The recent revelation that Nigeria’s Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lt-General Tukur Buratai and his two wives are joint owners of properties worth $ 1.5 million in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE), may not have made any desired impact, as the Federal Government has cleared the COAS of corruption in the case. According to it, after investigating the media report on the acquisitions, it discovered that Buratai and his wives invested in the properties as “shareholders”, like many other persons mentioned in the publication, and were not sole owners. But the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) stated that he declared the assets in his wife’s name.
The COAS was thus saved from the possible public opprobrium likely to have terminated his career and obliterated his relevance in the current administration. What is more, the exculpation of the COAS was accomplished in a remarkably swift manner, with both the Army spokesman and the Ministry of Defence competing to save Buratai’s hide from the consequences of an offence alleged to have been committed in his capacity as a private citizen. Indeed, notable figures in the polity such as Mr Femi Falana (SAN), Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN), Dr Junaid Mohammed and Mallam Yusuf Ali (SAN), among others, have since urged President Muhammadu Buhari to either probe or relieve General Buratai of his job in the interest of national morality. According to Falana, “In view of the ban on the opening and operation of foreign accounts by public officers, the Code of Conduct Bureau should be involved in the investigation. How an army General managed to save $1.5m has not been disclosed to Nigerians.”
The fight against graft which signposts the current administration can only be successful to the extent that its procedures are credible. It is equally important for it to be mindful of the due process in dealing with such cases as the current one involving a high ranking official. If it is crucial for the people to believe in the government’s anti-corruption posture, then the procedure of investigating its officials must be thorough and credible.
It is difficult to believe that in less than a week, a credible investigation into the alleged acquisition of properties worth $ 1.5 million had been dispensed with and the official involved given a clean bill of health. It strengthens the cynicism in the whole fight against corruption. For those who are truly interested in getting rid of graft and corruption, the process of investigation should be more important than the people allegedly involved.
The government’s hurried exculpation of its COAS can only lend credence to the widespread suspicion that there is more to the allegation than meets the eye. We however believe that a crusading administration ought to be concerned with the way it is perceived. As it is no doubt aware, perception is crucial in politics. The impression should not be given that it has set a pattern of absolving its officials.
To be sure, such a process may even provide an alibi for those who may truly be guilty of malfeasance, only to become future heroes by making wild claims of political persecution, taking advantage of Nigeria’s very ethnically divided society. It is therefore important for the fight against corruption to be institutionalised by establishing procedures and rules and thereafter getting convictions against felons in competent courts. Indeed, any social process that does not enjoy the people’s confidence is futile, and the fight against corruption should not be allowed to suffer such a deficiency. If the EFCC as a statutory anti-graft body investigated others who are similarly circumstanced, why did it not also investigate the allegations made against the COAS?
We are not saying that the COAS is guilty, but it would certainly have been better if he was given a clean bill of health by the relevant government agency instead of the self justification prised from the Ministry of Defence where he is a high ranking official. It makes a mess of the whole struggle against the forces preventing the country from evolving into a decent one that is governed by the due process. Since there are many others who are still being investigated by the EFCC for various alleged offences, including the top brass in the military, we are at a loss regarding what made the case of the COAS so different as to warrant such a presumptuous, dismissive and perfunctory handling. Elsewhere, the COAS would have been required to step aside pending the findings from an objective and non-partisan investigation conducted by the statutory agency.
Until the country learns to abide by the due process, its desire to evolve into a modern, egalitarian and liberal society will remain a pipe dream. The present administration has an opportunity to set this lofty process in motion. The dream must not be trounced by insincerity and loss of focus.