Assessing Buhari’s War on Graft: A Word of Caution

Image: Dierk Schaefer via Flickr

“Excoriating the corruption epidemic” has become the driving mantra of President Mohammadu Buhari’s administration. The president, true to his pre-election promise to uproot the asphyxiating weed of graft choking the development and growth of Nigeria, has mobilized all the anti-corruption agencies – Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission, Code of Conduct Bureau, Office of the Auditor General of the Federation et al – behind his siege on the lecherous forces of graft.

Image: Dierk Schaefer via Flickr
Image: Dierk Schaefer via Flickr

The spate of arrests and prosecutions of some prominent Nigerian politicians – in and out of office – by the country’s anti-graft agencies have highlighted the firm resolve of PMB’s administration to checkmate the previously uncensored intransigencies of public office holders whose dishonest dealings have constituted the chief stumbling blocks to Nigeria’s development. The recent summoning and arraignment of the current Senate President – and former Governor of Kwara State – Bukola Saraki before the Code of Conduct Bureau on charges of False Declaration of Assets, arrests of Senator Godswill Akpabio, former Akwa Ibom State Governor, and Vice Admiral Murtala Nyako (Rtd), former Governor of Adamawa State on corruption charges, were very instructive, symbolic and firm demonstrations of the administration’s readiness to see through its war on a scourge that has refused to die, despite all previous attempts at obviating it.

Despite the misgivings being expressed in certain quarters about this administration’s commitment to waging a full-scale war on graft, which has given rise to some very hasty, mostly sentimental, and largely erroneous conclusions that the ongoing campaign will die a natural death like previous ones, it is a war that is worth fighting to a logical conclusion if Nigeria must get out of the murky waters of rank underdevelopment and pernicious economic stagnation it currently wallows in. Sleaze, over the years, has sadly become a traditional hallmark of daily interaction in Nigeria; a national pastime of sorts. From high-ranking officials in both the public and private sectors who abuse their privileged positions by fraudulently enriching themselves, families and cronies through merciless fleecing of the exchequers in their control, to those occupying lower offices, who abuse their privileged positions by circumventing the system to make unfair profits, it has been one mighty potpourri of confusion; a huge tea party where a jolly few have been having a ball at the expense of the many; a foul-smelling cauldron of death that has turned Nigeria into one mighty basket case; an empty shell state in free-fall – a fall that must be immediately arrested for unfettered developed to commence in earnest. Corruption corrodes the processes of governance, stalling the smooth allocation of values.

However, anybody expecting an overnight defeat of almighty corruption by PMB’s administration must have a quick rethink in the light of current realities. Such individuals must not forget that in the present dispensation, the president is no longer a military Head of State imbued with absolute powers to decree policies and implement them with fiat, but a democratically elected civilian President with constitutionally limited powers. They seem obviously oblivious of the fact that in the current democratic order, the president must follow due process in the hashing out and execution of policies, unlike was the norm during the military era when it was easier for him to bring thieving politicians and their cronies to book without the bureaucratic encumbrances he has to grapple with in the current democratic order. The status-quo is no longer the same.

Agreed that the ongoing anti-graft campaign has not panned out as perfectly as most Nigerians would have expected – nothing is perfect in this world of matter – no dispassionate observer of recent developments in the country can sincerely deny the fact that the crusade has gone a long way in helping check the culture of uncensored larceny that was the tradition in ages past when the political class had a field day pilfering the country blind. Gone are the days when public officials could fretter away state funds without looking behind their backs. That is not saying there are no more corrupt elements in our midst, or that the epidemic of graft has been totally eliminated from all facets of our national life – far from it. But the truth is that the era when stealing was done with reckless abandon is fading gradually away with the wind of transformation waltzing through the length and breadth of Nigeria. Gone are the days when politicians were accountable – not to the constitution and electorates – but only to themselves, families, friends and acolytes. Gone are the days of untouchables and sacred cows. Today, the fear of Buhari has, indeed, become the beginning of wisdom amongst the political class, even if some people still refuse to admit this gospel truth in public.

Of course, there is a general consensus that much more still needs to be done in the ongoing war on graft. Nigerians obviously want to see more corrupt individuals brought to book. They want to see real indictments of those accused of corrupt practices – not just arrests and court appearances. But while all these expectations are genuinely justified, they should be given time to manifest. Meanwhile, the anti-corruption agencies, in conjunction with the security units and courts, have to be up and doing in seeing through established cases of corruption. They must fashion out more result-oriented methods of constructing iron-cast cases against individuals suspected of corrupt practices in order to improve on their prosecutorial strategies, with a view to getting these accused individuals indicted, if found guilty as charged. Or do PMB’s critics expect him to turn accuser, judge and jury at the same time in cases between thieving individuals and the state? That’s obviously what his harshest, largely parochial and grossly uninformed critics expect him to do.

PMB’s principal role in the ongoing war on corruption is basically to equip (or re-equip, as the case maybe) the country’s anti-graft institutions with the necessary tools to build up their capacities to enable them perform more efficiently. He should not be expected to interfere in the practical functioning of these legally constituted, autonomous bodies – which was the major shortfall in the anti-graft efforts of previous administrations. Unlike the practices in the past when chief executives developed the penchant for unobtrusively meddling in cases being investigated by the country’s anti-graft agencies for political reasons, PMB has so far proven to be an exception to the rule. Official meddlesomeness compromises objectivity. Lightening does not necessarily have to strike the same place twice!

It is on record that PMB, in his capacity as a military Head of State, was the first Nigerian chief executive to launch a forceful, purposeful and sustained war on graft from 1983-1985, when he briefly captained the national ship of state. Nigeria would definitely have become a better place for the present generation of Nigerians had the successive administrations that came after his unceremonious exit from office followed suit. That obviously seems to be the reason why, on his second coming, the president, true to his incorruptible mien, has re-launched his unfinished campaign, determined to complete the business he was prematurely prevented from concluding during his first stint; determined to clean up the repulsively massive mess left behind by several years of clueless, directionless and villainous leadership. He should be given time to achieve this laudable national objective. It is for our common good.

Fighting corruption is a continuum; an endless campaign which the most developed countries of the world still grapple with. It takes time, unwavering commitment and resources to successfully prosecute this kind of war. The culture of graft in Nigeria evolved over many years. It will also take a sustained campaign, possibly spanning many years to assuage it. PMB has jumpstarted the processes of checking this national albatross, but he should not be expected to eradicate it within four calendar years, though he seems committed to giving it his best shot. However, the campaign must be sustained by successive administrations for any meaningful impact to be made in the long run. That is the simple truth of the matter.

Nigerians collectively elected PMB with the expectation that he would use his legendary Midas Torch to snuff out the life of a pandemic that has truncated the country’s progress and transformed its people into the wretched of the earth. They should be patient with him as he goes full throttle in tackling this Herculean gorgon that his predecessors were too scared to confront. The time for stock-taking is still far off. When that time comes, Nigerians will have the floor to pass judgment on the President’s stewardship in Aso Rock. The fact remains that PMB needs the unflinching support and faith of all Nigerians to succeed in the task of re-inventing and re-engineering Nigeria. Patience and caution are my words of advice, fellow Nigerians.

God bless Nigeria!


Image: Dierk Schaefer via Flickr

Written by
Jude Obuseh
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