How not to fight corruption
Nigeria stinks of corruption. That’s not new and it’s not even news anymore. People steal, subvert the laws, shunt the rules and still smell like rose flower. But it’s not only Nigeria that wears a badge of corruption. Every nation has a share of corruption and the corrupt. The sociology of corruption is such that it thrives with humanity. It grows wherever humans habit. But great nations and aspiring great nations have learnt how to deal with it. They use the rule of law and institutions; simple as that.
That is the difference. Nigeria has not learnt how to deal with corruption. Not that the leaders do not know how, they simply lack the will and the moral rectitude to do so. But far more intriguing is the fact that they refuse to define corruption in its broad sense. They simply kick the air in the guise of fighting corruption.
Simply put, fighting corruption is beyond jailing a few thieves. If it is, then Chief Olusegun Obasanjo deserves plaudits for his anti-corruption war. First, it was Obasanjo that birthed both the EFCC and ICPC, two anti-corruption agencies that are themselves hotbeds of corruption. And the Ota farmer showed spark when he got a few big wigs convicted or disgraced for acts of corruption. Here is a check list: Obasanjo sacked then Inspector General of Police, Tafa Balogun for corruption. He got him prosecuted. Balogun was handcuffed and Obasanjo’s Presidency, wanting to make political capital out of it, ensured that the picture of IGP Balogun in handcuff was published prominently in Nigerian newspapers. Nigeria was hosting the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Abuja during that period. And Obasanjo really looked good in the eyes of the world, or so it seemed.
Under Obasanjo, there were several cases of ministers being fired for acts unbecoming of their offices. A good example was his friend, Sunday Afolabi. He was indicted in the botched Sagem national identity card scheme. He was the President’s friend but Obasanjo could not save him. There were other cases: Fabian Osuji, Tim Menakaya and Hussein Akwanga all got the boots for acts of corruption. The list also had Mrs Mobolaji Osomo who was fired for act bordering on administrative indiscretion just like Professor Adenike Grange, a global brand in medicine, who was hoofed out of office ignominiously by the late President Umaru Yar’Adua. But did all of this make Obasanjo an epitome of anti-corruption? Far from it. Obasanjo ran one of the most corruption-infested governments in the nation’s history.
President Goodluck Jonathan, in spite of his obvious weakness, even got one of his best-performing ministers fired for alleged act of corruption. Stella Oduah, brainy and beautiful, was Aviation minister but she was adjudged to have done some things in a not-so-clean manner for which Jonathan fired her.
The same Jonathan also fired Abdulrasheed Maina, then Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on Pension Reform. Maina was to catch pension thieves but he got stewed in the same juice of filthy lucre. In a moment, Maina got richer than all the pensioners in Nigeria put together. And he got ruthless too, talking rashly at everybody and anybody. From Obasanjo through Yar’Adua to Jonathan era, several anti-corruption cases caught the fancy of the world: James Ibori, Jonah Jang, DSP Alamieyeseigha, Jolly Nyame to name a few. These men were not spared by the Presidents in their times of trial.
Still, this has not made Jonathan or any of these leaders an anti-corruption hero. President Muhammadu Buhari who campaigned as a zero corruption champion is toeing the same path. He has been threatening to jail people for corruption. Poor thinking. If jailing people is the antidote to corruption it would have ended in the Obasanjo era when a serving Inspector General of Police and ministers were nailed. Corruption could have ended with Jonathan firing a serving minister, a performing and hardworking one at that. This is where we miss the argument. You do not fight corruption using corrupted methods. Corruption is not restricted to stealing public funds. That’s just a part of it. When a politically-exposed person funds your political campaign with billions and millions of naira and you wholly accept the funds knowing that such a person could not have amassed such humungous amount from legitimate earnings, that is corruption. The very fact that you did not know that such money was stolen from somewhere is not an excuse, morally and legally.
Buhari has fired David Babachir, former SGF. Very good, but he did it grudgingly. Buhari fired former Director General of the NIA, Ambassador Ayo Oke. This also is good. Nigerians await their prosecution in court. But the same Buhari has recalled sacked Maina with all the baggage of filth around him. He turned his eyes away from the messy manner Maina was reinstated and promoted by his appointees. This is bad. Under Buhari, contracts totaling $25 billion were awarded by NNPC without the approval of the Board and without the knowledge of the Chairman of the Board, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, the Minister of State for Petroleum. Probably out of frustration, Kachikwu had to blow the whistle. Buhari is mum on this till this day. That is bad and certainly not how to fight corruption.
In effect, none of these leaders, from Obasanjo to Buhari has effectively checked corruption despite their knee-jerk efforts. And it’s all because none of them has shown leadership by example. Buhari who was thought to be the real anti-corruption deal has thrown up several variants of corruption chief of which is nepotism. Giving advantage to a people of your ethnic group, friends and cronies against persons considered to be outsiders is nepotism. It helps to propagate a culture of mediocrity.
No nation builds its war against corruption around an individual. It is built around institutions. The rule of law must take primacy over individuals. When everybody including a sitting president is brought under the law, then the fight against graft will have both meaning and essence. From its infancy, the EFCC has been used as an instrument of intimidation and harassment against political foes. Obasanjo deployed it to great effect. Buhari is doing same, no difference. In a primitive show of loyalty, Chairman of EFCC, Ibrahim Magu, now wears Buhari’s brooch. That’s not how to fight corruption.
Every Nigerian public defender and anti-graft fighter must copy from the style book of Ms. Thuli Madonsela, the South African public defender who investigated top South Africans including Julius Malema and then sitting President Jacob Zuma, and even indicted the President. Ever since that high profile case against Zuma, the world has not stopped talking about Ms. Madonsela. She’s a woman above board and an impartial arbiter. She operated within the confines of the law, not blind loyalty to Zuma. Such attributes are not found in EFCC leaderships, past and present. They all made the EFCC appendages of the President in power by taking briefings from the President and hounding his perceived political foes and critics. Nigeria will never win the war against corruption with such display of selective amnesia by those who should fight corruption dispassionately.
Credit: Sunday Sun