Only recently, the President announced the sack of Mrs Farida Waziri as the chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission – EFCC. This move by the President has generated profound debate amongst Nigerians regarding the propriety – or otherwise – of the move and its implications for the anti-corruption crusade. In general terms, there has been a palpable tendency on the part of most analysts (and Nigerians at large) to individualize the anti-corruption discourse by laying an overwhelming focus and emphasis on the person heading the anti-corruption agency. At best, the debate about the extent of success of Nigerian's anti-corruption struggle has been reduced to the singular variable of assessing the actions or inactions of the EFCC as an institution. The implication of this reductionism is that we have tended to ignore or discountenance the salient significance of certain intervening factors which ultimately define the context of operational efficiency and goal attainment of the EFCC.

It is generally agreeable by Nigerians that the cancer of corruption has become so deeply entrenched and devastatingly widespread in our body politic. If so, it logically follows that any serious effort to confront and surmount the menace must necessarily go beyond the tokenism of periodic replacement of the Head of the EFCC. It must be rooted in the realization that endemic corruption requires a systemic, holistic approach which is predicated on the cooperative and complimentary synergy between the anti-corruption agencies, the Judicial system, a committed political leadership, and most importantly, a patriotic citizenry.

Fundamentally, the attempt to mitigate the ravages of corruption in Nigeria will remain elusive and counter–productive for as long as the Presidency fails to bring some sense of critical urgency, impetus and exemplary leadership to bear on the fight against anti-corruption. Beyond the pretence of sacrificing periodically the Heads of corruption-fighting agencies like the EFCC, the body language and general disposition of the President in matters of political and economic corruption remain the ultimate decider of the level of seriousness to be attached to the fight against corruption by every other public official or government institution. When the President dissolves the Board and Management of a government agency implicated for corruption and mismanagement (as in case of the NDDC), and allow the indicted officials to go scot-free, he has invariably offered “presidential endorsement” for official corruption. When he appoints the wife of an ex-convict into the Board of a sensitive government parastatal (as in the case of Bode George's wife), irrespective of the fact that the said appointee is also a member of two other Federal Boards, the President has simply propagated the idea that if you commit a crime against the Nigerian state, you will be “punished” with the reward of mouth-watering patronage from the Federal Government. When the President acknowledges that the petroleum industry is beset with insidious corruption as a result of the nefarious, traitorous activities of certain economic saboteurs whose identities are not hidden, yet, they are permitted to continue in their perfidious activities with unparalleled impunity, while some are even rewarded with membership of the government's Economic Management Team, then the fight against corruption is in serious jeopardy. A presidential mindset which instigates or condones such negativities and arbitrariness can hardly be said to be supportive of the fight against corruption.

Any serious appraisal of the effectiveness of the EFCC in fighting corruption can hardly be

meaningful without relating it to the important roles played by such other institutions as the Judiciary and the Police Force as well as the legal system which defines their modus operandi, especially, in matters of criminal prosecution. The fight against corruption cannot take off, let alone succeed, if the country's court system operates more like a shopping centre for all manner of black-market injunctions, protracted adjournments, and other contrived obstructionism often exploited by indicted corrupt officials to thwart and undermine judicial proceedings.

It is in this connection that the recent call by the new Chief Justice of Nigeria that all corruption-related cases be concluded within six months is considered as a welcome relief. The real challenge, however, is for the CJN to go beyond rhetoric and ensure that such a policy option is constitutionalized and given the force of law so that it can become binding and practicable. Additionally, the need for the creation of a special court for accelerated trial of corruption cases cannot be over-emphasized. Again, this is one area where the seriousness of the President in the fight against corruption will be strongly tested. For without the conscious resolve of the President to initiate positive measures geared towards the re-alignment of our judicial system to make it more attentive to the malignant scourge of corruption and supportive of the effort to combat it, there is hardly any magic that the EFCC – or any other anti-corruption agency for that matter – can perform.

By far, the biggest incentive for corruption in Nigeria is the avowed willingness of the general populace to tolerate it and edify those who perpetrate it. Due to the combined effect of poverty and ignorance, most Nigerians hardly appreciate the ominous connection which exists between their socio-economic predicaments and the autocratic incompetence and mindless corruption of their political leadership. The inclination of this set of Nigerians has always been to worship political power and glorify those who exercise and abuse it even to their own detriment. And when these treasury looters decide to mock their victims by throwing some crumbs of their booty at them, these Nigerians will have no qualms about going on their knees and praying God to bless their thieving benefactors and to grant them long life so that they will continue with their good works (of looting them blind).

What about those of us who claim to be educated and enlightened about our rights and obligations as citizens. Shockingly, our attitude and reactions to instances of official corruption is no less execrable than that of our ignorant and poverty-stricken fellows. Whenever we are confronted with the news of any case of monumental corruption, our general response has been to brush it aside with stoic indifference as if we are insulated from its deleterious repercussions. Often, we hurriedly and myopically assume the role of the devil's advocate by justifying or rationalizing such cases of corruption and doing so through the hollow prism of ethnically-jaundiced arguments.

Corruption in Nigeria has festered and will continue to do so with alarming ferocity as long as we are engrossed with the mistaken idea of seeing the fight against corruption as the exclusive prerogative and responsibility of a particular individual or agency. The President may change the Head of the anti-corruption agencies for as many times as it suits his fancy. However, without addressing the structural bottlenecks and disarticulation in the polity which impede the smooth operations of corruption fighting agencies, it will be difficult to elicit from them the desired results. EFCC must be truly autonomous and independent for it to stand the chance of making meaningful impact in the fight against corruption.

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Articles by Ugochukwu Raymond Ogubuariri