Beyond President Buhari’s Body Language

By Mitchell Aghatise:

A few weeks back, Diezani Allison-Madueke, Nigeria’s erstwhile Federal Minister of Petroleum was arraigned before the UK magistrate courts. This development sparked conversations in Nigeria. Diezani headlined virtually every major newspaper in the country, and social media was awash with banter about her ordeal. Generally, several young Nigerians saw this as proof of President Buhari’s anti-corruption drive – even though the arrest was based on investigations conducted by UK agencies before Buhari became president. Personally, I don’t have the evidence to comment on her guilt – that can wait until it’s established by a competent court. Nevertheless, along with many Nigerians, I am animated to see how the trial plays out. We might have a can of worms to deal with, as the trial progresses.

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A more detailed look at this episode is revealing. The trial will be in the UK courts. Many will therefore lack the bases to argue that the trial is a witch-hunt. The absence of the witch-hunt colouration will ensure that the deterrence and denunciation effect, in the event of a conviction, will not be lost in conjecture. Diezani will also be sure of a reasonably fair trial, devoid of fears about executive interference. Nigerians will also be glad that, we are in for a reasonably quick conclusion and verdict – spared the delay tactics that tend to follow high profile corruption cases. However, it is embarrassing that a 55year old nation still cannot compete with the UK courts in the effective and fair delivery of justice. The infamous case of James Ibori, both before Nigerian and UK courts springs to mind. Ex-Governor Ibori is thankfully still serving out his sentence in a UK prison – but one can only imagine the costs which have gone to the UK judicial system, that could have been better utilised in Nigeria. We need to develop our institutions of justice.

One hopes that Buhari’s administration’s platitudes about corruption will not be a mere lip-service. Thus far, it remains my assessment that this government is still serious about the corruption fight. Many commentators share this view, ascribing several developments in recent times, such as power supply, to President Buhari’s body language on corruption. Despite this, we should not be satisfied with change that comes merely from President Buhari’s body language – however effective it might be. I take this view because; I would rather a change that outlives the occupier of the Aso Rock villa. Others regard the anti-corruption drive as a witch-hunt. I do not share this view; surely, whenever and, if ever an individual engages in corrupt practices, they should not be entitled to cry victimisation. He who comes to equity, they say, must come with clean hands. However, those who regard the drive as a witch-hunt raise a point. I would suggest that, the presidency pursues a framework that separates corruption trials from the office of the president. Again, institutions of justice should be strengthened, such that, whoever subsequently occupies the presidential seat, is unable to stymie the anti-corruption crusade. For as long as the fight against corruption remains linked to President Buhari’s body language, the fight will not be won. Stronger institutions battling corruption without micro-supervision should be our gauge in measuring the anti-corruption effort.

Upon examination, this administration has taken steps toward institutional changes. For example, President Buhari’s taskforce on corruption is made up of erudite scholars, ably led by the luminary Professor Itse Sagay – I would wait for the implementation of their reports before commenting on their impact. Governance is a continuum. Despite the disagreements with the President Jonathan administration, we should be careful not to disregard every step they took to strengthen our institutions. One of the useful weapons in the effective fight against corrupt practices will be the seamless implementation of the Administration of Criminal justice Act 2015. Many stakeholders, including Professor Sagay have lauded the usefulness and timeliness of this legislation. If executed properly, it will greatly diminish the use of delaying tactics in court when trying corruption cases. Other useful tools include the Treasury Single Account and, the various electronic reforms in civil-service payments to weed out ghost workers. We must not rest; President Buhari must also not rest. His team should pursue even more reforms for the beast of corruption has to be defeated.

Essentially, this piece argues that the war against corruption goes beyond the President’s body language. Instead, the war against corruption desires the nuanced reforms that President Buhari can introduce. These reforms must ensure that; investigation is efficiently done, the courts work without unnecessary clogs, and anti-corruption bodies are truly independent. Many battles will be waged with media-grabbing headlines, but the war will only be won with detailed reforms that destroy the enemy, corruption’s stronghold on Nigeria.

Goodluck, President Buhari.


Mitchell holds an LLB in Law from the University of Leicester. He recently completed his LLM degree at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). He is presently enrolled at the Nigerian Law School. He considers himself a lawyer by day and writer by night. He can be reached @mr_mitch_a on twitter or on LinkedIn as his name.

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