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The strange death of the anti-corruption programme

The strange death of the anti-corruption programme
“The leadership we have pledged is decidedly transformative … we will fight corruption regardless of the position of the person involved”

President Goodluck Jonathan, 2011.

A fortnight ago, The Guardian on Sunday did a report concerning a number of corruption cases involving former state officials which after an initial show of enthusiasm by state authorities have remained in the cooler for several years. Some of those involved are former federal ministers and former state governors. The report conveys and I believe accurately the impression that the wheels of justice grind extremely slowly, if they grind at all.

Ordinarily, the infrastructure of human rights encompassing the right to fair hearing and adherence to the rule of law are meant to establish guilt as well as innocence and ensure that the guilty are brought to book. In Nigeria, however, due process has been turned into an obstacle course which ensures that the accused are never brought to justice except in those instances where current office holders may for political reasons take an interest in the conviction of former high state officials accused of corruption. By the same token, the legislative houses frequently embark on investigations which proceedings stretch into several months. Almost invariably, there are no follow-ups to these; nobody is punished and business goes on as usual. In fact, the dizzying regularity of probes which come to naught have made some to wonder aloud whether the probes are little more than elaborate theatrical performances designed to amuse or titillate onlookers and perhaps convey the impression that something is being done about corruption.

It is difficult however to laugh at these expensive diversions considering the havoc that corruption has wrought and continues to wrought on Nigeria’s huge development potential. A recent article by Michael Burleigh widely circulated in the international media describes Nigeria as a country so corrupt that it will be better for Britain or presumably other western countries to burn their aid money or flush it down the toilet than to put it into the bottomless pit which the Nigerian political environment has become. Burleigh asserts that 80% of the country’s revenues remain in the hands of the narrow political elite who recycle most of it into bank accounts in Channel Islands or Switzerland. Indeed, the lure for public office is fed by the desire to have a piece of the action in a country where legislators earn double the salaries of British members of parliaments.

It should be noted that many cases of corruption are not documented but are recycled in often verifiable oral narratives. Recently, an international development expert told the story concerning how he laboured for two years to secure a hefty grant for Nigeria’s health sector only to abandon the effort because some Nigerian technocrats insisted that the only condition in which they would buy into the deal is for a substantial amount of the grant to be paid into their private accounts. Considering that such a recourse runs against the governance conditionalities of such facilities, the development expert a Nigerian employed by an international agency had to ruefully abandon the effort. Of course, even where demands for bribes or wholesale diversions of funds meant for development are not so blatant several other stratagems are deployed to deprive the public of the benefits of foreign aid or national resources earmarked for projects.

To be sure, much of this is not fresh news in a country where before you can take in the latest shocking revelation of corruption; a more staggering one unfolds. For example, two weeks after the allegation published in one of our newspapers concerning a minister in the current cabinet who has drawn up a bill of two billion naira by travelling very expensively in chartered jets, no official action or even explanation has followed the widely publicised allegation. True, in Nigeria as elsewhere around the globe, allegations of corruption are employed as cudgels in political warfare. The only way to separate genuine allegations from fictional ones however is to speedily investigate them while maintaining the culture whereby public officials whose integrity has been badly called into question resign their offices in order to defend themselves rather than sit in judgment over their own trials. The impression that is being created is that anyone who is politically connected enough can get away with just about anything.

Interestingly, each time that I have had occasion to draw attention to lacuna in the governance profile of the Jonathan government I get responses from a clutch of Jonathan’s sympathisers reminding me that these problems have been with us since the birth of the Nigerian nation state. I find this argument specious, even dangerous to the extent that it seeks to rationalise if not justify serious anomalies some of which have made Nigeria the laughing stock of the world and turned it into a hell hole for its citizens. As the opening quote demonstrates, Jonathan’s campaign manifesto as well as inauguration address promised striking departures both in the tempo of governance and in the war against corruption. We have a right as citizens to hold him up to the words and ideals which he espoused in order to win the last election and at the outset of his administration especially so in the context of his not fully declared intention to seek re-election. Sad to say that there is little proof of commitment at the highest level of government to rolling back the tide of corruption.

Rather, in what would appear to be backsliding, Jonathan on one occasion said something to the effect that most of what we call corruption are in fact not corruption without making clear his own definition of corruption. He also went on to say that corruption is not our problem but the need for Nigerians to change our attitude, in effect, downgrading the fight against corruption in the national agenda. In the same connection and whatever the merits of the presidential pardon to former Bayelsa State governor Diepreye Alamieyeseigha who had been declared wanted in some powerful countries around the world, such actions send signals that there is no need for elected officials who are currently serving their term and for those seeking office to worry about corruption.

The reason corruption had become pervasive and endemic is because no serious actions are taken against it. Nigeria, as several Asian countries discovered, cannot attain greatness or perhaps even survive if corruption and criminality become in effect directive principles of state polity. It is not too late for this administration to reverse its current lukewarm posture to fighting corruption as pledged by President Jonathan and to begin the necessary task of rescuing Nigeria from the stranglehold of kleptocracy i.e. government by thieves.

Source - The Punch

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