YUSUF’S RECALL: FAREWELL TO ANTI CORRUPTION POLICY?
“How can a government official, being investigated for a whopping sum of 919 million naira fraud by the Economic and Financial Crime Commission be reinstated by the Government that came to power promising to sanitize the system. This is very unfortunate.”. Comrade Alade Bashir Lawal, Secretary General, Association of Senior Civil Servants Of Nigeria. The Punch, 8th of February, 2018.
The opening quote sourced from organized labour spokesman, Comrade Bashir Lawal, typifies the growing consternation and dismay across civil society over the reinstatement on Tuesday, of Prof. Usman Yusuf, the suspended Executive Secretary of National Health Insurance Scheme. Usman, it will be recalled was suspended from his post in July last year by the Minister of Health, Professor Isaac Adewole, following his indictment by a panel set up to investigate serious allegations of corruption, misdemeanor and chronic nepotism against him. Many will remember the controversy surrounding Yusuf’s suspension partly because of his widely quoted remark that, “only the President, to whom I report directly can suspend me from office”.
As the panel of inquiry noted, Yusuf engaged frequently in name dropping, leaving no one in doubt that, not only does he come from President Muhammadu Buhari’s home state Katsina, but he is close to him. Beyond that however, is the fact that the inquiry found him guilty of corruption and the siphonning of public funds through skills trainning, some real, many phantom. Among other disturbing issues, is the fact that he purchased an SUV car for 58million naira without due process. It was also alleged, that out of fifteen appointments, eleven, which included his niece, came from the North West, the zone from where he originates and four others from the northern part of the country, in violation of the Federal Character Principle.
The case went through several twists and turns, one of them, being the attempt of Yusuf, to nail the Minister, by claiming that he was being persecuted because he refused to acede to Adewole’s demand, that the scheme cough out funds to support the ministry. In the same connection, the House of Representatives in what appeared to be a hasty intervention and contradiction of a probe ordered by the Senate, ordered the recall of Yusuf, although nothing of the sort happened.
It is interesting to note, that at the time the presidency recalled Yusuf earlier this week, he was being investigated by the EFCC, to which the matter has been referred. It will remain a mystery therefore why government, without making public the result of the ongoing investigation, decided to re-instate the discredited official. Coming in the wake of the smuggling into the civil service of the Dr. Abdul rasheed Maina, a fugitive accused of serial embezzlement of pension funds, the Yusuf saga puts the anti corruption policy or what remains of it, very much in the cooler.
To be sure, it would have been proper if apart from the investigating Yusuf, government took interest in knowing whether his allegations against the minister were an after thought, calculated to divert attention from his feral conduct, or whether there is any substance in them. However that goes, it is improper, unethical and shocking that the presidency decided to re-instate Yusuf inspite of the cloud of doubtful dealings and graft hanging over him. Even if Yusuf were a favoured son, as appears to be the case, the decision to bring him back to office should have been weighed against the moral injury and the public uproar that will attend such a decision.
Besides, this writer is not convinced that there are no alternative ways of rewarding loyalty outside of public service. As matters stand, the decision to re-instate him, traced by commentators to a cabal in the presidency has given rise to several speculations such as the uncharitable one that the scheme will be a source of funding for the 2019 elections, should Buhari be a Presidential candidate. Talking about the cabal, Dr. Junaid Muhammed, a lawmaker in the second republic, suggested recently that Yusuf was appointed by the cabal in the Presidency and that he was not surprised that it insisted on re-instating him despite the heavy albatross of wrong doing around his neck.
Of note, is the fact that the cabal came under attack recently by no less a person than the Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee against Corruption, Prof Itse Sagay. Sagay was quoted as saying ” The cabal in his government has no business been in the presidency. As such, it should be fished out and flushed out”, (The Guardian, Wednesday, 7th of February, 2018). Whatever weight and influence one ascribes to the cabal, whose existence is a misnomer in a supposedly reformist government, the point remains that the buck stops at Buhari’s table. Buhari, it is, whom Nigerians overwhelmingly voted for in 2015 and look up to, for redeeming the campaign promises, including sanitizing the polity which he made to them. So, it is he that we must call upon to reverse the recent decision to re-instate a highly placed official of his government , who is facing trial for anti corruption charges.
Remarkably, there is a recent globalization of Buhari’s anti corruption policies, for instance by the African Union and a mark up therefore in Nigeria’ s soft power overseas. This suggests that we cannot afford to lose the moral high ground at a time when the world has begun to take notice. The other reason why Buhari should step in to reverse the reinstatement of Yusuf, is that the official is too closely linked to him suggesting that the anti corruption struggle is wittingly or unwittingly being corrupted by double standards, one, for the masses of Nigerians, especially the opposition, and another for cronies and kinsmen of the President.
To be sure, the nitty-gritty of politics, is such that rewards and opportunities must be extended to one’s political base in order to continue to enjoy their support. That said, nepotism and blatant ethnicity cannot be erected into a directive principle of state policy, without violating the inclusive pre-requisites of Nigerian federalism as spelt out in the 1999 Constitution. It does no credit to Buhari’s image if he is perceived as suspending the requirements of his administration’s flagship policy just to please his kinsmen.
To that extent, the matter at hand should be regarded as a test case for the anti corruption programme, which is in clear danger of being swept into ineffectuality. In the same vein, and deriving from a playbook of prudent and even handed conduct, Buhari should cultivate the image of being hard, if not harder on people close to him than those outside his immediate circle. For, it violently contradicts his reformist credentials if corruption flourishes unchecked and turned a blind eye to around him,while he is shouting himself hoarse himself about the need to kill corruption before corruption kills Nigeria.
Nigeria can draw a leaf from goings on in Israel, where the police has just concluded a probe of allegations of corruption about a sitting President, Benjamin Netanyahu which might well lead to his resignation. We should aim at this kind of presidential non interference and impartiality in law enforcement and judicial institutions.
Prof. Olukotun is the Oba(Dr.) Kayode Sikiru Adetona Professorial Chair of Governmance,Department of Political Science, Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago Iwoye.