Nigeria on Monday, October 1, 2018 celebrated its Independence Anniversary. As usual the day was observed as a public holiday. It was an opportunity for speeches to be made on where the country was coming from and where it is headed. Fifty eight years ago when Nigeria got its independence from Great Britain, the expectations of Nigerians was to build a nation that would be the Giant of Africa and signpost the emergence of a black nation that would be the pride of blacks all over the world. The idealistic leaders of that era wanted a nation that would quickly make its mark in the world. They wanted to spread development all over the country, with various regions having long-term development plans. The nationalists of that era had high hopes for the future.
In his speech declaring Nigeria’s Independence on October 1, 1960 Nigeria’s First Prime Minister, Alhaji Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa said, “The first of October 1960 is a date to which for two years, Nigeria has been eagerly looking forward. At last, our great day has arrived, and Nigeria is now indeed an independent Sovereign nation.” Furthermore he said that “This is a wonderful day, and it is all the more wonderful because we have awaited it with increasing impatience, compelled to watch one country after another overtaking us on the road when we had so nearly reached our goal. But now, we have acquired our rightful status, and I feel sure that history will show that the building of our nation proceeded at the wisest pace: it has been thorough, and Nigeria now stands well-built upon firm foundations. Today’s ceremony marks the culmination of a process which began fifteen years ago and has now reached a happy and successful conclusion.”
Sadly, the bright future, which Nigerians dreamed for at Independence in 1960, has remained a mirage largely due to corruption in low and high places. Not even the First Republic could escape the burden of corruption. This could be seen from the coup speech heralding the military into our body polity in 1966, where the spokesman of the military officers claimed that “Our enemies are the political profiteers, the 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 nepotitists, 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.”
The same theme of corruption also resonated in the overthrow of the Second Republic. In his speech announcing the end of the Second Republic and overthrow of the Shehu Shagari administration in December 31, 1983, Brigadier General Sani Abacha noted that, “You are all living witnesses to the great economic predicament and uncertainty, which an inept and corrupt leadership has imposed on our beloved nation for the past four years.” He said, “Our leaders revel in squander mania, corruption and indiscipline.”
Similarly in his maiden address to the nation as military head of state on January 1, 1984, the military head of state, General Muhammadu Buhari, observed that “While corruption and indiscipline have been associated with our state of under-development, these two evils in our body polity have attained unprecedented height in the past few years. The corrupt, inept and insensitive leadership in the last four years has been the source of immorality and impropriety in our society. Since what happens in any society is largely a reflection of the leadership of that society, we deplore corruption in all its facets. This government will not tolerate kick-backs, inflation of contracts and over-invoicing of imports etc. Nor will it condone forgery, fraud, embezzlement, misuse and abuse of office and illegal dealings in foreign exchange and smuggling.”
The return of democracy in 1999 was seen as another opportunity for the country to get it right. It was believed that the politicians have learnt bitter lessons on how not to succumb to the temptation of corruption. The faith on the politicians was rather misplaced. The administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo set up the anti-corruption agencies; Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) to tackle the menace of corruption in the country. However, corruption persists even in the Obasanjo administration. At a point the international corruption watchdog; Transparency International (TI) reported that the Presidency (seat of government) under President Olusegun Obasanjo was allegedly the most corrupt arm of government in the country.
Need we repeat the corruption that characterized the last six years of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) administration in Nigeria? This was the era in which stealing was not corruption. And the money earmarked to fight Boko Haram insurgency in the North East was allegedly shared to the cronies of the last administration for election purposes, while our soldiers were left to face the enemy literarily with their bare hands. Little wonder that the Boko Haram was occupying some local governments in Borno State at the time.
Nigerians sick and tired of the corrupt and inept leadership of the PDP voted in the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the 2015 general elections. President Muhammadu Buhari after receiving his certificate of return from the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on April 1, 2015, expressed his determination to lead the war against corruption. He said, “We shall strongly battle another form of evil that is even worse than terrorism—the evil of corruption. Corruption attacks and seeks to destroy our national institutions and character.
By misdirecting into selfish hands funds intended for the public purpose, corruption distorts the economy and worsens income inequality. It creates a class of unjustly-enriched people. Such an illegal yet powerful force soon comes to undermine democracy because its conspirators have amassed so much money that they believe they can buy government. We shall end this threat to our economic development and democratic survival.
I repeat that corruption will not be tolerated by this administration; and it shall no longer be allowed to stand as if it is a respected monument in this nation.” In his nationwide broadcast to Nigerians on the 58th Independence Anniversary, President Muhammadu Buhari declared that Nigeria has made progress in the war against corruption. He said, “We are making progress in the fight against corruption and recovery of stolen public funds and assets despite vicious and stiff resistance.
The shameful past practice, of the brazen theft of billions of Naira is no more. Shady oil deals and public contracts that were never delivered have become things of the past. Consequently, and this is very evident across the country, we have done more with less in infrastructural developments. Roads, railways, major bridges, schools, energy and power, air and sea ports, welfare of serving and retired personnel both civilian and military including payment of legacy debt such as pension arrears, have been attended to.”
No fair-minded observer can deny that the Buhari administration has done more than previous governments in this Republic to rid the country of corruption. Despite the successes recorded a lot more still need to be done. There are many agencies of government that their operations are opaque. Nigerians want more transparency in governance. They also want those in government accused of corruption to be investigated, prosecuted and jailed if they are guilty. We must continue to fight the war against corruption, until corruption seizes to be the hindrance to our economic growth and development. That should be our take away from the 58th Independence Anniversary.
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