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Sylva’s Victory Over Anti-Corruption

Achilleus-Chud Uchegbu

President Muhammadu Buhari’s ‘war’ against corruption is dead. It died not today, but on that fateful day when he gloriously declared that no one, among his aided (followers) is corrupt. That declaration put the final nail on his anti-corruption gra gra; and Timipre Sylva, Buhari’s arch-supporter and his party’s flagbearer and points man in Bayelsa state, is now the new face of victory over corruption war. Whatever you see henceforth, is grandstanding. Nothing else! What we have seen, since May 2015, from Buhari’s body language, to his spoken threats, down to his clenched fists, is mere fuss. No substance.

Since assuming office in 2015, President Buhari has not missed any opportunity to tell the world how corrupt Nigerians are. He has also taken advantage of every opportunity he has to threaten to kill corruption before it kills the Nigeria he presides. He sings anti-corruption world over. He even sang it at the last United Nations General Assembly. We were even told that some world leaders had given him a pat on the back for his ‘war’ against corruption. He had even moved it a notch higher by relaunching his War against Indiscipline. With his threats, he scared the investing community and his aides rationalised that investors who quit Nigeria because of Buhari’s anti-corruption stance are themselves corrupt. So, everyone expected him to make mince meal of allegedly corrupt persons around him. Sadly, he failed.

Buhari failed to get his administration’s bully, EFCC, chaired by Ibrahim Magu, to prove any case against Timipre Sylva. By that failure, 48 houses in choice areas of Abuja, confiscated by the Federal Government in 2003, were secretly released to him. That action, though a consequence of the inability of EFCC to prove any of the numerous charges against Sylva, closes the chapter on the Sylva corruption case and the alleged looting of Bayelsa state for which Sylva lost his office to Hon. Seriake Dickson in an election.

Upon inauguration in 2007, Sylva said Bayelsa state was the “least developed state industrially and commercially”. His disposition presented him as an option for the development of the state. But his rejection at the polls afterwards, showed that he rather developed his pockets and personal frontiers than pursue the development of Bayelsa.

Recall that Sylva, who was a Special Assistant to Edward Daukoru as Petroleum Minister, was Bayelsa governor for only four years. He became governor in May 2007. His victory was successfully challenged by Ebitimi Amgbare of Action Congress. He lost that office in April 2008. He won the rescheduled election in May 2008 and held office till January 27, 2012 when he Supreme Court ended his journey. He lost the rescheduled election of February 2012.

Cumulatively, Sylva did not hold office for 48 months. However, within the period he held office, he had acquired 48 houses, not flats, in Abuja alone in addition to alleged embezzlement of N19 billion. Interestingly, it was the man he succeeded in office as governor, Goodluck Jonathan that sat in office as President when Sylva was arrested, investigated and prosecuted. Sadly, EFCC lacked ability to prove any of the numerous charges it brought against Sylva.

Though the courts had thrown out all the charges brought by EFCC against Sylva, some for abuse of court process, the observing public had viewed such reprieve as one orchestrated by the Buhari-led APC government, to whom Sylva had become a financier and a veritable ally. Most Nigerians saw the judicial reprieve for Sylva as a clearance for him to contest the Bayelsa governorship election against Dickson. And indeed, it was. He contested and lost; both at the polls and in the courts. To calm his for lost deposits, the Buhari-led APC government, through its EFCC, secretly returned all 48 houses to him. In other words, what presented itself to Buhari as an opportunity to demonstrate his unbiased self in the anti-corruption fight became an opportunity lost? With Sylva’s corruption case, Buhari shows that won’t fail to take advantage of any opportunity to miss opportunity.

Without saying it, Buhari signals that all those currently on trial by the EFCC having nothing to lose except their images which had been dented by media trial. Sylva faced the same but is now basking. I can see all those on the EFCC trial list laughing proudly because in the end, allegations against them must be proven by EFCC. It comes down to only one thing –media trial. The only thing Buhari’s administration and EFCC may achieve in the end is media trial of accused person. That is the new face of prosecution developed by EFCC and pushed forward by the media. It is called name and shame. That is all there is. Unfortunately, shame comes in if indeed people are ashamed by their acts.

In Nigeria, you are important based on the size of your pocket, not brains. No one wants to deal with paupers. So, the lure to public office is the freedom to steal as much as possible and then send EFCC, or ICPC, on an assignment it sure will fail in. So, the more money you steal from the public purse, the more important you are to the Nigerian society. The more you are held in esteem. The more your voice counts. The more you are consulted or invited to government high table. The poor, or the diligent public servant, who would return lost but found money, win only plaudits but soon disappears from public consciousness. But those who act like Sylva get front-row recognition in churches and are looked upon when it is time to pay tithe.

Today, Sylva is a free man. His houses are back to him. Buhari is silent. The most I expect from EFCC is to say “we shall appeal”. That is a very smart way of telling you that the casket is closed and buried. No EFCC appeal had ever succeeded. That is why Buhari will not achieve any tangibles with his anti-corruption drive. The most he can get is noise…show! Those in public office know this very well and that is why they do not lose sleep, or look back when looting.

I remember a special assistant to a governor, an APC governor, who I once encountered lecturing me on why journalists must stop “wasting their time writing about corrupt governors”. I had encountered him alongside a university teacher who was angry that someone who was less qualified was appointed the Vice Chancellor of the university where he teaches, because of family links with the governor. The SA, talking to the university teacher said: “My brother if I were you, instead of wailing over the appointment, I will get closer to the VC because, who knows, the VC may recommend you as replacement when leaving. Just get close and be nice to him”.

That suggestion did not shock me as much as when the SA said to me “my brother, you are a journalist right? If I were you, I will work hard to join this government and join us in stealing this money. The money belongs to the public and there is nobody called public. Steal as much as you can if you have the opportunity because what you do not know is that nobody will be held responsible”.

I guess the governor’s aide was being honest with me. The fact is ‘nobody will be held responsible’. All what would happen is that after some years, when eyes and ears had moved to other issues and the dogs wagged, confiscated properties are released and the named and shamed is compensated with his game. He made a kill. That is what Buhari will never be able to prevent or stop. He will never achieve it because the problem is systemic not person-centered. If it were, it would have been eliminated long ago. But as a systemic problem, you need to make it difficult for the hawk to pick the chick. Not just chase the hawk away.

Don’t get me wrong. Buhari may have been good intentioned in his quest to rid Nigeria of corruption –a quest we all desire. But he started the game playing his cards first. His decision to refuse to see corruption as a systemic thing that had killed Nigeria gradually since the first military coup is his biggest mistake. He consciously domiciled corruption in Nigeria in the last 16 years, and with PDP, forgetting the reasons he gave for his first attempt at leadership through military coup (extreme form of corruption which is also very rewarding). Those decisions made him take his anti-corruption focus away from the system we operate, and fix it firmly on individuals, especially, those who had made it difficult for him to become president earlier. With that, he brought in persons who actually should be learning, to superintend the same system. This is reason allegations of corruption against his aides are still flying around.

Simply put, the Nigerian system rewards, very well too, those who abuse it to enrich themselves. For instance, all beneficiaries of military coup in Nigeria are today’s rich men, or ex-rulers, whom we are forced to revere, respect and pick their bills with our taxes even though they entered office by an act of armed criminality which in itself epitomises corruption. That’s what Sylva has just enjoyed. Think about it!

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