By Denja Yaqub
No doubts, the dawn of the Muhammadu Buhari presidency has changed the corruption surge in Nigeria, even as anti-corruption laws and institutions are still very weak and lacking in both capacity and will to curb the spate.
Corruption is unarguably Nigeria’s worst problem, every other problems including unemployment, sits on the trivet of corruption and all we urgently need is a serious government that is committed, beyond words, to the battle against the plague.
President Muhammadu Buhari’s promise to fight corruption during his campaigns and his anti-corruption pedigree certainly gave him majority of the votes that shot him to power as most Nigerians are eager to clear the global dent on our collective image and he needs to ensure he goes beyond mere declarations by strengthening all structures and institutions that can effectively wipe off corruption or at least reduce it.
Since his emergence as President, the only weapon that has been fighting corruption is simply his name. His name has become anti-corruption law, agency and court. Individuals, organisations and government agencies have adopted a culture of self-control; some people who had diverted public funds to their private vaults have been reported to have quietly returned the funds to government.
Indeed, the Governor of Kaduna State, Nasir El-Rufai publicly said a former public officer, whom he didn’t name, had contacted him to facilitate the return of money he stole while in government during Goodluck Jonathan’s presidency.
The People’s Democratic Party, a party that ruled this country to economic ruins for sixteen years but now in the opposition is swamped with hallucinating fright as most of those being questioned for stealing are members of the party. The party believed the anti-corruption battle is directed at its members. It would be strange if majority of those being investigated or facing prosecution are members of any other political party, anyway. The global community, not just Nigerians, know clearly that majority of those in possession of our public funds belong to the PDP, though members of other political parties cannot be exculpated.
The PDP as a ruling party must be courageous enough to admit that corruption was like its cardinal principles as stealing of public money went on massively and treated with the same impunity the Nigerian people were treated.
For instance, according to a report by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, between 1999 and 2012, a total sum of one trillion, three hundred and fifty billion, one hundred and thirty two million and four hundred thousand naira (N1, 354,132,400,000.00) was swiped off our collective treasury. Nigeria was under PDP’s leadership during this period. The amount stolen in 16 years can be unimaginable.
One of the party’s key national leaders was indeed jailed for stealing funds belonging to the maritime industry. Former ministers who were flying around in private jets with public funds are members of the party.
If the present administration is serious about fighting corruption, majority of those ultimately heading for the prisons would be members of Africa’s ‘’largest’’ political party who had promised to rule Nigeria for sixty years.
The party and some of its key leaders didn’t see anything wrong with venality; a former Minister during the Obasanjo regime, Mr. Sunday Afolabi once publicly chided Chief Bola Ige, who was eventually assassinated, to stop being critical of the PDP under whose government he was Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation. He told him he was invited to government “to come and chop”. This is the concept of public service driving most Nigerian leaders, and it’s not limited to those of PDP extraction; it’s about the only concept common to public officers in Nigeria.
And for this reason, when a public office holder is accused of corruption related offences, his tribesmen or recruited adherents drizzle into the streets with claims of ethnic persecution. A major ethnic group in the Niger Delta has already publicly accused the Buhari administration of pursuing an anti Ijaw agenda in the anti-corruption steps the administration has taken so far. Possibly referring to alleged ongoing probes of former ministers who served under President Jonathan. It is not important to them how corruption has unleashed mass poverty in the oil producing region.
Indeed, according to the National Bureau of Statistic, as at 2004, 32.77 per cent of the South-South population live in extreme poverty. The figure could be higher, even now. In decent climes, the region should be leading anti-corruption struggles since most of our national wealth, which has been massively plundered and diverted to private vaults, is dependent on oil produced from the region.
The Jonathan administration may have come under public focus as being most corrupt, only because corruption reigned more with open latitude under his administration, but administrations before his, including the Obasanjo regime cannot be exonerated. And in any case, corruption assumed governance in Nigeria from independence and became more ubiquitous under unaccountable military regimes, especially the General Ibrahim Babangida regime; the regime that entrenched corruption.
The battle against corruption will be unsuccessful if limited to the immediate past; it has to be all encompassing and in all sectors.
Institutions such as the judiciary and law enforcement are evidently too compromised for any anti-corruption efforts to succeed. For the “war” to succeed, the starting point should be these institutions.
Law enforcement officers, especially the police still openly guard those accused of stealing public funds. In fact, some even have siren blaring escort vehicles filled with armed policemen; while accused persons confidently challenge the state to arraign them before the judiciary where they are sure of being exonerated, until they get caught in foreign countries where the rule of law cannot be manipulated.
Apart from urgent interrogation of the judiciary and law enforcement agencies, the duplicated anti-corruption commissions should be merged into one, strong and independent agency with incorruptible operatives.
Corruption is not just a scourge but an overbearing octopus with its tentacles in nearly every facet of our lives, despite the beauty of individual and societal cultural foundations, it has invaded our physiological psyche and permeated all arms of our society such that fighting it will require not just an overhaul but an upturn of the entire society. But, there can be mollifying steps that may get us closer to a more decent society if we don’t have legislators who still believe in being above the law, with mastery in the manipulation of the judiciary and law enforcement.
The National Assembly need to show commitment to the anti-corruption resolve of majority of our people, the 90% others who bear the brunt of the cramps resulting from societal flop, which corruption, the unregulated money machine of the powerful 10% of our population, have unleashed on us all. The Above-The-Law attitude and politicisation of corruption by legislators at all levels is a key obstacle to the battle against corruption.
The battle against corruption must not be partisan and culprits must be seized without class, ethnic or political consideration.
So far, the battle seems corrupted with partisan and other considerations soaked in obvious vengeance. Such selective approaches can only make the battle a mere flash in the pan.
Yaqub is an Assistant Secretary at the headquarters of Nigeria Labour Congress, Abuja.
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