The current corruption commentaries coupled with the prevailing insecurity and harsh economic situation in the country, a state of depression (or is it a recession) that has been designed by yet to be established architects, takes me back, though with nostalgia, to a conversation I had with a friend amidst euphoria triggered by the declaration of the 2015 presidential election result. This friend of mine cautioned me with these few words; ‘’men will change their ruler expecting to fare better; this expectation induces them to take up arm against him, but they only deceive themselves, and they learn from experience that they have made matters worse’.
Still, in that milieu, I had reminded him that the result ushered in a season of integrity in the country, he again replied thus; no single attribute could be identified as a ‘virtue’.
Remember! He added, ‘Politics has its own rules’.
Six years after that conversation, I cannot categorically say that my friend was right or wrong in his prediction. But the present instinct in the country explains two things; first, apart from the fact that the shout of integrity which hitherto rend the nation’s political space has like light faded, jeer has since overtaken the cheers of political performance while fears has displaced reason -resulting in an entirely separate set of consequences – irrational hatred and division.
Adding context to this discourse, it is important to underline that this piece is not out to commend or condemn the present circumstance summed above but to mourn our nation’s weak system which breeds corruption and the deformed structures/institutions which nourishes dishonesty/bribery in the country while promoting economic poverty and powerlessness among citizenry.
With the above highlighted, it is also relevant to the present discourse to admit that the menace of corruption ravaging the nation did not start with this administration.
For instance, corruption is, but a human problem that has existed in some forms. Its fights also date back to Colonial governments as they (Colonial Overlords) sufficiently legislated against it in the first criminal code ordinance of 1916(No15 of 1916) which elaborately made provisions prohibiting official bribery and corruption by persons in the public service and in the judiciary. Also at independence on October 1, 1960, the criminal code against corruption and abuse of office in Nigeria were in section 98 to 116 and 404 of the code.
But while the situation then may look ugly, what is going on now is even worse and frightening.
Nigerians are not particularly happy that the President who rode to power by the favour of his fellow citizens and orchestrated ‘integrity’ cannot effectively tame corruption in the country.
Sadly, at a time the country’s economy is showing its inability to sustain any kind of meaningful growth that promotes the social welfare of the people, corruption becomes even more entrenched as scandal upon scandal has completely laid bare the anti-corruption stance of this administration and those who were initially deceived by the present government’s alleged fight against corruption has come to the conclusion that nothing has changed.
This situation is even made worse when one remembers that the list of actions not taken by this administration to confront corruption which has made Nigerians face actual and potential difficulties remains lengthy and worrisome.
Chiefly among these is Mr. President’s failure to understand that when prosecuting corruption, “It matters not whether the exchange is initiated by the person with the money or the person with the power; it is the exchange itself that is the essence of the corruption. It matters not if the private enrichment is with cash or with its equivalent in influence, prestige, status, or power; the harm is done by the fraudulent substitution of wealth for reason in the determination of how the power is used. It matters not if the purchase of power is seen as beneficial by some or even by many; it is the dishonesty of the transaction that carries the poison’ The President in my views has not taken the fight against corruption as a personal priority for him or those who report directly to him.
This opinion piece is not alone in this line of argument.
Just very recently, a well respected Newspaper in Nigeria noted in one of its editorial comments that; the campaign against corruption, a cardinal programme of the Muhammadu Buhari administration is certainly reeling from a major setback, going by revelations that recently came out at the House of Representatives Ad hoc Committee on the Investigation of Recovered Looted Funds and Assets of Government. It went further to note that unless the government moves to quickly allay the serious doubts thus cast on the seeming compromise of efforts to recover huge stolen public funds, then the authenticity of the campaign cannot be guaranteed to Nigerians. That will be a big blow to probity in the public space.
Without any shadow of the doubt, the present political temperature in the country fittingly presents Mr.President as one that started off with high moral standards, strong conviction and determination to beat down corruption but has neither lived up to that good intention nor dealt with all transgressors without exception.
No wonder Chinua Achebe in his book the trouble with Nigeria stated that Nigerians are corrupt because the system under which they live today makes corruption easy and profitable; they will cease to be corrupt when corruption is made difficult and inconvenient. The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership and Nigeria can change today if it discovers leaders who have the will, the ability, and the vision.
Thinking about all these, one thing seems to stand out.
It will be imperative to say that for Mr. President to pacify and unite Nigerians and maintain his integrity while keeping his administration, a point he must not forget is that like everything in nature, he came to power and lacks strong roots and ramifications, he must therefore work hard to uphold what fortune tossed on his laps by providing Nigerians with a people-purposed leadership.
Mr. President urgently needs to create a climate where the truth is heard and brutal forces confronted particularly now that Nigerians have previously seen some of our elected officers become the reality to worry about. While some of these public officials visibly work across purpose, others are consumed by the vertical pursuit of self-aggrandizement.
This time is also auspicious for our nation to adapt, adjust and, possibly, implement the above useful lesson in our ceaseless effort to find a lasting solution to insecurity/terrorism challenge on our shores. Yes! We shall, like other nations, collectively defeat insecurity and corruption, using informed decisions based on research.
But while we wait, it is crucial that the FG remedies the present blow of inflation and recession, subsidizes health, saves the nation from the looming food crisis, and encourages technological innovations. Invest in people and mobilize the talents of a large number of its citizenry whose skills are needed for economic growth.
To use the words of Kenneth Tuchman, this is a healthy moment for the President to demonstrate that he is a finisher in a society of starters, that he can see something through and get the sense of completion. Accepting the above concerns, in my opinion, is an opportunity that the President must not overlook.
Utomi is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He could be reached via; email@example.com or 08032725374.