Anti-corruption matters By Segun Gbadegesin

buhari

The recent visit of the National Peace Committee to President Muhammadu Buhari (PMB) has generated a lot of buzz from a public that has been re-energised by the president’s approach to national issues in general and the fight against corruption in particular.

PMB’s campaign promise was anchored on confronting the evil that corruption has wrought on fatherland, reversing the tragic loss of lives and property to insecurity, and combating the undesirable effects of both on the economy, which has stagnated despite the attraction of rebasing.

Nigerians liked the message of a new beginning with its prospect of a national rebirth and they gave their solid support to the messenger, candidate Buhari. He won the election and set to work to match his words with action. After all, this is what integrity is all about, and for a leader who has volunteered himself as the symbol of integrity, nothing less is expected.

The reaction has, however, been mixed.  While the generality of the public support the president’s approach, PDP leaders and their surrogates have cried wolf where none is sighted. Among others, they have insisted that the investigation and prosecution of corrupt officials must be holistic and must go beyond the Jonathan administration even back to 1985. They have complained that only former PDP officials are being investigated. They preached the rule of law to a president who had pledged to make it the centrepiece of his administration.

On his part, the President has reassured his critics that he has no intention of protecting anyone, including members of his party. There are no sacred cows, he insisted, and the finger that commits a crime will suffer the penalty. But his critics are not relenting.

To be sure, the complainants and critics have not all been partisans trying to score cheap political points. There have been credible contributors to the debate on what the approach to the fight against corruption ought to be. It is on one of these credible contributions that I would like to make some observations.

Professor Ben Nwabueze has proven his credentials as a true patriot even before he co-founded The Patriots and his many contributions to the constitutional and political development of the country are not inconsequential.  He has made the cause of the social and political transformation of the country his consummate passion.

Back in 2013, Nwabueze advised former President Jonathan to abandon the idea of running for a second term in order to focus on true national transformation. But after Jonathan agreed to convene the national conference of 2014, Nwabueze and other members of The Patriots forgot about partisanship standing in the way of national transformation; they endorsed him for re-election.

On the whole, however, Nwabueze’s message deserves to be taken seriously. But to be taken seriously only means that his views must be interrogated seriously and adequate response submitted on behalf of reason, which I believe to be the only basis of his own submissions.

Nwabueze’s views on this matter were contained in a three-part article in the Vanguard Newspaper Special Reports section on August 13, August 17 and August 19, 2015. But I limit myself to the first instalment, which contains the core of the position canvassed, as others were just embellishments.

The title: “Corrupt practices: Igbo leaders’ position on probe of past governments”, gives the impression that the position canvassed by Nwabueze is that of Igbo leaders. However, the only author identified in the three instalments is Professor Ben Nwabueze. There is also no indication that he signs on behalf of Ndigbo as the title would suggest. At any rate, group sponsorship shouldn’t detract from the import of the message, provided it has no ethnic colouration. For in addition to the destructive nature of religious divide and the debilitating effects of corruption highlighted by the professor, ethnic rivalry has proven to be a nation buster.

The main thrust of Nwabueze’s argument is that the Buhari administration’s fight against corruption must be holistic to succeed. By this, he means that it should not be limited to the Jonathan administration; that it must be extended to past administrations, including the former PDP administrations as well as the military administrations of Babangida and Abubakar, which according to him, had not been probed by successive administrations.

For this conclusion, the professor of constitutional law offers two arguments as follows:

  1. A probe of corruption must have the purpose of deterrence. Presumably, then, he wants to argue, without pushing it explicitly, that probing the Jonathan administration alone will have no deterrent effect on corruption.
  2. Probing the Jonathan administration alone when other administrations before his were as corrupt as or more corrupt than his is unfair because it is selective probe with the appearance of vendetta.

Now, the first argument above concerning the possible deterrent effect of a limited probe is to be determined by experience, not by logic. Nwabueze himself made reference to the Murtala Muhammed probe which, based on the example of Muhammed himself, with its focus on the military administration before it, including civil servants, succeeded in instilling probity and discipline in public life before Muhammed was silenced by the assassin’s bullet. Therefore, by this example, it appears to me that the deterrent effect of a probe of the immediate past administration can go a long way in deterring future prospective looters.

On the second argument above, Nwabueze answers his own query, but for some incomprehensible reason, he appears to ignore the salience of the point by rejecting the argument as strange, which insists that Jonathan had a “duty to have probed the (Obasanjo) government from which he took over.” What makes this a strange argument in Nwabueze’s view?

First, Nwabueze makes the insignificant point that Jonathan took over from Yar’Adua, and not from Obasanjo.  Jonathan was the Vice President to Yar’Adua who took over from Obasanjo. And Jonathan himself told the nation that his was a continuation of the Yar’Adua administration. It had to be, since he completed the term of the deceased Yar’Adua before starting his own administration in 2011.

Second, Nwabueze argues that Jonathan couldn’t have been expected to probe Yar’Adua or Obasanjo because they were all PDP administrations. “All three administrations were PDP governments and it seems inconceivable that one PDP government should probe another.” This is the most bizarre argument that the professor presents in defence of his position.

Why is it inconceivable that a new president who canvassed for and received the people’s vote would fearlessly do the people’s will by moving to fight corruption through the investigation of wrongdoing by his predecessor? If governors can probe their predecessors belonging to the same party, why is it inconceivable for a president to do so?

Third, since Professor Nwabueze and The Patriots turned round and endorsed Jonathan for a second term in the last election, if he had succeeded, we will not now be talking about fighting corruption, holistically or partially because it will be “inconceivable” to expect Jonathan to probe Obasanjo or Yar’Adua or himself.  So for as long as a political party is in power, corruption can and will flourish! This is the logic of Nwabueze’s position.

The reason that corruption had the upper hand during the previous administrations is that the leadership of the ruling party including its office holders was neck-deep in it. Though anti-corruption agencies were put in place, they were not empowered and certainly were not accorded the independence they deserved. This is what Buhari has vowed to reverse.

We are now witnessing the activities of anti-corruption agencies emboldened to perform their constitutional responsibilities. However, the goal must be to move to a situation where they can perform effectively without executive or legislative prodding and independent of their fear or favour.

Finally, Buhari knows that he cannot afford to be distracted by an open-ended probe of the past. For the same groups that insist on a holistic probe back to 1985 will be in the forefront of those gearing up to accuse him of doing nothing beside probing past governments. The promise of change is certainly much more positive than the negativity that indefinite investigations and probes seemingly imply.

NATION