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Transparency International’s CPI: Mr President, you dine with corruption- An Open Letter to President Buhari

Your Excellency,

Naturally, conventional wisdom and etiquette will require that I start by expressing my happiness for the safe return of your son Yusuf from his medical sojourn. However, I am constrained to hold my horses in that regard for like everything now surrounding you there is no clarity as to the status of that journey. First, patriotic tales of how you have placed the young man’s fate in the hands of Nigeria’s quirky medical expertise and facility regaled us, then later, an announcement of a successful surgery and discharge was made to the delight of a relieved nation. Sir, you can pardon my reticence in not going the courteous route when all that drivel from your handlers is just that; yet, another mishandled spin. Yusuf had been in Germany all along. Given this deception, I beg your indulgence to skip niceties and to proceed right to the crux of this open letter.

Why an open letter to you? As I read the drab defence of your government’s anti-corruption credentials by your Media Team in reaction to Transparency International’s 2018 Corruption Perception Index(CPI) which scored Nigeria poorly, I was left to wonder if that was the quality of advice you were getting. Admittedly, against the backdrop of efforts by the EFCC to ratchet up the public show of force against corruption, you have every reason to wonder why the rankings would suggest that Nigeria’s corruption perception has regressed under your watch. While your angst would not be misplaced, it was the duty of your trusted aides to tell you the truth about the situation and why we would continue to be perceived as one of the most corrupt places on earth irrespective of the uncoordinated, incoherent and tactless efforts of the nation’s leading anti-corruption agency. Sir, the lack-lustre and mostly presumptuous defence of your administration ‘s anti-corruption strategy by your handlers left me with the impression that either those who scripted the defence were genuinely naive and uneducated about corruption indicators and measurements or were insensitively fiendish about the growing concerns of Nigerians about the insane levels of corruption around you. I have assumed that both scenarios are the case and earnestly hope that this open letter will somehow get your attention, to help you understand why we will continue to lead the world from the front in future corruption perception rankings.

Your Excellency, the Transparency International’s ranking is called a Corruption Perception Index for a reason: there is just no way that corruption can effectively and efficiently be measured. No society, even ours, carries on corrupt practices in the full glare of everyone. As notoriously corrupt as the Nigerian Police Force has been noted to be, its Rank and File on the roads still attempt hiding the crumpled naira notes that are squeezed into their hands by grumbling drivers. The point is: corruption is usually carried out in secret, and the perpetrators make determined efforts to hide their actions from public inquiry. As a result, no valid measurement can be undertaken by any ranking agency, hence, the resort to perception as an indicator of corruption.

How then is a perception of corruption, especially the official/ public ones measured? Sir, the Corruption Perception Index is a composite index that combines different international polls and evaluation of corruption, assembled by a group of reputable institutions. These institutions- 13 of them, which includes Think Tanks associated with prominent organisations such as the African Development Bank, World Bank, the World Economic Forum to mention just a few- conduct surveys that rely upon the perceptions by country experts and business people. To qualify as a country expert, the individual should have more than a pedestrian knowledge of the inner workings of the country and must be recognized as one that relates intimately and conducts official business with public institutions.

Given this criterion, it is only granted that civil society activists, journalists and captains of industries would necessarily qualify to be interviewed or polled by the institutions conducting the measurements. Admittedly, just a few of these individuals can lay claim to having witnessed, first hand, an official corruption taking place. However, the perception of corruption can be positively correlated under certain circumstances. The circumstances will necessarily include the presence or absence of a legal framework that constrains individuals from engaging in corruption; a rule of law regime that does not recognise ‘sacred cows’. Most importantly, there must be the political will to fight corruption, and this will involve allowing institutions of State to work as designated. Sadly, the conclusion shared by many Nigerians, including the country experts is that although the legal frameworks to fight corruption is in place, actions of individuals that are very close to you have not allowed an effective anti-corruption regime to be implemented.

Your Excellency, like I already highlighted, grand official corruption takes place in the secrecy of the covens of the perpetrators but like the conventional wisdom of the sages would say ‘it is only when someone’s tooth protrudes from his mouth that the public knows that he has big teeth’. Unfortunately for Nigeria’s image, but a proper development for the entrenchment of good governance, quite frequently, the monstrous corruption occurring in high places comes into public knowledge. Those who document these acts and expose them are integral members of the so-called country experts whose views are sought by organisations that measure the perception of corruption. These country experts also take a close look at the lifestyles of people in government and reach their conclusion of the presence of pervasive corruption within government circles. Sadly, when these stories break, the identities of these individuals are mostly those who are close to you. I shall highlight some of the activities of these close aides that have made it difficult for the country to be ranked positively.

Sir, I will be committing intellectual ‘hara-kiri’ if I do not state that no erstwhile or present leader in Nigeria comes close to you regarding personal integrity and honesty. Your ascetic lifestyle has been proven not to be a ruse, and your contentment with what life has bestowed on you is near legendary. While these are hallmarks of a leader that should ordinarily loathe and have a disdain for the variants of corruption and its perpetrators, to the contrary, you have displayed an incredible forbearance for evidentiary corruption around you. The inkling into your longsuffering threshold for corrupt individuals was first noticed in the composition of your Transition Team. As early as that period, you ignored the public perception of your persona as an anti-corruption zealot to appoint Timipre Sylva, a former governor who was then being charged for money laundering and other corrupt practices by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission(EFCC) as the Head of your Transition Committee. Somehow, the five billion Naira money laundering charges against Sylva was dropped, and the 48 properties seized by the EFCC returned to him. The country experts and business community took note.

Your Excellency, a significant number of those that voted for you were genuinely worried about the capture of State institutions by Trans National Corporations operating in Nigeria under previous administrations. For these concerned citizens, therefore, it was Uhuru when the Nigerian Communications Commission(NCC) took a courageous punitive regulatory decision to slap an unprecedented fine on one of the Multinational Companies(MNCs) accused of serial infractions. While we were still celebrating, and applauding the new regime of firm support and political will for state institutions to perform their functions, words filtered out that your Chief of Staff(COS), Abba Kyari, had given short shrift to the decision of the NCC. Before long, allegations of graft and collusion between the COS and officials of the MNC started making the rounds. Following persistent public opprobrium, you reluctantly set up an administrative panel to investigate these allegations and not surprisingly, the panel dismissed the charges as figments of the imaginations of “wailers”. But, the MNC got a reduction in the original fine, a cut that many considered a slap on the wrist, all these happened without the knowledge of the NCC. Again, country experts took note.

Your Excellency, have you read the memo sent to the House of Representatives by Mohammed Dauda, the former Acting Director-General of the Nigerian Intelligence Agency(NIA)? This top Spy Chief detailed chilling accounts of corruption against individuals that are a heartbeat away from you. Your Chief of Staff, whose name is becoming synonymous with anything graft in your administration was prominently mentioned as masterminding the attempts by some members of your inner clique to defraud the nation of a whopping 44 million dollars criminally.  What was more troubling was the fact that the COS and these other individuals kept dropping your name in the grand scam. We now hear that rather than commend and possibly reward the whistleblower for saving the nation this embarrassment, he has been declared wanted by those he accused of corruption who have used state security apparatus to hound him into hiding.

Sir, have you paused to wonder whose interest your Attorney-general represents? Your Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN, is touted as one of the closest persons to you in government, a position which makes him an untouchable in your government. Basking in this favoured position, the Attorney-General has suddenly developed the habit of giving all kinds of questionable legal advice to the government. In a brazen display of legal infamy, Malami requested that your government stops further prosecution of individuals indicted in the Malabu/OPL 245 scam. As you would recall, the OPL 245 scandal has seen countries such as Italy convict some of their nationals over their involvement in bribery of government officials in Nigeria and is currently the subject of international investigations and prosecutions across several jurisdictions around the world. Malami would again be involved in the sacrilegious attempt to recall Maina, a man that was unceremoniously discharged from the civil service for corruption by the not too clean Jonathan administration. Sir, you kept quiet in the face of all these, but experts took note of your silence.

Your Excellency, you finally decided to relieve Babachir Lawal of his position in your government, but, did it have to take public outrage and threats by the National Assembly to get you to fire someone who allegedly made a fortune out of the misfortune and miseries of internally displaced persons? One would think that you do not even need to be prodded to take decisive action given your fame as a “talakawa general”.  Quite a few were not surprised when words started filtering out that even while on “suspension”, Babachir had full access to you and was still calling shots in the precincts of the Villa palace. Little wonder he was allegedly granted the privilege to determine his replacement. Again, the former SGF was too close to you and enjoyed the immunity such closeness usually confers on those who have them. Nigerians, especially country experts, were not hoodwinked.

Sir, are you aware that a recent newspaper report described your Personal Assistant, Tunde Sabiu, as the wealthiest billionaire still in his twenties in Nigeria? Have you listened to the leaked tape of your Chief Personal Security, DCP Dauda, soliciting for favours from the Police Service Commission Chairman? Have you been informed that many members of your family benefitted from illegal recruitments into public institutions? Are you Aware that the power bike, Yusuf, your son, was riding when he had his near-fatal accident cost a whopping $ 155,000? Even if he received this as a gift, have you been briefed about the Isreali Prime Minister’s police investigation, which involves his family allegedly accepting gifts from associates?Have you been informed about your wife reportedly asking and receiving car gifts from the Inspector General of Police(IGP)? Are you aware that the IGP has been accused of racketeering and grand corruption by a ranking member of the Senate? Have you been informed that the current DG of NIA has been accused of conspiring with others very close to you to allegedly commit grand theft? So many questions but minimal answers.

Sir, a recurring theme with all the instances cited thus far is the closeness between you and the individuals that have been linked with graft in your administration. It is this affinity to you that led Aisha Yusufu, the fiery activist and a former staunch supporter of yours to allege that you dine with corruption. Her assertion will be difficult to refute given that these individuals are known associates of yours for many years even before your ascension to power and have avoided any recriminations for their abuse of office and alleged graft. While institutions of state may have played the ostrich on all these accusations, your administration certainly could not have fooled everyone at the same time, Transparency International inclusive.

Your Excellency, let me also draw your attention to another indicator that TI uses in determining the corruption perception of countries: freedom of the press and expression. On this count, I am confident that you will agree that your administration has performed poorly. There is a feeling among folks that we have returned to your inglorious past where you abused citizen’s inalienable rights using the infamous Decree 2. Hiding under this obnoxious decree, you incarcerated thousands of citizens, including journalists, without trial; citizens whose only crimes was criticising your government. In just under three years, the freedom of expression that citizens once took for granted has come under severe threat. The Directorate of State Security, an Institution now headed by your bosom friend and avid supporter has become a Gestapo-organisation detaining citizens and journalists at will and without trial. The level of impunity of your administration with regards to respect for the rule of law is atrocious and has not gone unnoticed by country experts.

Sir, let me assure you that the current move to criminalise free speech under the guise of hate speech will further dent any efforts to position Nigeria for a better ranking by 2019. Your goons labelled the TI ranking as “fictional” and “questionable”, Sir, if anything deserves that appellation, it is your much-vaunted crusade against corruption. While it is alright for the EFCC to break down the gates and forcibly gain entrance into the homes of officers in the temple of justice; bring an opposition leader strapped on stretchers to the court; detain opposition leaders and others who served in the previous administration for months on end in various prisons, one of your favourite dining mates, Baba Gana Kingibe , gets to be “interrogated” in the cosy offices of the National Security Adviser, while sipping tea and enjoying all the perks accorded to VIPs. Sir, is it not preposterous that Ibrahim Magu, the one man in your government who is making efforts to clear the Augean stable of corruption is being frustrated by your dinner friends? What concrete initiatives have you taken to call these untouchables to order? None! Instead, they have grown from strength to strength and have become ‘Lords of the Manor’ riding roughshod over anyone and everyone that stands in their way and aggrandisement of our collective patrimony.

Your Excellency, as I conclude this letter, permit me to inform you further that many of us still hope that you will soon wake up from what Professor Soyinka calls a “trance” and begin to take concrete steps to sanitise the system starting with your close friends and dinner colleagues. If you maintain this mute indifference to the atrocities committed by your friends hiding under your presidential shield, Nigeria will continuously be ranked as a “notoriously corrupt” country, and you would have cemented your place in history as someone who had the opportunity to drive change but bungled it on the altar of nepotism.

Accept, Your Excellency, assurances of my warm regards and reverence.

Dr Chima Amadi, a 2016 Chevening scholar in the Department of Government of the London School of Economics is the Executive Director of the Centre for Transparency Advocacy and can be followed on twitter @AMADICHIMA

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