If for any reason in the world, the new Muhammadu Buhari led administration does not probe suspected looters and recover stolen funds for Nigeria we shall have no choice but to conclude that the new President Buhari is an adulterated version of the General that Nigerians voted for in the last elections.
Go to any part of Nigeria or meet any group of Nigerians even outside the country and ask them what they think are the main problems facing their country? The list will always start with corruption. A recent CIAPS Polls conducted amongst Nigerians at home and abroad as well as non-Nigerians dealing with Nigeria confirms the general consensus that the key to understanding and solving the ills affecting the country is corruption.
The general idea is that the most urgent problems the country has to deal with today arose and are made worse because someone somewhere has appropriated funds allocated for solving the problems. Most believe that the problem of epileptic electric supply in the country is there mainly because someone or some people have misappropriated funds designated to fixing electricity. Many believe that the oil subsidy is a scam perpetuated by marketers in connivance with public officials.
Let us be clear, and I hope Buhari knows it too: Good a man as Buhari is, he is no Barack Obama and his oratory skills was never his attraction for most Nigerians. Experienced as he is on Nigerian affairs and governance, most Nigerians do not associate him with dynamic and innovative economic policies nor do they associate Buhari with great diplomatic skills.
Most Nigerians that voted for Buhari and indeed many of those that campaigned against him did so because they see as him as an epitome of anticorruption. The general consensus is that the man Buhari, unlike most politicians, is rather averse to corruption and therefore will fight corruption with all his might. If the new President Buhari does not probe and do his best to recover looted funds for Nigerians then he would be betraying the idea of him that Nigerians voted for.
Let us not forget that this President Buhari is really the first non-accidental president to rule Nigeria. From Sheu Shagari, to Olusegun Obasanjo, to Umaru Yar’Adau, to Goodluck Jonathan, the stories of emergence as president have been stories of reluctance, accidents, circumstances and luck if you wish. Buhari is one man that has actively and consistently sought to rule Nigeria and his main message and signature have been fighting of corruption and restoration of an impunity-free country. If after all, Buhari does not probe and recover stolen funds then such omission will be another blow to one of the main tenets of democracy as a system where opposing ideas and characters are transparently offered to voters who in turn choose and get what they voted for.
The reasons to probe and recover stolen funds are not only legal and moral but also economical. The stolen funds were subtracted from the commonwealth and should be returned because the country needs those funds for administration and development. It does not make economic sense for you to be poor, needy and passive whilst knowing that someone out there has your money. You will be amazed in reading a very interesting analysis on what Nigeria can do with every hundred million naira misappropriated in the country.
The very few that have had helped themselves and their cronies to the coffers of the country have, for example, contributed to the creation of a false real estate market in the country. Just look around you for the prices of houses in most part of the country and ask yourself if every Nigerian truly lived on just his or her legal income, who can afford to buy these houses?
Corruption is generally a deterrent to growth and productivity. Why toil when you can loot? Why save when you can steal? Why study when you can cheat? Why worry about content when what matters is contact? Countries that have lower rates of corruptions have such rates not because the people are better but simply because they know they can’t away with it. Everyone in countries with lower rate of corruption knows that someday someone will open the books and misdeeds will come to fore to hunt and to reclaim.
The past must be revisited, it is not enough to draw the line and focus on the future. Any form of impunity or amnesty without restoration will be unfair and sending the message that looters are indeed smarter than grafters. Any form of impunity or amnesty without restoration and punishment will make more people conclude that in Nigeria, healthy principles of honesty and steadfastness count for nothing. It will make our younger ones conclude that those who did not steal whilst in office were fools for not doing so as nothing but shame and misery awaits them whilst luxury and happiness awaits looters.
Those against probing of the past give two reasons: they ask where do we start from and they object that it could be a cause of distraction to the new government that has a lot to deal with. To those who object out of genuine concern let us reply that their concerns will be addressed in the method and to the looters who hide and shout behind them, we say shut up and pay back.
The method for probing the past and recovering stolen funds is to be based on the very simply principle of restoration of normalcy. No drama needed. The president and the government do not need to be directly involved in the process of probing and recovery. All the president needs to do is to establish a functional framework and empower institutions and agencies charged with the task. It would of course help if the president personally encourages and protects whistle blowers and citizens who have facts about looting and abuse of office. In such scenario, petitions and facts will determine where to start from Tafawa Balewa or Goodluck Jonathan? The courts will decide who is guilty and who is innocent. In a normal country the president does not need to be distracted by such task everyone should just do their bit: Teachers teach, Drs. treat, Auditors audit and looters refund. It would of course help if the laws that allows a person guilty of stealing billions to refund trifles is modified.
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