opinionBy Sam Nda-Isaiah
This was not the original subject I intended to write on, as a valedictory to 2012. I planned to wish everyone a very happy New Year and to do a lavish wish list for the coming year. But each time I plan something like this, something else happens to disrupt everything.
At the weekend, during the funeral of the late General Andrew Azazi in Yenagoa, the Bayelsa State capital, President Goodluck Jonathan openly disagreed with Rev. Hyacinth Egbedo, the bishop of the Bomadi Catholic Vicarage, on the issue of official corruption that has continued to destroy the fabric of our society. The bishop, who spoke as any man of God should - bluntly and forthrightly - attributed the bad condition of the East-West road and the series of air crashes that have killed several Nigerians including the helicopter crash that killed both General Azazi and Governor Patrick Yakowa to corruption.
Rev. Egbedo said he himself was nearly killed on the East-West road. The reverend gentleman obviously seized the occasion of the president's presence to drive home his point, then called on political officeholders to tackle the issue of corruption for the benefit of everyone.
Rev. Egbedo was spot on. But instead of President Jonathan using that information for whatever it was worth, or just simply ignoring it, he decided to disagree with the man of God openly. The president disagreed that poor infrastructure development under his administration was due to corruption. He said all that was required was for Nigerians to change their attitude towards governance and development. Though he agreed grudgingly that there was corruption, citing of corruption as the reason for the failure of certain sectors of the economy including the aviation and road sectors was wrong. "We talk about corruption as if it is the cause of our problems; the government has also been fighting corruption," he said.
The way the president talks about corruption, you would be forgiven to think that "corruption for all by 2015" is a major plank of his transformation agenda. But I sincerely think that he does not fully appreciate or even understand the impact of corruption on any society. If the president understood the deeper implication of graft, he would not, for instance, have said he would not make his assets declaration public and that he did not give a damn about what any Nigerian felt about that. If the president knew the kind of comfort that statement gave corruption in Nigeria, he probably would have had a rethink. Corrupt people actually feel a kind of personal kinship with Jonathan's government.
And it is really quite alarming for any nation's leader to give an impression that he does not believe that corruption has impact on critical sectors of the economy. I still find it incredible that the president would say that corruption does not contribute to poor infrastructure development of nations. If N2.6trillion was stolen in the name of fuel subsidy payments in an election year, as against the N245billion appropriated, would simple common sense not tell us that other sectors were deprived of their own allocations to the tune of N2.35trillion? OK, Mr. President, if corruption did not contribute to the current state of disrepair of the East-West road that the bishop spoke about, where are the funds that have been appropriated for that road from year to year?
Calculating the cumulative amount of money that has been stolen under President Jonathan via fuel subsidy payments, official crude oil thefts, pension fund thefts, etc, is indeed herculean: it has been estimated that an average of $1billion - yes, one billion United States dollars - is stolen from the nation's coffers every day under Jonathan's watch. In any case, the president himself has agreed that there is corruption; so where does the stolen money come from? Is it not money that is supposed to have been used to renew the nation's infrastructure?
The president also obviously doesn't know that it is corruption that has contributed to the current national security failure in the nation. The Police Force, for instance, gets less than 20 per cent of its budgeted allocations because most of the money has been diverted to oil the wheels of the gargantuan fuel subsidy corruption machine. The Police Force, which is a federal responsibility, now relies almost solely on state governments for funding - and this has its own security consequences.
Many of us have said it over and over again that no country in world history has made progress without tackling corruption frontally. By the way, there is corruption in every country of the world. It is the leader's attitude towards corruption - and not the people's attitude towards governance as the president postulated - that makes all the difference. People always respond to leadership, good or bad. Our main problem in Nigeria has been the attitude of our presidents towards corruption. You can set up a million EFCCs and ICPCs but, ultimately, it is the president's attitude towards corruption that will make all the difference. The EFCC chairman is not the country's chief corruption fighter. The president himself is the chief corruption fighter of the nation. But, where the president doesn't give a damn, then, corruption flourishes.
Let's look at a few countries that have done well. Last week, I wrote about Rwanda being Africa's biggest success story. There is zero tolerance for corruption in Rwanda. Foreign investors have continued to testify that they do not give bribes to anyone.
In June 2011, I visited China as part of my association with the Global Institute for Tomorrow (GIFT). One of the minor stories I read in the Chinese newspapers the day I arrived was the execution of two Chinese local council officials for receiving huge bribes in the course of their work. Note that I said "minor stories". The story was not even important enough to make the front pages. Is it then surprising that China is today the fastest-growing economy in the world and billed to overtake the United States in a few years? This will actually happen sooner than projected as the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has just said that China's economy would be larger than the combined economies of the Eurozone countries by this week and would overtake that of the United States by 2016.
And, talking of the attitude of leaders towards corruption, the Chinese leaders still dread the fact that corruption remains a substantive threat. In November this year, during a valedictory speech, outgoing Chinese president Hu Jintao said, "Failure to tackle corruption could prove fatal for the Communist Party and the country..." Jintao's successor, Xi Jinping, in a speech to his party members a few days later, said, "If corruption is allowed to run wild in China, then, our party risks collapse." In spite of their already very harsh position on corruption that has sometimes led to executions, the leaders know the fight against corruption is a continuous one.
Taiwan is another country doing extremely well. One hour after its former president, Chen Shui-bian, finished his term in May 2008, the anti-corruption agency that he himself had supervised as president filed corruption charges against him and restricted his movement. It was about his misuse of a special presidential fund that could be likened to security vote in Nigeria. By November of that same year, he was in jail. Taiwan is today one of the best developed countries in the world. Recently, in Hong Kong, another country doing well, the former leader, Donald Tsang, also got into trouble for accepting favours from his tycoon friends. India that has pulled more than 400 million of its people out of poverty in 15 years has convicted serving ministers for corruption. The famous G2 spectrum scam and the cash-for-vote scam are cases in point. At a point in India, 120 out of the 523 members of parliament were facing criminal charges. In the United Kingdom, a few years ago, some members of parliament got into trouble for expense claims in excess of what would have been the equivalent of less than N1,000 (one thousand naira) here. But that's just how nations are run and how progress is made. There are no short cuts. In Nigeria, not a single person has been in jail for corruption since Jonathan came to power, in spite of all we know. So the president cannot say he is fighting any corruption.
If we want examples from small countries, we have those of Rwanda, Taiwan and Hong Kong and if we want those of large countries, we have examples of China and India. My favourite story has always been that of Singapore. In 1965 when they gained independence, they were very hopeless. Their ambition was to become like Nigeria or the Philippines, two countries with great promise and with similar histories as theirs. Lee Kuan Yew became the prime minister and the first thing he decided to tackle was corruption. In a recent write-up, the former prime minister said, "Singapore's tough stand against corruption is not a matter of virtue, but of necessity." In another write-up, he declared that "in the fight against corruption, wealth disproportionate to a person's earnings would be a basis for corruption investigation".
In one of the programmes I attended at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy of the National University of Singapore in 2011, a former principal private secretary to Lee Kuan Yew when he was prime minister told us a story. In 1986, one of the prime minister's most trusted ministers and friends, Teh Cheang Wan, had to be investigated for corruption. Teh Cheang Wan was the minister of national development at the time. In November of that year, he was accused by Singapore's anti-corruption agency of accepting two bribes totalling $1million.
He was alleged to have received the bribes in 1981 and 1982. Teh denied the allegations. While the investigation was still going on, Prime Minister Lee placed him under suspension. At a point during the investigation, Teh tried to fix an appointment through the cabinet minister to have an audience with Mr Lee. The prime minister turned down the request on the grounds that there was absolutely no need for the visit. If he was guilty, then, there was no point seeing him and if he was not, the investigations would soon be completed anyway and he would go back to his office. A week later, Teh killed himself. He left behind a suicide note confessing and taking personal responsibility by paying the highest price.
Governing a nation is certainly not a piece of cake. Obviously, Nigeria has not started.
Happy New Year Nigeria!
Today is the very last day of 2012. It has been quite a chequered year for all Nigerians, rich or poor. For all the violence, mass murders, armed robberies, bombings, kidnappings, and record-breaking corruption, not a single person is in jail. There were also air crashes, multiple road accidents, floods and the like. The president's lavish country home was among places flooded. Boko Haram continued their operations in many states. Even those who stole the people's money did not get the peace of mind they needed to savour their loot; daily, they slept with one eye open.
Let all of us resolve that 2013 will be different. President Jonathan must do everything to keep his promise to make 2013 better than both 2012 and 2011. Hopefully, he knows this takes some hard work and real good governance, which so far he has not been associated with. Still, this is wishing the president good luck. However, it is Nigerians that need the real good luck in 2013.