New Approach To Corruption

The singular focus on combatting corruption of the current administration of Nigerian President Buhari has been viewed by many as a breath of fresh air that for once a leader is taking the issue of corruption in Nigeria head on. It is viewed by most Nigerians as the single most important issue impacting the growth and development of the country. From observing core members of his inner-circle as well as his ruling APC coalition, others have cautioned that the Buhari-led war on corruption is politically motivated focusing on launching probes against the opposition while bypassing serious allegations against members of his own cabinet and within the APC ruling party itself.

They point to people like former Rivers Governor who continues to fly private jets despite the presidential directive that his cabinet members would not do so. In addition he infamously is reported to have spent 500 million dollars on a monorail for his state that is still not operational, when Russian officials in Moscow built a similar monorail made by the same manufacturer, Intamin, for 240 million dollars. Despite these irregularities, and stiff opposition, this is who President Buhari selected as his transportation minister of all positions.

Even if one were to accept that the president and his administration had the purest of intentions and that there was no selectivity, favoritism, or glaring irregularities in executing the war on corruption, there are serious practical and logistical obstacles that remain. As we know, it has been decades, and the Abacha loot from the 90’s is still not fully returned. The financial institutions that have been harboring the money have had decades to invest the capital, interest free, and return the principal, which is now worth fractions of what it was worth in the 90s when it was taken. While some may be happy with the decades long process of recovering these looted funds, nobody can deny that it would be better if repatriation and/or return of mismanaged funds were be done faster and more efficiently.

It would seem that the best way to do this, would be with the cooperation of the very targets of the corruption probes and investigations. They themselves know better than anyone what they have done and how best to recover what they have taken or received illicitly. With the politically charged corruption prosecutions underway in Nigeria, one can be almost certain that almost none of the subjects of the investigation will cooperate or willingly choose to incriminate themselves.

President Buhari himself has to make a decision. Is it more important to score political points by engaging in largely fruitless drawn-out corruption probes and prosecutions, or would he rather recover funds as expeditiously as possible? Given the dire financial situation the country is now in, one would hope he would chose the latter, but that may not be given the dispensation of the president’s APC party. To solidify their support-base APC party members are continually projecting the idea that they are all less corrupt than the PDP they deposed despite the fact that many of them were prominent members of the PDP a fortnight ago.

Corruption and mismanagement is the great sin that has been committed in Nigeria. All across the country, political and economic elite have hand their hands bathed in the loot and mismanagement of public resources. For the masses trapped in poverty, robbed of time, and of opportunity, this sin committed by the political and economic elite is almost unforgivable. The hatred for the corrupt and their progeny runs deep among the masses in Nigeria. Thus it is the perfect tool to use for a political party to solidify their support-base and gain tactical advantages over opponents.

Repeatedly, Nigerian leaders hurl corruption accusations at political opponents, not for the purpose of systematically tackling the issue, but rather for political gain. What president Buhari is doing and the manner he has chosen to address past corruption and mismanagement, is not much different than what those before him have done. To his credit, and to be fair his administration appears to be having more success than others in curbing existing mismanagement and corruption, but his record on recovering what has already been taken will tell the full story on whether his approach will be successful.

Just as the crimes of corruption and mismanagement are the cardinal unforgivable sin in Nigeria, the many unspeakable crimes of apartheid in South Africa were also seen as unforgivable. Yet, at the presidential level, a leadership decision was made that it was better to move the country forward than to settle scores with political opponents.

In a very politically unpopular and costly decision, President Mandela, made it possible for the unforgivable in South Africa to be forgiven and by so doing, he secured the cooperation of many, both friend and foe. While some argue that the full truth of the crimes that were committed in South Africa may not have been told, including biological weapons, economic theft, and the activities of the secret societies of which political elite were members; much of the truth came out and the nation was able to begin the long process of healing using government as an instrument to redress economic and social injustices. Does President Buhari possess this same courage to do what is politically unpopular to move Nigeria forward?

Truth, Repayment, & Reconciliation Commission

Should President Buhari chose this path in a similar measure to what occurred in South Africa, any Nigerian official who chooses to confess and tell the truth of what they did, make arrangements to repay what was taken, and/or surrender assets that they illicitly attained anywhere in the world, would be granted a full presidential pardon and allowed to resume life in Nigeria or abroad as if they never committed any wrongdoing. This would require an extra-judicial commission that will exonerate all those who chose to cooperate. The commission would only be temporary and I do not think it should not last longer than a year, so as to give perpetrators ample time to come forward and make amends.

The president, would also however need to police his own party in particular, to not politically use any confession against any individual who has chosen to cooperate. By so doing, the president may anger certain elements in the general public who want to see the heads of past officials served on a platter, but it will go a long way to making the path of confessing, repaying and reconciling debts to the public the path of least resistance for all those targeted by corruption probes.

Those who are currently serving in public office should also be allowed to continue their role and to keep and/or receive awards for their public service if they chose to cooperate with the commission. Even if the commission failed to recover everything, the time it will save in recovery will be far superior to the decades long interest-free loans the Abacha loot has given to financial institutions.

Undoubtedly this will be among the most politically unpopular things for the president to do. His minister of information and many of his other officials will have to find something else to talk about with the media and devise another way to campaign against political opponents than instrumentally and selectively using the corruption issue to prop themselves up. In difficult times however, real leadership sometimes requires making difficult sacrifices for the greater gain. To fully win the corruption battle, President Buhari may have to stop fighting and start forgiving. There is a proven example of this working already, and indeed Nigeria may be another remarkable story of the power of forgiveness over that of retribution and revenge.

Kuranga and Associates Limited is an investment management advisory firm and an asset manager with a principle practice area of Africa. To learn more about Kuranga and Associates go to . © Copyright 2015 David Kuranga. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Articles by David O. Kuranga, Ph.D.