11 December 2018

Nigeria: Anti-Corruption War Beyond Rhetoric

opinion

It is a painful reflection of the level of decadence in the country, that the current and immediate past government administrations have lately been embroiled in a contest to determine under whose watch Nigeria can be said to be more (or less) corrupt.

In his recently launched memoir, My Transition Hours, former president Goodluck Jonathan threw a sidearm at the Buhari anti-corruption crusade, regarding it as a mere media charade.

Jonathan also claimed for himself the honour of introducing a number of the mechanisms with which government now takes on its fight against corruption.

Some of these include the Biometric Verification Number (BVN) system, Treasury Single Account (TSA), and the Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System (IPPIA).

Buhari's government has, of course, reacted swiftly to this position of Jonathan, which, according to the President's men is nothing but a 'hollow boast'.

'Of what use,' the presidency questioned, 'is the announcement of good policies without the will to implement them?'

According to them, 'It is Buhari who should be commended for correcting "the lack of will and capacity" that prevailed under Jonathan and stalled the implementation of these laudable policies, and for adding the whistle-blowing practice "to cut fraud and financial misconduct."

The claims and counterclaims may come, quite understandably, with the politics; and the mercenaries on either side of the political divide may argue until the conversion of the Jews about who should be seen as the messiah or as the devil.

But what must remain the concern of faithful citizens is continuing to take an objective and stark look at the phenomenon of corruption which, no matter the sophistry of the ruling elite, is still very much alive because it is woven into the very existence, corporate and material, of the nation.

This narrative is coming on the heels of the anniversary of the International Day Against Corruption marked at the weekend.

Not only has it eaten too deep into the fabric of the nation's being, corruption seems to have been part of the country's curious directive principle of state policy.

As a malignant cancer that is already metastasising, corruption can no longer just be wished away from the Nigerian society, or corrected with a few policy strokes.

For the case is that even those who are supposed to apply those strokes are themselves mired in questionable activities and associations. The people seem to have accepted it as a norm.

The structures of governance have been infested. And therefore the wheel of justice (if there is still any such thing at all) is not only slow, the temple of justice itself appears decadent.

But then what else is to be expected? In a country where the majority of the people, whether due to their own negligence or the failure of governance, are not productively engaged -- how can corruption not thrive?

A society where people have to 'blow', rather than progressively creating and adding value to their environment, to be deemed successful; where the place of enlightenment, work, discipline and temperance is diminished in favour of a loud ostentatious display of wealth, even among its lawmakers; where to be materially average is a greater crime than to be an outright thief -- in such a society how can corruption not thrive?

The good people of Nigeria are suffering today, not because of the state of the economy or because the per barrel price of crude is plummeting or rising, but because the so-called national cake is hoarded in the barns of a relatively few who are powerful enough to control a part, however small, of it.

Were the national cake bigger by a thousand mile radius, it would make no difference at all under the shambolic system that the country runs and the knife-in-hand attitude of its trustees.

It is therefore most insufferable for any government, be it Jonathan's or Buhari's, to boast about its anti-corruption achievements.

It is evident that without a foundational approach to making things right, whatever policy moves made will only score points for window-dressing, and that is if the window is even properly dressed.

As a legal and political entity, the foundation of Nigeria can be said to be that relatively slim volume of agreement called The Constitution.

In so far as that constitution lumps all the disparate elements and interests within this geographic space together, without a proper demarcation of powers and functions, it simply will remain impossible to deal with this congenital tumour that is called corruption.

Therefore, the country urgently needs a total and comprehensive restructuring, in order to deal with, not only corruption but many other ills virtually all of which are offshoots of the unnecessary centralisation of power and resources in the hands of a few.

After restructuring, or perhaps as part of the restructuring efforts, governance must be demystified and made less attractive for criminal-minded people and dubious dealers who pose as leaders and politicians.

This can be done simply by stripping political offices of all needless appurtenances. For instance, the gargantuan aberration known as 'security votes' stands as a case in point.

So much money domiciled, without check, in the hands of one person is the perfect recipe for rampaging corruption.

Such egregious effects of office should simply be erased or at the very least moderated by serious checks and balances.

Finally, since what is being called for is a comprehensive restructuring which, therefore, must include a moral rearrangement, it is important to truthfully interrogate just how seriously the society takes the grave offence and implications of corruption.

It thus appears that the country is still undecided about how to deal with its corrupt citizens and public officers, as the punishment for that iniquity seems rather unclear.

But, against the background of the fact that the malaise (corruption) is not abating in the country, it is difficult to not wonder whether the calls for capital punishment are not, in the end, valid considerations.

As a weapon of mass destruction of its own special kind, the havoc of corruption may be much slower, stretched out over many years to an almost unnoticeable pace, but it is as sure to decimate a people as any nuclear bomb.

Why, then, should the blatantly corrupt continue to be pampered? Why should they not be made to pay the ultimate price?

In this main, as this newspaper has repeatedly noted, it is high time, the authorities migrated from rhetoric to action on the issue of fighting corruption.

The foundation of this cankerworm is in the mainstream civil service, which the authorities should reform to serve the people faithfully.

It is not enough to allow bureaucratic loopholes that give room for arrest and noise of trail in the media, which is the only factor being celebrated at the moment.

That is the narrative that separates fighting only corrupt people from fighting corruption.

Fighting corruption should not generate celebration: it should elicit admiration, specifically from sincerity of purpose that all citizens should perceive without tears and fear.

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