Atiku And The Anti-Corruption War


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Atiku And The Anti-Corruption War




Tola Alice Ogundoyin



August 16, 2005


Nigeria between 1984 and 1999 was ruled by a succession of corrupt generals who brought the country to its knees internally and made her a pariah state internationally.


At his swearing in ceremony on May 29th 1999, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo mindful of his audience had this to say: “Corruption, the greatest single bane of our society today will be tackled head-on at all levels… the impact of official corruption is so rampant and has earned Nigeria a very bad image at home and abroad. Besides, it has distorted and retrogressed development”.


Since then, the President has tried to live up to his fine rhetoric. A number of government institutions have been put in place to wage war against corruption: the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related Offences Commission (ICPC), Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Budget Monitoring and Price Intelligence Unit (Due Process), Extractive Industries and transparency Initiative etc.


Most of the background work needed to ensure that these institutions are established on a strong legal foundation was done in the first term, 1999 – 2003. It is therefore no surprise that the fight against corruption took a more vigorous dimension in his second tenure in office. The sacking of two serving cabinet Ministers, the arrest and prosecution of the former Inspector General of Police, the resignation and prosecution of the Senate President are cases in point.


The new efforts will hopefully impress the international community that has been rather sceptical of Nigerians anti-corruption drive. Transparency International, the global anticorruption watchdog has for instance consistently ranked the country as the most corrupt nation in the world after Bangladesh and sometimes Haiti. It has been reported that in his drive to get Nigeria’s debts cancelled by the International Community, most world leaders advised Obasanjo to go back home and do something about corruption.


We must therefore go back to basics and ask ourselves why corruption is so rampant in Nigeria. Why are payments nearly mandatory for everything from traffic violations to getting phone connections? And this is a country where no known law encourages bribery. All known laws in Nigeria forbid bribery.


Recently one informed commentator observed that the United States of America equates the war against corruption in Nigeria with the war against terrorism. Why the heightened interest?


The answer is simple. Corrupt Nigerians have perfected the art to an extent that they have swindled many gullible and dishonest businessmen from the West. Many con artists have dangled the carrot of unearned fat profits to extort and ruin such fortune seekers from the West. Part of the concern about corruption in Nigeria is for the west to save their own citizens. But on a more serious note, part of their concern is to reduce the incidence of money laundering. With free flow of cash proceeds from the corrupt Nigerian system into Western banks, it has become a more complicated task to track down terrorist funds. That explains why they now equate the fight against terrorism with the fight against corruption in Nigeria.   


Before the discovery of crude oil in commercial quantities, corruption in Nigeria was at a tolerable level. Oil is the source of cronyism, which reached its zenith during the military era and entrenched corruption as a way of life in Nigeria. According to Malam Nuhu Ribadu, Chairman Chief Executive of EFCC, 40% of Nigerias $ 20Billion oil income is swallowed up in corruption. The situation in the oil sector, which provides for about 95% of the country’s foreign exchange income, is still very cloudy.


In 2002 Engr. Hamman Tukur, Chairman, Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission raised a major allegation against the NNPC the Federal Government Conglomerate the handles oil revenues. At that time, he alleged that about N300 billion in oil revenue could not be accounted for by the NNPC. The President is said to have made efforts to sort out the controversy over the missing money; so has the Senate.


The situation however remains unclear even though the Group Managing Director of the NNPC, Jackson Gaius-Obaseki lost his office in circumstances that were not fully explained.


The President, Olusegun Obasanjo has made efforts at the International level also to ensure that there is some transparency in Nigerias oil exploration and trade. For instance, he and three other African Presidents signed the “Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative”, a pact designed to publicize payments in the oil sector. Even then, there is still a lot of suspicion in what happens in that sector. This is heightened by the fact that the massive oil reserves, which generate huge foreign exchange, have produced astonishingly little benefit for the Nigerian people. Instead of good schools, well-stocked medical clinics, and comfortable homes, they live with increasing poverty, environmental degradation, and continuing violence. Oil has not only been a source of cronyism in Nigeria, it has suffocated development.


In the past six years and for reasons that have not been explained, President Olusegun Obasanjo has in addition to his Presidential responsibilities held the office of Minister for Petroleum affairs. All attempts to make him relinquish the Ministerial portfolio have so far failed. He only recently appointed a junior Minister for the Ministry.


There is also the perception that the President’s war against corruption is aimed at dislodging his political enemies, be they imaginary or real. Those who see his anti-corruption campaign in this light point at his handling of cases of corruption against such adversaries as Chuba Okadigbo, the Senate President, now late, Alhaji Ghali Na-Abba, former Speaker, House of Representatives and even his own anointed Senate President Anyim Paius Anyim with whom he later disagreed politically. Whereas the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) moved expeditiously after these officers, the same could not be said about Chief Tony Anenih who has been smarting under persistent allegations that huge government funds allocated to his ministry for road construction were siphoned off. The president’s anti- corruption agencies, even the more credible Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) therefore operate under a cloud of suspicion.


As the country moves towards another election year, the boundary line between the President’s politics and his war against corruption will attract more interest and more controversy.


It is for instance common knowledge that the President is not comfortable with the prospects of his Vice, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar taking over from him: His disposition has a short history to it. In the months leading to the 2003 PDP primaries, there were suggestions in the media that perhaps the President should adopt the “Mandela Option”, serve for one term and handover to his deputy. These calls did not amuse the President who had his eyes set on a second term.


Perhaps what angered the President most was the failure of his deputy to show enthusiasm for his second term. Atiku Abubakar as the undisputed leader of late General Yar Adua’s political machine, the PDM was under tremendous pressure by his followers who did not like the shabby treatment meted out to him in the build up to the primaries.


They wanted the Vice President to either run against his boss or team up with Dr. Alex Ekwueme. In the end, the President secured Atiku’s support under a humiliating circumstance. The belief is that the President has not forgotten or forgiven the humiliation and is sworn to have his pound of flesh.


Before the politics of transition in 2003 set in, the Vice President was primarily in charge of all federal government dealings with the 36 states of the federation and the federal capital territory. He also oversaw the boards of all Federal Government Parastatals and Corporations. He was primarily in charge of the national economy through Chairmanship of amongst other bodies the National Economic Council, National Council on Privatisation (NCP), National Economic Revitalization Committee and National Planning Commission.


Vice President Atiku as a politician with on eye tomorrow is said to have given all his efforts in these assignments. In performing creditably, he earned the respect and confidence of all he came in contact with. For instance, he warmed himself so much to the State Governors who dealt directly with him that those of them in the PDP preferred him to Obasanjo as a President.


In the economic field, his management of the privatisation programme earned the country a significant level of international confidence and acceptance of its economic reform effort. As chairman of National Economic Revitalization Committee, he initiated mechanisms, which led to the US/Nigeria joint Economic Partnership Committee; the Nigeria/South Africa Bi-National Commission, the Nigeria UK Forum, Joint Commissions with Jamaica, Senegal, Chad, India and Morocco amongst others.


The Vice President has however walked into a political landmine for doing his job and maybe doing it too well. The law establishing the agencies he supervises like the National Council on Privatisation, NCP has been deliberately tinkered with to dilute his influence. In certain areas, parallel institutions and agencies have been created to neutralise his vision and leadership in the development of a new broad economic policy framework and direction. This is true of the National Economic Council, the National Council on Privatisation, the National Economic Revitalisation Committee, and the National Planning Commission. His loyalists among the Governors are going through wrenching ordeals. His trusted personal aides have been sacked not once but twice and thrice without his foreknowledge. His party the PDP is being purged of his loyalists.


The most dangerous aspect of the campaign is the attempt to smear the Vice President with the odious stench of corruption. Even though Mallam Nasir El-Rufai who headed the BPE under Atiku’s Chairmanship has consistently exonerated him of any improprieties, there is growing concern that the recent moves against the privatisation of African Petroleum (AP) may be aimed at hitting Atiku or his business associates. There are many other moves directed at bringing down businessmen with close connections with Atiku. The Vice President has however been consistent in his demands that anybody with evidence of corruption against him should make it public. Nobody has so far raised any credible allegation against him. In fact of all those public figures with speculated interest in the 2007 Presidential race, the Vice President has the cleanest public image. He is in the best position to serve the country.


President Obasanjo needs the services of his loyal deputy to continue with the economic reform programme he has initiated. The international community needs the services of a man they have worked with in the past six years in the efforts to save Nigeria from the scourge of corruption. Nigerians themselves need the services of the hardworking, honest, suave and accommodating politician who has contributed in no small measure to the stability of the polity. Let Atiku be.




Centre for Economic and Social Rights

Wuse II, Abuja



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