Buratai:Buhari’s anti-corruption war on trial
By Punch Editorial Board
PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari’s fledgling war on corruption has reached a critical juncture. In a case that has generated outrage, the Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai, has been accused of buying two houses in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, at a cost of $1.5 million. Curiously, the Nigerian Army has admitted that Buratai, indeed, owns the assets, saying, however, that he bought them with his savings in 2013. This is a major credibility test for the President’s campaign against corruption.
It’s a fact of life that corruption has decimated the efficiency and capability of the Nigerian military. The ugly imprint of vice could be seen in the arms purchase scandal, initially said to be $2.1 billion, but later estimated at $15 billion by the Vice-President, Yemi Osinbajo. The money was meant to buy weapons to fight Boko Haram, but was allegedly diverted by senior military commanders and their civilian collaborators. Buhari should know that a corrupt military is highly unlikely to be able to defend the country from internal and external aggression. How will such a military hierarchy motivate the junior ranks?
The revelations from the Nigerian Air Force on how some former Chiefs of Air Staff embezzled funds left over from the funds released for personnel costs running into billions of naira require that our military commanders, starting with Buratai, be held to the highest probity standards. He must not be insulated from questioning. Like all other Nigerians answering questions before the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, the COAS must be subjected to the same thorough investigation.
Indeed, Buhari’s avowal to rid the country of graft will gain traction or falter by the way he handles this case as Buratai himself has not denied owning them. His defence that the revelation is a smear campaign by some groups that are not comfortable with the military’s successes against Boko Haram extremists in the North-East evades the issue. His defence does not add up. A military commander is defined by his actions and conduct on the battlefront and in public service.
But the Army says, “The allegations contained in the write-up are baseless and not correct. It is a fact that the Buratai family have two ‘properties’ in Dubai that were paid for by installments through personal savings three years ago. These, along with other personal assets have consistently been declared by (General) Buratai in his Assets Declaration Form as Commander, Multinational Joint Task Force, and as Chief of Army Staff.” This defence line appears weak and spurious. The underpinning question is how a serving public officer can have the financial means to acquire assets worth $1.5 million. What is his source of income? Buratai must provide answers to these posers.The onus is on him to prove that the assets were not acquired with the proceeds of corrupt enrichment; it is not the job of his so-called “adversaries” to prove that he has lived above board.
The military requires rigorous discipline and high ethical standards to perform optimally. Not even the fact that a commander is running a successful military campaign is enough for Buhari to overlook the allegations against Buratai. In the United States, several top officers have been sanctioned for violating its code of conduct for the military. David Petraeus, a general described as one of the best of his generation, having served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and as head of the Central Intelligence Agency, was fined for divulging classified information to Paula Broadwell, his biographer. He resigned in 2012.
Petraeus was not the only one. Another US general was fired for receiving gifts from foreigners; a former commander in the Africa Command, William Ward, was demoted for treating himself and his wife to a $750-a-night Caribbean hotel suite, and Michael Harrison (also a general), was demoted and removed from his post in Japan for not properly investigating a colonel accused of sexual assault. In 2014, Jeffrey Sinclair, then a brigadier-general, was demoted to a lieutenant-colonel after admitting to having an amorous affair with a subordinate. He was equally fined $20,000. A major-general who headed the US military’s counter-terrorism force in the Horn of Africa, Ralph Baker, was demoted to a brigadier-general in 2014 for drinking and groping a senior female official in his car. We assume that these cases are not as serious as buying two houses overseas for $1.5 million.
At the height of complaints against US military commanders, President Barack Obama warned, “We expect the nation’s senior military leaders to demonstrate the highest standards of ethical conduct.” This is the way to go for Buhari. The moral burden of the Buratai case is heavy on the President; he must discharge it appropriately, no matter the weight.
The late President Lee Kuan Yew cleaned up Singapore, once notorious for corruption, by moving against his ministers and close allies who flouted the rules. So far, Buhari has not lived up to expectation by not moving with the urgency the case requires. The allegations are enough for him to ask Buratai to be investigated, cleared or be made to face the music.
Buhari convincingly sang the anti-corruption mantra on his way to office: now that the campaign has entered a decisive phase, and against one of his trusted lieutenants, he should take action. The President should end his silence. We hold him to his declaration that he would not spare any corrupt official. We demand untrammelled accountability in governance, and reject the hasty clearance issued to Buratai by the Ministry of Defence and the Army.
This messy episode offers the Buhari administration a golden opportunity to institute lasting reforms in the Armed Forces on procurement, discipline, finances and accountability. There have been persistent allegations of commanders hawking government ammunition, purchasing sub-standard equipment and fleecing soldiers on the warfront of their allowances. The Nigerian military is in crisis because the top guns get away easily with violations. To regain their verve, the military must make every officer accountable.