As Nigerians celebrate Democracy Day, there is a need to look at the scorecard for the fight against corruption, writes CHUX OHAI
Sometime in July, 2012, the Chairman, Governing Council of the University of Ibadan, Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), spoke the minds of millions of Nigerians when he said the military should tender an apology to the nation for introducing corruption to the country on the pretext of fighting social vices.
Olanipekun also noted that the entrenchment of good governance rooted in the rule of law would go a long way in eliminating the challenges confronting the country.
Corruption, no doubt, is one such challenge and a huge one at that. For many years, Nigeria and her teeming masses have been straining under the yoke of corruption. This cankerworm has not only burrowed deep into the fabric of the society, it has inflicted a serious damage to the national psyche and grossly undermined successive developmental efforts aimed at placing the country at par with the rest of the modern world.
Although Olanipekun’s statement, coming at a time the country’s centenary celebration is at hand, provides a necessary prism through which Nigeria’s future can be pre-determined by a careful and self-critical review of her not-so-impressive past.
The problem with Nigeria
In his book, titled The Trouble with Nigeria, Chinua Achebe provides an answer to the Nigerian predicament. The renowned writer and political activist said the reason why the country was still backward and largely undeveloped, in spite of its enormous resources, was the quality of its political leadership.
“The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership. There is nothing basically wrong with the Nigerian character. There is nothing wrong with the Nigerian land, climate, water, air, or anything else. The Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to their responsibility, to the challenge of personal example, which is the hallmark of true leadership,” Achebe wrote.
Just as Olanipekun insinuated, corruption has flourished beyond imagination and the leaders of the have further entrenched it, not only in the body politics of the country; but in the fabric of society.
Successive governments had found themselves suddenly in control of the country’s huge resources and lacking the will or the wisdom to exploit it for the good of all, they have repeatedly either robbed the nation blind at every opportunity or frittered it away.
With the eventual ‘ousting’ of the military in 1999 and the return to democratic rule, Nigerians were filled with hope and great expectations. A new civilian government was elected and charged with the responsibility for initiating much-needed changes in the country. The new helmsman, Olusegun Obasanjo had just escaped certain death by the whiskers from a roguish military junta that held the entire nation hostage for a spell.
Nigerians trusted Obasanjo to effectively lead the quest for change. More important, they wanted him to find a lasting solution to corruption. With corruption effectively out of the way, the country could move forward, even catch up with the rest of the world.
A few years later, it turned out, to the chagrin of the electorate, that the return of democratic rule in 1999 had brought a sad dimension to the fight against corruption. It dawned on all well-meaning Nigerians that despite the efforts of the elected political leaders to check the social vice, corruption had become endemic and eaten into the foundation of governance.
Endless fight against corruption
The Olusegun Obasanjo Administration actually made an effort to set up some structures that would be useful in the fight against corruption. The government, no doubt, was conscious of the urgent need to rid the system of corrupt practices. It was also aware that over the years successive leaders of the country had soiled their hands with corruption.
The government knew it had to do something about it or cushion the negative effects on the national psyche. The first thing it did was to strengthen existing anti-corruption laws.
Second, it established the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. Both agencies were given the task of fighting corruption and eradicating it from the society.
While the ICPC was established to handle cases of corruption and corrupt practices in the public sector, it was the responsibility of the EFCC to carry out investigation on people, in the private and public sectors, suspected to be living above their means.
Ever since they were created, both agencies have been very active in the fight against corruption. Under the leadership of Nuhu Ribadu, the EFCC did take notable strides towards eradicating corruption and restoring sanity to the public and private sectors. The commission made some high-profile arrests, which eventually resulted in jail terms for the culprits. Its actions, thus, signaled the dawn of a new era in governance.
Unfortunately, recent developments in the country has caused the people to doubt their ability to lead Nigeria out of the dark woods of corruption.
It is suspected that the anti-graft agencies are gradually losing steam and their leaders appear to be succumbing to manipulation from elements within the political leadership of the country. A few illustrations suffice.
It is curious that despite the fact that many top government officials are believed to be desperately corrupt, none of them, say in the mould of a governor, has been properly sanctioned. While the Obasanjo administration managed to get the former Governor Diepriye Alamieyeseigha feebly jailed for corruption, the Jonathan government has not gone any close to this. Rather, it shocked many sanity-loving people across the world when he granted the executive convict – who is the President’s professed benefactor – state pardon.
Shortly after the Federal Government announced that it had granted Alamieyeseigha and the former managing director of the Bank of the North, Shettima Bulama, as well as five others, pardon, Nigerians across different walks of life had swiftly responded with a flurry of protests.
The United States of America also condemned the decision to pardon Alameyeiseigha and Bulama, who were both indicted for corruption, describing it as a setback in the fight against the social evil.
Critics of the decision across the country had felt it would undermine ongoing efforts at eliminating corruption in the country, as well as promoting a culture of impunity in official circles.
It was argued that if the government was sincere about solving the problem of public corruption, sanctions against public officials indicted for betraying the public trust should be strengthened and not relaxed.
Many people were of the opinion that the action cast doubts on the commitment of the Jonathan-led civilian government to fighting corruption.
Such an instrument, they think, would go a long way in forestalling abuse of power and the recurrence of armed insurgency in the country.
Beyond this, more Nigerians tend to conclude that no amount of effort to check corruption will yield the desired results unless appropriate checks and balances are put in place to prevent elected state governors from exercising absolute control over the financial resources of the 36 states of the federation.
By far, corruption remains the biggest challenge facing democratic rule in this part of the world. Although there are other challenges, which collectively pose a serious threat to Nigerian democracy, such as abuse of power and insurgency, they are also seen as off-shoots of the systemic corruption plaguing the nation.
Although many people believe the judiciary is also grossly culpable in this regard, cases of former governors standing trial for corruption have only been dragging in and out of the courts. It took the United Kingdom government to jail Delta State former Governor, James Ibori, for the kind of criminal enrichment for which Nigeria had, in futility, attempted to nail him.
Abuse of power in high places
Considering the recent developments in the country, it is evident that most members of the ruling class have a common goal, which is to enrich themselves, their relations and friends instead of giving selfless service to the nation.
In order to fulfill their sole purpose of attaining political power, which is self-aggrandisement, highly placed government officials resort to actions that amount to abuse of power. All of a sudden, power has become a veritable tool in the high-and-mighty to embezzle public funds entrusted in their care and to intimidate their political opponents. This is the worst type of corruption.
In his analysis of the connection between corruption and the political leadership in Nigeria, Michael Ogbeidi, who is an associate professor in the Department of History and Strategic Studies at the University of Lagos, notes, “During the first four years of the Olusegun Obasanjo administration, federal ministers allegedly stole more than N23 billion from the public coffers. An audit report released by Vincent Azie, acting Auditor-General of the Federation, showed that the amount represented financial frauds ranging from embezzlement, payments for jobs not done, over-invoicing, double-debiting, inflation of contract figures to release of money without the consent of the approving authority in ten major ministries.
“Rather than cautioning the ministers whose ministries were named in the fraud or invite the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission to further investigate the veracity of the alleged fraud, Vincent Azie was hastily retired by the Presidency for procedural offences.”
Sadly enough, similar tendencies have been associated with the present civilian government led by President Goodluck Jonathan. The government has been accused of shielding some members of the political class accused of corrupt practices.
There have been cases involving some members of the National Assembly. For example, Hon. Farouk Lawan, a member of the House of Federal Representatives representing the Bagwai/Shanono Constituency of Kano State, was accused of demanding and collecting $620,000 bribe from an oil magnate, Femi Otedola. While Lawan’s case is still pending in court, the former Speaker of the House of Reps, Dimeji Bankole and his erstwhile deputy were absolved of a 16-count charge bordering on alleged contract inflation during his tenure in office.
However, there is an indication that the anti-corruption campaign of the present government of the federation is destined to fail like others before it. If this happens, Nigerians are willing to put the bite on the political leadership of the country whose attitude to the fight against the social vice leaves much to be desired.
There appears to be an abiding lack of sincerity on the part of the present ruling class that makes it the least qualified to eradicate corruption. More so, it is increasingly becoming clear that the federal government is only interested in using the anti-graft agencies as instruments to intimidate its political opponents than to effectively supervise the war against corruption in the country.
Many Nigerians believe that this attitude is the reason why the government is agonizingly slow to deliver on the dividends of democracy on many fronts. Also, there is a tendency to see the government as lacking the will to fulfill its promise to the people to push the campaign against graft to a logical conclusion.
There is also the fear that power is being misapplied in various government quarters, a factor that is not only heating up the system but also fuelling corruption. It is only in Nigeria’s democracy that a state governor is the alpha and omega of the people’s fund. It is in the same country that the Central Bank Governor would wake up one day and donate as much as N100m to an institution or a people, without having recourse to any check-and-balancing authority. On the political end, Nigerians are also witnessing a democracy in which the President can use every means to overwhelm a governor, while the governor too treats local government chairmen in his state whichever ways he likes. The current travails of Rivers State Governor, Rotimi Amaechi, readily comes to mind.
At the mercy of insurgency
Drums of insurgency and criminality are currently beating so loud across the country that it is difficult to appreciate the rhythm of Nigeria’s celebration of democracy. The Boko Haram saga and other related issues are threatening the unity of the country. Unfortunately, the problems are getting compounded at a time when a notorious US prediction says Nigeria will disintegrate in 2015. Currently, Nigeria is at war with itself.
Growing debt profile
By the time Obasanjo was exiting power in 2007, Nigeria was considerably off the claws of foreign debts. The administration had made a bold move of negotiating the debts owed international creditors, which included the London and Paris Clubs, and paid off its external debts owed to the tune of billions of dollars.
While some economists faulted this as being too desperate, the government had calculated that by the time the monies were paid off the amounts being used to service debts would now be used for development. About six years after, subsequent governments have failed to make this tall dream come pass. The worst part of the story is that the Jonathan government has practically thrown the door open for loans again, to the effect that the country is now said to be indebted to the tune of as much as about $6bn.
Source: Nigeria Punch Mobile.