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By Ayo Fadimu
President Muhammadu Buhari has raised the alarm that the 2019 general elections and democracy are under threat by corruption.
Buhari who is seeking another four-year term in next Saturday’s highly anticipated presidential election made the remark on Sunday said the country’s anti-graft agency the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has raised concern over laundered money being used to buy votes.
He said “On February 16, Nigeria will hold a general election. Four years ago, the country experienced its first democratic transfer of power to the opposition since 1999. The vote in a few days will be no less significant.
“As president, I have tried to judiciously exercise the trust vested in me to combat the problems of corruption, insecurity and an inequitable economy. All are important. But among them, one stands above the others as both a cause and aggravator of the rest. It is, of course, corruption.
“A policy programme that does not have fighting corruption at its core is destined to fail. The battle against graft must be the base on which we secure the country, build our economy, provide decent infrastructure and educate the next generation.
“This is the challenge of our generation: the variable on which our success as a nation shall be determined. But the vested interests at play can make this fight difficult. By way of their looting, the corrupt have powerful resources at their disposal. And they will use them. For when you fight corruption, you can be sure it will fight back.
The statement by Buhari read further, “It even threatens to undermine February’s poll and – by extension – our democracy. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has raised concern over laundered money being funneled into vote buying. This is the problem of corruption writ large. It illustrates how it lurks in all and every crevice of public life, manipulating due process in pursuit of self-preservation and perpetuation; protecting personal political and economic interests at the expense of the common good.”
He pointed out that those who have criticised his administration’s anti-corruption drive are those who opposed its mission.
He added “And though their lawyers may craft expensive alibis, they cannot escape that which binds them together: a raft of documents and barely legal (some clearly illegal) mechanisms – whether that be the Panama Papers, US Congress reports, shell companies or offshore bank accounts.
“Corruption corrodes the trust on which the idea of community is founded, because one rule for the few and another for everyone else is unacceptable to anyone working honestly.
“But as we have intensified our war on corruption, so we have found that corruption innovates to resist the law. This is not the sole domain of those Nigerians, but the international corruption industry: the unsavoury fellow-traveller of globalisation.
“Once the enablers are let in – as they have been in the past – the greed of those they collude with grows. We have closed the door on them, but unfortunately there still remain individuals who are willing to open windows.” he said.
He went on “more is still to come from our international partners in France, the United Kingdom and the United States of America. Yet the hundreds of billions sifted out of the country for the best part of this century promise more.
“We have secured high profile convictions, but greater cases remain. Lawyers table endless objections to obstruct court proceedings, whilst their clients hope it lasts until a ‘friendly’ president is voted into office. We must continue to tighten the legal framework and ensure the authorities have the investigative powers at their disposal to secure sentences. Only then will we begin to neutralise the advantages the corrupt have.”
The fight against corruption is being hindered by vested interests and “lawyers table endless objections to obstruct court proceedings, whilst their clients hope it lasts until a ‘friendly’ president is voted into office,” the former dictator said in an emailed statement on Sunday.
Buhari, 76, was voted back into power in 2015 promising to curb corruption. While he has a reputation for honesty, critics say his war on graft is selective and has lost credibility. Nigeria dropped 12 places on Transparency International’s corruption perception index last year. The country’s main opposition leader, Atiku Abubakar, has said that if elected he would consider an amnesty program that allows citizens accused of graft to return funds without being prosecuted.
The government has recovered almost $550 million by removing so-called ghost workers from the public payroll, the president said Sunday. A total of $370 million has been returned since the launch of a whistle blower policy, he said. International partners such as France, the U.K. and the U.S. are expected to return stolen money stashed away overseas in banks
“A Yoruba proverb states that only the patient one can milk a lion. Likewise, victory over corruption is difficult, but not impossible. We must not flounder in our resolve. I know many Nigerians would like to see faster action. So do I. But so too must we follow due process and exercise restraint, ensuring allegation never takes the place of evidence. For that is not the Nigeria we should wish to build.
“There is no doubt that this Administration has changed the way we tackle corruption. The choice before voters is this: Do we continue forward on this testing path against corruption? Or do revert to the past, resigned to the falsehood that it is just the-way-things-are-done? Or that it is just too difficult – too pervasive – to fix?
”I know which one I would choose. It is why I am asking Nigerians for another four years to serve them.” he stated
However, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in its response to the President’s statement declared that President Buhari has failed the integrity test and has no moral rectitude to pontificate on corruption.
The PDP said the President has entangled himself and soiled his administration in corruption.
In a statement by its spokesman, Kola Ologbondiyan, the PDP said if there is any person whose activities of corruption have become a threat to the coming election, it is President Buhari.
The main opposition party accused the President of financing his campaign with looted funds, while surrounding himself with politicians indicted for corruption.
But the PDP has all the while refrained from calling out the President on his “various indictments” for corruption, even during his reign as a military ruler. The statement reads, “A clear reading of Mr. President’s statement today shows that he is not yet aware that Nigerians have decoded his mastery of concealments of corruption in his Presidency and are no longer interested in his failed self-acclaimed fight against corruption.
“President Buhari presides over the most corrupt and incompetent administration in the history of our nation, for which Nigerians are very eager to go to the polls on Saturday to vote him out of office.
“If Mr. President were to be aware, he would have discovered that his entire surrounding reeks of moral, institutional and integrity corruption.
“But since he has consistently claimed not to be aware of anything around him, it is imperative to let him know that the fish in his pond is rotten from the head.
“Clinical examples can be drawn from his campaign council. Nigerians are aware that not a few members of this council have been indicted for malfeasance bordering on corruption.