Nigeria has recently embarked on something which its leadership describes as a war against corruption. I do not know whether it is by design or by mere happenstance but the series of events which government and its agents fly as posters for the success of combating corruption are unworthy of what a people, having any hope for an enduring change in ethos, would give more than a token of credit to.
But Nigerians love drama and this administration, due to either its own deficient grasp of the issues or a deliberate effort at exciting the people. They have provided nothing beyond quality entertainment in the naming and shaming without repatriation that we have seen since former National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki. He is the alleged mainspring for most of the sleaze that characterised the immediate past administration, became a resident in one government custodial or the other for about 16 months now.
Dasuki, a Sokoto prince and retired military officer, is said to be the channel through which about $2.2bn allegedly meant for the purchase of equipment for the Nigerian military found its way into pockets of a plethora of government officials who took care of the electoral fortunes of the former ruling Peoples Democratic Party or had some personal demonic appetite for cash.
But for the isolated case of the former Managing Director of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, Patrick Akpobolokemia, said to have funnelled N2.6bn of national resources to assorted criminal outlets and a few others, virtually everyone recently accused of complicity in corrupt practices sourced their lucre from Dasuki’s overflowing pool.
Yet, this case has gained no motion in over one year while the trials of a lot of his beneficiaries have progressed significantly. Think of Chief Raymond Dokpesi, Chief Olisa Metuh, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode amongst others. Although none of the cases mentioned here or any other high profile corruption case initiated by the Buhari administration has reached determination, it is worrisome that the matter involving the originator of it all has, like water in a stagnant pond, become stale and stenchy.
Which is an irreconcilable irony. Consider the symbolism of having determined the Dasuki case and finding the man guilty of all or just some of the offences he is alleged to have committed. Although reports of an agreement to consolidate the charges against him may bring some traction to the case, that the Principium of every corruption case has remained unresolved is ample testimony of the paltry accomplishment of the much advertised war.
But government has an off- the- rack explanation for the slow pace of these corruption trials. A justification borne out of self-deception and resulting in the willing suspension of much needed introspection. Since we have conveniently allocated the blame to the slow judicial process, a falsehood further lubricated by the fact that the judiciary itself is being portrayed as largely compromised, government would have lost every drive to seek creative solutions to the problem.
One of such manifest problems is the patent incapacity of investigating and prosecuting bodies. Apart from the burden of insufficient funding that these bodies grapple with, there is the incessant failure to build the capacity of their officials to respond to modern challenges of economic crimes.
The Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mahmud Mohammed, drew attention to this when he hosted the National Electronic Fraud Forum in November 2015. Mohammed spoke about the need for investigation-led arrest and not arrest-led investigation which would assure that an agency already had a case before moving on a suspect. The CJN stressed that for anti-graft agencies to successfully nail accused persons, they must, at least, call a witness on each count in the charge.
Of course, the premeditation that the judiciary stalls the war against corruption would dispirit government from considering these suggestions, which are fundamental to the effectiveness or otherwise of the war against corruption.
Government also rushed into this war without getting to the roots of the problem. It is like tackling a problematic tree by cutting it from the top; this tree would of course sprout again! While corruption has always been part of human nature, its current national ubiquity is symptomatic of deeper problems part of which is the crushing level poverty in the land.
As is said of former Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, when he was confronted by extraordinary corruption, there is an overriding need to wipe out corruption from the public service, which is the engine room for the running of government and every kind of political corruption.
Any country intent on seriously fighting corruption must pay public servants fair and realistic wages benchmarked to private sector earnings. This is the only way a society can demand the highest standards of integrity and performance from its workers. In a country where public education, health care and housing have gone to the dogs, civil servants, teachers, doctors and policemen should be well-paid and reoriented to avoid the temptation to abuse their office.
The truth is that while we are making public spectacle of those accused of political corruption, it is business as usual in institutions like the police, immigration, customs, road safety and the MDAs in the country. The story is not much different in the private sector. So, the President is in Abuja congratulating himself for a job well done but those who make the machinery of government move manipulate their ways to survival. How many of them do you hope to arrest in eight years?
The other thing is that corruption is a societal problem that cannot be fought and won by the President and a select group of trusted wise men from the North. If the President desires to leave a Nigeria where people abhor corruption, he must win foot soldiers and convert people to his side from across the nation?
Nothing stops this government from speaking with the leaders of the other arms of government, having a meeting of minds with the PDP and other political parties, set up machinery to get faith based leaders, professional organisations and parents on board this war. Success would be easier were the President to make this a war owned by all Nigerians. That aloof, only-me can do it, self-righteous disposition without consensus building will only end as another fleeting initiative that no one will remember.
In addition to the foregoing, President Muhammadu Buhari must pursue a reform of the anti-corruption agencies and propose an amendment to their enabling Acts such that these bodies will have total independence from the influence of the executive. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Crimes Commission deserve to be empowered to investigate any person no matter how high-ranking.
The President himself needs to shun all nepotistic inclinations. Nigerians need to see that the era of political patronage is over in spite of insinuations that lucrative public institutions have been handed over to people known to have been instrumental to Buhari’s elections!
Then, the President and his helpers should not be tempted to run against the grind of procedure for any reason. That in itself is the kith and kin with corruption. If any law hampers his vision, Buhari should, rather than circumvent the law, propose amendments that would fulfil his dream for the country. It is understandable that his antecedents encouraged summary actions but this man claims to be a new creature and nation builders hold on to their promises and the laws that guide their commitments.
Where it is now, there is no war against corruption. What we have is a war against select corrupt people at best. Taking out a few politically exposed people in a country that has an endemic encounter with the malaise is like scratching the surface of a problem.
What we need to do is get the buy-in of every Nigerian and attack the evil of corruption from its roots. And this is more than that joke of a programme called Change Begins With Me.