Corruption in the era of change
Nigerians went to the polls in 2015 hoping to elect a President who would change the cause of governance and rescue the nation from the doldrums. Prior to the election, the Jonathan government was described as “clueless” and not knowing what to do in the face of social unrest and declining economic fortunes. The present ruling party which was in opposition then promised heaven on earth and to change things in ways and means that would be pleasant to all right-thinking and patriotic Nigerians. The election held and the opposition became the ruling party and thus formed the government whilst the party in government became the opposition.
Two years down the line, can we in all honesty say that the promises have been delivered or the government is on its way to deliver the promises? First, it is imperative to state that successful and impactful governance is about a shared vision and mission between the government and the people and a dedication to the same goals and objectives especially by the key actors and drivers of the process. It took the President Muhammadu Buhari six months to constitute his cabinet and when they were eventually in place, it was not the expected stellar team of extraordinarily gifted men and women many expected him to select or he made Nigerians to believe. Instead, it was just a recycling of politicians who had held one position or the other in previous governments that did not particularly advance the cause of good governance. The new faces were neither identified with any particular trajectory of solutions to the myriad of challenges facing the nation nor performed with high standards in any previous official or private sector position.
The second issue is that a house divided against itself cannot stand. Even with the poor quality of the presidential team, the house from the very beginning was divided against itself. Intrigues and commitment to interests that are neither the national nor could advance the cause of positive change dominated and still do the implementation of policies and programmes of the government. The operatives of the Department of State Services do not walk on the same path with the leadership of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. Ideally, these are sister agencies that should support and reinforce the other for the greater benefit of Nigeria. It got so bad that a presidential nominee for the EFCC was twice rejected by the Senate on the basis of the report of the DSS. And the President who appointed both men failed, refused and neglected to act. Gullible Nigerians were reprimanding the Senate that screened the nominee for failing to clear him and the popular cliché was that corruption was fighting back! But every discerning mind knew that a division of the Presidency was fighting another division in the Presidency. Later, a public spat between the Attorney General of the Federation and the EFCC emerged. Again, these are sister offices that need to collaborate deeply for the prosecution of the battle against corruption, especially in the courts. As I write, no one is sure if the wounds and scars from the public skirmish have properly healed.
The third issue is that the President’s unique selling point and campaign appeal was the picture of an incorruptible leader who was needed to heal a nation bleeding from corruption. The President promised to be fair to all in his swearing-in speech. Although he slightly modified it later with the 97 per cent and five per cent gaffe, the expectation was that he would fight the anti-corruption battle with all his strength and might. But today, the story has changed and is still changing. All one needs to escape proper investigation and prosecution from corruption and abuse of office, Nigerians believe, is to be close to the President. Several allegations have either been swept or are in the process of being swept under the carpet. The list of such cases is becoming longer by the day.
Starting from the Abdulrasheed Maina return where key actors in government – from the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation and the Minister of Interior were involved. The issues raised by this return are so fundamental and question the very essence of the anti-corruption fight. Who leads the struggle if the AGF is issuing opinions that are not in tandem with legality and constitutionalism; opinions that cannot by any stretch of the imagination be defined to be in the public interest? How can the Minister of Interior pretend he knows next to nothing about a fugitive from the law who resumed work under his nose, not as mere junior civil servant but as a director? The Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, has been accused of conduct unbecoming of the holder of the highest police office in the land and is facing the Senate investigations. Yet, he sits pretty well and the Attorney General charges his accusers of “crimes” related to the accusation.
The Secretary to the Government of the Federation in the “grass-cutting” scandal has been left in the lurch by the President; no action since the scandal was revealed in the Senate more than one year ago and over three months after Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo’s committee submitted its report. The millions of dollars discovered in broad daylight in Ikoyi, Lagos still remains a mystery in the era of change. The money purportedly found in a sack in Kaduna airport is another mystery yet to be solved. The facts are clear and the President refuses to act. The Chief of Army Staff was accused of owning property beyond his legitimate income and nothing concrete has come out of it. No investigations. He was purportedly cleared. A top aide to the President has been linked to numerous scandals and no one including the key anti-corruption agencies appears interested. Lately, we have watched with rapt attention as the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Ibe Kachikwu, unveiled the breach of procurement rules, awarding contracts without due process, unmitigated parochialism, committing the country to huge petroleum infrastructure debts without due process, all in the name of running the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation. Yet, nothing will happen or is about to happen to the culprits. They are untouchables and the defence from the Presidency is not only absurd but antithetical to common sense.
Clearly, this is not the way to fight corruption. It should be clear to Nigerians that the President and his party have no iota of clue about how to redeem Nigeria. Alternatively, if they know, they are not prepared to do something about it. It is a different thing to mount the podium and ask Nigerians to trust a party with political power and a different ball game to exercise that power through governance in the interest of all. It looks more like a refusal to act considering the deodorant and insecticide theory of Senator Shehu Sani of Kaduna State.
Mr. President, this cannot continue in this era of change. Unless you have offered your best and this is all you have to offer, do something positive to redeem your image.