2019, alongside Garba Abacha, Ibrahim Shehu Birma, Dr. Abubakar Ali Kullima and Engr. Muhammad Baba Kachalla before Justice M.T Salihu of the of Federal High Court, Maiduguri, Borno State on a seven-count charge for criminal conspiracy to commit money laundering to the tune of N460 million. They pleaded not guilty to the charge.

The Commission is prosecuting Abba Yusuf, a permanent secretary in the Borno State Road Maintenance Agency, (BORMA) and two others before Justice Aisha Kumaliya of the Borno State High Court, sitting in Maiduguri, the state capital for N11.3 million fraud.

Azeez Fashola (Naira Marley), a popular musician, is facing 11-count charge bordering on credit card fraud which contravenes the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, and the Cyber Crimes Act.

The Commission is prosecuting former Attorney General of the Federation, Mohammed Bello Adoke and Abubakar Aliyu on a seven-count charge, bordering on money laundering, bribery and abuse of office before Justice Binta Nyako of the Federal High Court, and on 42-count charge at the FCT High Court, Gwagwalada presided over by Justice Kutigi over the Oil Prospecting License (OPL) 245, involving Shell and Eni.

James Richard Nolan and Adam Quinn are standing trial before Justice O.E. Abang of the Federal High Court, Abuja, in absentia. Both are directors in Goidel Resources Limited, a Designated Non-Financial Institution (DNFI) and ICIL Limited, and are facing a 16-count charge bordering on money laundering. Their matter is tied to the Process and Industrial Development, P&ID prosecuted by the EFCC for which it secured the conviction and liquidation of the company and the forfeiture of its assets to the federal government.

The EFCC is also prosecuting Grace Taiga, former director, legal services in the Ministry of Petroleum Resources before Justice O.A. Adeniyi of Apo High Court Abuja on an eight-count amended charges bordering on obtaining the sum of $10,000 (Ten Thousand United States Dollars) from Industrial Consultants International for corruptly doing favour to Process and Industrial Development Limited, (P&ID).

Ismaila Mustapha (Mompha), a social media celebrity, is facing prosecution for operating 51 bank accounts in Nigeria with which he allegedly acquired properties in Dubai, and laundered about N14 billion through a firm known as Ismalob Global Investments Limited. Hamza Koudeih is Mompha’s Lebanese accomplice. With two firms: THK Services Limited and CHK Properties Limited Koudeih allegedly laundered about N19 billion.

However, despite all these visible activities, Buhari’s government is not seen to be effectively tackling corruption in Nigeria because the afflictions of corruption are even getting worse.

The United States’ Department of State Country Report on Nigeria in 2019 reported “widespread and pervasive corruption.” Section 4 of the report titled “Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government, observes succinctly: “Although the law provides criminal penalties for conviction of official corruption, the government did not implement the law effectively, and government officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Massive, widespread, and pervasive corruption affected all levels of government, including the judiciary and the security services.”

Rachael Hanna, writing on The Trilateral Nigeria-US-Jersey Agreement to Return Nigerian Dictator Sani Abacha’s Assets: A Preliminary Assessment on April 24, 2020 in the Global Anti-corruption Blog, noted: “Nigeria has long suffered from successive governments looting its coffers, and while President Buhari was elected on an anti-corruption platform in 2015, five years later, his administration is widely perceived as having failed to combat the country’s systemic corruption. More specifically, Nigeria’s public procurement system does not have adequate rules, procedures, and enforcement mechanisms.”

The US 2017 Human Rights Report published in 2018 found that “impunity remained widespread at all levels of government.” It indicted the government for intentional laxity in the war against corruption. “Although the law provides criminal penalties for conviction of official corruption, the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Massive, widespread, and pervasive corruption affected all levels of government and the security services.”

However, elder statesman, Junaid Mohammed, gives Buhari an average score in the war against corruption. He told TELL in a telephone interview, Thursday, June 4, that he had seen a genuine effort on the part of Buhari’s government to fight corruption. He regrets though that apart from Buhari who he calls ‘Commander of the fight’, those fighting corruption in the present government constitute a minority.

He said, “Yes, there have been some successes but old habits die hard. The Nigerian system has been corrupt and five years could not eliminate it. They have a way of milking the system. We must fight with all we have; unless we fight corruption with all we have, this country will be a thing of the past. We must find people to hold responsible. “

He says “the war against corruption is a national assignment that must be done; not doing so is cowardly.” Nigeria must build strong systems, not ‘personality cult;’ not by saying “this is me’ but by getting things done.” He urges everyone to support the President to win the war. He fears that Buhari may not achieve his targets in eight years.

He also feels the war is not thorough enough. “In this country, we have a former CJN who had seven bank accounts. We have a former CBN governor with 17 bank accounts! We have people in CBN who collapsed banks and bought the buildings of the banks through proxy. I know many of the buildings in Kano bought by CBN officials through proxies.”

He says Buhari may be sincere but “If what we are hearing about Abba Kyari is true, he will find it difficult to convince people he is sincere.” He regrets that internal corruption within government is not pursued with the same venom as cases outside government. “You must fight corruption in a very transparent manner without primordial sentiments, nepotism and sentiment.”

On the other hand, Chekwas Okorie, UPP bigwig said in a telephone interview with TELL, Friday, June 6, that Buhari has done well in the war against corruption. He said that fighting corruption is systemic and all things being done may not be manifest yet. He pointed at the implementation of TSA as a plus for the country. “It should be sustained and improved on.”

To him large buildings everywhere in the country should be investigated and if the sources of income of the owners cannot be verified, should be forfeited to the government.

On the perceived lopsidedness of Buhari’s anti-corruption war, he said, “I don’t think so. Corruption cases never expire. In the next three years, another person may get there and decide to investigate the other cases.”

On internal corruption in government, Okorie urged Nigerians to get involved by taking advantage of the whistle-blowing policy and Freedom of Information Act to blow open cases of corruption in high places.

Does he feel that the Igbo are targeted? “I have an attitude; if you are charged to court, have you stolen public fund? Are they innocent? The river cannot drown somebody whose legs it did not see. Moreover, government is not the judge; I only urge the judiciary to be fair.”

However, he says lopsidedness in appointments is ‘apparent,’ “especially those defined by the federal character principle. That aspect bothers me. It is a major aspect.”

Put together, Magu looked back at the past five years and declared: “We are on course. We are focused on all the cases we are pursuing. We are doing our best. Everybody should be involved. It is our fight. Every Nigerian should own it; even those in Diaspora.”

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