Last week, President Muhammadu Buhari received in Aso Rock, his predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan. Neither man has disclosed what they discussed.
It is possible, however—because Mr. Jonathan had said things to this effect—that he went to Mr. Buhari to gloat at the irony that Buhari’s Nigeria is the most corrupt yet.
Remember, it was Jonathan who once said that “stealing is not corruption,” an affirmation that was partly responsible for Buhari’s presidential victory in 2015. Perhaps Jonathan requested the visit to discuss a certain “exchange rate” that has been in effect recently.
Remember: six months ago, Buhari ordered the Federal Ministry of Finance to sell off all unclaimed looted assets recovered by the Federal Government since 2015.
As far back as Buhari’s national broadcast at his government’s first anniversary in May 2016, he had described as “significant” the volume of assets recovered.
And speaking previously in his hometown of Daura in February last year, he made that point again. On that occasion, he was addressing members of the Daura Emirate coalition.
And then, speaking in early April this year to committees of the House of Representatives, Udo Udoma, the Minister of Budget and National Planning, disclosed Buhari’s order.
“The Ministry of Finance, working with all the relevant authorities, has been authorised to take action to liquidate all recovered, unencumbered assets within six months.”
Bragging before his Daura people last year, Buhari said authoritatively that the proceeds would be deposited into the nation’s accounts to place them beyond the reach of anyone.
Last Thursday, he reiterated the same pledge as he received members of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC) in Abuja. Promising to weed out corruption “anywhere,” he spoke of assets were similarly seized from (corrupt) officials “only for those assets to be returned to them when government was changed.”
“Let’s see who will now take back the money from the treasury, and give back to those people, as was done in the past,” he vowed.
The problem is that while Buhari is very good in the glamour department of lambasting corruption, he knows nothing about transparency. In other words, he lives in a contradiction bubble. That is why he is the only one who believes he is not corrupt.
And this is why he—and only he—could order these assets (most likely recovered from officials of governments between 1999 and 2015), without anyone specifying what they are, who owned them, what they are being sold for, and who is buying them. If there are legal hurdles concerning a particular property, the least Buhari’s government could have done was to arrange to identify that property, its valuation, its buyer, and what it sold for. The least.
On the contrary, the government went into the disposal of assets phase in the opaquest and most dangerous way possible, contrary to commonsense and to its commitment in the Open Government Partnership National Plan (2016-2019). In other words, it chose a corrupt and corruptible way to prove it is not corrupt.
Of course, that is impossible.
But then, this is about Buhari. And being Buhari, he asked the Minister of Finance, cast as an angel, to sell off these thousands of assets, some of which are reported to be overseas, in six months, without reporting to Nigerians.
And because that Minister, Zainab Ahmed, is an angel, she must have naturally supervised a legion of angels. And deploying a secret formula, she must have managed to advertise the exercise in celestial regions to attract only other angels—not friends, not relatives, not decoys, not officials of the Ministry nor other Ministers or top civil servants and their friends in the private sector—who were willing to pay their quoted “patriotic” rates.
No, in a government which manufactures jobs with words and measures achievement by propaganda, Ms. Ahmed must have in these six months marketed and sold these high-end assets, acquired at great cost, to people who are rich enough to afford them but who have never looted, and whose purchasing was not sponsored by those who originally owned the assets.
No, in a government which is now widely-known to be a champion of double-talk, a government in which standards are loose and manipulation is standard, a government of a party in which integrity is a street joke and being fraudulent guarantees advancement, the disposal of these assets should never have been done in the dark unless it was meant to benefit those who owned them in the first place.
But it is not too late. Buhari can correct this monumental, historic error by causing an extraordinary government gazette or other record of the matter, publishing it on a website.
If he does not, then the public would have no option than to accept what seems obvious: that this was a grand scheme from the beginning to protect the interest of Nigeria’s looters while Buhari himself benefitted from a public relations offensive aimed at making him an anti-corruption hero and Nigeria the loser.
Nigerians will remember that at an anti-corruption conference in London in May 2016, Buhari told the international community that two weeks later he would personally provide to Nigerians a “comprehensive report” of all recovered stolen public funds.
He didn’t. He was afraid to name names.
Instead, he said, “Full details of the status and categories of the assets will now be published by the Ministry of Information and updated periodically. When forfeiture formalities are completed these monies will be credited to the treasury and be openly and transparently used in funding developmental projects and the public will be informed,”
The Ministry of Information has never provided that “comprehensive report,” let alone the periodic updates.
In other words, combating corruption through publicly identifying looters and their loot has for five years only yielded excuse after excuse from the Buhari government. Sadly, it has culminated this year in what is effectively the return of recovered assets to their owners and their friends. This is the only fair description of the hush-hush “sale” of these assets.
The truth is that these assets are being sold as proceeds of crime. Buhari’s failure to identify these criminals does not make him anti-corruption or strong, but as weak and complicit. It completes a full circle of behaviour since 2015 in which, whenever he has had the chance, he has sided with the looters while loudly proclaiming his superiority. Even when two courts ordered the government to publish a full record of loot recovery, he refused to.
That is neither governance nor statesmanship. Instead, it is the very evil he claims it is fighting. And he is failing because Nigerians refuse to buy into a false mission. Buhari cannot “weed out” corruption because he is growing it.
Still, we remind his government that of its own volition, it announced four months ago a plan to lift100 million Nigerians out of poverty in 10 years. But where is the strategy document?
Two weeks ago in this column, I published an article headed: “Buhari’s ‘foreign calvary’ solution.”That concept was supposed to be “cavalry.” I apologise.