Suspension for all
Yet, in arresting and prosecuting the corrupt among us, we must guard against being befuddled by our identification with the ruling party. It is such uncritical alignment that has blurred the vision of those who should have declared the obvious excesses that have smeared the anti-corruption campaign intolerable.
True, no one who is keenly aware of the grim reality that the nation has suffered despoliation due to the complicity of the corrupt guardians of the laws of the land would query the raid on the residences of judges who allegedly have been living on sleazy funds. Again, we cannot easily render impeachable the idea of the judges being on suspension until they exonerate themselves from their alleged involvement in practices that strongly detracted from their professional integrity.
Thus, the National Judicial Council (NJC) may soon buckle under the pressure being mounted on it to suspend the judges. The NJC may no longer bear being accused of complicity with the judicial officers whose residences the Department of State Services (DSS) raided for allegedly perverting the course of justice after being bribed with dollars. Of course, apart from the DSS and the president, no one else knows how compelling the incriminating evidence against the judges are. But to save the judiciary from the moral absurdity of judges accused of corruption presiding over cases of financial sleaze, they may have to be suspended while their investigation lasts.
But it would remain an ominous omission that mocks the anti-corruption drive if it is only the judges that would be on suspension because of the allegations against them. This is where the Buhari government must allow equity to lend credibility to the anti-corruption campaign. The judges have alleged that they are being haunted by the security agency of the government not because their professional credibility is in question, but simply because they have refused to do the obnoxious bidding of some of those in the ruling party.
Indeed, they did not mince words. Justice Sylvester Ngwuta accused the Minister of Transportation, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi and Ogbonaya Onu of asking him to influence judgments in their favour. Ngwuta alleged that Amaechi asked him to illegally remove Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti State and Nyesom Wike of Rivers State as governors. Before then, Justice John Inyang Okoro accused Amaechi of asking him to pervert justice by making sure that election appeal cases for Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Abia states favour him.
Thus, if the judges must be suspended because of the allegations against them, Amaechi and Onu should be allowed to suffer the same fate. Buhari can no longer gleefully hold on to his notion that none of his ministers is corrupt. Shortly before Buhari formed his cabinet, there was a rash of allegations of corruption against some of the people he was considering as ministers. But hiding under the notion that the would-be ministers were not corrupt, they were shielded from an investigation that would have either exonerated or indicted them.
In less than two years, Buhari can no longer convince the citizens that members of his government are immune to corruption. After all, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo recently disclosed that all institutions of government are corrupt. Even if we are to accept that Osinbajo only referred to institutions of government before May 2015 and thus the Buhari government is not corrupt, Amaechi and Onu have been accused of corruption based on their past dealings in their previous public offices. To be clear, what is emerging is that the Buhari government is being enveloped in an atmosphere of corruption. Corruption in the Buhari government has allegedly moved from the level of budget padding to that of brazen stealing.
This is why questions are being raised over the management of N12 billion allocated for the welfare of internally displaced persons (IDPs) who are victims of the insurgency in the North East. The allocation is being managed under the auspices of the Presidential Initiative on the North East in the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF). Those in charge of the budget are allegedly not bothered that the IDPs are malnourished, suffering sexual exploitation and wasting away in dingy camps. All they have been interested in is how to steal the money. In the process, N270 million has allegedly been used to weed grass. When the House of Representatives that is probing the allegation summoned the SGF, Mr. Babachir Lawal ,to appear before it, he did not bulge. What could have given him the boldness to do this if not because he knew that Buhari would do nothing about his behaviour?
If the judges must be suspended, Lawal and all the other people who have been accused of corruption in the handling of the IDPs’ funds must also be relieved of their offices. They must wait until they are exonerated before they return to their offices.
Buhari’s anti-corruption campaign must move beyond the level of going only after the members of the opposition party. Despite the attempts of the Buhari government to dismiss the notion that it is fixated on persecuting its perceived or real political enemies, the accusation has never flagged. In fact, with the position taken this week by former President Goodluck Jonathan, the notion of the persecution of the opposition has been lent further force. After a lecture on youth entrepreneurship at the Oxford Union in the United Kingdom, Jonathan declared that his former National Security Adviser (NSA) could not have stolen $2.2 billon. For Jonathan, the allegation of the misappropriation of this humongous amount in the midst of mass poverty is chimerical because he is secure in the conviction that the money was used to buy aircraft, warships and arms during his administration .
It is thus clear that the Buhari government has much more work to do in fighting corruption than just arresting and consigning the accused to detention. We cannot know who is really corrupt now until the allegations against the accused are taken to an unbiased court. This is why it negates the pursuit of justice when accused persons like Dasuki are kept in detention for almost two years. With this challenge that Jonathan has thrown to Buhari, his anti-corruption campaign stands the risk of being discredited. But he can still save it by thoroughly executing it in line with the laws of the land. And this should involve arresting and prosecuting members of his party and government who have equally been accused of corruption.