How Buhari can win the anti-corruption war By NIRAN ADEDOKUN

To match Interview NIGERIA-BUHARI/

Were hypocrisy felonious, jail houses in Nigeria would have no room. We all agree that corruption is the major albatross around Nigeria’s neck and we accuse everyone else but ourselves. Corruption is spoken of as a “we against them” subject, rather than one in which we all have to reconsider.

I consider that a grave challenge in itself. Truth is that you are nowhere near solving a problem whose existence you do not even acknowledge. Until we agree that every one of us is engaged in some measure of compromise which congregates to diminish the integrity and potential of Nigeria’s growth, we will go nowhere.

Currently, everyone is angry at corruption and perceived corrupt persons. People with no clear explanations to how they amassed humongous wealth with which they dictate who gets what in Nigerian politics also condemn corruption, their qualification being nothing more than membership of the ruling All Progressives Congress.

The APC prides itself as an assemblage of what is progressive and pristine about Nigerian politics and with its well-oiled propaganda machinery which has convinced Nigerians that erstwhile ruling Peoples Democratic Party is the other name for corruption! By the utterances of those in the APC, the party members are as clean as a whistle while anyone who had anything to do with the PDP represents the worst that the country could offer.

But nothing could be farther from the truth. From where I stand, the difference between Nigerian politicians only exists in the names of their parties. Every tendency that you find in one party, you find in the other, especially as defection is the stock in trade of all our politicians.

If anyone had doubts about that, recent allegations of sleaze or misappropriation against former Governors Babatunde Fashola, Kayode Fayemi and Rotimi Amaechi, all of the APC, should make such people pause to ponder for a bit.

True, one could say that all that we have heard about Fashola and Amaechi are mere accusations, but wouldn’t the same apply to a lot of public officials who served Nigeria in the recent past? Although the APC and the new government have led Nigerians to despise these people as a result of the doses of allegations released on them, why is the party not ventilating on the allegations about its own men? When will the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission going to commence investigations against them?

My point is that corruption in Nigeria is not essentially because people are bad; it is because the system is bad and in reality, very few Nigerians are immune to the virus.

In addition, the tentacles of corruption in the land have spread beyond political party and ethno-religious boundaries. Membership of corrupt elite club percolates all social and economic strata whether in the private or public sector. What is worse is than bourgeoning groups of young people who see the accumulation of wealth by whatever means as a sign of success and do not mind belonging to the ignoble group since the nation seems too unperturbed by their plight?

This is why I feel that President Muhammadu Buhari does not have a good understanding of the species of corruption in this country. There is no doubting his commitment qualification to battle the evil but I worry about the style he has adopted.

Since he came into government, he has made a public spectacle of his desire to tackle corruption. We have heard endless stories about how much crude oil was stolen daily by one person and how those who are found to have stolen will not just refund their loot but rot in jail.

And I argue that this is a wrong approach. It is like a hunter who goes into the forest to catch a monkey and then starts to blow a whistle as he arrives the forest. Would he seriously expect the primate to stay back and become a prey when the sound of the whistle already gave it an idea of an escape route?

I opine that the President and his party should give us less of this information overload. They should investigate quietly, take back what is possible quietly, prosecute suspects whose loot require that and leave the remainder to the judiciary.

This is a point that I do not think the President has come to terms with. Newspaper reports on Monday claimed that Buhari’s spokesman, Femi Adesina, told an audience that all persons charged with stealing the nation’s resources would have their day in court and that, upon conviction, their ill-gotten wealth would be seized and returned to government coffers.

Will the President be the judge in these cases? Will he determine who goes to jail or whose wealth will be seized? President Buhari seems to think that he is able to fight corruption by himself and that dissipating energy on presumptive disclosures and threats without the support of prosecuting institutions and the judiciary, which are sometimes heavily compromised can do some magic. I think not.

It is in the same way that I do not think that the widespread replacement of personnel in organisations perceived to be corrupt would do much to stamp out corruption. What this may do is encourage a holiday period in which people will avoid apparent corrupt practices and devise more foolproof ways of doing things, after which corruption will come back with a bang. Corruption, with the enormous resources that it affords its perpetrators, fights back with unimaginable venom, which is why a government needs everyone, including the people and even parties in opposition on its side in this type of war. This fight therefore needs a lot of tact in spite of the President’s zest.

A sustainable fight against corruption within the current realities of our environment, where many lawyers have mastered the loopholes in our administration of criminal justice, demands a lot of wisdom. A more realistic approach, to my mind, would be to tackle the war against corruption with priority on prevention, followed by detection and then sanction.

Prevention should be a priority because it involves the removal of incentives for people to tamper with the common wealth. This will include improving the conditions of public and civil servants as well as instituting social safety nets that provide some level of insurance for those in public service. It also includes the reform of our judicial system as well as enforcing rules that aids accountability.

Although little attention is paid to states and local governments, these levels of government do the greatest disserve to Nigerians. Meanwhile, there is no way to check corruption at these levels of governments without the legislative and judicial arms of government being autonomous. Currently, these arms are at the beck and call of the executive hence the level of criminal collusion that we have in the states.

If Buhari’s administration works to ensure the prevention of corruption, Nigerians will soon dread being caught in the act. Above all, the President and those who work with him must continue to live above board without leaving room for sacred cows.

This brings to mind the exploits that the late Lee Kuan Yew made as Prime Minister of Singapore. When he became head of the country, Yew was said to have felt “sickened” by the decadence and corruption in his country. He promised to rid Singapore of graft. Members of his government wore white shirts and trousers when they were sworn into office just to signal the purity of their intentions.

Yew delivered on his promise. Before strengthening the anti-corruption laws and granting effective power to the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau, he raised salaries for civil servants, to minimise any temptation to sell their influence. Anyone caught thereafter faced the consequences. One of those was Teh Cheang Wan, an architect and long term associate of Yew. In 1986, Wan was investigated for accepting kickbacks from two real estate developers. He committed suicide one morning leaving a note in which he apologised to Lee Kuan Yew and explained: “It is only right that I should pay the highest penalty for my mistake.”

Buhari’s dream seems identical to that of Yew but the Nigerian President needs to do more than naming and shaming people if he desires to make good his promise.

PUNCH

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