President Obasanjo came to office again in 1999 with a promise to fight Corruption, if not in the Nigerian society, as a whole, but at least in the Federal Government. Close to five years later, he is yet to make a dent on the national cancer. Corruption at all levels of Government is worse off today than it has ever been in our nation’s history. 95% of Nigerian politicians today seek elective office, not to serve the interest of their constituents, but to fill their own pockets, and to recover ten twenty fold or more, whatever money they might have spent on seeking office. Top civil servants and their Ministers and Commissioners now develop a clandestine strategy to have the Legislature increase and approve their operating budget, so they would have enough booty to share and to take home, regardless of the statutory obligations of the Federal Audit Department to ensure some accountability and strict adherence to Financial Orders.
Corruption as observed by Dr. Fakinlede in his latest article in Lagosforum, has become a way of life in a country that is flowing with milk and honey, so to speak, when you think of our natural endowments as a Nation. At a time that crude oil is now selling for close to 60.00 dollars a barrel, and rising, a country like Nigeria has no reason to be poor at all, if our resources are being properly and responsibly managed., and if all the loop holes of corruption at all tiers of Government are being carefully monitored and eliminated.
Even though our foreign reserve has grown by leaps and bounds under Iweala Okonjo and Obasanjo’s economic policies that has not translated into any measure of comfort or economic relief for the common man in our country. Why? Because the money is being squandered, stolen left, right and center every where you look because of uncontrollable corruption in high and low places as confessed by Mr. President himself in a recent national broadcast to the Nation. That broadcast has followed the recent scandal involving his Minister of Education and the top echelon of the Nation’s Senate. The scandal that has now forced the President to raise a public alarm, is nothing but a tip of the ice berg, because more damaging scandals have occurred under this Administration in the last five years, and all the President had done was either to look the other way, or just take some cosmetic steps, here and there, or just let sleeping dogs lie. He often rationalized that the problem of corruption would take a long time to subdue and that all hands must be on the deck before it can be done. He often forgets that Indonesia once faced or exceeded the same level of corruption that Nigeria faced today until the nation had to take some draconian actions that are now be overdue in Nigeria for us to get any where near a solution.
I can tell you that Professor Osuji was not the first Minister to try and bribe the Legislature to approve more money for his Ministry, so his Ministry can have more money to spend and to manipulate. Many more Ministers have been guilty of the same offense in the last four years without any question as once observed by Minister Rufai who the Legislature wanted crucified for saying the truth. Even the Presidency itself has been guilty of the same offense so many times. As a matter of fact, the President himself had recently set up his National Conference on the Constitutional restructuring of Nigeria, and has gone ahead to inaugurate it, without waiting for the Legislature to appropriate money. That was crass illegality that is open to corruption and abuse in high places. That kind of offense is serious enough in other countries to warrant the impeachment of a President. But in Nigeria no question is asked, because they all do it. If you belong to the ruling party you can get away with murder. I would argue that the President himself has given room for this kind of deviant behavior by waiting for more than five years to start raising this kind of alarm with some streak of “a holier than thou” attitude that is likely to raise some eye brows in many more quarters as objective and fair-minded people are duty and morally bound to ask many more pertinent questions than have been answered by what the President is now doing.
I must hasten to add that fighting Corruption is the right way to go for our country. But it has to be done the right way I am not knocking the President for now wanting to take the bull by the horn. But my question is what took him so long, and why he has not learnt some useful lessons from Murtala Mohammed, the first serious Nigerian leader to confront Corruption and Indiscipline in Society? This President was Murtala’s second-in-command at the time, and should have known that part of the everlasting appeal and greatness of Murtala was his courage and determination to follow thru with what he had promised on coming to power. I know Obasanjo may now argue Murtala’s regime was purely military, and because his is civilian and democratic, he is in no position to act with as much precision and urgency as Murtala had done..As far as I am concerned, that was not enough excuse for him not to forcefully act within the limits of his power as a democratic President.
I repeat that Obasanjo’s chances of success at leading the fight against Corruption this late in the game are terribly flawed, or compromised in my judgment, and here is why.
Murtala Mohammed, like I said earlier, had succeeded in reducing Corruption in our society within the 200 days he was privileged to lead the country, by first of all making himself the public example number one “by living above board” like Caesar’s wife. He knew what he wanted to do, and he set about it “with immediate effect and automatic alacrity”, as if he knew, ahead of time, that he had only 200 days to accomplish the mission. It was rumored at the time, that Murtala had built a row of houses in Kano, his home town, presumably with ill-gotten gains from his days as a military commander in the Biafran War. One of the first thing he did as Head of Government was to surrender those houses to the Government as proof there wasn’t going to be any sacred cow. By so doing, he had demonstrated to all Nigerians, including me, at the time, that he truly meant business.
I was a senior civil servant working with the Federal Ministry of Establishments at the time. I was at the material time doing an in-service training at the Institute of Public Service, University of Connecticut when the news had reached me that Yakubu Gowon had been overthrown and that the new Head of State, Murtala, had decreed that any civil servant found to be doing business in addition to his or her job as a civil servant was to be retired with immediate effect. At the material time, I was a bonafide Director of Unimotors Nigeria Ltd, a company I had floated along with three other prominent Nigerians before I traveled out to Connecticut on my in-service training. I recall being forced to resign my position as Director of Unimotors with immediate effect, right from my base in Hartford, Connecticut, because of Murtala’s new policy.
I am recalling this story to show that all Nigerians instinctively knew that Murtala Mohammed seriously meant business. Few Nigerians can say the same thing of Obasanjo today as President. My point is that this President has not always practiced what he preaches on this issue. Such a President can hardly lead a successful crusade against Corruption in our country. I recall reading the name of Obasanjo among prominent Nigerians whose names were published as some of the derelict debtors of the defunct National Bank in Nigeria I also recall seeing the names of one of the companies floated, owned and run by the same Obasanjo as a former Head of State, as one of the companies that took contract from the defunct Ondo State Government to reconstruct and tar Ijoka Road in Akure, the State Capital. The company got paid, but did not complete the project, just like many other fraudulent companies in Ondo State.
I was disappointed because I had expected Obasanjo to be above board. Any leader that would lead a successful war against corruption in Nigeria must prove himself totally above board in every situation. Tell me your friends, and I will tell you who you are. If you look at some of the President’s close aides and political friends and associates across the country like Annenih, like Chris Uba and quite a few others I would not name here, you have to wonder if the President has the credibility to be taken seriously on fighting corruption.
To lead a successful war against corruption in Nigeria, you need the cooperation of whistle blowers who need not fear victimization, after they make a report of what they may have witnessed. The last trial of Senator Omisore over the death of Bola Ige, and how the whole situation was handled from A to Z does not lend any credence that the President’s Party or the President himself is really up to speed in wanting to stamp out corruption from our Law Enforcement or the Nigerian Judicial System. The current case of Terri Schaivo in Florida, and the way the Courts,at State or Federal levels in America, have upheld the American Constitution, despite the obvious interest of the President of the United States, the Governor of Florida and all of the big wigs in the Republican Party including the Christian Right, all tell me the Constitution, the Supreme Law in America is alive and well.
The same case would have taken a different turn, if the case is being tried in Nigeria. How many judges in Nigeria would dare rule against the expressed interest of the ruling Party and the President of Nigeria for that matter? I doff my hat for America and the rule of Law. I also doff my hat for President Bush who has not openly tinkered with the ruling of the Court as we speak. A leader cannot seriously fight corruption where the Rule of Law is always at the beck and call or the whim and the caprices of an individual or group. This takes me to my last point.
The rumor is already making the rounds with some justification that Obasanjo believes in “the notion of the sacred cow and selective justice or punishment. What is good for the goose should also be good for the gander. The treatment given to Senator Omisore while he was still under trial and before he was free of all charges pertaining to the murder of Chief Bola Ige by the President’s Party speaks volumes on the state of corruption in our country.The protection and favors shown Chris Uba in the Governor Ngige saga in Anambra State were simply amazing not to talk of the deference or leniency shown Tafa Balogun the former IG who is yet to be charged for any corruption as we speak. 4 billion Naira is nothing to compare with 55 million that is alleged to have changed hands between some Senate members and the Minister of Education. If the President is showing so much revulsion in this case, one has to wonder why he appears so willing to let Tafa Balogun off the hook so easily. The inference can be made that the President probably has some information the rest of us don’t know, but deserve to know, in a matter of public interest, like the scandal involving public officials like a former IG and a former Federal Minister of Education and our Senate President. I hope the President does not again backslide on his determination to fight corruption in our country by all means possible. What is important, however, is to do it right with fairness, and consistency.
I rest my case.