By Rafiu Ajakaye
At his inauguration in May last year, President Muhammadu Buhari was clear about his government’s priorities -- crushing the Boko Haram terror campaign, jumpstarting the economy and “killing corruption”.
Of these, Bahari’s economic goals have been the furthest from being realized, partly due to the creaking global oil market, which is responsible for much of Nigeria’s foreign earnings, but also because of a revived sabotage campaign against the country’s gas pipelines and, according to most analysts, Buhari’s unsteady policies.
The campaign against Boko Haram has fared better, with the terror group now divided and on the back foot under a military onslaught.
However, it is the relentless anti-corruption crusade that has really made its mark over the last 17 months.
Senior serving and retired military chiefs have been arrested and appeared in court over allegations that they dipped into a $2.1 billion pot meant for arms purchases. The scandal has also enveloped top politicians, particularly those from the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), which held power under President Jonathan Goodluck before Buhari’s rise.
This has led to claims that Buhari is using the campaign to target political rivals. However, members of Buhari’s All Progressives Congress (APC) have also be charged, with Senate President Bukola Saraki, a powerful member of the party, fighting court cases over claims he incorrectly declared his assets and maintained a foreign bank account.
The government has said it has recovered $255 million in stolen funds and that bank accounts holding $9 billion had been frozen pending court cases.
The campaign is led by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, which has focused mainly on the alleged theft of $6.8 billion of public funds by senior officials in Jonathan’s administration and the PDP.
Even that sum pales when compared to the $400 billion that some estimates say was stolen from Nigeria between 1960 and 1999 by its leaders. Former dictator Sani Abacha alone is thought to have stolen the equivalent of up to 3 percent of the country’s GDP for every year he was in power.
In recent days, the anti-graft drive has been extended to the judiciary -- a development that follows Buhari’s accusations that the courts have been holding up corruption cases.
At least seven judges -- two of them currently serving in the Supreme Court -- were arrested by the Directorate of State Services (DSS) on the night of Oct. 7 in an unprecedented raid that sparked mixed reactions.
Dozens more judges are reportedly being investigated by the government. The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) has labeled the arrests as clear harassment of the judiciary and declared an emergency while the National Judicial Council accused the DSS of intimidating and humiliating judges.
Parliament condemned the raids but Buhari has said the DSS acted within the law and that the raids targeted corrupt judges rather than representing a wider assault on the judiciary.
However, a few prominent lawyers have broken ranks, insisting the judiciary is not entirely beyond suspicion.
“The Directorate of State Security, or the secret police, broke no law in breaking into the homes of and arresting the judges at night or anytime,”Jiti Ogunye, a human rights lawyer, told Anadolu Agency.
The DSS has said it recovered more than $800,000 in local and foreign currencies from the judges’ homes and said they were targeted for their professional misconduct and corruption.
Three judges have said they were targeted because they ruled against APC politicians in election-related cases -- a claim the politicians have denied. To further muddy the waters, some of the arrested judges have claimed that high-profile APC figures attempted to bribe them.
Since its initial condemnation, the bar association has said the judges should stand down while the investigation and potential prosecutions proceed.
Senior lawyers told Anadolu Agency that the association changed course after members rejected its “haphazard” condemnation of the DSS without first seeing the evidence.
“At a meeting the NBA called to gather signatures to affect a boycott of the government, it was clear many senior lawyers were angry with the leadership of the bar,” a senior advocate said on condition of anonymity due to the confidential nature of the discussions.
“Many senior lawyers accused the body of sending a wrong signal to the public so the idea of a boycott was dropped. It was therefore agreed that the judges be left to carry their own cross. Incidentally, some judges had been known for corruption. Also, many lawyers are now seeking a review of cases these judges had decided because they suspect foul play.”
The PDP has called for some of the APC members accused by the suspected judges to be arrested. “The whole anti-corruption war is biased and targeted at the opposition as the recent revelations by the judges have shown,” PDP spokesman Dayo Adeyeye told Anadolu Agency.
However, Olakunle Abimbola, a public affairs analyst and newspaper columnist, aired a popular viewpoint when he said the anti-corruption efforts enjoyed widespread public support but were opposed by the political and judicial elite defending their “class interest... however obnoxious”.
He added: “What should the president do? Follow his instincts and call the elites’ bluff. In any case, a stinking judiciary is a serious problem needing revolutionary solutions.
“[Buhari] should, to start with, begin with a total clear-out out of the Supreme Court. The present order, it would appear to me, is too corrupt to be of any use in the anti-graft war, in which we need clear convictions to warn felons on the bench.”
He was supported by Hassan Idayat, director of the Center for Democracy and Development, who agreed Buhari should be supported in the fight against corruption but warned that the battle must be conducted within the law.
“We are now in a democracy, a hard-won democracy, and when there is a perception that the rule of law is not adhered to, some adherents of the rule of law will be deterred from supporting the fight itself,” she said.