No one should habour the illusion that the hydra-headed demon of corruption would simply be scared away from our shores just by the fact of the presidential inauguration of Muhammadu Buhari, a man who has made the fight against corruption a personal vow. To do so would simply be under-rating a mammoth and ferociously diabolic system. The danger, which corruption poses, is further reinforced by the fact that it has stayed long enough with us to know much about our strengths and limitations.
It has, over the years, built the requisite force, wealth, influence, guile and temerity with which to resist whatever is thrown at it. Its loyal army is very large and active and its recruitment process expansive: from the unpatriotic taxman, who makes illicit ‘deals’ with tax evaders, to the detriment of the treasury, to the policeman, who openly extorts money from road users and the judge, who accepts money to subvert the course of justice, through to the political ‘big man’, who diverts chunks of the national budget into his private account, all are at the service of Corruption Incorporated.
So, the election of Muhammadu Buhari on the basis of his pledge to rid the nation of the evil of corruption, may have only just secured for Nigerians, the first victory out of a series of inevitable battles remaining; thus pitting the corrupt ancient regime against the new political order. In the larger war theatre, the more organised forces of corruption are doing everything they can in order to roll back on whatever gains that the inchoate anti-corruption social alliance has made. At its disposal are the elements of ethnicity, religion, distractive legalism and the anti-progressive sophistry of a pseudo right-wing. It is therefore, not yet Uhuru on the anti-corruption front.
Corruption has even tried to reset the agenda for the battle in ways that would tactically disable those fighting it. That is why it began its resistance by trying to dictate ‘when’ and ‘where’ the fight should begin: 2007, 1999, 1966, or even from the colonial era of Lord Lugard! They started shouting about an imaginary ‘100-day’ performance card instead of telling us how much of their loots that they have returned during the period. By so doing, they hope to deflect attention from the substantive issues of their guilt to the procedural elements of their trial. They have even introduced the puerile elements of ethnicity and religion into the fray as if their thefts were committed on behalf of any tribe, group or religion. They are asking PMB to leave them and face other issues, forgetting that until corruption is tamed, there is no meaningful way forward.
They even hired an amorphous ‘Peace Committee’ to blackmail the government out of focus without thinking of any counterpart ‘Justice Committee’ to assuage the rights of the victim population. How could anyone be calling for ‘peace’ when he deeply loathes ‘justice’ himself? A regime that prides itself in producing several billionaires at the expense of the majority poor of the country must have another meaning for social justice.
All over the world, responsible governments seek to bridge the gap between the rich and the poor; not so for the People Democratic Party, which turned itself into a hatchery for illicit billionaires. Whereas, the Constitution of Nigeria directs that the economic system shall “not be operated in such a manner as to permit the concentration of wealth or the means of production and exchange in the hands of a few individuals”, Olisa Metuh(PDP National Publicity Secretary), on the contrary, is shamelessly calling us to roll out the drums for the party for creating the largest band of billionaires in their 16 years of locust-like reign. Incredible!
If we must deal with corruption decisively and within the parameters of the Rule of Law and commonsense, we have to do more than merely attacking it on the surface because these people are callous. That is why we argued some weeks ago that an Integrity Plan should be instituted by President Buhari as a way to strengthen the war against corruption. If it didn’t make sense then, unfolding events have now made it crystal clear.
We now know that corruption is a serious violation of our human rights as it denies majority of the citizens the material benefits of the commonwealth. People wonder why so many refugee-seeking migrants are taking risky voyages to Europe these days. They are from countries where wars and other social strife resulted from the unbridled corruption of the elite. If we do not resist corruption today in Nigeria, sooner or later, we may someday also find ourselves inside those rickety boats heading to Europe or elsewhere.
That is why we are now proposing an Ethical Revolution that is founded upon strong personal and institutional integrity platforms. Accordingly, we ask for a National Integrity Action Plan that would offer an institutional Ombudsman-type oversight and enforcement of a new national ethical order. I must say about this idea, that we are not re-inventing the wheel. Other countries with sordid histories of corruption and ineptitude in the past have already applied it and they benefited immensely.
Take the case of the United Arab Emirate. Leading by example, visibly austere and prudential in their governance, citizens and foreigners alike have all keyed into it and, today, the Emirate has changed from being once an unlivable arid desert to an oasis of affluence and general happiness. The same can also be said of most of the successful Asian countries with Singapore under Lee Kuan Yew as locus classicus – the existence of national integrity mechanism wherein corruption is fought as a communal war.
This suggestion cannot be dismissed as theoretical or impracticable. It works. For any nation to succeed, she must have certain values that it cannot compromise on. No doubt, Nigerians are good people; they just need a leader, who will demonstrate to them that it pays to be honest and trustworthy while reducing on the incentives for corruption by firmly and judiciously punishing infractions instead of tolerating them or looking the other way.
There is nothing impossible about integrity as a systemic matter. At the individual level integrity is the quality of being honest and upright, characteristics which are based on universally noble values such as being honest, truthful, trustworthy, accountable etc. With respect to public officials, it is simply carrying out the trust and responsibilities bestowed upon them in line with public interest. They are not allowed to misuse their power for their self-interest, or for the interest of their families or relatives. Should a conflict of interest occur, public interest overrides personal interest. With an exemplary leader at the helm, there will be maximum commitment by his followers to this integrity call.
The Itse Sagay-led Advisory Committee on Corruption is a step in the right direction as it offers the nation the immediate opportunity to define the parameters of the battle against those who have plundered the nation. More than that, we still need to institute and deepen a national culture that is able to proactively tackle the all-pervading disposition to corruption from a much deeper moral and psychological perspective than with mere prosecutorial post-mortems or sensational media exposure. It would no longer be possible for those who looted our commonwealth to unapologetically claim that they have saved us from poverty by improperly making themselves billionaires.
The war against corruption is one that Nigeria must fight and win. Expectedly, corruption will fight back. We must therefore be vigilant. The most potent weapon in the fight against corruption is a population that is sufficiently educated about the need to eliminate the scourge as a way of life.