WINIFRED OGBEBO writes on efforts to fight corruption in the country and what needs to be done to eliminate it.
“We have to kill corruption or else corruption will kill us,” has been the refrain of the All Progressives Congress-led (APC) government and a toga with which it came to power in 2016.
The impact of corruption on the Nigerian society and economy has been devastating. It continues to affect the government’s ability to provide basic services and negatively impacts the well-being of the population and its ability to rise out of poverty.
Many are of the opinion that the corrupt tendencies of its leaders is the bane of Nigeria’s development and the reason the country is way behind since it attained independence.
It was reported that the country’s total foreign assets at independence were $174.2 million, and by March 1964, less than four years after, the assets depleted to just £76.8 million.
In his coup speech, January 15,1966, Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu (1937-1967) accused the politicians of “being profiteers, swindlers, the men in high and low places that seek bribes and demand 10 per cent; those that seek to keep the country divided permanently so that they can remain in office as ministers or VIPs at least, the tribalists, the nepotists, those that make the country look big for nothing before international circles, those that have corrupted our society and put the Nigerian political calendar back by their words and deeds.”
Of course the coup failed and Major General Thomas Aguiyi-Ironsi who became head of state abolished the federal system and adopted a unitary system. Six months later, he was killed and Gen Yakubu Gowon took over. His government was accused of being corrupt and he was kicked out in July 15, 1975 by Murtala Ramat Mohammed.
Before his death, it is on record that Murtala Ramat Mohammed launched a massive war against corruption in Nigeria.
He was killed February 13,1975 and his deputy, Gen Olusegun Obasanjo succeeded him.
Later in his regime, Obasanjo launched “Low Profile” to curb what he described as flamboyant living.
He handed over to the first Executive President of Nigeria, Alhaji Shehu Shagari, in October 1, 1979, who appeared helpless in the face of mammoth corruption in his regime.
He initiated what is called Ethical Re-orientation” and to help Nigeria in agriculture, he launched the Green Revolution.
Shagari’s civilian rule, despite its scorecard of competent hands and experts that were strategically embedded in key positions of the technical sectors, was obviously characterised by how officials embarked on reckless and thoughtless white elephant projects, misplacement of priorities, nepotism, capital flight and mismanagement of public resources.
There was, indeed, gargantuan fleecing of Nigeria through the planning and execution of, often, ill conceived projects. The level of corruption in the second republic was the key reason for the return of the military to power on December 31, 1983.
A new leadership of stern General Muhammadu Buhari came into place, and initiated what he called War Against Indiscipline (WAI) as the cardinal principle of his regime; an article of faith, which of course, included unflinching determination to clean the Aegean stable of corruption in both the formal and informal sectors of the Nigerian economy.
His regime almost became paranoid in its drive to stem the tide of corruption in the Nigerian society as creative and imaginative means of waging corruption fight were ignored for a regimented type of approach to issues.
Maj Gen Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida would later overthrow Buhari’s regime on 27 August 1985 in a military coup that relied on mid-level officers that Babangida had strategically positioned over the years.
As his own way of social engineering, he established Mass Mobilisation for Self Reliance, Social Justice and Economic Recovery (MAMSER) and National Orientation Agency (NOA).
He was not known to have been keen to combat corruption during his regime and many commentators tag him with ‘institutionalising’ corruption in the country.
In August 1993, Babangida handed over to Chief Ernest Shonekan who was quickly overthrown by General Sani Abacha in November of the same year.
However, Abacha didn’t set up any anti-corruption outfit. He died in 1988 and Abdulsalami took over and handed over to a democratically-elected President Olusegun Obasanjo in May 29, 1999.
Upon taking the oath of office, Obasanjo said it was no longer business as usual and left no one in doubt regarding his commitment to fighting corruption to a standstill.
He stated as follows, “Corruption, the greatest single bane of our society today, will be tackled head-on at all levels. Corruption is incipient in all human societies and in most human activities. But it must not be condoned….
No society can achieve anything near its full potential if it allows corruption to become the full-blown cancer it has become in Nigeria. The rampant corruption in the public service and the cynical contempt for integrity that pervades every level of the bureaucracy will be stamped out. You, the good people of Nigeria elected me, a man who had walked through the valley of the shadow of death, as your president, to head a democratic civilian administration. There will be no sacred cow. Nobody, no matter who and where, will be allowed to get away with the breach of the law or the perpetration of corruption and evil.”
To follow it up, Obasanjo set up the ICPC, EFCC and Budget Monitoring and Price Intelligence Unit (BMPIU), the latter headed by Oby Ezekwesili.
He also established the Debt Management Office. In those days, affluent Nigerians and politicians lived in the fear of Nuhu Ribadu, the first chair of EFCC backed by Obasanjo. Even PDP members were not spared. Governors Ayo Fayose, Diepreye Alamiyeseigha and Joshua Dariye, and Chief Bode George were brought to account.
It was these structures put in place by Obasanjo that the late President Umaru Yar’adua, who took over in May 2008 and his successor President Goodluck Jonathan in 2009 -2015, presided over.
Though it is on record that the Jonathan administration originated the Treasury Single Account (TSA), sceptics say because he lacked the strength and courage to fight corruption, he failed to implement it.
It is reported that many of his cronies both in and outside government practically helped themselves to the nation’s treasury while he held sway as Nigeria’s helmsman.
According to the opposition, Jonathan’s “body language” supported corruption.
It was this perceived inefficiency against the anti-corruption war coupled with the abduction of the Chibok schoolgirls amid the insurgency in the North East that cost President Goodluck Jonathan the second ticket and ushered in Muhammadu Buhari to power.
But almost three years into the Buhari-led administration, there is still much to be desired in its anti-corruption crusade.
In fact, a lot of Nigerians are disenchanted with his much-touted anti-corruption war, saying the president may have been over-rated.
Their angst is borne out of what they described as his selective fight, with opposition figures being harassed here and there by anti-graft agencies while those in the president’s are spared.
Even a member of his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), Senator Shehu Sani, was reported to have accused the president of using insecticide in his anti-corruption war against the opposition while using deodorant for members of his cabinet.
Besides, the president has been accused of nepotism, which is not allowing him to move against certain kinsmen of his who have been accused of graft. All these have caused people to write off his anti-corruption campaign as a selective move against perceived opponents.
In his inauguration lecture entitled, “ Leadership, Governance and the Challenges of Development in Nigeria: The Way Forward” on the inauguration of the Olusegun Obasanjo Good Governance and Development Research Centre, National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN), former President Obasanjo said the lack of successful prosecution of “high profile” corruption cases involving some politically exposed persons (PEPs) was giving serious cause for concern both for Nigerians and the international community.
He said despite the efforts in place and subsequent ones by successive governments, corruption still poses a daunting challenge to the progress and development of Nigeria.
“We must have an acute and common perception of our problem and do all that is necessary to mitigate the impact of corruption in our society. We must stop pointing accusing fingers, shifting blame or passing the buck,” he said.
But a government must not wait for corruption to become a rock that can only be smashed by a dynamite before acting. How is it possible then? By immediately bringing a corruption suspect, however, highly placed, to immediate trial – a fair trial as it is done in other countries.
For example, Mr Spire Agneu, Vice President to President Richard Nixon of the United States of America in the 1970s, was removed and tried for tax evasion.
He was taken to court and the judge told him, “Go and pay the tax, the arrears and interest” and he was booted out of office and replaced by Senator Gerald Ford, who later became president when Richard Nixon was swept away by the Water Gate Scandal.
There’s no immunity for the American president and his vice as we have here where even governors are untouchable.
The last female president of South Korea, Park Geun-hye is in prison now, found guilty of corruption. Another female president of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff was swept away by corruption. A former president of Israel, Ehud Olmert was in prison for curruption. There are many more examples but the aforementioned will suffice for now.
Immunity should be expunged from the constitution as it emboldens political office holders to steal from the till. Even when they leave office, they become sacred cows. Even though to carry out a coup d’état is illegal and carries a death penalty or a life imprisonment, all those who had successfully done so in our country became winners and holders of the country’s highest awards and are paid gratuity.
Trying a big man in Nigeria is an uphill task. Many pundits are wondering why Sen Bukola Saraki is still president/chairman of the National Assembly when he still has a corruption case in court. What happened to the case of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu?
In the words of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, “we must take away the proceeds of illicit enrichment and remove negative role models in our society.”
He said the aim of fighting corruption is to correct certain wrong doings; and most importantly, to remedy the dark sides of bad governance, such as poverty, unemployment, hunger and disease; as well as improve the well-being of the citizens.
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