Buhari must change anti-graft paradigm
THE revelation recently that a duly sworn Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria who served in President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration had pilfered as much as $6 billion may have finally riled the nation’s establishment to its core – even if it means different things to different people when it comes to the nagging dilemma of what to do about festering corruption in the land.
To folks who have always alleged massive corruption during Dr. Jonathan’s six years in office, the exposé amounts to vindication and affirmation of the scandalous extent of the sleaze – if one person alone carted away that much loot.
To some others, it has triggered the usual reproach of what kind of a callous monster would engage in such primitive accumulation in a society where many lack the simple necessities of life.
This rebuke, no doubt, is an important aspect of the puzzle we need to continue exploring about graft. But, I don’t believe it is the pivotal one that should occupy us moving forward.
In a land where morality took flight so long ago, shame has equally lost its lustre. Hence, it’s time to look elsewhere for answers. Moreover, naming and shaming have engendered an unintended consequence, where our singular model for attacking corruption spins hopelessly around taming the “evil” looter and finding “angels” to run things.
We’ve been at it since 1999 and the unpleasant truth, unfortunately, is that it has brought us no closer to unraveling corruption. President Muhammadu Buhari has entered into the fray with his unquestionably heavy heart and unparalleled good intensions, but once again submerged in the murky waters of discovering “a few good (wo)men” to run things.
This is one explanation in the public domain, disseminated as to why, more than two months after his momentous inauguration into office, Buhari is yet to constitute a cabinet.
If Obasanjo’s angels botched the job as woefully as they did, one has to wonder what chances Buhari’s angels truly have – especially if the cancer of corruption metastasised in the last six years as acutely as is widely alleged.
Buhari’s angels most likely will fare no better because men are no angels. And angels don’t run anything anywhere on earth, not even in the United States – where governance is underwritten by the clear precepts James Madison constantly reminds us in The Federalist #51, that: “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.
If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.” No matter how tough, we must continue to remind ourselves that corruption is not really a people problem.
Human beings are what they are universally: rational, rugged, selfish, opportunistic, and ever rent-seeking. That’s why power corrupts and absolute power will always corrupt absolutely regardless of context. Hollow stereotypes and the swelling theatre value of bashing Nigerians aside, there’s nothing wrong with the Nigerian character per se.
Better still, we are not unlike anyone else in the world. Frankly, there’s no system where opportunity and means flourish – as abundantly as they do in Nigeria – where unbridled corruption and the enthronement of a culture of corruption and mediocrity will not be the predictable outcome.
The corruption in Nigeria is what our peculiar social milieu has wrought. None of it anchors on our DNA. Our precise failing – and we should readily concede that much – lies in not defying the monster as decisively as others are doing using the appropriate tools.
In my view, then, the time has come for us to change both our paradigm and nature of conversation about corruption. And it should begin with President Buhari. Essentially, the “noble man”– “corrupt man” prototype of merely substituting operatives under the regal scheme of scouting for angels to run things has run its course. It can’t certainly be the answer to the complex spectacle we confront in corruption.
Naming names and tracking looted possessions may help in asset recovery, but it will definitely not impact on our budding rogue culture. Nor will it create a sufficient disincentive to deter corruption.
All said, what confronts us in corruption remains a toxic systems problem. Nigeria’s social arrangement is too permissive, fetish, and devoid of the requisite checks and balances essential to fostering accountability and coercing good behaviour.
Accordingly, once confronted by the shenanigans of the “rational man”, the system readily buckles because of its inherent overwhelming internal weaknesses, nurturing the ubiquitous corruption in the land.
What kind of an outrageous governance system allows one person alone to steal $6 billion? Better still, what kind of an abysmal system permits someone such a scandalous haul and won’t even detect it except when a foreign authority raises alarm? What kind of a wretched system cultivates pervasive thievery and yet not one known thief is in jail?
What kind of a deplorable system says evidence overwhelming enough to compel a culprit (James Ibori) to plead guilty to corruption without trial in a foreign land is insufficient to withstand mere indictment for malfeasance?
And now, the word “probe” is fast becoming puerile – as news of probes engulfs the land with nothing tangible coming out of it. We train in economics, psychology, sociology, political science, organisation theory, etc.
Yet, relevant elements of that training hardly feature in our governance arrangements, at the same time that our prohibitive anti-intellectualism continues to gnaw at our every move.
We marvel at the “miracles” of progress that have occurred in other nations, but conveniently ignore the intellectual foundations of those wonders.
The first prong of Buhari’s binding covenant with the people is the obligation to recover what has been stolen from the commonwealth, notwithstanding who has stolen it.
The second prong is to, at a minimum, initiate the process of stamping out corruption by laying an irreversible foundation for killing corruption. Now, given the reality on the ground, if this doesn’t qualify as expecting the world of Buhari, I don’t know what does.
Keeping faith with the people requires that the President gets to the root of corruption. He must realise that we’re beyond muddling through with marginal instruments.
He should launch a systematic re-engineering of our nation’s social system based on the basic principles of human science, principles Americans boldly conveyed to the world during the vexing founding of their glorious nation (archived for would-be nation-builders), and with which they have preserved and kept their covetous democracy delivering dividends ever since.
Bringing human science to bear starts with first imagining a comprehensive corruption bill that creates sprawling incentives (carrot) for people to do the right thing, at the same time that the “big” stick dangles so there’s no question about the severe penalties awaiting wrongdoing.
The stick must not only dangle, but it must be forced to come down – hard – on delinquents, as deterrence to transgression. Additionally, make corruption unprofitable – with unprofitability broadly conceived.
Lessons from organisational studies would mandate that the President restore true hierarchy to our institutions, where individuals, although subordinate in rank, are fully empowered and then held accountable by the expectations of their particular portfolio.
Sloppiness here explains why our nation’s public accountants have morphed into barefaced errand boys and apologists for brash thieves. The President should insist on the sanctity of the budget and rules for borrowing and public procurement at all levels of government.
Above all, governance activities should embody thoroughly built-in elements of automatic assessments in real time through and throughout the hierarchy, creating what Igbos will call an “ama ndi ana eze” (don’t know who to fear) operating atmosphere.
Between the President’s immense political capital and our people’s awesome enthusiasm, the policy window is wide open. Thus, my fervent hope is that, when eventually empaneled, Buhari’s angels’ frame of reference will be as frontline catalysts in the titanic tsunami that re-launches and changes Nigeria as we know it. If that occurs, the wait will have been worth it.
If on the other hand, the angels are coming to occupy spaces already compromised by our cesspool of corruption, we might as well forget salvaging Nigeria for now. • Alozie, Ph.D. is Professor of Public Policy and Head Faculty of Social and Behavioral Sciences, School of Letters and Sciences, Arizona State University.