‘Tackle corruption and all will be well with Nigeria’
Immediate past Primate of the Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion, Most Rev. Peter Akinola, in this interview with CHARLES COFFIE GYAMFY, charged President Muhammadu Buhari to walk his talks in the fight against corruption. Excerpts:
The depth of corruption in Nigeria
OUR political leaders have made corruption their habit. All over the country, examples abound, at all levels and areas of government, the judiciary, the police and the military, the political offices, executive and legislative, and so on.
Look at the average political office holder in the country. Look at what he has been able to put on ground in terms of properties. Look at the fleet of vehicles at his disposal. Look at the cost of education of his children. Look at the transformation in personal lifestyle within that short span of four years! You simply become scandalized that this is a person I know four years ago who could hardly afford an ordinary Kia Motor car, and now within four years, has put up a billion naira mansion, controls a convoy of vehicles, among other flamboyant lifestyle.
How much was the salary that has enabled acquisition of these material wealth? Unfortunately, among our politically exposed persons, there is hardly any of them that is not in the category of people that I am talking about. Governors, Ministers, Senators, House of Representatives members, all of them had acquired so much, within a short span.
What is their income? I mean, what is their legitimate income? How can that justify the kind of massive acquisition they have within a short period of time?
Probing past actions
If the president must probe, then he has to probe everybody but that will be a tough political and moral decision for him to take. There was a time that I spoke to a leader of this country, a very highly placed leader. I told this leader that hawks, both at the political and financial levels surround him. I called his attention, particularly to an officer, who appeared to me as “the gate-keeper” manning the tollgate-barricading people who wanted to see this leader, his boss.
The man told me: “but sir nobody has given me any evidence!” Between us, that was the end of the story. But from his subordinate’s life style, is there any other evidence needed as proof?
My stand is that if we are serious about fighting corruption, if we are determined to make people accountable, if we are serious about probity and transparency, do we need any other evidence than people living above their income? When a person is putting on ground what is worth his entire lifetime earning within four years, what other evidence do you need? The law has to be changed.
The onus to prove to account for how he or she got the money must be on the individual. As I have observed, corruption cuts across, it is not the Ministers or the Governors or the President alone that are culpable but everyone within the political system.
So how is Buhari going to handle them? I wouldn’t know. He, however, has the instruments and power of the office. He has all the instruments and power to do whatever he wants to do. But my concern is; will this detach him from influences to do what he has promised to do for this country? I have no answer to that.
But, truly, if we are serious about probity, if we are serious about transparency, and if we are truly serious about making corruption a thing of the past in this country, then, all those who have amassed wealth illegally, and all those who have more than what their income can justify, should be called to account. All those that the people know and the government itself knows should be handed over to the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC), the police and the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) as the case may be. Let everyone be traced, let their bank accounts at both home and abroad, their properties at home and abroad, and every of their asset be traced. They should tell the country how they got their wealth.
If they cannot justify what they have through their legitimate income, then they must have stolen from the country, which means that they forfeit them to the State or go to jail.
Unfortunately, our laws are weak. I think there was a case of a person, who two years ago stole billions of naira from the Police Pension Fund and was sentenced to N750 000 fine or three months imprisonment. Should that continue to be our sense of justice? Can that solve problem of corruption in Nigeria? Such money should have been confiscated and forfeited to the State. We should witness the State using the money for the common good of the people, not like the Abacha loot, which no one knows what it was used for up till now. One thing you don’t fail to notice is that almost everybody in government is building mansions across the country.
Go to Abuja, go to Lekki, go to Ikoyi, the mansions are all over there. Go and see them. People, in fact, talk about them. Let them justify their acquisition of the massive wealth, let us put their wealth beside their legitimate income, and if wealth is more than their income, then let everything that had been illegally acquired be forfeited to the State.
They should also be jailed, not for one year or two, but depending on the gravity or the level of the amount of money that had been stolen. It should not be that someone who stole billions of naira should go and pay a ridiculous fine; he should rot in jail, given life imprisonment. That is the only punishment that can serve as deterrent in this country.
Like I said, whether this would distract the Buhari’s Presidency from doing other things he wants to do, I don’t know. But, for me, if fighting corruption is the only thing that he can do for the four years, so be it!
Corruption has been the ill that is setting this country backwards. I mean look at our roads, look at our education system, look at the electricity, look at the way they are, is it because of lack of money? No, the money is there, the money is available, because every year allocations are made in the budget, but when the budget year runs out, what do you see on ground as achievement? Zero!
If corruption is the only thing that this government can fight, it can stop people from being corrupt again, if making Nigerians to work conscientiously is what can be achieved, and if the result makes every Nigerian to live within the limit of his/her income, if that is all he can do for four years, then, so be it!
For me, until we are able to fight corruption and fight it effectively, we won’t move on. Stolen money can be hidden secretly but their proceeds are visible everywhere in Nigeria. We therefore need a moral and ethical revolution that respects no sacred cow. It is the way to teach righteousness in public and private life.
Can Buhari fight corruption?
Anybody who is passionate about this country can fight corruption. Anyone who desires to see Nigeria becomes the pride of you and I can fight corruption. Anyone who feels irritated by immorality in public life can fight corruption. What is needed is the will, the courage and the commitment to do so. The only problem is, when a political leader surrounds himself with political and financial hawks and predators who are hovering around and above him, then, there is a problem confronting such a leader. But if Buhari can be neutral, if he can damn the consequences, if he uses the instrument of his office and the State, fairly, justly, openly and transparently, then he can fight corruption.
If he can tell anybody, and I mean anybody, ‘my friend get out”, if he can tell anybody, ‘thank you when I need your advice I will send for you and don’t bother me again’, then it is the beginning of his moral victory over the hawks that will surround him.
If he can give directives and see those directives followed-up to ensure their implementation, if he can be bold to bring those who fail to implement his directive to face the consequences of their actions, then, he will be on the path of success. But as long as these political and economic hawks surround him, as long as they can influence him, I can only pray that God helps him. But from his utterances so far, let us hope he delivers on his words.
However, as they say that you don’t know a man’s true character until he is wealthy, because when he is poor, he can be pliable chameleon, but when the wealth comes, that is when his true character will manifest. I will hesitate therefore to judge him by what he says. Rather, I will wait to judge him by what he does.
In this country, I have had the experience of a leader who gave directives that were flouted and nothing happened. So, I want to see if what he says will be backed up by action. I want to see action; I want to see what happens to anybody who fails to carry out his instructions. Good luck to him.
I want a better Nigeria; a Nigeria where Christopher, Benjamin, Susan can live anywhere they choose unmolested; a Nigeria where Amodu, Mohammed and Jubril can live anywhere they want unmolested. I want that Nigeria. That will be to me the mark of progress.
I want a Nigeria that when I want my passport or to renew it, I won’t have to go to the Immigration’s office. I want a Nigeria in which I don’t have to know anybody before I get services. A Nigeria where the system works that is the Nigeria of my dream. A Nigeria where public officials are courteous and respectful of the citizens, that is the country that I want. Can he do it? I pray he does. But it will be by his actions not by utterances; it will be through concrete policy and not by propaganda.
Reducing salaries of political office holders
Their salaries should not only be slashed but there should be restructuring of the entire remunerations and perquisites attached to political offices in the country. The take home pay of our political leaders in this country is scandalous. The package does not reflect economic reality in the country. It is peculiarly Nigerian aberration, I mean, something that is out of this world! It is unrealistic. It is so insensitive to the Nigeria situation.
How can they be doing the kind of job that they are doing and be earning the kind of money that they are earning? Is there a correlation between the two? Is the work they are doing commensurate with the money that they are earning? So, the jumbo pay and lavish perquisites of office should be completely restructured.
How much is an average university professor earning? How hard does he work in terms of teaching and research? Can their work and output be compared to that of the politicians, who simply go there, make noise for two or three times in a month, and earn the kind of money they are earning? Is it justifiable in any way? The money the politicians are earning can’t be justified in any way. But, because they make the law, they suit themselves. They abuse the privilege of the power that they have by putting themselves above other Nigerians. They should make laws that put Nigerians as the centre of focus of attention, not themselves. What they are doing now is self-serving. It makes their pay unrealistic; it is insensitive and baseless within the context of the prevailing economy. Our economy is seriously feeling the weight so there is need for review. Their salary should be completely restructured. To reflect the level of work they are doing vis-à-vis the economy.
Reducing the size of government
Since the return to civil rule in 1999, this has been a major problem. Government has become so bloated. There is so much of government in everything, so much that government wants to be involved in, the air you breath, the tomatoes you buy in the market, the school you attend, so much of government, yet the services delivered are poor. We don’t need that over-bloated size of government. Years ago, it was the campaign theme of American former President Roland Reagan. He vowed to trim the size of American government to efficiency level. He carried out his promise by slashing it considerably. Until we remove patronage from our political system in this country, we will still have the burden of maintaining an over-bloated system. Patronage is so endemic in all aspects of our life. It has made civil service to be bloated; our political offices are bloated; our judiciary is bloated; in fact, every area of government is oversized.
Unfortunately, the constitution does not help matters. The constitution that requires that you have at least one person from every State in the cabinet does not help matters. This calls for the amendment of the constitution. The reality is that there are too many ministries; some are performing either same or overlapping functions. That is why I am in support of the Orosanye’s report and this may be the starting point for the in-coming administration. Although the report is not good enough but it could still be a starting point. Why can’t we merge some parastatals and ministries? Why should we have a Minister and a Minister of State in the same ministry with a retinue of supporting officials and personal staff? What justifies that a minister who is supposed to advise the President is also having his own Adviser? Is it just to create jobs for the boys? It is unnecessary because many of them are just there, doing nothing. There are too many hangers-on in the corridors of power. If this government can merge those ministries with duplicated functions, it will be good.
Also, if a minister can be made accountable to the President as the head of his ministry, then, we don’t need all those portfolio carriers strolling in the corridors of power under the pretext of being advisers, special assistants, and so on. Look at the Ministries, for instance, we have the Permanent Secretaries, so many Directors, the Directors then have Deputy Directors, and there are also Assistant Directors, Chief this, Assistant Chief that, before the Principals, and others down the ladder! The bureaucracy is simply too large! Let us have an efficient bureaucratic size. We don’t need the retinue of State officials. They are too many. They are earning cheap money, money they don’t work for. What do they do at the end of the day? It is “I am directed to do this;” forever, they are directed, no creativity, no ingenuity, no discretion, they are always waiting to be directed. We don’t need all these inefficient officials. It is one reason that I often pray, although privately, may be now I should do that publicly, that the crude oil should dry up completely! There is proverb that you encountered no difficulties and you want lay claim to experience, from where did you derive your education? You have not suffered, and you say you are wise, what has taught you, wisdom? Oil has made it easy for us. It is giving us a false sense of security. We need to downsize drastically the size of our government. We must prune down our political offices. The political offices are not productive.
Let me give one example. In a civilized world, if you want a passport, you don’t need to go to the passport office, you don’t have to know anybody because the system works. You just send your documents and few days later, your passport is sent back to you by post. That is what we should aim at. We should aim at making the system work; not just to give jobs to the boys. No, we have to make the system work. Unfortunately, what we have now is collapsed system. Many people are doing the same thing; too many people passing a file on an issue from hand to hand, which makes the file to get lost in the process. You have to bribe the same set of officials to get the same file back. When the system functions properly, you don’t need that huge number of “file-pushers”. Thank God, for the advent of computer, along with all its numerous benefits. Look at the Airlines; for example, you no longer need to go to a travel agent to book your flight. You can book it online and pay online. Why can’t we emulate progressive developments in our public offices?