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Big Battles Await President Buhari in Corruption Fight

FILE - Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari speaks during a news conference after the Summit of Heads of State and Government of The Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC) in Abuja, Nigeria, June 11, 2015.

FILE - Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari speaks during a news conference after the Summit of Heads of State and Government of The Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC) in Abuja, Nigeria, June 11, 2015.

In Africa, as in many parts of the world, newly-elected governments routinely make promises. Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari is no different. In his inauguration speech he promised to rule in accordance to the constitution, to secure the country, to build the economy and to fight corruption.

On December 31, 1983, the democratically-elected government of Nigeria was overthrown in a military coup by the country's army.

Politicians accused of misuse of positions

According to historian and author of the book Soldiers of Fortune from Buhari to Babangida, Max Siollun, the military government led by Muhammadu Buhari jailed several government ministers.

He said the politicians were accused of corruption and embezzlement of public funds while in office and the punishment was serious.

“What that did was he tracked all the politicians, the leaders of pre-civilian government inside the country and the next thing he did was all of them were arrested and detained from the president to the vice president, all the way down to senators and house of representative members and were placed on trial by military tribunals, which tried them and convicted a lot of them of corruption and corrupt enrichment and handed down quick severe sentences to the politicians,” said Siollun.

He said during the trials at the time, some Nigerians had reservations and protested how those politicians were tried because they did not appear in a regular civilian court. He said the military courts had civilian judges on them, but people still felt the tribunal and the sentences were quite draconian.

Fighting corruption

Three decades later, Muhammadu Buhari has come to power as a democratically elected president.

Those who remember his rule in '80s hope he has the energy and zeal to fight corruption plaguing Nigerian society.

Nigeria’s previous governments have created mechanisms to fight corruption, including commissions of inquiry, stronger anti-corruption departments and prosecutions.

But the Washington DC-based non-profit Global Financial Integrity estimates more than $150 billion left the country illegally in the past decade.

A representative of the non-profit organization Every Nigerian Do Something (ENDS), Peregrino Brimah, said the president needs to work with people to deliver on his pledges.

“Buhari does not need to fight these wars,” said Brimah. “What Buhari simply needs to do is work with the people. To me, that is the greatest thing he can do is show all these youths, everybody here, that 'I am with you and let us do this task together.”

Constitutional lawyer Manasara Kogo said Buhari will have to appoint competent people to win the war against corruption.

“The president is the one to appoint the attorney general, is the one to constitute these bodies that are meant to fight corruption including the Code of Conduct Bureau. The president is the one to appoint these people, first of all he has to think of people impeccable integrity,” Kogo stated.

Historian Siollun disagreed, saying it is not easy to win such wars when powerful people are involved.

“The type of people who will be tried for corruption will be very wealthy and very powerful,” he said. “So they have lots of money to buy and spend on the best lawyers, expensive lawyers and pile the government up in liquidations for years. We more likely to see is a lot about plea bargaining what I mean by that is the government doing deals with corrupt people whereby perhaps if they return corruptly acquired wealth they will get amnesty from prosecution.”

Kogo said the suspected corrupt individuals should not be allowed to buy time, court cases should be shorter. “It should be proceedings that last a period of three months, six months so that it is a clear case of going straight to the substance tandem of the issue rather than unnecessary baboons technicalities that our courts are traditionally used into,” he added.

According to the Transparency International Nigeria ranks 136 out of 176 countries with a score of just 27 out of 100 on the 2014 Corruption Perception Index.

The global corruption watchdog notes 85 percent of Nigerians surveyed believe corruption has increased from 2011 to 2013.