That the tasks before the incoming administration arrow headed by the overwhelming winner of the 2015 Presidential Poll, (Rtd) General Muhammadu Buhari, are gargantuan, is a fact that cannot be overstated, as he, together with other members of his team, will be inheriting the avoidable mistakes, careless blunders and other consequences of directionless governance festooned on Nigeria by the intransigencies of previous administrations. As is always the case whenever there is a change of government, Nigerians will, without exaggeration, expect Buhari to bring them the moon, if possible.
However, General Buhari, in his humble demeanour, has sounded it out loud and clear that he is not a magician, hence, the need for Nigerians to be reasonable in their high expectations of an overnight turnaround in the sordid state of the nation. Of a truth, no sane person would expect the plethora of formidable challenges facing the Nigerian state since its creation to vanish overnight. It will take patience and hard work – and not magic – to totally overhaul the system as currently constituted and operated. But knowing the antecedents of the retired General, Nigerians should expect him to get cracking immediately he steps into Aso Rock. For a man whose track records in the several public offices he has held speaks for – a man whose zero tolerance for ineptitude, corruption, indiscipline etc is legendary – Buhari would be expected to commence the winnowing processes of obviating the systemic incongruities and rank rot that have turned Nigeria into a perpetual basket case.
Of all the daunting challenges the incoming administration will have to grapple with, the fight against almighty “CORRUPTION” ( corruption within the context of this discourse refers to use of public office for personal enrichment) will prove to be the most formidable; a battle that will test THE president’s leadership credentials and stated commitment to revamping the system as currently operated; a war that will pitch him against formidable foes who have withstood all the salvos previous administrations fired at them; a campaign against entrenched power blocks that are ready to fight dirty – to the death, if necessary. He should be ready to confront this hydra-headed monster head-on, as victory in this campaign will go miles in ultimately defining his stewardship in office; a success rating that will lay down the marker for successive administrations to emulate.
Official corruption is a hideous Medusa that can be largely blamed for the shameful state of the country’s economy and the pitiable conditions its people have been forced to subsist in, despite the several billions of dollars that have been derived from petroleum, its chief source of revenue, over the years; a developed that has cast dark shadows on the credibility of past administrations whose actions – and inactions – inadvertently paved way for this ravaging phantom to have a field day unchecked. For instance, from the “Oil Boom” of the 1970s, “Windfalls” of the 1990s to “Bulls” of the 2000s, the Nigerian State and its citizens have benefitted next to nothing by way of development or better standards of living. This is, perhaps, the greatest war the incoming administrations should be ready to confront.
The harsh consequences of this regime of graft on the lives and livelihoods of Nigerians cannot be overemphasized. No wonder, at one point, Nigeria consistently maintained the unenviable position of the “most corrupt country on planet earth”. According to Nuhu Ribadu (See Emedolibe, I. 2011. Nuhu Ribadu: “Face of a New Nigeria”; Nnemedos Enterprises. 60), the former chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Nigeria was ranked “18th Most Corrupt Country in the World, as at 2010” (emphasis added).
Even outside official circles, graft has become a national past time in Nigeria; an asseverating culture of sorts. From the ordinary man on the streets to the privileged few in the mansions of power, the story is the same – a people committed to surviving by hook or crook. Most people simply prefer the shortest cuts to success rather than waste their time and energy going through the usual rounds of hard work, honesty and dedication to service – salient principles that once guided Nigerians in their day to day dealings prior to the onset of the gilded age of dishonesty, indecency and avarice; an era that brought with it a debilitating cancer that requires major surgery to check its continued spread.
To defeat this hydra-headed fiend, the incoming government must be ready to wield the big stick as and when necessary. Anybody found guilty of any corrupt act, regardless of political, ethnic, religious or any other affiliations whatsoever – primordial or otherwise – must be brought to justice. Unlike, the practices in recent years where iron-cast cases of corrupt practices were swept under the carpet due to political exigencies, the incoming administration must allow the Sword of Damocles the freedom to carry out its cleansing exercise, regardless of whose ox is gored. To this end, all anti-corruption agencies such as the moribund and lethargic Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), Code of Conduct Bureau, National Human Rights Commission, the Auditor General, the independent courts and other governmental and non-governmental organizations and agencies must be reinvigorated and given the leeway and executive backing to carry out their censorship functions as prescribed in the legal documents setting them up. No propaganda, please!
Talking of propaganda, previous administrations have often overblown the war on corruption – a war that has been fought mostly on television screens and newspaper pages; a war that previous administrations capitalized on to sell the world a white lie that corruption was being eradicated in Nigeria in order to win goodwill from Western donors; a shameful sham of a scam in every imaginable ramification – one which has brought the country out in bad light. The incoming administration must do a complete detour from the hypocritical paths previous administrations trod by engineering a serious process that is as transparent as it is accountable; a result-oriented campaign targeted at instituting justice against all the modern-day Alibabas who have stolen the future of future generations of Nigerians, together with all their thieving cohorts who aided and abetted their infamies – the Robin Hoods who have ceaselessly robbed the hood.
The existence of some sacred cows in the country, which has made it practically impossible to fight corruption to a standstill in Nigeria, is a critical issue that must be looked into. Some people – especially members of the politburo – have practically lived above the law in this country. These people act with impunity in and out of office without recourse to the possibility of being sanctioned by any known law. Seeing themselves as owners of Nigeria, they develop cathedral like egos that supposedly separates them from ordinary citizens. These untouchables make a show of being bigger than the Nigerian state by making bold public statements – even while they have cases of corrupt practices pending in the courts – that are meant to defy the state’s authority and make a mockery of the anti-corruption battle. There have been cases of ex-presidents – military and civilian – defying court summons and ignoring instructions from other legally set-up anti-corruption agencies without anybody doing anything about it.
Nigerians are well aware of the several cases of governors from some states, accused of stealing their constituencies’ blind, walking away unscathed despite the iron-cast cases built up against them by prosecuting teams. What about the cases of top party chieftains and ex-bank chiefs, which are yet to see the light of day? To worsen matters, most of the agencies created to control the abuse of power have been handicapped by interferences in the free discharge of their duties as certain highly placed persons representing some “special interests” are protected from prosecution, even when there are watertight cases against them. The obvious fact is that most of the anti-corruption agencies in the country have operated largely as appendages of the ruling political elites.
The politicization of the anti-graft war by successive governments, coupled with some of the scandals that have rocked some of the agencies mandated to check this embarrassing scourge has weakened the initial public support it enjoyed at its inception. Any government that pretends to be sincerely fighting corruption on some fronts, while clandestinely encouraging it on other fronts, should not expect to be taken serious by the public and the watching world. This has been worsened by the fact that all the egg heads of the anti-corruption agencies are politically appointed, remunerated and afterwards controlled by the executive. This has made it impossible to effectively fight corruption in Nigeria.
Another major bulwark that has militated against the fight on corruption is the sick judicial system on offer, which accounts for some embarrassing and shameful decisions that have emanated from some of the so-called “independent” courts. Nigeria’s criminal justice system is not just at all. It is an archaic legal system that has consistently failed to adequately address the country’s contemporary challenges; a stuttering Dinosaur that is seriously polluted, handicapped and garbled from inside out; a judiciary that unashamedly tolerates criminality. The Nigerian judicial processes of adjudication are slow, most of its personnel excessively corrupt, majority of its decisions flawed and its independence largely text-book, as it depends heavily on the executive for monetary handouts.
The Nigerian judiciary grapples with issues of integrity foisted on it by the indecent behavior of some its officers and the suffocating demands of operating in a complex political environment. The few snatches of success recorded by the bar from time to time were mere exceptions to the rule; flukes and public relations stunts that have served as damage control strategies to cover up for the inefficiencies and malpractices in the system. The absence of a viable, independent, and objective judiciary has made it impossible to comprehensively fight corruption. That unjust order, has traditionally exposed the common, poor and completely disempowered – politically, economically, socially, mentally and psychologically – citizens of this country to the daily threats to their liberties posed by the vacillating attitudes of their thieving leaders.
This general lack of will by successive administrations to check corruption in Nigeria, brings to mind a memorable chat yours sincerely once had with one Kumar Gandhi (no relative of the Great Mahatma Gandhi), an Indian civil Engineer working on some road projects in Nigeria Some time in ago, while waiting to connect a flight to Lagos, at the Departure Hall of the Benin Airport. Kumar expressed dismay at the high level of corruption in Nigeria and why the country might remain in the doldrums for a long, long time if pertinent steps were not taken to tackle this cancer. He then proceeded to enlighten me on the high level of political awareness in his country and of all the rigorous steps so far taken by the government to check official corruption, especially the expunging of the immunity clauses that had hitherto protected highly placed government officials such as the Prime Minister, Chief Ministers et al, from investigation, arrest and prosecution when suspected of any official misdemeanors; and expressed shock at the carefree manner we allowed high level corruption to go unchecked in our country, and how our anti-corruption agencies together with our legal system appeared handicapped fighting this epidemic the way it is been done in other civilized sections of the world. I juxtaposed the assertions of Mr. Gandhi side by side with our half-witted anti-graft crusade over the years and saw a very large, contrasting, gaping void. I felt very ashamed that a foreigner was telling me what most of us are ignorant of, or refuse to admit; embarrassed that he seemed to know more about Nigeria than most Nigerians. Angered by the saucy manner this foreigner seemed to be expressing his opinion about my dear country, my first inclination was to return his swipes and jibes at my country in kind, but thank God I checked myself on time, for how stupid I would have sounded had I contested what was an obvious fact.
Thus, for good measure, the incoming administration, through the various offices available to it, must endeavour to revisit all pending cases of corrupt practices by some so-called sacred cows and appropriate sanctions meted out to those found wanting. One hopes the purported statement credited to the incoming President and his Vice that the administration will not be extreme in probing past cases of corrupt enrichment is not true. Rather than capitulate to pressures from any quarters to refrain from performing this most sacred duty, the incoming government must endeavour to use all legal means available to it to bring any erring individual found guilty of pilfering the national exchequer to book. The monies that have been looted from the treasury belong to the Nigerian people. That is why it is incumbent on the incoming government to seek to recover whatever has been stolen from the common purse and use it for the common good.
If corruption is to be fought to a standstill, the incoming administration must ensure that all confirmed thieves are no longer let off the hook easily after cutting deals – “Plea Bargain”, they call it – with the authorities that are supposed prosecute them for their demonic indiscretions. Corruption cannot be successfully fought when politicians hide behind immunities offered by their positions and social status to continually fritter away public funds. All the previous, avoidable pitfalls in the country’s fight against corruption are landmines that have been deliberately sown by some fifth columnists from within – landmines that must be hewed out and cast away for the battle against this Frankenstein to proceed unhindered.
The incoming administration will go down in history as the best Nigeria ever had, if it can successfully prosecute and win the war on graft – a war previous administrations failed to win – even if that turns out to be its major achievement. Cyclical Corruption is a parasitic force that has sapped the country of much needed resources and turned Nigerians into the wretched of the earth in the midst of plenty. Corruption is a tumour that must be excoriated to enable responsive, responsible and people-oriented governance to flow unhindered. It is a virus that must be destroyed, and potential carriers inoculated, to make sure it does not spread further. Where others have failed, something tells me the incoming administration can succeed. Judging from the proven track records of the individuals on whose shoulders the affairs of this country are going to rest for the next four years, at least, corruption and its acolytes are in for a very rough time.
Here is wishing the incoming Rtd General Muhammadu Buhari, All Progressive Congress (APC) led government the best as they seek to tackle this embarrassing malady once and for all, restore probity in the management of public resources and redeem our much battered international image in the process. God bless Nigeria!