SUNDAY NARRATIVE: Addressing The Fundamentals Of Corruption
PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari (PMB) has appointed a Presidential Committee on Corruption. The body, which has professor of law and civil rights activist, Itse Sagay, as head, is to advise the President and the administration on how to prosecute the anti-graft war and implementation of reform in the criminal justice system.
Other members of the Committee are equally well-grounded experts in the field of social and criminal justice; they are; Femi Odekunle, Benedicta Daudu, E. Alemika, Sadiq Radda, Hadiza Bala Usman, Bolaji Owasanoye.
With that appointment, the war against corruption should gain more trust from Nigerians and friends of Nigeria. So far, the ‘war’ had been made to look like PMB’s personal agenda and that of his party, to hound members of the opposition, particularly members of the immediate government that handed over on May 29.
With a committee of this nature and caliber, even former ministers and other members of the PDP, who may have taken more than their fair share from the resources of the people should heave some sigh of relief. They should now have the assurance that justice would be served if the committee were to intervene appropriately and judiciously.
But beyond retrieving stolen funds, which are needed urgently to make life more meaningful for hapless voters; and perhaps, hounding a few culprits in jail, I imagine that this committee would research deeper into what constitutes corruption in Nigeria and why its tentacles have dug deeper and deeper despite many attempts to curb it.
The committee may also help to enunciate a philosophy to drive this war against corruption, so that ownership will reside with the people and they will be the ones to protect their resources. As at today, Nigeria has become a ‘no man’s land’ where justice and equity do not feature prominently as national ethos. Groups and individuals struggle for power, so that they can access the resources at the centre and secure their group and individual interests, since Nigeria has not shown much chance at survival.
In Nigeria’s kind of rat race, corruption becomes a manifestation of a deeper trouble, which the political class does not want to talk about. The politicians do not want to be reminded that the way and manner Nigeria has evolved as a country and the trajectories traversed so far may have yielded the country and citizens to various corruptive tendencies. Corruption is not only about stealing oil money, but the way and manner of the totality of governance system, which predisposes citizens not to show faith and demonstrate loyalty.
In the First Republic, I imagine that faith in the new country was relatively high and there was commitment to make it work. The little revenue that came from agriculture was not even enough for the developmental challenges of that era. So, there was nothing to steal, even if the urge were there. But I can bet the urge was not there because government money was spent on the people. For instance, my faint knowledge of those days is one where, you merely had to walk into a government dispensary (primary healthcare) and get treated for free. Education was free and civil servants in the Public Works Departments (PWD), the ones we called road makers in local parlance did their bits. There were men who cleared the bushes along public highways. Everyone appeared busy for Nigeria because ‘there was a country,’ and it served the people. That could be the patriotism that we keep talking about; perhaps, the reason why those in government did not steal the coffers dry.
When the soldiers came and announced that the politicians were corrupt, that opened a new vista in nation building. Since then, the battle to overcome corruption has been like fighting malaria, it has refused to surrender. Successive governments have designed programmes to contain it, but the more they try, the more it becomes untamable.
Global monitors of acts of corruption do not just look at the amount that is stolen. They look at the governance system; they look at the level of transparency and accountability, availability of social justice and equity, political stability, rule of law and similar matters. You cannot enthrone a government that lacks equity and fairness and expect to be rewarded with patriotic acts by citizens. You cannot perpetuate injustice for decades and wake up one morning to demand patriotism.
Take the civil service for instance, which is touted as the bastion of corruption in Nigeria, several reforms and panels had been instituted to professionalise the service and insulate it from acts of corruption. But without addressing holistically issues of appropriate salaries and post service survival, civil servants would be left on their own to figure out what next after service. They would have to worry about their accommodation and retirement benefits when they are ejected from government quarters. Nigeria does not have reliable mortgage system where workers could key in effortlessly to own houses preparatory to retirement. Most times, public servants seek self-help by compromising their positions.
Those who could not help themselves are the ones we see dying on queue while waiting to get enumerated, before they get their retirement stipend. We have also seen members of the political class (governors, presidents and legislators) allocating to themselves huge severance packages after living at the expense of taxpayers for four or eight years in government quarters. These politicians are fed and clothed and they pay themselves handsomely in the name of severance packages. This presidential committee on corruption must look at the conditions that lure civil servants to embrace corruption.
Nigeria’s federal system promotes inequity in the name of Federal Character. While other federal systems around the world empower federating units to generate their own resources and pay taxes to the federal as was done in the First Republic, the unitary system foisted by the military in 1967 drains a few viable states to fund others. And that has been the basis of the uncontrollable corruption we have seen from one regime to another. States have abandoned the opportunity to tap into agriculture, to chase free oil money in Abuja. And what do they do with it? Marry more wives and buy houses in foreign countries.
The formula for sharing Federal revenue is not equitable, just as the process of creation of states and local governments under military regimes lacked transparency. States with more local governments receive more allocation from the Federation Account and that is unfair. Gross inequities that have been foisted on the system erode feelings of patriotism from the populace. You cannot entrust an unjust system in the hands of citizens who are themselves, victims of State’s oppression and marginalization, and expect them to behave saintly towards that State.
Take the Common Entrance Examination into Unity Schools for example, the unitary system and its quota formula robs brilliant students opportunity to be placed in colleges, because they have to yield their position to others who are less qualified, but are profiled as citizens from educationally disadvantaged parts of the country. A Nigerian from say, Anambra State, with a score of 200 will yield place to a fellow citizen from say, Yobe, with a score of less than 100, in the name of quota system. Citizens who are shortchanged in employment and at other platforms are not likely to understand what is called patriotism in a country where inequity is elevated as state policy. They are not likely to feel pity for Nigeria and show discipline and honesty when it comes to matters of corruption.
What about the elderly citizens and those who are disabled and have no jobs, like those who were asked to vacate the streets of Kaduna; why should some people be perpetually beggars, while others own tens of homes in Nigeria and others in London, and send their children abroad for quality education; how do you explain to them that corruption is evil when the same society does not provide them with basic social needs?
The Itse Sagay committee should tell PMB and his government that it is a good thing to fight corruption. But it is better to address the fundamentals of corruption, which are embedded in the faulty foundation the military and their godfathers corruptly engineered decades ago. Buhari may have meant well as a socialist, to dream of a socially just and equitable country where stealing and corruption are no more. But let it be known, that there are other acts of corruption that have gone unsung on for decades.
We live in federation where many are still oppressed, which is why I was happy when the Kaduna Governor, Malam Nasir el Rufa nullified the notion of citizens, indegenes and settlers in the state, in a recent pronouncement. I pray it was not just lip service. Kaduna, indeed, is the place to start, to cancel decades of lopsidedness in government appointments, presence and patronage. The lopsidedness is grossly against people of Kaduna South, who are victims of years of official corruption.
These fundamentals of corruption should first be addressed in order to create a new Nigeria.