By Pedro Azuogu
Both the American Heritage Dictionary (1981) and the Webster’s Comprehensive Dictionary (2010) described corruption as an act of being corrupt. Corruption derives it’s meaning from the Latin word corruptus which in itself means tainted, decomposed, putrid, perverted, depraved, deteriorated, debased, dishonest, contaminated, corroded, impure, degenerated, polluted or such like synonyms which portends defilement of fidelity or morality. As ugly as this word is in describing what is demeaning, it has been elevated to a State Enterprise in Nigeria, such that any public official who is not part of the transaction is seen as a non -starter. No wonder then that a former British Prime Minister, David Cameron opined that “Nigerians are fantastically corrupt”.
A plethora of laws enacted by the Nigerian Parliament, including Criminal Code, Penal Code, Police Act, Procurement Act, Independent Corrupt Practices Commission ( ICPC) Act , Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) Act, Money Laundering(Prohibition) Act and Terrorism (Prevention) Act among others, are some of the potent efforts made by the Nigerian State to checkmate the activities of unscrupulous elements whose stocks in trade are to subvert the regulatory processes of attaining good governance in the country. All the Agencies of government were established by laws for their purpose of providing admissible means of interfacing with the citizens, foreign nationals and other sister Agencies for the well- being of the people and for developmental strides as it concerns the entire country. It can be eloquently testified and declared here that these laws were all made with good intentions and in the spirit of consummate administrative convenience.
However, suffice it to say without mincing words that adherence to these litany of laws have always been observed in fragrant breaches with impunity by those who are saddled with the onerous burden of executing them on one hand and by those upon whom they are to be executed on the other hand, thus rendering the laws inoperative. In another breadth, the said laws are selectively applied against perceived enemies of the State or such other persons who are vulnerably incapacitated to secure persons that could strongly lend voices on their behalf.
In some cases, most of the Human Rights Lawyers or Lawyers from the State-owned Legal Aid Council who, by their callings or demands of office , are expected to render pro bono legal services to the financially weaklings in order to unravel the logical truth encased in corrupt matters, end up bungling such cases because of probably none or little service charges. But they will prefer to stoutly defend those embezzlers of public funds whose hands in the till cannot be compared because they have millions to pay as legal fees.
Corruption thrives where people have the penchant for subversion and cutting corners in order to beat laid down rules and procedures for processing documents or obtaining such items required of them while transacting with the State officials through administrative machinery. In a bid to fasten or circumvent the process, the officials are compromised due partly because of poor remuneration of the said officials and mainly because of the absence of patriotic orientation, occasioned by tribal and religious considerations. It is important to note that in corruption, it takes two to tango and as such a government official who allows himself to be inducted into issuing a fake document, allows a substandard product to enter the market, inflates contract, stamps unauthorized document for filing, pilfers the till, allows smuggled goods to cross the border, extorts motorists to overlook expired papers, hides or destroys files for criminals to escape justice, removes documents from confidential files or engages in any ignoble act of sabotage against the government in order to have his palm greased, is not only digging his own grave, but also that of his children. This accounts for why the majority of people who found themselves in such unofficial deals are bedeviled with stroke or bankruptcy immediately after retirement and in some cases, their children end up being vagabonds. There is always a time to reap for everyone after sowing. The law of karma or retributive justice is real.
Since 1966, every successive government have always lampooned the preceding one of cuddling corruption and has therefore come to curb the menace, but in the end, itself will be swallowed up by the same monster. The reason is that Nigeria cannot escape the accusation of having been founded on fraud. The continued glorification of tribalism and religious bigotry by every successive administration has made it practically impossible for the tree of corruption to be cut down, such that what each administration does is just to cut off the branch that ‘bore corruption fruits’ for people or religion of the past administration and then allow another branch to ‘bear corruption fruits’ for people or religion of it’s own administration. Until there is a holistic TOP-BOTTOM orientation on patriotism which will make every citizen think, talk and act Nigerian and a mass mobilization of the entire citizenry to appreciate the need to see everything from Nigerian prism, believing that all that is Nigerian is his/her own, the wishy-washy attitude and mentality will continue, where the people see the tenure of their tribesman or religion as “our turn”.
The present administration rode on the heels or mantra of fighting corruption as one of it’s three-pronged agenda in 2015. The unfortunate thing is that there was no clear- cut template and definition of what actually amounted to corruption. In the absence of such template, the government embarked on a goose chase of officials of the previous administration who constituted the opposition by stripping them of whatever property or money found in their possession or traced to their names. As a result of the vindictive nature of the pursuit without diligent and condensed investigation, most of the trials failed to secure convictions in the courts as reliance were placed more on media trial to curry public sympathy and outrage over the humongous figures being bandied in the public domain as been recovered in the accounts of the opposition members.
The fact that the corruption search light was beamed more on the opposition, beclouded the government from seeing and observing that nearly all that were being recovered were also being re-looted back by the recoverers and their cronies. When this administration took over, they started by enunciating a ‘BLAME GAME’ principle whereupon every ugly situation that existed (including those caused by it’s present officials) were blamed on the activities of the previous administration. The diversionary tactics affected the psychic of the people into believing and accepting that the previous administration was member-ed by devilish individuals. For three years, this tactic worked. But at the epilogue of the first tenure of the administration, it dawned on the people that the government had been busy churning out mindless lies as it became obvious that it had failed. While the people waited patiently to oust the administration in the 2019 election, the President played smart by refusing to sign the Electoral Reform Bill that would have allowed for electronic voting in which the electorate would have quietly eased the administration out of office. The said election inadvertently re-introduced violence, characterized by killings, ballot box snatching and voter intimidation which had long been jettisoned since 2003. The Judiciary was grossly intimidated and cowed into making unjustly pronouncements that saw candidates that never won elections being sworn-in to govern the people.
The saying that evil can only thrive for a season and not forever manifested glaringly within five years of the eight-year or first year of the second tenure of the administration when cans of worms began to be opened of the mad corruptions taking place under the very nose of the President described always as a man of integrity. It should be noted that one of the cardinal elements that attracted President Buhari to Nigerian people in 2015 to vote for him was the vigorous way he fought corruption during his military regime as Head of State between 1983-1985, albeit many human rights infractions. The thinking of the people was that ‘if he could do it then, he can also do it again’. Although, the fight then was centrally driven by his Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters, late Major General Tunde Idiagbon who, with late Air Commodore Emeka Omeruo, then Minister of Information gyrated a nationwide “WAR AGAINST INDISCIPLINE” (WAI) policy that aroused uncommon patriotic enthusiasm among Nigerians. But this time around, that self-same straight-faced and uncompromising Buhari of old roundly disappointed his admirers as a civilian President, probably because there was no longer an Idiagbon personified or decrees to be promulgated. It is therefore understandable that democratic variables and age may have taken a toll on him and contributed to why the President lost the steam of effective control of his government unlike what was noticed during his military regime.
How then do we, therefore, view the high degree of corruptions being noticed in this administration that took its preamble from the N100.M grass-cutting scandal of Babachir Lawal, former Secretary to the Government of the Federation(SGF), late Abba Kyari’s N500.M MTN bribe scandal, Ikoyi House Millions of naira involving a former Head of the Secret Agency(DSS), Aisha Buhari’s millions stolen by her Aid, Governor Abdullahi Ganduje’s $500.M bribe scandal, Saddiat Umar Farouk’s disbursement of about N850.B to school children during Covid-19 Lockdown, Abubakar Malami’s (Attorney General) children Olympian lifestyle, Ibrahim Magu’s (EFCC Chair) unaccounted recovered billions of naira and properties, Award of untraceable contracts worth trillions of naira by the Niger Delta Development Commission(NDDC) within three years and another missing N100.B in the coffers of the North East Development Commission(NEDC) amongst others. The list appears endless.
On the whole, we are saddened by the fact that the necessary loopholes through which monies are siphoned from the public treasury are yet to be plugged, giving credence to our earlier assertion that there was no credible template created upon which the war on corruption was to be fought ab initio.
We are yet to see a consummated effort to ensure that public officials accused of graft are disciplined without delay as witnessed during the Olusegun Obasanjo presidency where two Governors-James Ibori and DSP Alamesiagh , Inspector General of Police, Tarfa Balogun, Chairman Nigerian Ports Authority, Chief Olabode George(PDP Deputy Chairman) et al were removed from office, arrested, investigated, prosecuted and imprisoned. Compare that to what we have now where the National Chairman of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, publicly announced in 2019 that “ONCE YOU COME INTO APC YOUR SINS ARE FORGIVEN”. This statement by Oshiomhole clearly captures the corporate stand of the present administration as far as the fight against corruption is concerned, whereby persons accused of corrupt enrichment (being members of the ruling party) are allowed to carry on with their jobs except and until there is public outcry and condemnation before the President is compelled to act, and in most cases he did it reluctantly. Considering that under this administration, Nigeria has been rated as the poverty capital of the world, one of the most corrupt countries of the world by the Transparency International, the third most dangerous country to live in the world while the Global Terrorist Index rated Boko Haram as the 4th most dangerous terrorist group in the world, it presupposes that the image of the country in global arena has been reduced to nothingness. The war against insurgency has become a mere child’s play where hitherto respected Nigerian soldiers are now being killed like cockroaches through unexplainable ambushes by both insurgents and bandits. Military men now resign from their profession with ignominy while some others take to social media to lament of zero welfare and insufficient supply of ammunition to prosecute the war on terror and banditry (for which officers and men are court-martialed). A critical analysis of all these goes to confirm that, indeed corruption has been elevated to the apogee of Statecraft where your political party, tribe, religion and, or status in life determines whether what you committed can actually be tantamount to corrupt practice or not. Who then will say that corruption has not become an Enterprise in Nigeria? If, and only if the President can put his feet down and rise to the occasion, take charge and responsibility, knowing that the buck stops on his table, things could still turn around for good, otherwise, the idea of continued pursuit of perceived opponents or critics of the administration while leaving officials of the administration to carry on business as usual can only plunge the country into a deeper abyss of avoidable catastrophe. Our take is that the President should always act fast to investigate any alleged corrupt infraction against any of his officials so as not to create the impression in the minds of his admirers that he is privy to their actions or that he is not in control.
Pedro Azuogu is the Principal Partner of P.R.O AZUOGU & ASSOCIATES, Abuja, Nigeria.