Editorial: Corruption and Leadership in 2014
The avuncular admonition and verbal castigation, that constituted President Goodluck Jonathan's reply to former President Olusegun Obasanjo's letter was disheartening and disappointing, to say the least. Beyond the specifics of the President's reply to Obasanjo's verdict that under Jonathan, Nigeria has become a nation riddled with corruption and institutionalized banditry, the ostrich fatalism of the President over the issue of corruption, is evasive and not the appropriate way to tackle an endemic problem. If the perception outlook of corruption in Nigeria is to improve in 2014, Jonathan must seriously address the threat posed by corruption to Nigeria's future. Certainly he can do better than he has done in tackling corruption.
Hear Jonathan in his own words: 'The seed of corruption in this country was planted a long time ago, but we are doing all that we can to drastically reduce its debilitating effects on national development and progress. I have been strengthening the institutions established to fight corruption. I will not shield any government official or private individual involved in corruption, but I must follow due process in all that I do. And whenever clear cases of corruption or fraud have been established, my administration has always taken prompt action in keeping with the dictates of extant laws and procedures…I can hardly be blamed if the wheels of justice still grind very slowly in our country, but we are doing our best to support and encourage the judiciary to quicken the pace of adjudication in cases of corruption.'
Given the quantum and gravity of the situation, this kind of glib talk reeks of self-righteousness, and proffers no solution to the problem of corruption in Nigeria. Talk is cheap; Nigerians want concrete results. That corruption is pervasive in Nigeria is indisputable. In its 2013 corruption perception index, the global anti-corruption watchdog, Transparency International (TI) ranked Nigeria as the 144th most corrupt country in the world among the 177 countries studied. In 2012, Nigeria ranked 124 out of 170 countries. On the face of it therefore, there was nothing new that Obasanjo said about corruption that has not been in the domain of public discourse.
Recently, during the 2013 International Anti-Corruption Day marked by the Nigerian Bar Association, House Speaker, Aminu Tambuwal, seized the opportunity to bare his mind on the problem of corruption in the nation. In particular, the poor performance of the anti-graft agency, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) came under the Speaker's critical lens. He also underlined the deepening impunity in government, and in unequivocal terms said, the body language of the President, not only seems to encourage corruption, it actually embraces it. These are grave and serious charges.
Corruption aims mainly at the conduct of public business in a manner beneficial only to government officials and their cronies and turns them to mere sinecures. Good governance is its first major casualty, giving rise to a criminalized economy, decrepit infrastructure, worsening insecurity, impoverished citizenry and a totally disoriented polity. It diminishes the stature of Nigeria and assails the pride of its citizens in the comity of nations. Worse even, the fight against corruption, identified as the bane of Nigeria's development, has stalled. This is a tragedy for Nigeria; and there is little doubt that Nigeria's diverse and growing security challenges are partly rooted in widespread poverty and unemployment, which in turn, are outcomes of pervasive corruption.
Transparency International measures perceptions of the incidence of bribery of public officials, kick-backs in public procurements and enforcement of anti-corruption laws, among others. The TI report somewhat confirms the Mo Ibrahim Foundation 2013 Ibrahim Index of African Governance, which ranked Nigeria 41st out of 52 African countries on indicators of good governance. Nigeria's ranking has fallen eight places since 2000, and its woeful performance on this composite good governance index is a reflection of the dismal failure and sad inability of various national institutions to tackle corruption and deploy Nigeria's wealth to the socio-economic betterment of its citizens rather than into the pockets of politicians and bureaucrats.
Interestingly, Nigerians know, based on their own perceptions and experiences, that their country is one of the world's most corrupt. Sadly, corruption investigations by both the legislative and the executive arms is increasingly regarded by Nigerians as a ploy by committees to wring 'protection fees' from officials in Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) rather than a genuine attempt to expose or bring the corrupt to book. Despite countless probes, hardly is any Nigerian being punished, except those caught abroad for corrupt acts committed in Nigeria. There is no coherent agenda for fighting corruption in MDAs or making the anti-graft agencies more effective. Progress and credibility in the fight against corruption can be won only through concrete, well-thought-out plans and not cheap sloganeering.
Regrettably, there has been no concerted effort on the part of the President to combat it. Only lip service has been devoted to the fight. It is the view nowadays that corruption is on rampage in the country and that it has never been this bad. The lack-lustre disposition of government to the people's agitation to arrest the galloping corruption in the country accentuates and strengthens the malaise, thereby making the anti-corruption agencies a huge laughing stock. It is not an exaggeration to say that corruption walks tall in Nigeria today as though it is no longer a crime to indulge in it. A government poised to fight corruption would neither pardon a convicted criminal of corruption, nor treat the simmering scandal over the purchase of two vehicles at inexplicable sums, involving Aviation Minister Stella Oduah, as it has done. The government's attitude to 'Oduahgate' has strengthened the conviction that it has ample accommodation for and no problem at all with the menace of corruption. Indeed, it has shown that it is actually comfortable with condoning it.
The TI Report and Ibrahim African Governance Index are reflections of the greedy nature of Nigerian politics and governance that Nigerians well recognize. There should be a sober response to it by public officials; and the buck stops at the President's desk. Jonathan must be reminded that, grandiose projects such as the building of another unnecessary banquet hall at the Presidential Villa that add nothing to the economy, is not the way to fight corruption and waste. Neither is the display of opulence and profligacy, which has become the signature of this administration. The President should strengthen the anti-graft agencies and demand optimum performance from them. It is clear they no longer command the same respect as of old and carry on more like a toothless bull-dog, nowadays.
The independence of the judiciary and that of the police must be ensured so that any person, found culpable of any crime, no matter his rank and status can be arrested. That is the purport of the rule of law. And that is the quintessence of democracy. Nigerians are not fooled by official pretences to fight corruption. January 2014 is the time to do a rethink before the politics of 2015 takes over. Maintaining the statusquo means less trust in government and national institutions, including the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). It also increases the appeal of unorthodox means to achieve regime change. The New Year 2014 offers another opportunity to stop living a lie and seriously address corruption. To continue with business as usual is to lead Nigeria into despondency and anger. Jonathan has the ultimate and unique responsibility to build the confidence that politics and public offices are not primarily a means to fleece the citizens. He must take the lead in saving Nigeria from corruption.