Last Thursday, Nigeria’s Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Tukur Buratai, should have resigned. Or been fired.
Instead, he will continue to collect salutes from his men, some of whom laugh at him behind him, and a fat salary from Nigeria.
Buratai fears no reprisals. His job does not depend on performance. He is one of those in the current administration who, having perpetually cornered the support of President Muhammadu Buhari, dispenses fear instead. Buratai, you would remember, is the army general who, found inexplicably owning expensive luxury property in Dubai, was cleared by the president without an investigation.
He has continued to lead the army, but Boko Haram has also since grown stronger; in fact, so strong that Acting President Yemi Osinbajo, during his time in charge, ordered all military service chiefs to Maiduguri to confront the menace hands-on.
Six weeks ago, in a sign of desperation Buratai mistook for authoritativeness, he told the forces he wanted Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau in his hands, dead or alive, within 40 days. Remember, the same army has “killed” Shekau several times, only for the man to send them a video the following morning showing he has never felt better.
And yet Buratai, seeking to demonstrate just how powerful he is, drew a 40-day line in the sand.
Four days ago, and just as in every other instance the army had wrongly and embarrassingly declared Shekau dead, the army chief lost his bluff. Personal or professional pride dictates he should have left for home. He did not. Pride, after all, is not cheap.
A sense of higher standards also suggests he should have been fired, but that is a road map Nigeria has never had.
Had Buratai not been hiding away the day before Shekau handed him his latest loss, he might have heard Ibrahim Magu, the Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), and one of the few potent rods of the Buhari administration, speak about higher standards, and on a point the army chief knows well.
“The way we are going, we have already failed,” Magu said during an interactive session with media executives in Abuja, in a comment on the government’s so-called war against corruption. “I am telling you we have almost failed. It is almost lost. The battle against corruption is not only evil, it is a poison.”
He told the media chiefs that “a lot” (and I believe he was referring to substance and commitment) is now required if the war is to be revived.
The acting chairman listed a few recent achievements of his commission, including the recovery of some sums of money, and commented on reports of internal wars within the government on the anti-corruption front. In that regard, he identified his much-reported face-off with the Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, but downplayed it.
“Personally, I am not after anybody and have no issues with anybody,” he said. “Those who think they have issues with me will soon discover that I mean no harm. What drives me is the passion to do what is right by ensuring that we fight corruption to a standstill in this country.”
The EFCC boss kept a tight lid on his words in front of journalists, speaking with the fastidious of a sub-editor. Still, he managed to convey the appropriate alarm, notably the same conclusion that has kept conscious Nigerians awake throughout the life of the Buhari administration: “the war,” were there ever one, has collapsed.
In that regard, his statement last week is a personal cry for help, and a major milestone for the Buhari administration. In any self-respecting government, he—the biggest cornerstone of the biggest policy—would have been fired.
Last week, although he had basically torn apart the government’s most potent pretensions, he was not fired. And he won’t be.
The reason he won’t be relieved of his position—a development I do not think he would mind, should it transpire—is that Mr. Magu is a much-valued asset of the administration. Indeed, he is probably its biggest claim to relevance, for he confers credibility where there might otherwise be none. Because of his work, the Executive has feuded with the Senate, and it would therefore not want the embarrassment of such an official being fired, thus providing fuel for the debate about its anti-corruption claims.
And so here we are: a situation where the head of an army (not Buratai, of course) confesses to the war being lost but is told to keep fighting.
But what does Buhari do to revive the war, especially given his eagerness to maintain the ruse of battle? It is obvious that unless he can summon the humility to make the same admission Magu has, what is left of his administration is propaganda. This is the normal pattern of governments of doubtful character, especial when an election beckons.
Two years after taking power, nobody blames Buhari for not fully cleaning up the mess he inherited; the reason that it is losing the war is the failure to bring to it a single-minded commitment.
In March 2010, the late Ojo Maduekwe, departing office as Minister of Foreign Affairs, lamented a pattern of financial recklessness and lack of transparency in the ministry, he begged the EFCC to probe five of the Nigeria’s foreign missions. “A zero-tolerance policy on corruption should not just receive lip service by rank and file but must receive a more robust implementation,” he said as he handed-over to the then Permanent Secretary, Ambassador Martin Uhomoibhi.
Neither that ministry, nor any other, was ever probed, a situation Buhari promised to rectify. Sadly, Foreign Affairs, like every other ministry and department of the government, has become even more corrupt. So corrupt that policemen not only sometimes shoot citizens who cannot pay a bribe, they even offer change for big bills. So corrupt that as a newspaper report unveiled recently, corruption and impunity are flourishing openly even in the processing of passports. So corrupt that the fear of Buhari has been replaced only by fear of his friends in high places.
Which brings me back to Magu, a man who, in the years before assuming command of the EFCC, had suffered personally and professionally because of his work there. Magu reminds me of Nuhu Ribadu, the pioneer chairman of the agency who took the job only to discover that his principal, President Olusegun Obasanjo, lacked the political will to fight corruption.
In Obasanjo’s second term, the EFCC was first feared, and then sneered at, as powerful Nigerians discovered Obasanjo’s limitations and duplicity, and converted the anti-corruption file from a fight to a game, and the head of that agency from a force to a pawn.
Magu has alerted Nigeria it has a bad ailment: under a government that is quick with words but limited by poor policies, corruption has grown from a cub to a lion.
But does the nation have a lion-hunter somewhere? Or is the government going to send orators (armed with sharp elbows) to arrest a massive pride? [Hint: Elections are next!]