In October 1986, at a debate on Nigeria’s political future organized by the Lagos branch of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), respected statesman, Dr Samuel Ikoku (now late), shocked his audience when he rhetorical asked: “Can anyone of us here who is rich” he said pointing his finger challengingly at the bemused crowd, “tell us that he has not stolen money directly or indirectly from the national coffers?”.
Judging from Ikoku’s speech, everybody in Nigeria (except few saints if there are any) both poor and rich have been involved in one corrupt act or the other. The truth is that poor people steal with the same regularity as the rich. It is merely a question of “access” which ultimately determines the degree of theft.
Let me give few instances: motor park tout, commercial bus driver and his conductor, garri, onion and crayfish seller in the market, students, labour leaders collecting check- off dues, civil servants, even journalists, all are corrupt and cheat fellow Nigerians and the nation in one way or the other. Space will not allow me to give specific examples. But have you bordered to ask why every political office holder comes out richer than before he/she went in? Can you compare what they have after they left office with what they had before? Where did the huge properties, exotic cars and other wealth they flaunt about came from? Your gaze is as good as mine.
Since assumption of office, President MuhammaduBuhari and other All Progressives Congress, APC, stalwarts have found pleasure in labeling former president Goodluck Jonathan’s administration as corrupt. Indeed, it has reached a stage that any APC member that wants to please Buhari would lampoon Jonathan, including Adams Oshiomhole who before his re-election was bootlicking Jonathan. No mention is being made of all the strides Jonathan recorded in office.
One wonders how President Buhari would say all Jonathan’s ministers and aides were corrupt. Does it mean there was no righteous one amongst them? Even in biblical Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot and his family were incorruptible. While I will agree that some public officials during Jonathan administration might have soiled their hands in the course of discharging their duties, at the same time, I object to blanket condemnation of that regime on the basis of political popularity and gangsterism. This sort of negative publicity further soils our image in the international community.
Jonathan fought corruption through prevention, strengthening of institutions and re-orientation of the people. His government introduced e-payment system to stop the flow of raw cash and diversion of funds to reduce embezzlement.
With the integrated payment system otherwise called IPPIS; there was no more use of raw cash; it cut across all sectors and stopped people from stealing public fund.
The government also tackled irregularities that characterized the supply of fertilizer to Nigerian farmers and blocked system leakages, amongst other anti-corruption measures. These should be recognized, appreciated and enhanced by present administration.
But if I may ask: Will Buhari have the temerity to probe Bola Tinubu and Raji Fashola administrations in Lagos with all the allegations of embezzlement? Let the real probe start from there if the president meant his words.
In 1998, a former president could not afford N2m to pay for his presidential ticket. But by the time he left office 8 years later, he had become a multi-billionnaire with investments in real estate, academia, agriculture, hotel and tourism, oil and gas and nobody is talking. A former labour leader now state chief executive once collected N10m from an Obasanjo ally living in Wuse 2, Abuja. The money was for him to ‘settle’ fellow labour leaders who were on nationwide strike in 2004 over fuel price increase. Today, same person boldly preaches anti-corruption and calls Jonathan unprintable names. How the cookie crumbles. It appears that once you convert to APC and take the headache-relieving tablet, you automatically become a ‘saint’ and all your sins are forgiven. Haba Nigeria!
Among those lurking around Buhari are treasury looters; some are currently facing corruption charges in court while others have their matters being investigated. Are these people also part of Jonathan’s administration? Why is the presidency silent on their matters?
There is no reiterating the fact that corruption is an endemic problem in Nigeria. And its perfection is one of the most destructive legacies of all past administrations (civilian and military). The result was the near annihilation of the national psyche, the complete loss of faith in honesty, and the almost unshakeable entrenchment of cynicism toward the leadership and the entire system itself. It is common knowledge that the objective of most aspirants to public office is to share in the disbursement of the proverbial national cake.
Even the judiciary is not an exception as many court judges had on several occasions been found guilty of corruption, an issue that has become a societal norm. The uncleanliness and uncertainty of our social system compel people who find themselves in key positions to devise means of safeguarding their future and those of their unborn succeeding generations. Even the local societies condone corruption by obliging chieftaincy titles to men and women in high positions of authority or those with large cache of cash, the source of such huge wealth notwithstanding.
Several reasons have been adduced for the continued presence of corruption and corrupt persons in Nigeria. One of them is the rise of public administration and the discovery of oil and natural gas which empowered people with so much money that decency and moral uprightness were thrown to the dustbin. Over the years, the country has seen its wealth withered with little to show in terms of living conditions of the people. Late sage Obafemi Awolowo in 1982 raised a salient issue when he said that since independence; “our governments have been a matter of few holding the cow for the strongest and most cunning to milk”.
Another school of thought hinges corruption on advent of colonialism. According to this view, the nation’s colonial history may have restricted any early influence in an ethical revolution. Throughout the colonial period, most Nigerians were stuck in ignorance and poverty. The trappings of flash cars, houses and success of the colonists might have influenced the poor to see the colonists as symbols of success and to emulate them in different political ways.
Whichever way it is looked at, the fact remains that corruption especially among public servants, cannot continue to exist side by side with national development. But tackling this monster needs holistic approach not personal or political vendetta.
While I’m not holding brief for Jonathan, the fact remains that any meaningful probe must start from 1999 and must include those that stole our crude oil up till July 31st this year.
To succeed, the present administration must convince Nigerians that a genuine attempt to stamp out corruption is in progress and the public must be made to identity with the effort. There is no doubt that good leadership and good governance usually evoke positive and dynamic response from the governed.
In the battle against corruption therefore, the highest echelons of both President Buhari’s administration and those of APC must show commitment to uprightness, impartiality and justice to all Nigerians irrespective of political or ethnic affiliation.