By Theophilus Ilevbare
“Corruption is not the cause of all the problems confronting Africa. In terms of security, Boko Haram is the biggest challenge we (Nigeria) have at the moment.” – President Goodluck Jonathan
“For Mr. President to have said that corruption is not our number one problem that must be the misstatement of the century.” – Itse Sagay (SAN)
The first quote was the remark of President Goodluck Jonathan at the just concluded World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, while making his contribution to a televised debate titled, “Africa’s Next Billion.”
The president has completely erased any iota of doubt that he has a thorough grasp of critical issues like the prevalent endemic corruption now crippling governance that demands his urgent attention as president of Nigeria and frontline leader on the continent. One would expect that thorough research should be done by his fawning aides before he speaks at such a forum.
A statement like that is the least expected from the president of one of the most corrupt countries in the world. President Jonathan would have been dead right if he had said every problem confronting Nigeria and indeed Africa is the result of corruption. Any argument in the contrary is like saying there are evils not traceable to the devil.
Mr. President has displayed too much incompetence in handling corruption in Nigeria and several of his other responsibilities as president and remarks like the one in Davos, buttresses this point. It is most unfortunate that our president has a kindergarten understanding of graft and its concomitant effects. He seizes every speaking opportunity to make excuses why he cannot fight corruption. Such prevarication will not help the anti-graft war, they only serve the purpose of encouraging more corruption.
His comments are coming at a time that allegations of corruption against officials of his administration are mounting. The Stella Oduah BMW scandal is still fresh in our memory. With his latest misstatement making national headlines, he reminds us of the fifth presidential media chat of September 29, 2013, were he said that Nigeria’s corruption was merely a perception which is grossly exaggerated.
As a member of the intellectual community, he ought to know better and not mistake effects for causes. Corruption diverts capital from legitimate purposes to making wrongheaded policy decisions which deprives the country of a pool of finances.
He has developed a penchant for singing a different tune from realities on ground, same way he has insisted that electricity has improved in spite of citizen reports to the contrary. Deflecting international attention from sleaze is the least expected at a time the country needed a consistent and dogged fight against this monster. The level of corruption in the country demands serious political will to combat, not occasional rhetorical statements like the promise to fight the scourge in his New Year message.
The present administration has embarrassingly failed to realise that the root cause of the present wave of terrorism ravaging the north east is the result of decades of corruption and impunity of perpetrators coupled with the failure of successive government to provide quality, affordable education to Nigerian children.
Graft goes beyond misappropriation of public funds. How Boko Haram insurgency that affects a few local governments can be rated above a hydra-headed monster that has eaten deep into the entire Nigerian fabric cutting across all sectors of the economy and all levels of government, stifling development, can only be understood by the president.
The Islamic insurgency that the president cited as a major challenge to his government has its foundation in corruption. Government of isolation or exclusion which breeds injustice and disaffection is corruption. The country might be having a tough time combating the insurgency of Boko Haram, it does not in any way imply insecurity has overtaken graft. Government malfeasance is the result of dilapidated infrastructure such as roads, health care, collapsed educational system and poor electricity.
Worse still, the failure of our security operatives to effectively deal with the Boko Haram insurgency is also attributable to graft. Billions are voted every year for purchase of combat weapons, training and re-training of security personnel but they somehow end up in private pockets. For example, a former Inspector General of Police is still standing trial for diverting police funds.
Whenever the president makes such statements, it shows he is disconnected from the over one hundred million Nigerians who live in abject poverty, same class of people he belonged before he veered into politics. He lives in self-denial of the realities on ground. Terrorism is no doubt a major problem, even globally, but fighting the root causes and other issues that promote the culture of violence requires a holistic approach.
Some of the probes that shows an evident lack of political will to decisively deal with the menace of corruption include: The KPMG report that indicted the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) for corrupt practices; The Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) audit report exposing 10 years of corruption in the upstream and downstream sectors of the oil and gas industry; the probe of the Pension Fund Management by the Senate Joint Committee on Public Service and Establishment, State and Local Government Administration; the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) probe that exposed alarming revelations of corruption in the capital market; the probe of the oil subsidy regime by the Ad hoc-committee of the House of Reps; the non-prosecution of those indicted in the Halliburton LNG bribery scandal, the recent Stella Oduah BMW scandal and the unsatisfactory explanation the NNPC has given for the $10.8billion of crude oil earning the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) declared missing. The list is almost inexhaustive.
It is safe to say every problem we have in Nigeria today has its roots in corruption. We would be living in a fool’s paradise if we expected a president that has been encouraging official corruption to see anything bad in it much less a problem for Nigeria. This will amount to shooting himself in the foot.
Rather than roll up his sleeves and concentrate on fixing Nigeria by fighting corruption frontally, he has instead, resorted to wishing the problem away by selling a warped ideology and diverting attention to insecurity. If this is the thinking of the presidency, and the line of reasoning that this administration wants to toe, then am sorry, we are doomed! I wish them Good luck.
Jonathan should as a matter of urgency, combat the prevalent endemic corruption now crippling governance (at all levels) and stunting the economy of the country.
Judicial officers blame the absurd rulings on corruption cases on the outdated provisions of our antediluvian law – like plea bargains, which allow wealthy Nigerians to get laughable sentences for gargantuan corruption – needs amendment, else criminality and corruption will continue to flourish. It is why corruption has become a raging monster in this administration. Regrettably, there are no serious efforts to review these laws. Justice delayed is another variant of graft. Add that to looting, political desperation, nepotism, impunity, electoral fraud, perjury and you get a snippet of what corruption is.
There is no better time to step up the fight and stem the tide of sleaze than now. Year 2014, to Nigerians, is not just another year, but the end of a century of national existence and the beginning of another. When the centenary celebration proper begins, it should be time for sober reflection on how far we have come. One of the numerous national questions that will continue to reverberate in our minds will be: how did we find ourselves in this abyss of monumental corruption?
Theophilus Ilevbare is a public affairs commentator. Engage him on twitter, @tilevbare. He blogs at http://ilevbare.com.
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