This piece was first published on July 27, 2012. It was intended to be a wake-up call for all Nigerians to come to grips with the grave consequences of watching our leaders brazenly pillaging our collective resources with reckless abandon. And by choosing to remain passive as the corrupt elements loot, the masses are also hailing corruption, the invidious crime that impoverishes them.
I made bold to say here that I went on the same page with Buhari all the way as he gunned for the presidency since the return of democracy in 1999. I was convinced that he was the only Czar under the sun who could tackle the Hermes, encouraged by his antecedents as a military ruler who set up Special Military Tribunals (SMTs) headed by Judges to try corrupt elements. The tribunals were business-like. Most of those found guilty were hurled behind bars for 300 years and more as though we had returned to the Methuselah era when longevity hovered around 1,000 years!
But that was in the military era. In a democratic dispensation, it is a different ball game. There is no Supreme Military Council (SMC) to decree special courts to try corrupt elements. The National Assembly, peopled by a large number of corrupt elements and those whose mission is to enrich themselves than enrich the laws of the land, would never give a nod to such arrangements.
The sing-song that we have to kill corruption before corruption kills us is now sounding like a broken record. Having fought the monster for close to eight years and instead of winning the war, we have now manufactured billionaire thieves… such as have never been seen before in the country or elsewhere in the world.
As you collocate this 2-part piece with the level of heists we have experienced in a decade, I will need you to answer this billion naira question: “Do we still have a future?”
Penultimate Monday, President Goodluck Jonathan swore in Maryam Aloma Mukhtar as the first female Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) at the Presidential Villa, Abuja. Two discordant tunes were rendered by the two principal figures at the historic occasion. In his own tune, President Jonathan called for the setting up of special courts to try to clean up the Augean Stables, which corruption cases have constituted in various courts across the length and breadth of the country since the reemergence of democratic dispensation in 1999. But the new CJN disagreed and put it to Mr. President that the normal courts were capable of handling the armada of corruption cases that litter Nigerian courts.
President Jonathan and Justice Mukhtar are not the first duo to disagree on the way forward as far as the battle against the invidious crime is concerned. Former chairperson of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mrs. Farida Waziri, and the ex-boss of Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), Justice Emmanuel Ayoola (retd), openly disagreed on the same issue. While Mrs. Farida Waziri canvassed for the establishment of special courts to try corrupt elements, Justice Emmanuel Ayoola believed that the regular courts are capable of tackling them.
Dyed-in-the wool democrats will argue from now till eternity that the worst democracy is better than the best military regime. Incidentally, Nigerians have tasted the two dispensations and it is up to them to deliver their verdict. Nevertheless, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, a product of the military system who knew that profligacy is a hallmark of democracy, hurriedly put in place the EFCC and the ICPC to checkmate the thieving wolves among the political class who would turn out in sheep clothing. The wanton looting of public treasury during the Shagari regime, which Obasanjo midwifed in 1979, must have informed his decision to put the two anti-graft agencies in place… a kind of ogres or scarecrows on the farmland.
However, in spite of the intimidating presence of the agencies, corruption has blossomed. The two bodies have turned out to be the shadoofs that irrigate the crime, wittingly or unwittingly fertilised by the bar and the bench. Nigerians do not seem to know how desperate our situation has become as far as the corruption plague is concerned. As recently as 2010, the UNDP’s human development report ranked Nigeria 142 out of 169 least prosperous countries of the world. The report examined progress in health, education and income over a period of 40 years. It assessed countries in terms of their education, wealth and life expectancy.
Nigeria’s wealth, as defined by the gross domestic product (GDP), has nosedived, while its education ranking has failed to keep pace with those of other countries like Ghana and South Africa. Nigeria’s GDP is a miserable $1,224 compared to South Africa’s $9,812. Even Kenya and Cameroon have surpassed Nigeria with $1,628 and $2,197, respectively. Life expectancy in Nigeria is hovering around 45 years, far below less endowed countries like the Comoros Islands (66), Benin Republic (62.3), Ghana (57.1) Uganda (54.1) and Cameroon (51.7).
Nigeria has remained the envy of many developed and developing nations because of the riches, among them oil and gas, that nature has given it which our Niger Delta brothers are labouring to corner to themselves alone. Despite the abundant human, mineral resources, agricultural potential and quantum of oil money that have been funneled into the nation’s coffers since 1999, the masses are rooted in abject poverty. All facets of socio-economic life have gone under: the citizens cannot afford decent meals, foot hospital bills and pay school fees for their children. Unemployment has been on the rise with corresponding increase in criminality like armed robbery and kidnapping. No thanks to the erratic power supply which has grounded the manufacturing sector and/or harried several industries out of the country in the past half a decade, all because corruption rules the land.
While assessing the performance of Nigeria’s anti-corruption efforts since the coming of the EFCC and ICPC, the pioneer chairman of the latter body, Justice Mustapha Akanbi (retd), declared as far back as December 2009, that the war against the monster had failed. Nigeria had lost huge funds to corruption before the emergence of EFCC and ICPC. According to the statistics released by the EFCC under Mrs. Waziri, Nigeria has lost about $521 billion to corruption since independence. It will not amount to an exaggeration to say that half of that colossal figure was recorded under the ICPC and EFCC’s watch. To assist Nigeria in prosecuting the war against the invidious crime which impoverishes the masses and stunts the nation’s development and growth, some foreign donors queued behind the EFCC under its pioneer chairman, Malam Nuhu Ribadu, and pumped huge funds into the system. They included the European Union – $3m; World Bank – $3.181m; UNDP – $650, 000; British Government – $625,000 and the Netherlands – $699, 000. These donors believed that the war against corruption could not be fought without enormous financial support from the government.
However, the more the donations that came to the ICPC, the stronger corruption waxed in the land. I am sure such financial prop-ups have since ceased since it would appear to the donors that Nigeria is fighting a lost war. This is ostensibly owing to the failure of the successive governments to give the anti-graft agencies a free hand to wage the war. A situation where the attorney-general of the federation has to give the nod before corrupt elements could be arraigned for trial has not only taken the wind off the sail of the agencies but also amounted to handing out a goat and holding on to the tether.
The government’s interference and poor funding are the ambrosia that nourishes the god of corruption, enabling the hydra-headed monster to grow almost out of control over the years and wreaking havoc on our economy as well as visiting avoidable misery on the hapless masses of this country.