Nigeria and Corrupt Ways of Fighting Corruption [opinion] (allAfrica.com)
“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new”
The symbolism of the narrative above which is actually a quote from a character named Socrates in ‘Way of the Peaceful Warrior: A Book that Changes Lives’, by Dan Millman, cannot indeed be truer, given the situation Nigerians now find themselves, as the implementers of the new mantra of anti-corruption seem to be pressing the nation against a hard place.
No doubt, corruption is a cankerworm that is tormenting the whole world. No nation is corruption-free; they only differ in terms of the degrees of exposure, circumstances usually dictated by the application of national laws. But one fact stands true: no nation can develop fast if the degree of corruption within its shores is abysmally pervasive. That is why corruption ranks high on the index of global interest.
In Nigeria the issue of corruption has always been on the front burner of national discourse. You can always tell from the pitch of public and official conversations that Nigerians prefer to be seen as a people that hate corruption. Whether we practice what we preach is another matter. But it is obvious that Nigeria does not command an enviable position in the global corruption perception guide. For years, our dear nation has continued to be tagged among the most corrupt in the world by transparency International in its annual corruption perception index.
In Malaysia, Singapore and in few other countries in Asia, Nigerians are being arrested regularly on different corruption related crimes. The situation is even worse in the West where the perception is so grim that almost all Nigerians that arrive at their airports are first considered criminals until they prove otherwise. Even innocent and highly placed Nigerians are not spared this indignity, stemming from an unfortunate sweeping corruption tag, which I believe, is not based on reality.
Unfortunately, we seem to be the architect of our own misfortune. In the bid to achieve narrow victories in our local politics, we regularly fall on our own sword, thereby ridiculing ourselves before the international community. For instance, when the First Republic was booted out by the Military, it was justified on the grounds of corruption. When the Second Republic was also kicked out, we gave the same reasons. The BIG question now is were those people as corrupt as they were painted.
Can we really believe that the likes of Nnamdi Azikiwe, the Sarduana of Sokoto and Obafemi Awolowo were as corrupt as the military would want us to believe? Is President Shehu Shagari living a life of debauchery synonymous with those that had amassed stupendous wealth while in office? If we should extrapolate this reasoning to the current reality, one is also tempted to ask whether the Jonathan Administration was so dreadful that we can’t find any positive attribution for which it would receive commendation.
One cannot but figure out that in our local environment, the concept of corruption or the perception of it has become so intertwined with politics that the whole country appears to be mired in a state of incongruous delusion. In the build up to the Presidential slugfest, President Muhammadu Buhari was commended for building his political campaign on the ‘war against corruption.’ He rode on that sentiment to win the election. Since assuming office he has continued to sing the same song.
If well directed, Nigerians could easily have bought into that, just like they did in the days of the ‘war against indiscipline’ (WAI). But it appears time has changed. Thirty years down the line, and the strong resolve and detachment that characterized the famed WAI campaigns of the early eighties seem to have been irredeemably tempered and corrupted. I make bold to say that if the current effort to fight corruption is not redirected to address the mounting discernment of selective justice, which in itself is a manifestation of corruption, it might completely lose credibility and the people will never buy into it.
So far, there is a pervasive feeling that the present corruption war is only targeted at the officials of the last administration while evidently corrupt serving or ex-public service officials who are either of the ruling party or closely connected to the seat of power are simply left untouched. Worse still, we are faced with a situation where if one can organized a verbal lynch mob against the Jonathan Administration or loudly cook up allegations of embezzled high sounding financial figures, he is sure to have his fraud forgiven, or even elevated to the status of a saint.
How else would you explain how a person charged and convicted of corrupt practices in the United States and is currently being investigated by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) gets so easily accorded the privilege of addressing the Distinguished Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria on his own terms! How about this? A President who allegedly has two aircraft flying all over the world but daily accuses others of corruption is being canonised almost to the status of an angel, solely on account of his noise and nuisance value. But we all knew that prosperity was nowhere near him as he was a broken man resource-wise before he became President.
We are also fully aware of how a former Admin Officer in a cottage hospital who became a state Governor and funded several elections in the country, including the Presidential elections, with hundreds of billions of naira has suddenly become a poster boy of the ruling party. It is also possible that his embarrassing credentials as a notorious noise maker, especially when it has to do with accusing every other person of corruption, catapulted him to sainthood.
His case is similar to that of a middle level worker in a tiny textile industry who became a labour leader and later became a state governor. He eventually got transformed overnight to own big houses and other choice properties in many places including Abuja. But he also remains a saint and a darling of this administration, despite his gratuitous but unsubstantiated claims of missing billions and trillions.
The list of more of such characters who by merely calling others corrupt, have been left off the hook, while EFCC chased mere mortals, is really inexhaustible. The joke in town is that if you are holding a political office or aspiring to hold elective or appointive office, you have to wear the toga of an anti-corruption czar for you to be sanctified, even if you are a known thief.
Although government officials have been struggling to justify the obvious cases of selective probe, one thing that is clear is that such bigoted investigations will not and can never address the issues of corruption, rather it will encourage it. It only creates room for heightened impunity with the understanding that once you support the government in power you are safe.
For instance, Governor Adams Oshiomhole recently accused the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) of generating N162 billion but remitting only N2 billion in the last financial year. This, by implication, suggests that the NPA had mismanaged about N160 billion. Strangely, the Managing Director of NPA who was incharge at the time in question, and was sacked by the Jonathan administration, has been reappointed by Oshomhole’s APC-led Government to continue in the same position. If the MD truly misappropriated money as Oshiomhole alleged, then one can see where the money went.
Another case is the issue of probe of the Presidential Committee on Maritime Safety and Security (PICOMS). President Obasanjo set up PICOMS for some reasons which were considered absurd by industry operators because it was, more or less, a duplication of the statutory functions of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA). President Jonathan felt it was a waste pipe and closed it down. Now the panel is to investigate Jonathan who disbanded PICOMS, but the Government that set up the controversial ad hoc contraption is not to answer any question.
This is synonymous with a situation where a community leader digs a pit somewhere in the community and children have been randomly falling into it, getting their limbs broken in the process. Then a new leader comes and decides to cover the pit. But rather than receive commendation for his wisdom, the leader is arrested by the police while the same security agents continue to praise the one that dug the pit.
The following extract by British novelist Green Graham in his novel entitled ‘The Heart of the Matter’ is rather long. But it clearly captures the futility of waging an ill-conceived anti-corruption war. He states thus: “They had been corrupted by money, and he had been corrupted by sentiment. Sentiment was the more dangerous, because you could not name its price. A man open to bribes was to be relied upon below a certain figure, but sentiment might uncoil in the heart at a name, a photograph, even a smell remembered.”
There is a need to point out that a number of things are not quite right in this war against corruption. There is so much noise, so much fury, so much intimidation but no substance. The political vocabulary of Nigerians has just been enriched by a new concept known as verbal terrorism. It is no longer a secret that former government officials and top civil servants are routinely being invited to hotels and moneys extorted from them by characters who are no better than crooks, but claim close contacts to the seat of power.
No nation can grow fast if her citizens work under undue pressure arising from constant intimidation. This is because the atmosphere will never promote innovation which is the necessary incentive for growth. In activities that require deep thinking, especially in this era of knowledge-based systems, productivity declines when people work under an atmosphere of fear. Intimidation obviously works better in a slave labour set up where brawn rather than the brain is required to function.
The anti-Jonathan crusaders may be poised to stone to death anyone who talks good of his administration. But is it really correct to keep claiming that Jonathan either achieved nothing or did not fight corruption at all? I beg to disagree. Try as his critics could, atleast they couldn’t blur the luster of some of his very obvious achievements. On the political front it was Jonathan who gave INEC its true independence and subsequently opened up the political space by allowing the registration of new parties, including the APC, at a time when it would have been considered inconvenient by one of his predecessors.
Given the deplorable state to which the sector had fallen, his landmark achievement in agriculture is unimpeachable. Through the Agriculture transformation agenda he made significant contributions to food security and job creation, a clear departure from the past. Corruption in the sector was also drastically reduced, and billions of naira saved in fertiliser subsidies while ensuring that millions of registered farmers received their seed and fertiliser inputs through a newly introduced E-Wallet scheme.
On public financial management the ministry of finance under him introduced new tools including the Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System (IPPIS) which eliminated 46,000 Ghost Workers. We are all now conversant with the Treasury Single Account (TSA), a system designed by the last Administration to block leakages, but which the new administration now seems to have appropriated, without giving credit to Jonathan.
It is obvious that the on-going frenzied denunciation of the Jonathan era is designed to divert public attention from what is now increasingly manifesting as the unpreparedness, mistakes or crass ineptitude of this administration. Of course, It just won’t be cool or in agreement with the spirit of Buharimania, if the public is allowed to make sense of the lack of policy direction and uncertainty which is now gravely hurting the economy, or the failure of the administration to appoint a cabinet, or the fastly dwindling national enthusiasm, or the embarrassing arguments, denial and counter denial of the 100 days promises between the party and the presidency and utter lack of tangible achievements.
It is indeed a sad commentary on the international image of the country to think that the Buhari Administration has spent the last 100 days creating the impression that the President is being held back from appointing Ministers, because of the difficulty in discovering honest men in a country of over 170 million people. So what this means is that we are all doomed, 170 million of us, in the eyes of the international community if our own president willfully or inadvertently declares all of us as corrupt, too corrupt to hold public offices.
But no matter how they try to pull a wool over our eyes with the diversionary charges against the Jonathan Administration, there is one issue we will not lose track of, as far as the anti-corruption crusade is concerned. It has to do with the way and manner of recruiting the team that will push the agenda of the Government. A situation where more than 75% of political appointments come from the North actually portrays the Administration as being short on moral rectitude, which in itself should serve as the foundation for prosecuting the war.
For instance, this is the first time in the recent past where both the Secretary to the Government of the Federation and the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation are located in one part of the country. Other Presidents usually kept one of these offices in the North and the other in the South.
These lopsided appointments may be one of the manifestations of the change that 12 million Nigerians voted against but certainly not the change 15 Million APC sympathizers voted for. It is obvious that Nigerians are in agreement that corruption should be given a knock-out punch in order to free our system from debilitating encumbrances that are hampering growth and development. But as in every battle, the commanders of this anti-corruption war shouldn’t just be above board, they must be seen to be a notch above the status of mere mortals.