Last week, former Abia State Governor Orji Kalu, joined the All Progressives Congress (APC).
Kalu, a businessman, and political party promoter, was welcomed into the ruling party not like some sort of hero, with National Chairman John Odigie-Oyegun leading the honors at the APC headquarters in the federal capital.
No, Kalu is not an unknown quantity, and there are many reasons to remember him. My favorite memory of him comes from 2004, when he kicked off a firestorm in the ruling party at the time, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), by publicly demanding that Tony Anenih, the nation’s immediate past Minister of Works, explain how he squandered N300 billion road funds in four years.
The disclosure of the scale of budgeting had been made by President Olusegun in his home state of Ogun during his campaign for re-election. Given the noticeable absence of good roads in the country, Kalu challenged Obasanjo to ask Anenih a few questions.
For most of the past 10 years ago, Kalu has himself been trying to avoid confronting certain corruption charges against him in court. This year, the Appeal Court finally ordered him to stand trial, and just two weeks ago, the EFCC charged him with 34 counts of money-laundering.
Kalu’s legal ordeal began in 2007 when the EFCC first charged him at the High Court in Abuja with 107 that included official corruption and criminal diversion of public funds totaling over five billion.
Having lost the battle to avoid prosecution, Kalu seemed to know where his salvation lay. His strategy paid off, as on Wednesday, he had the entire APC, which allegedly has a corruption-fighting government in power, waiting to cheer him in with music and television coverage.
That was the same day that the leader of that government, President Muhammadu Buhari, reportedly disclosed a “tough and grueling” battle in Nigeria’s anti-corruption trenches. Meeting with American Secretary of State John Kerry on the margins of the United Nations Climate Change conference in Morocco, he said corrupt Nigerians were fighting back with the formidable arsenal of illicit wealth they accumulated.
He spoke as party chairman Odigie-Oyegun, 5200 kilometers south, was triumphantly hugging and kissing Mr. Kalu in Abuja.
To be clear, Mr. Kalu has not been convicted of anything. He may never be, as a corruption trial of a Nigerian Big Man rarely result in convictions, especially when such a man belongs to the ruling party.
Still, this was just days of the EFCC slapping N3.2 billion worth of money-laundering charges on Mr. Kalu, one of 15 governors the agency is currently trying for various allegations.
Something doesn’t add up.
It is no announcement, anywhere, to say that corruption is fighting back. It always does. You do not announce, or embark on such an engagement and presume that corruption would simply lie down and be swept away.
That is why Buhari’s Marrakech declaration that corruption is fighting back confuses all who wish him success in the effort.
Nobody wants to hear that corruption is fighting back; we want to hear that corruption is being crushed: every insurrection savagely— but legally—put down.
The problem is that is that to most Nigerians, corruption is doing very well. Considering the mountainous scale of the Nigeria mess, only an insignificant number of suspects have so far seen a courtroom or prison. While things are a little different from the way they were before May 29, 2015, corruption is not being robustly engaged.
The Treasury Single Account, the collapse of the oil market, and the humbling of the naira have in the past year meant that there isn’t much for people to steal, but current stealing has never been the issue for this government, as it does not admit of corruption within its ranks.
Even on its chosen turf of the PDP government which preceded it, has mostly left its principal personnel to his or her freedom and swagger.
Just weeks ago, we learned from President Buhari’s biography, "Muhammadu Buhari: The Challenges of Leadership in Nigeria," by John Paden, that his anti-corruption objective is simply to retrieve stolen funds, not to exact justice. That no inconvenience is to be expected beyond surrendering some of the stolen funds must have been music to anyone involved.
The author disclosed that former President Goodluck Jonathan used an illegal strategy of requesting “off-budget funds,” and that President Buhari such letters as written by Mr. Jonathan in his hands.
Mr. Jonathan has not denied the allegation. How is corruption posing a “tough and grueling” fightback? Is he possibly refusing to return those funds?
Since 2010, the federal government has compiled an armada of reports concerning corruption in high places, each of them awaiting action. If they are not being implemented, how do those involved fight back? If they are being implemented, why aren’t there many rich people in courtrooms and detention facilities everywhere?
As far as is publicly known, nothing has come of the president’s review of the administration he succeeded, or of the NNPC, or of the Transformation Agenda, or of the Subsidy Re-investment and Empowerment Programme, among others.
Even in terms of loot-recovery, the government lacks a stellar record so far. Not only has its approach been murky and limited, it has compromised its own efforts by protecting the identity of those who have returned money, or had money seized from them.
By doing this, a nation at war is sadly uncertain whom we are fighting. We have no idea whom “they” might be, as opposed to whom “we” are. In the light of day, the saints are the sinners, and the angels have vulture excrement on their faces. Crime appears to have paid; and honesty, to have failed.
On the legal front, the government has provided so limited leadership, direction and energy for the anti-corruption effort that it has itself almost become a spectator, conveniently declaring that it will strengthen the relevant anti-corruption agencies. President Jonathan’s government did not lose three States to Boko Haram because we did not have soldiers in those places, but because of the nation’s leadership vacuum. An army unit does not win a war; operational command and control does.
The point is that the Buhari government makes a serious mistake if it does not revise its anti-corruption narrative to include the citizens, to fight in the open, and to punish. A campaign of this nature should be seen to be hurting the guilty, but the guilty, even when they supposedly fight back, are unidentified, and the war savages the innocent.
This campaign should be hurting the thieves and stripping them of wealth and respect; instead it is inflicting pain on the victims even as it enhances poverty and inequality in the land.
This campaign should have Buhari and the APC distancing themselves from compromise and any appearance of duplicity; instead, it seems to revel in compromise and contamination.
This campaign should have APC demonstrating examples of good governance, instead, it is amending the law in Edo State to provide retirement mansions of N300 million to the outgoing governor and his deputy.
We have seen all this before.