The Nigeria anti-corruption watchdog, the EFCC, is running off-track towards useless but controversial case-hunt, running from pillar to post just to witch-hunt, kill and tarnish the opposition’s political careers, with no reliable graft discovery not to talk of single recovery. The “off-track” troubles are biting. They have appeared unable to fund covert investigations of corrupt officers in this country after the Government broke its promise to give teeth to the anti-graft body. This lack of accountability comes at a time when public confidence in the previous prosecutions exhibited by EFCC and its chief, Nuhu Ribadu, having plummeted following the bungled handling of the case against Obasanjo and his allies. Another confute resurrected again when the incumbent chairperson, Madam Farida Waziri, fail to live by public expectation.
Even though we know all along that EFCC and the ICPC work closely, we did not want to believe that together they will descend to this depth of depraved robbery, completely oblivious to the long-term harm that their childish game will impart to Nigeria’s aspiration to create, a free, democratic and open society. The politics of blackmail and diktat so characteristic of the past regime has always had exclusive and non-reconciliatory consequences.
So if one traces the short political history of the immediate past Obasanjo regime, one sees that it was ‘democracy-talking but authoritarian- practicing’ liars, while at the same time remaining arrogant, inhumane, full of devious intrigues, unscrupulous, immoral, intolerant, anti-democratic and a violent. It is difficult to imagine they will change, even though almost all who wish the country to put behind the violent past wish them to change and join and share the national thirst for imbuing the country with democratic imagination.
Nigeria and Nigerians have gone through a lot of predicament these last eight to nine years. Many of us could be forgiven for asking whether we will see a golden period over the next few years towards this country’s 50th year of self-rule in 2010; so much blood, sweat and tears have been shed that people in this nation have a valid claim to demand some sort of payback soon. In spite of all the reforms that have been carried out in almost every field — political, economic, legal and social — there are still too many unfulfilled expectations that raise the question: Has it all been worth it?
Recently the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, Mrs. Farida Waziri, said that the former state governors investigated by the commission were still walking about freely because files on their alleged misdeeds were either “missing or distorted.” Hear her undermine the integrity of the national ant-graft agency; “I don’t have 31 files (on the former governors); there is no prima-facie case against them” What a ridiculous utterance! She continued; ” neither have I met any petition against Obasanjo when she assumed office nor had any been sent to her since she became the head of the commission early this year” How can you be talking about fighting corruption when you have consistently ignored the petitions sent to your commission not to talk of the calls to probe of Obasanjo’s tenure.
The collapse of basic infrastructure in the country was a testimony to the fact that the funds appropriated over the years to revive them were “diverted into private pockets or stolen. For the majority of the people, their living standards have still not returned to the levels before the advent of the 1998 economic crisis. This much we know from the nation’s per-capita-income, which is still below the highest level achieved during the Abacha years. Aggregates and statistics don’t tell the whole story, however. Many people still live in abject poverty, and many others are barely above the poverty line that makes them highly vulnerable to even slight economic downturns. Another indicator that the lives of many ordinary Nigerians have not improved is unemployment, which is officially put at 10 percent and rising. Add to this the 40 million or so of the workforce who are under-employed, and we get a picture that for most ordinary people, reforms have not much changed their lot. If anything, many are finding themselves in worse condition.
Corruption has not only produced injustice and a chronic failure to effectively manage international support; it has also led to the squandering of Africa ’s considerable human and natural resources. Nigeria has made nearly half a trillion dollars from oil in less than five decades — a figure that dwarfs that of international aid to the whole of Africa . And yet, around 70 percent of Nigerians live in conditions of dispiriting poverty, on incomes of less than a dollar a day. Corruption kills far more effectively than AIDS, malaria or war.
Consequently, this year Nigeria was ranked world’s 60th most corrupt country out of 180, ahead of Equatorial Guinea , Iraq , Somalia , Zimbabwe and Afghanistan , amongst others. But the country is still in bottom third of TI index, which measures perceptions of corruption among businesses, academics, diplomats and activists. In April two ministers, a senator and nine civil servants were charged with fraud and benefiting from proceeds of crime. A senior government official, said funds recovered might in the past have ended up lining pockets of federal ministry or state government employees, but that current administration was more cautious.
Certain things have barely changed in other areas of the nation’s life too. Corruption remains rampant, even as one president after another promised to rein in this malady. The search for justice remains elusive for most, and impunity is the order of the day for the politically and economically powerful, even as one president after another promised to turn Nigeria into a country ruled by law. Our personal safety has not improved with soaring crime rates; and people in Niger Delta, has had to live with endless conflict. Why can’t we speed up on Millennium Development Goal? The same old problem of poor implementation of the annual development plan is again haunting the government. Incidentally, with the exception of two or three years, no government since the Nigeria emerged as an independent country could fully implement its Annual Development Policy ADP. Once it was revised even upward – a rare event.
According to media reports following the recent executive committee of the National Economic Council) meeting, only about 25 per cent of the ADP of FY07-08 was implemented during the first half (July-December) of the year. The performance in the last fiscal during the same period was slightly better: 31 per cent. ..Since the rate of implementation under adverse circumstances in the previous fiscal was higher than 31 per cent. Thus there are reasons to be particularly annoyed with the ADP implementation rate and Mr. President’s chief economic adviser, Dr Tanimu Yakubu, expressed his concern due to the decelerating rate of ADP implementation.’
But are things really that bad? Have we squandered these seven years just like that? Those who see the glass half empty would say that the reform era is dead in the water. Some even suggest that we should go back to an Abacha-style government, doing away with freedom and democracy, and putting economic development as the sole agenda. Those who see the glass as half full believe that all is not lost. Some good things have come out of the reform process but it is easy to overlook them amidst all the despondency that went with unmet expectations. For one, the nation still enjoys a far larger degree of freedom of expression and association, when there was virtually none under Abacha’s rule-by-terror.
Today, we can vent our anger at our leaders and politicians if they fail to live up to expectations; judging by the endless open protests we see across the country, our leaders have a lot to answer for. Corruption may still be rampant, but Nigerian newspapers run these stories on the front page not only to draw public attention, but also to put pressure on the authorities to get their act together. None of this was possible under Abacha.
We have also seen a plethora of new political parties and labour unions formed over the last eight years just as an example of how this constitutional right to form associations has been used, for better or for worse, by the citizens of this country. There are also the democratic elections that we have held since 1999, including for the first time, the direct election of our president in 2003. Sovereignty is now almost fully returned to the people. We may have been wrong in “voting” for the ruling party or for that candidate at the last election, but we now have the choice of not returning them to office in the next election. This option was completely non-existent under true democracy.
All in all, things have not been as bad as some would have us believe. We are making progress, albeit painfully slow. We have secured freedom of expression and association to some extent, but not yet freedom from poverty or freedom from fear. Those should be on our agenda for the next eight years. If there is one lesson of this last seven years, it is that change comes slowly in this country. The anti-graft drive in Nigeria has seemingly turned into, to use an archaic phrase, a wild goose chase. It is not to deride the campaign now underway to recoup the stolen money. But what is not acceptable is the strong political bias associated with such campaigns. The EFCC interestingly enough has a strong political stench and is laced with rivalry and animosity. The general pattern is that the ruling clique has turned against its political opponents and condemned them as corrupt.
The principal reason for the anti-corruption drive has been to demean and damage the images of the public figures. This has not borne the intended results. The outcome has been an embarrassing rebuff for the ruling elites. DSP Alameseigha, Orji Kalu and Joshua Dariye, to name a few, are hugely popular and have strong roots. Our successive government bearing the stigma of corruption has been inducted into elective offices with massive mandates in elections that have been commended as clean, fair and fraud-free. They were politically demeaned. There is no gainsaying the fact that the two were corrupt and amassed ill-gotten wealth. The two leaders returned home after a long absence. Both were given tumultuous welcome and are now being followed by wildly cheering crowds much to the discomfiture of the military dictator Sani Abacha. Both have been greatly heartened by the strong support.
‘Doctored’ elections have never brought political stability. This has been the most telling verdict of history. Unelected governments feigning to be the ‘saviour of the nation’ attempting to foist governments to their liking have failed to deliver the goods and the plunged nations into unfathomable chaos and political instability. There is no disputing the fact that much of the misfortunes and miseries that have befallen the nation are due to the avarices of most Nigerian failed leaders. They have not only plundered public money themselves but allowed and assisted their cronies to do the same.
Paradoxical it will certainly sound but some economists are of the view that corruption has a trickle-down effect. Political patronage is a sine qua non for any government under democratic dispensation. The leaders to keep their constituents happy and contended have to do certain things that may not be strictly lawful.
Frustration breeds discord. This is a lesson the present government must bear in mind. The people want an early election come 2011.The government would be sensible not to pretend that no danger exists. The government should be careful so that national politics is not dragged down to a squalid level. One thing is certain. The government’s mission was initially clear but now it is getting clouded. The government should double its efforts to convince the people that it could rescue the nation. The government should try to calm speculations. Roll over the sleeve and hold an election that would reflect the genuine will of the people and not a ‘doctored’ one with pre-determined outcome. Don’t do anything that would inflict further wounds to an economy that has been ravaged and lies in ruins due to two successive deluges, and the government’s overzealous anti-corruption drive.
It would be a terrible shame to bring all these efforts to a premature halt. We must openly acknowledge the responsibility for the mistakes. But the EFCC authority should consider how important their error really was, especially considering that the investigation report files tried to follow the rules from the beginning. Mrs Farida should resign, to lending credence to the widespread suspicion that her piloted anti-graft agency has failed, and it is really behind failure of this leadership.