Nigeria is currently at war with not only the notorious Islamic insurgency, it is also in a battlefront with corruption. While the war against the terrorist group, Boko Haram, is mostly confined to the North-East, the anti-corruption war is neither as straightforward nor against any clearly known enemy.
Corruption is known to be widespread among the political class and government officials and this has resulted to most government revenues being siphoned into private purses leaving the country with very little to show for the windfall in high prices of oil, its economic mainstay.
Until the return to power, in May 2015, of Muhammadu Buhari, a retired general and onetime military dictator, no government has attempted to ferociously fight corruption in the last three decades.
Corruption was particularly endemic under the immediate past administration of Goodluck Jonathan as evident in some of the revelations in the ongoing trial of Sambo Dasuki, a retired army colonel and immediate past National Security Adviser, NSA, who is currently facing charges for money laundering of about N32 billion and corruptly diverting $2.1 billion meant for the purchase of military equipment.
As acknowledged by President Buhari during his electioneering campaign that ‘if Nigeria does not kill corruption, corruption will kill Nigeria,’ it is not an option but imperative that his government fights corruption at this critical economic period when oil revenues have almost dried up due to acute decline in the price of crude oil in the international market.
Fighting an effective anti-corruption war
Without any shadow of doubt, President Buhari’s actions and body language have articulated a leader who is ready to take the bull by the horns and tackle the monster called corruption headlong, but how well he does will eventually depend on how tactical he goes about the fight.
As stated above, fighting corruption in a country like Nigeria (where it so widespread and has high tolerance) cannot be a straightforward war, it has to be a war involving many battles, some of which must be fought simultaneously if the government wants to succeed in crushing it to the barest minimum and have a result oriented outcome which will leave behind a legacy that will transcend this administration.
Here are a few suggestions that would go a long in ensuring an effective anti-corruption war.
Steps to take and battles to fight
1. Social re-orientation
2. Disincentivise corruption
3. Probe and recovery
4. Strengthening of institutions
5. Transparency and accountability
Most young adults and younger people in Nigeria have never known, lived in or seen a different Nigeria other than a country where bribery, nepotism, embezzlement and other corrupt practices are ways of life, so the government needs to embark on mass enlightenment campaigns for complete social re-orientation and re-engineering.
Up till now, nobody is in doubt that corruption pays in Nigeria and its financial reward is conspicuous for all to see. People live well above their legitimate means and flaunt their ill-gotten wealth without any restraint to the envy of others and with almost assured impunity. The government has to be firmly resolute in ensuring that people live within their legal means and let those with unexplained wealth know that there is no hiding place for them anymore.
Probe and recovery
If there is an area of anti-corruption activity where the government is presenting a strong front, it is probe. There are many ongoing high profile corruption trials (that would have been most improbable under any other government) like the ones involving Mr. Bukola Saraki, the current Senate President, and Mr. Sambo Dasuki, the immediate past National Security Adviser. These two men hitherto belonged to the untouchable class that believed they could loot the treasury with utmost impunity. This government is firm in demonstrating that it is not business as usual for high profile looters.
Considering how widespread corruption is and the limited prosecuting resources in terms of judicial space and competent prosecuting personnel, the government needs to focus more on the recovery side of looted government assets, which it desperately needs for its budgetary obligations, rather than populating the already overpopulated prisons. This can be achieved by accepting plea bargains for old offences and offenders while being very tough to deter new ones in which case it might not be unfathomable agreeing to free from prosecution any offender who agrees to return, within reasonable time, at least 80 percent of the value of their loots in cash or other tangible assets. Such people could also be banned-for-life from politics and from holding public offices.
The system condones corruption and more so the judiciary. The offenders do not only know how to play the judicial system but they also have vast resources to do so. They often burden and sometimes exhaust the judicial process by praying the court for spurious injunctions, challenging the jurisdiction of the court or the competence of the judge or by filing counter charges against the original charges while their spin doctors garner public sympathy on the claims of politically motivated charges. All these are overwhelming the system.
Transparency and accountability
Transparency and accountability in governance are great tools necessary to validate the integrity of a government, more so, a government that is out to fight corruption. The Buhari-led government must lead the way by being transparent and accountable to the public, as well as the legislators, with oversight functions over the executive. The government must also commit to obeying court orders because disobeying and partial or selective obedience of court rulings are some forms of corruption.
Oteniya is a public affairs commentator