THE MORE THINGS CHANGE, NOTHING CHANGES

by Nwachukwu Egbunike

Fighting corruption has never been easy anywhere in the world and Nigeria is no exception. For quite some time, Nigeria’s anti-corruption agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) was a force to be reckoned with. The mere mention of EFCC or Nuhu Ribadu, its past chairman, sent shocks along people’s spine. However, the recent controversy over the appointment of Mrs Farida Waziri as the new boss of EFCC, has made many Nigerians skeptical of the governments resolve to fight corruption.

Umaru Musa Yar’Adua started well with what the Economist described as “his resolve not to intervene on behalf of former state governors from his own party who have been indicted by the country’s anti-corruption agency”. He caught the hearts of many when he sacked the health minister and her deputy for not retiring funds (about N300 million) from last unspent allocations to the federation account. Many also were beginning to repose confidence on his “rule of law” doctrine. A case in point was his non-interference – or better a soft landing – in the case of Iyabo Bello-Obasanjo (the daughter of past president, Olusegun Obasanjo), who as the head of the Senate Committee of Health, was also embroiled in the scandal that sent the health minister packing.

However, Yar’Adua’s honeymoon with Nigerians was shattered by the compulsory study leave that was granted Mallam Nuhu Ribadu to the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, Jos. Ribadu had been perceived to have many powerful enemies, mostly former state governors who he had dragged to court for peculation of public funds. Public confidence started to wane, because many saw the action as pointless, why change a winning team? In his stead, Ibrahim Lamorde, took over in an acting capacity. Therefore Waziri’s appointment is not only insensitive and hypocritical but also a classical example of adding salt into injury.

Already, many have voiced their protest against the new captain of EFCC. The Campaign for Democracy (CD), a civil society organisation, was very vocal in this regard. In a press statement, the CD observed that since Mrs Waziri stood the surety for former Governor George Akume, a consultant to James Ibori and others charged with looting state treasuries, she lacked moral credibility for the job. Besides it noted that Yar’Adua will only observe the rule of law as long as “it does not hurt his personal interests and that of his friends”. Radical lawyer, Gani Fawehinmi has asked a Federal High Court, Abuja Division to nullify the appointment because the president was yet to remove Mallam Nuhu Ribadu from office; as such the post is not vacant.

Many Nigerians are particularly interested in fighting corruption, having been victims for a long time, especially during the military era. There has been a lame attempt to re-brand Sani Abacha, Nigerians late maximum ruler by some former military dictators like Muhammadu Buhari, Ibrahim Babangida and Abdulsalami Abubakar, who referred to the outcry against Abacha as “mere allegations”, “unfounded and baseless” and that “it is not true that he looted public treasury”. However, Nigerians are no fools; the people are not in a hurry to forget that in 2002, the Obasanjo government froze the Abacha’s family “alleged loot” which was close to $2 billion.

Although the Obasanjo’s government, at a time turned the EFCC into a tool to witch hunt his opponents, most Nigerians are quick to commend the EFCC for showing that the high and mighty can still be held accountable for their misdeeds. The usual thing had been for government to bark and not bite.

Yar’Adua is known as baba go-slow (father of slow traffic) for his rather sluggish pace of administration. Nigerians are in no doubt about the personal integrity of their president; however, the credibility crisis of his election and the perceived interests of those who bankrolled his victory leave much to be desired. Institutionalised corruption is an endemic metastasis in the country, especially in the public sector. Although Nigeria’s ranking by Transparency International slightly has improved, many are still convinced that the government still needs to do more. The controversy over the appointment of a new chief for the anti-corruption is therefore understandable. As Nigerians and the international community adopt a wait and see attitude, it looks like the more things changes, nothing changes at all.

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