We have followed with sated breath the anti-corruption efforts of President Obasanjo. While we applaud the efforts and urge maintenance of the momentum, we must caution that a piece-meal application would be to “scourge the snake and not kill it”. Corruption has been all pervasive in all spheres of governance in Nigeria as identified by “kola” “goro” “egunje” “particolas” “welfare” or “settlement” in the Nigerian daily lexicon. Emergent economies are intricately tied to the performance of government and so are the social values since the main feature of a developing economy is that it is continuously upward mobile in the macro-economic sense and on the individual level. The individuals take their cue from the overt acts of government. Further, because government is the major source of lucrative business contracts, its leadership in financial processes creates an atmosphere and precedents to be followed. Full page adverts in newspapers and congratulatory messages and gifts are an expression by patrons of the business community that they are open and available for business with the new regime; they await the direction. Is the new president/governor or chairman corrupt or corruptible?
Definition of Corruption
There have been tones of ink written on corruption in government, what it is, what is not and why we need to get rid of it. I shall not try to re-invent the wheel here:
“In broad terms, corruption is the abuse of public office for private gain. It encompasses unilateral abuses by government officials such as embezzlement and nepotism, as well as abuses linking public and private actors such as bribery, extortion, influence peddling, and fraud. Corruption arises in both political and bureaucratic offices and can be petty or grand, organized or unorganized. Though corruption often facilitates criminal activities such as drug trafficking, money laundering, and prostitution, it is not restricted to these activities.”
A Handbook on Fighting Corruption document Identification Number PN-ACE-070
Global Anti-Corruption Moves
The global economy has taken notice of the debilitating effects of corrupt governments around the world. Whereas, multi-lateral organizations and countries had hidden under the canopy of non-interference in the internal affairs of a country doctrine, the issue of global terrorism (especially since 9/11) has brought it home to the international community the anger at western governments by terrorist, most of whom were from middle class families in emergent societies. There had to be a solution to the hypocrisy in supporting corrupt thieving and despotic regimes of the Third World to stem the anger of the knowledgeable middle class of these societies who had began to lash out. To say that the international community is just being humanitarian is to give the lie to the fact that humanitarians had not been born before now. Previously it was national self-interest; it still remains national self-interest that motivates the worldwide fight against corruption in governments as represented by the World Bank, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the Organization of American States (OAS); private and nongovernmental organizations; and other Agencies.
While writers and pundits have continued to analyze the motives behind President Obasanjo’s sudden wind in the anti-corruption direction, in giving him the benefit of doubt, we remind the President of the fact that he is a disciple of the holistic approach to issues. Because corruption in Nigeria has been all-pervading, the President would do well to spread his nets to encompass the whole system and leave a legacy of transparency and accountability in systems that cannot be easily reversed by the rogues and charlatans waiting in the wings without any plans to pillage the Nigerian state once more.
Areas of Systemic Corruption
The Political System: A system of buying the votes of impoverished and needy delegates is not likely to produce a corruption-free government. The selection or election of representatives in government ought to be open and devoid of financial inducements. To stop this practice, we n
eed stiff laws. Further, INEC, to be independent, should comprise of a diverse representation from the people, women groups, students, professional organizations, military, trade unions, registered political parties, etc. The commissioners should be allowed to elect their chairman.
Governance: In making institutional reforms, President Obasanjo must ensure that tenders, government contracts and dealings should be open to public scrutiny. Personnel in government no longer are private citizens, so if they are making money in chicken farming or airline business or just getting the special license and advantage to start a private university, the public should know whether there is no ethical issue of a conflict of interest. The sale of public property to OBJ’s in-laws and kitchen cabinet should elicit an apology, as well as all such other dealings. The President should not live in denial but apologize, return any property to the state and show transparency himself instead of unnecessary preachments if he wants to be credible going forward.
The Legislative Oversight: In our Presidential system of democracy, the legislature is not to be a rubber stamp, but as representatives of the people, they are required under the law to serve the oversight function. While undue obstruction should not be their purpose, they are required by law to give the checks and bring balance to the system. This President and his team should have had it easy with making laws and governance because his party controls both Houses of the legislature. The Osuji incidence as well as El-Rufai’s and sundry “Ghana-must-Go” lobby are rather pathetic accounts of corruption in the system. The nation must make a clean break from such. There can be no justification for the bribes offered, given or received regarding the duties of the legislature or any government activity. We suggest that a new anti-corruption law be passed in Nigeria to enable all citizens account for their source of wealth in excess of N1,000,000 or forfeit same to government.
Civil Societies Oversight
While the war against corruption rages on, the past beneficiaries of corruption are not idle. Everyone knows that one of the major causes of corruption is the lack of accountability of the past governments to the scrutiny of the public. We suggest a Freedom of Information Act to regulate all government activity. Further, we know that most of those who had ruled and abused government positions were autocratic military despots. That they are now bold enough to proclaim at each and every event to the media that they are fit to govern Nigeria is a lack of humility only seen in an unrepentant regenerate group of persons who have not the intellect to weigh the consequence of their misrule. They are entitled to their opinions regarding whether they can contest elections, Nigerians would be double foolish if they partake of the looted funds and vote these ignoble characters into the corridors of power again. It is the duty of commentators, pundits, the press and NGOs to inform the people that receiving even 10,000 Naira from an ignorant and morally bankrupt person to allow rule over you because he was involved in a coup d’etat and became infamous is to willfully sign away your democratic right.
Obasanjo to prove his resolve must go against members of the retired club of generals who have no invention, business concern or sound intellect but have illegally converted Nigeria’s wealth and try them for corruption in government.