28 April 2018

Nigeria: Buhari's Corruption War - Musings On U.S. Damning Report

I have spent quality time reading the Country Report on Human Rights released in Washington D.C last week, encompassing a damning assessment of Nigeria under the leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari. This 48-page report prepared and made public by the United States Department of State was unequivocal about persistent impunity at all levels of government in Nigeria, lack of transparency of the Buhari administration and massive corruption by government officials under Buhari's watch. I was not shocked by the report. This handwriting has been on the Nigerian wall in the last 35 months.

In the 48-page report, the US was emphatic that the Buhari government is one big mess with corruption, lamenting thus: "Although the law provides criminal penalties for conviction of official corruption, the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Massive, widespread and pervasive corruption affected all levels of government and the security services.

"EFCC's arrests and indictments of politicians continued throughout the year, implicating a significant number of opposition political figures and leading to allegations of partisan motivations on the part of the EFCC... In its pursuit of corruption, the EFCC often did not observe all pertinent due process safeguards. In November, the Economic Community of West African States Court of Justice declared unlawful the arrest and detention in 2015 of former national security adviser, Sambo Dasuki.

"A court ordered him released on bail in a case brought by the EFCC for the alleged diversion of N13.6 billion ($$443.2 million) intended to purchase military material during the Jonathan administration. Despite the court order, he remained in detention."

The report further noted that government did not often take steps to prosecute officials who perpetuated impunity, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in government: "Authorities generally did not hold police, military, or other security force personnel accountable for the use of excessive or deadly force or for the deaths of persons in custody."

The report stated that respect for human rights generally remained appalling in Nigeria and identified the following as the most significant human rights abuses: extrajudicial and arbitrary killings; disappearances and arbitrary detentions; torture, particularly in detention facilities, including sexual exploitation and abuse; use of children by some security elements, looting, and destruction of property; civilian detentions in military facilities, often based on flimsy evidence; denial of fair public trial; executive influence on the judiciary; infringement on citizens' privacy rights; restrictions on freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and movement etc.

I am particularly interested in the part of this report that x-rayed corruption in Nigeria. For me, the US Department of State did not say anything new. However, it reinforced the expose of genuine patriots about sleaze in this government. Patriots have spent the last 35 months screaming to high heaven about the corruption and impunity of this government. With the way the cabal has been running the show in the last 35 months, this administration may end up being the most corrupt in the history of this country. Corruption stories like Mainagate, Barugate, NEMAgate, Babachirgate, NHISgate, Abachalootgate and the rest of them are ineffaceable.

Let's talk about subsidy payment. Before Buhari assumed office, Nigerians were told that the payment of petrol subsidy by the Jonathan government was one big fraud. Shockingly, this government has been spending more on petrol subsidy than its predecessor. Junior Minister for Petroleum, Ibe Kachikwu, recently confirmed that petrol subsidy payment had risen to N1.4 trillion annually. The latest figure means that an average of N3.76 billion is paid daily to ghost petrol suppliers. This government has now given subsidy payment a fraudulent name i.e. "under-recovery" payment. Nigerians will love to know these suppliers and how much each gets as subsidy.

Spending a monstrous $5.8 billion on the importation of 9.8 million metric tons of petrol in four months - October 2017 to January 2018 - is outrageous. This means that this government spent about $17 billion on the importation of petrol last year. Which corruption is bigger than this? Selling petrol at N145 per litre after spending so much on subsidy is massive corruption. Nigerians outside Lagos and Abuja pay more? What about the sleaze in the NNPC that saw contracts running into billions of USD allegedly awarded exclusively by its GMD, Maikanti Baru, without due process. Some of them include crude term contracts valued at over $10 billion; DSDP contracts valued at over $5 billion; the AKK pipeline contract valued at approximately $3 billion; various financing allocation-funding contracts with the NOCs valued at over $3 billion and various NPDC production service contracts valued at over $3 billion. Kachikwu further alleged that during the first year of Baru's tenure, no contract was cleared by the NNPC board, despite legal and procedural requirements that all contracts above $20 million would need to be reviewed and approved by the board. The cabal in charge of this administration had to tighten the noose on Kachikwu, forcing him to recant.

Plunging Nigeria into unprecedented foreign debt within 35 months without tangible things to show for it is corruption. But for persistent protest by Nigerians, Babachir Lawal, the legendary grass cutter, would have remained as the SGF after mismanaging about N2.5 billion in the account of the Presidential Initiative on the North East, PINE. Our dear Buhari gave him a soft landing instead of prosecuting him. What about the sleaze allegations against the reinstated Executive Secretary of the National Health Insurance Scheme, Prof. Usman Yusuf? A public servant under investigation by anti-graft agencies is reinstated with fiat.

At the National Emergency Management Agency, its Director-General, Mustapha Maihaja, is struggling to explain how he expended about N23 billion in one year on emergency activities. Federal lawmakers are still interrogating him. Maihaja is struggling to account for the N5.9 billion spent on food intervention in the North-east; another N3.1 billion for food intervention in the same North-east; N1.6 billion spent on Libya returnees; N1.6 billion spent on flood intervention for 16 states; the payment of about N800 million demurrage on the rice donated by the Chinese government and the N10 billion received from Ecological Funds.

What about the well-orchestrated plan to re-loot the recovered Abacha loot under Buhari's watch? Despite outcry, attempts are still on to pay dubious fees amounting to $17 million to two lawyers for the recovery of $321 million, stolen by former military ruler, Sani Abacha. The Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, allegedly engaged the two Nigerian lawyers to secure the release of the loot, after the job had been completed by Enrico Monfrini, a Swiss lawyer hired by the Nigerian government to work on the recovery. It was no surprise when the 2017 Corruption Perception Index of Transparency International revealed that sleaze in Nigeria was more severe under the Buhari administration. Nigeria was also downgraded by TI from 136 to 148 in the CPI. What a country!

Ganduje, Please, Pay Kano Pensioners

Retired Kano State civil servants are wallowing in pain and Governor Abdullahi Ganduje has to do something very fast. According to the state's chapter of the Nigerian Union of Pensioners (NUP), gratuities totaling about N13 billion are yet to be paid by Ganduje. The Kano State NUP chairman, Salisu Ahmed-Gwale remarked: "The life of most of the retired civil servants in the state are at stake due to the accumulated gratuities.

The state's Pension Board has not received a single Kobo since June 2017. We have civil servants who retired in November 2015, in 2016 and 2017 but are yet to be paid their gratuities. This is most unfortunate."

Dear Ganduje, these senior citizens are struggling to feed their families, pay house rent and the school fees of their children. Some are already dying. Just as Ahmed-Gwale noted, "Those in position of authority must fear Almighty Allah as everyone would have to account for his deeds whether good or bad before Allah." Governor Ganduje, you must act very fast to ameliorate the suffering of these retirees. Kano senior citizens are in excruciating condition.

My Take Away on the Dino Melaye Soap Opera

Let me say it straight away: I am not a fan of Senator Dino Melaye; I hate his brand of politics. However, I abhor injustice and oppression in any form or colour. This is why I will take side with this Senator representing Kogi West in his current travails in the hands of the Nigerian police. Dino's traducers are simply using state resources and institutions to demean him. Having surrendered himself to the police, to stand trial for crimes which include murder and armed robbery, he did not deserve to be forcibly taken to Lokoja. Recall that the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court had approved the transfer of his trial to Abuja. The police ought to have challenged this transfer in court instead of engaging in gangsterism and the filing of fresh dubious charges. Melaye had expressed worry about his safety in Lokoja and the court concurred. The fear about his safety is genuine, considering the animosity between him and Governor Yahaya Bello.

It was disgusting watching Dino being moved from Zankli Hospital in a police ambulance accompanied by 45 police utility vehicles and well over 100 uniformed and plainclothes policemen. The infamous operation was led by the FCT Commissioner of Police, Sadiq Bello. So, Nigerian police has these massive security resources at its disposal, yet, it has failed to curb the raging insecurity in our dear nation? It is a shame. Lovers of rule of law and human rights must rise and back Dino; not because Dino is a good man, but in the interest of our democracy, due process and the rule of law.

The Ukpor-Mbalom Church Massacre

As I pen this piece, Gwer West, Gwer East, Logo and Guma local government areas of Benue State are still under siege. Fulani guerrillas protecting herdsmen roam freely unhindered by security agents. These parts of Benue State are now regarded as conquered territories by the militia. The guerrillas struck on Tuesday morning at St. Ignatius' Catholic Church, Ukpor-Mbalom in Gwer East, killing two priests and 14 worshippers. The gruesome attack occurred while early morning mass was in progress.

The attackers also burnt nearly 50 houses and sacked the entire community. Residents of these local governments are running in droves to the Internally Displaced Persons camp in Makurdi. Over 200,000 IDPs now reside in the state's capital.

The Benue State Police Command obstinately fails the people of this state. It is even more painful that the police authorities are aware of the invaders, yet, did nothing to curb their murderous activities. I was so depressed when the Benue State Police Commissioner, Fatai Owoseni, said "preliminary investigations revealed that the herdsmen had been in the area for some time before carrying out the attacks."

The Benue State CP said: "The attack is unfortunate. We will fish out the perpetrators and bring them to justice." Nigerians are tired of listening to statements like this one from the police. Our security agents have compromised. This is why they have not been proactive in Benue State and other trouble points in our dear country. It was no surprise that the militia went to some villages on the outskirts of Daudu (Guma LG), the day after the church attack, and killed more people. Owoseni, his men and other security agencies, must be held accountable for this persistent bloodshed in Benue State.

The Ukpor-Mbalom Church attack occurred barely four days after the murder of 10 persons by herdsmen in Guma LG and the destruction of several houses by the militia in Naka, Gwer West LG.

President Buhari has been reacting to these killings with his usual rhetoric. He condemns the attacks in Benue and everything ends there; all motion and no movement. How many killers has our President apprehended since this massacre began? Buhari must rise and perform his constitutional responsibility of protecting lives and property in Nigeria. The unprecedented bloodshed across our country is terrifying.

N2.8bn Compensation Paid to Poultry Farmers?

Wonders will never end in Nigeria. The federal government, according to Minister of State for Agriculture, Senator Heineken Lokpobiri, has paid about N2.8 billion as compensation to poultry farmers who lost their birds to the recent outbreak of avian influenza nationwide. Lokpobiri disclosed this on Tuesday after a tour of agricultural institutes under Ahmadu Bello University. This minister clearly has a lot of questions to answer about his claim because thousands of farmers who lost their birds to avian influenza are suffering in silence. Lokpobiri will need to provide the identity and precise location/amount paid to each of the farmers he claimed benefitted from the N2.8 billion compensation.

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