The Muhammadu Buhari regime has stated that it will “probe” the administration of Goodluck Jonathan. The investigation, prosecution, recovery of stolen funds and possible jailing of any corrupt officials are actions that all right-thinking Nigerians can agree on as positive developments.
Corruption in Nigeria has grown legs as a result of impunity. Many corrupt officials believe they would get away with wrongdoing. So the prosecution of officials should act as a deterrent against future theft of public funds.
But Buhari’s spokesman Femi Adesina has said that corrupt investigations will be restricted to just the Jonathan administration. “If you recall, that was already settled before he got inaugurated as president. He has said he will not waste time digging into the far past. The far past will include Obasanjo and others. But the president has said he will not waste time to go that far.”
For starters, Buhari said during the campaign that he was not going to investigate the past and that he would drawing a line from when he took over that meant any corrupt activities from then would face prosecution. This was seen at the time as an attempt to ignore the corruption of his major backers, such as the former governors of Lagos and Rivers State Bola Tinubu and Rotimi Amaechi.
If the president has changed his mind and decided to investigate his predecessor’s administration that is a welcome development. But the claim by his Adesina that investigating the corruption of regimes before Jonathan was a “waste of time” displays a troubling and cavalier disregard for justice and the rule of law.
Some Nigerians may argue along the lines of the popular saying that “half bread is better than none”, but selective justice is as bad as injustice. To dismiss the corruption of regimes before Jonathan suggests you don’t care about justice, recovering the amounts stolen – which could possibly be more than was stolen by the Jonathan administration, and the principles around deterring future offenders. Human Rights Watch, for example, claimed that some foreign diplomats estimated that between $4-8bn were lost every year through corruption in the eight years of Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration.
To single out one administration gives the players from that administration the opportunity to claim they are victims of a witch-hunt. It smells of favouritism and feeds the perception that some people are untouchable. It does little to eliminate the culture of impunity because corrupt officials from previous administrations continue to act like they are above law, and the corrupt in Buhari’s party are encouraged to carry on regardless because nothing will happen to them as long as they belong to the “right party”.
Buhari should by all means investigate the corruption of his predecessor. But the cause of justice, the rule of law and the interests of Nigeria are best served by ensuring that there are no sacred cows, no corrupt activity is off limits, and anyone that commits fraud against Nigeria faces the full might of the law.
A half-hearted, half-baked and selective approach to prosecuting corrupt officials further damages the president’s already questionable credibility.