“More often, therefore, because our anti-corruption agencies are under pressure to justify their existence and show that they are working, they often tend to prefer the show over the substance”
– Senate President, Bukola Saraki, at the launch of a book by Senator Dino Melaye, on Monday, May 15, 2017.
Anyone in search of evidence that the principal political actors in the government of President Muhammadu Buhari are not on the same page on the anti-corruption policy, does not need to look farther than last Monday’s copious criticism of that policy by the leaders of the Federal legislative houses. Taking turns to berate the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and other agencies, the legislative leaders dismissed their activities as no more than public spectacles or claptrap drama, calculated to appease, excite or entertain the public.
Of course, it is tempting to contort one’s face in scorn or cynicism and ask what else to expect from a house riddled with scandal of every stripe, which relishes its status as the bastion of counter-attacks against Buhari’s reformism. True, there is more than a ring of truth to such a position, considering that this is the legislature that holds the patent to such innovations as budget padding and the triumphant lyrics of ‘Ajekun iya ni o je’ (translated as ‘an overdose of suffering shall be his lot’).
Before you run away with the delights of the moral high grounds, however, remember that it takes more than poking fun at amoral behaviour to win important political battles. No matter how hard Prof. Itse Sagay and his colleagues at the Presidential Advisory Commission on Anti-corruption, rail at the 8th National Assembly, they must somehow find a way of bringing them along or at the very least, neutralising them to make any headway. Besides, reality is often more complicated, messier and more tangled than morally tinged analyses and straightforward dichotomies. Ask the question: Are all the angels on one side and all the devils on the other? The answer is obviously far from it.
As revelation after revelation have shown, corruption is alive and well in the Buhari administration. We now know that serving in reformist administration or acting as the standard bearer of reformism does not preclude becoming one of those in need of reform. For some of us, the anti-corruption policy only got serious and real when it became dispassionate and even handed enough to discipline and sanction those in government who had allegedly transgressed. For as long as the policy is targeted at political opponents, it has little real value, if only because when those opponents come to power they will apply the same rule of selective retribution.
We may not like the sound of blemished legislators sermonising from a polluted pulpit about anti-corruption, but in what some will describe as throwing tantrums, they correctly fingered an important issue. This has to do with their admonition that without institutions that function impartially, more or less, a real anti-corruption policy is a nonstarter, as it will descend to the level of political football.
Before leaving that point, let me point out that building institutions is a long term enterprise, which has been used by politicians who do not approve of any anti-corruption policy to defer any such idea. For example, under the Goodluck Jonathan administration, talk of fostering institutions became a substitute for dealing decisively with several cases of impunity and abuse that came to light. So, you encounter imaginatively a Jonathan surrounded with key advisers and political acolytes who had waxed fat on questionable deals. You ask them ‘your excellencies, what are you doing about stemming the tide of corruption in your administration?’ A nonchalant Jonathan answers: ‘Oh! We are building institutions and until we build these institutions, there is nothing we can do”.
Obviously, this is a do-nothing approach, which forgets the maxim that in the long run we are all dead. In other words, since institutions are not built in a day, we cannot wait until they are built before beginning an urgent national project. This is where Buhari’s zeal, even when not supported by informed analysis and skewed against political opponents, is admittedly preferable to the approach of Saraki and Dogara, which is borrowed from Jonathan’s playbook and will postpone the anti-corruption policy until enduring institutions are in place.
To attempt a meeting point between the two perspectives, we must now broach the underbelly of Buhari’s anti-corruption campaign, namely, that it took off jerkily without seeking the minimal elite consensus needed to grant it safe arrival. The antecedent of the ruling All Progressives Congress as a contraption of strange bedfellows notwithstanding, the party should have found a way to create a buy-in, at least minimally, from the leading lights of the administration. Had that occurred, and had the anti-corruption agenda been properly thought through, we would have had less of the absurd circumstance, in which senior members of the government are publicly laughing the programme out of court. As known, even within the executive, government agencies, such as the Department of State Services and the EFCC, have been at cross purposes to the extent that the former was employed to nullify the confirmation, by senate, of Ibrahim Magu as chairman of EFCC.
What we have on our hands, therefore, is a situation in which the anti-corruption policy has become the theatre of elite fracture and in-fighting, revealing the gaps in policy formation and implementation, both of which require elite consensus. It is idle, if not foolish, to believe that such a political battle can be won by simply mocking or scoffing at those who oppose, especially where the opposition is strategically placed to abort it. It is a waste of time also to think that simply because the executive or a handful of people in the executive, believe in the policy, they can carry it off without working it through and carrying along the legislative and judicial arms of government.
In a democracy, policies require endorsement from the overlapping corridors of state power, in particular the non- executive arms of government. The doctrinnaire approach of “not compromising with evil”, as once articulated by Sagay, may sound morally pleasing, but it has no place in a democratic government. The rigour of democratic practice and processes is such that it includes the demanding routine of building alliances and generating support for programmes and policies, rather than depending solely on their inherent moral qualities.
Sound as it is, the anti-corruption policy has met with setbacks and obtained few results because of poor salesmanship, failure to build bridges, as well as carrying on with a mindset which regards opponents as political lepers, that must be demonised or ostracised. So, and in conclusion, the strategists should go back to the drawing board and relearn how to win friends and influence people to their cause, while taking along a healthy sense of what is achievable in a context where Governor Ayo Fayose of Ekiti State and Senator Musliu Obanikoro are contemplating joining the APC, perhaps to buy refuge from retribution.