No matter how much President Muhammadu Buhari strives at every critical juncture to portray his so-called anti-corruption fight as incontestable reality, it often unravels as an unrelieved charade before the citizens. This irrevocable futility has once again gained expression through the case of Usman Yusuf as a foil for the acclaimed Buhari’s lack of tolerance for corruption at a time there is a list of 50 corrupt persons, albeit disavowed by the government. Those on the list have been embargoed from travelling abroad while the nation’s law courts have not found them guilty of the allegation of ruthlessly heisting the national treasury or their state patrimony.
Yusuf is the Executive Secretary of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS). He has been suspended from office by the agency’s governing council led by Dr. Ifene Enyantu. There are allegations of corruption against him. He has been accused of illegally executing N30 billion investments, inflating the cost of biometric capturing machines and unlawfully posting staff.
That was not the first time that Yusuf’s credibility as the chief guardian of the nation’s health insurance health scheme would come under a hail of corruption charges. Before the governing council’s alarm, the supervisory minister of Yusuf’s agency, Prof. Isaac Adewole, last year suspended him over an alleged N919 million fraud. But on these two occasions that Yusuf was suspended, he was defiant. He refused to vacate his office. He riposted before his accusers that it was only the president who could suspend or sack him.
But subsequent developments have shown that Yusuf did not dare his superiors only in a bout of misguided hubris that trumped reason and remorse. It has since become clear that all his alleged fraud and defiance have the complicity of Buhari. When he was suspended last year, it was Buhari who reinstated him. That was why on the occasion of his recent suspension, he once again refused to vacate his office. But what should not escape us here is a slant of Yusuf’s defence. There have not been protestations of his innocence while awaiting more effective pronouncements from a law court.
Rather, he has refused to give up his office on the grounds that only Buhari can remove him from office. Not for Yusuf the need to embrace the salutary trajectory of coming to the public with the stellar records of his financial prudence in the face of some people desperately persecuting him.
The unresolved contradiction of a self-declared moral arbiter refusing to prise from his bosom Yusuf who has allegedly violated the trust the public reposed in him has thrown into sharp relief the insincerity of Buhari’s so-called anti-corruption fight. If Buhari were sincere, he would have allowed Yusuf to remain suspended until he is cleared of his alleged financial misdeeds. After all, on account of allegations of corruption, Buhari has been keeping former National Security Adviser Sambo Dasuki in detention in brazen violation of several court rulings granting his freedom. Buhari has been using his anti-corruption agencies to infringe the liberties of those who defect from his political party despite the foreboding of the dire repercussions of their deviance. And just this month, it was on account of an accusation of corruption that Ayo Fayose was clamped into detention shortly after his tenure as governor of Ekiti State and he voluntarily submitted himself to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
No doubt, Nigerians are ready to support a genuine fight against corruption. In fact, they are becoming impatient with the lack of sincerity of Buhari in the prosecution of his transparency agenda. And this is why while Buhari is ready to accommodate the allegedly corrupt Yusuf, the staff of his agency would not allow him to resume. They want him to serve his suspension. But Yusuf forcibly gained entry into his office with the support of about 50 armed policemen who tear-gassed workers of NHIS who resisted them. How did Yusuf, an official accused of corruption, get this huge police protection if not with the approval of Buhari?
With Yusuf enjoying this kind of support from Buhari, we are once again confronted with the reminder that the president only hangs charges of corruption on his enemies, especially members of the opposition political party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). He hunts and clamps these ones into detention while those in his government and his cronies outside luxuriate in officially sanctioned cupidity.
Indeed, Buhari’s government swarms with Yusufs. There are the likes of Babachir Lawal whom Buhari was forced to sack because of public outcry against him. There are those on whom corruption charges are hanging on their necks but who are still in Buhari government. There are former governors in Buhari government and political party who have been accused of wrecking their state treasuries and converting their state assets to their personal estates but who unlike Fayose have not been summoned by the EFCC and be thrown into detention. Worse, former public officials who were being faced with corruption charges become the hunters for the corrupt once they join Buhari’s political party.
It is only Buhari and his cronies like Vice President Yemi Osinbajo (he still maintains that Nigerians should be grateful for having an incorruptible president) who pretend not to be aware of the citizens’ animus towards his anti-corruption circus. He does not need executive orders nor a list of the corrupt who cannot travel overseas to convince the world that he wants to fight corruption. All he needs but blithely ignores are seemingly little opportunities. In the case of Yusuf, Buhari only needs to ensure his compliance with his suspension order while a thorough investigation is conducted into his financial operations.
The tragedy is that despite all the obvious instances of Buhari’s inability to provide moral leadership, his diehard supporters believe that he is incorruptible. The common refrain from such people is that it is not Buhari who is corrupt but his officials. But the fact is that Buhari is corrupt if he cannot rein in the corrupt officials working under him. Buhari is corrupt if he violates the laws of the land that ought to check corruption. It is in this regard that the position of Ambassador of the United States (U.S.) to Nigeria, William Stuart Symington, becomes unimpeachable. At the 34th convocation lecture of University of Ilorin (UNILORIN) entitled “Citizen Leadership and the Link between Economic Diversity and Democratic Good Governance,” the U.S. envoy noted that the disregard for justice and the rule of law should be seen as a greater form of corruption than stealing of money. As he put it, “What many consider as the great corruption is stealing of money but what to me is the great corruption is when people are deprived of justice, that is when you do things without regard to the rule of law.” Buhari has no regard for law and justice when he makes appointments that do not reflect the ethnic and religious diversity of the nation’s citizens. Buhari has no regard for law and justice when the nation’s courts have granted the Shiites leader, Ibrahim El-Zakzaky freedom but he is still keeping him.
Since Buhari has been unmasked, his image of Mr. Integrity has lost all appeal to the citizens. Rather, they are repulsed by his image of incompetence and complicity that has made it possible for the corrupt to strut about the land. Thus, the challenge before Buhari is to cultivate another image as he enters the electioneering season. He can no longer rail against the corruption of his opponents. Nor can he secure a huge electoral swathe prompted by the spectre of the citizens being doomed to corruption of an apocalyptic proportion that would deracinate them along with their economy if he is not returned to office.