By Ugoji Egbujo
If the president has anything close to the war against indiscipline of 1984 why are the police ,customs and immigration officials on the stretch of that road between Seme border and Agbara ridiculing him
Many had expected a political revolution, the sort that would make yesterday , the past, so much different. That anticipated watershed hasn’t been seen. The cynics have no pity for such optimism and the naivety , they claim, that spawned it. Despite all the talk about siphoned billions and impending clamp down on looters of government treasury, so much hope is being left to drain away. Policemen still take bribes in broad day light from motorists. Such an ever present eye sore denies any attempt at fighting corruption some legitimacy. Law enforcement agents at the airports including those supposedly fighting drug trafficking are still pathetically , unashamedly , cajoling travellers and collecting alms. The mundanity of it all inculcates widespread apathy.
People long for a reformed 1984 war.
Enduring fight against corruption must be about institution building and enhancement of systems, processes and capacities but immediate positive symbolic steps and gestures will enhance a smooth take off and ensure mass participation.
1984 may have been brutal but in retrospect it was a committed attempt at some social engineering, some regeneration. It is doubtful if societal mores can be revamped by coercion alone but the first step towards any substantive correction must be the sort of regenerative resolution that cannot condone policemen taking bribes in broad day light from motorists. The decadence is perhaps worse now and much more would be needed to make any impact. But this war, if it is yet a war, is too narrow , too unambitious, too focused on the sensational. Our economy is weak and we need to recover all monies that have been stolen but there is much more to do.
The 1984 war , in its zealousness, was regrettably too disdainful of due process but any war that does not have the vigour and spiritedness of the 1984 variety would be mere window dressing. In 1984 , disorderliness came to be abhorred even where chaos naturally resided. Queues for buses stretched sometimes for over 50 metres at even Oshodi bus stop, then home of lawlessness. Some say soldiers maintained the queues with whips but I know that the culture took hold. Queues were merely emblematic of an emerging consciousness for orderliness in public affairs then. The arrest and trial of looters of public treasury, sensational then as it will be now, was not particularly responsible for the positive shift in social order then.
Some will point to widespread moral depreciation since the aborted 1984 exercise and assert the futility of coercion in social reformation. But many who voted Buhari , did because they saw in that 1984 experiment the ingredients for societal reformation . Some say democracy will hamper him, but if 1984 failed because of tyranny and highhandedness as many have suggested, then democracy will serve as good restraints. Democracy cannot hamper any resolute effort to force compunction on policemen and Lastma officials, to nudge them to hide in bushes if they must do the ignoble of extorting motorists.
My expectations may have been a bit too optimistic, I had harbored hopes of more visible , immediate, changes even if they were merely symbolic. And I may not have been alone in this optimism. Electricity generation and distribution has improved in recent months and many aren’t inclined to attributing it to the rains despite historical evidence. It feels good to award the credit to the anti corruption programme of the new government . Or perhaps to the ‘ body language’ of the president since nothing that can be termed a programme is yet afoot. When the rains cease in a couple of months we will know to whom the credit was due. But that tells of the enthusiasm for change and a widespread eagerness to see this government succeed. But when I traveled to Cotonou by road a few days ago, I suffered some disillusionment. I , despite my optimism and that vulnerability induced by sympathy- that keenness to perceive and perhaps exaggerate any positive change , was deflated.
If the president has anything close to the war against indiscipline of 1984 why are the police ,customs and immigration officials on the stretch of that road between Seme border and Agbara ridiculing him? No one who has gone through that column of menacing and hounding law enforcement agents can speak of change let alone anti corruption. And how is it that this administration sits down for three months, after working peoples expectations for many months during the campaigns and watches helplessly as its uniformed agents continue in the ways that defined other regimes as manifestly corrupt?
A proliferation of checkpoints, dutifully perpetrating corruption in day light. If the public cannot find any hint of change in their daily interactions with the Police and Customs and Immigrations then change must be a vacuous slogan. It’s been business as usual and it’s been three months.
These agencies had expected some drastic reformations and nothing has been forthcoming. Patriotic members of staff of these agencies yearning for change seek a thoroughgoing change in the status quo. Corruption in these agencies cannot be lent inevitability. The good officers who looked up and awaited an opportunity to show that the Police, and Customs, and Immigrations can be run professionally feel let down. For everyday that passes routinely, anonymously, innocuously, leaves them wondering whether Buhari is really the one, the one sent.
The broken windows theory makes clear that evil proliferates where little matters of misconduct are left unchecked. And that the more serious crimes recede when there’s no room for misdemeanors. If corruption in these agencies loses its brazenness, politicians and contractors will sit up. Nearly every police force in the world is corrupt but very few of them take monies from motorists and give “change” in full glare of onlookers , in day light. No attitudinal changes will take place in a Nigerian society where policemen take bribes on the streets , without shame, without a care in the world about who may or may not be witnessing these acts. For when evil is this routine, this mundane, the society loses the moral force to effect a repair by small incremental changes. A radical departure from the past must be announced and effected someday. We can learn from Georgia.
I would like to ask the president if he is aware that the police have continued like nothing has changed? Is it possible that he finds the culture of police corruption such an enormity that he cannot confront it just yet? Or is he mindful of the poor conditions of service of the average policeman and is therefore condoning their corruption? The police are by no means the most corrupt agency in the country, I would even rate them better than many others. Is the president comfortable that the police and other agencies who braced up for some real change have relapsed into the business as usual mode? Does he know that change could have been easier if new rules were spelt out from day one? Does he think that the conspicuous corruption going on at all the check points and police stations in the country belong to a past administration?
– “Rome was not built in a day”.
I can hear that, but 1984 had much more verve than this. Is it really out of place to have expected president to have had a comprehensive and coherent strategy to tackle corruption on assumption of office?
– “This is a democracy, and not a military dictatorship. No one can bully another.” Really? Democracy is about good governance and the president is the commander in chief, he cannot be blind to visible conspicuous everyday corruption by his law enforcement agents .
– “He is at it, he is taking a holistic approach and it will take time”.
I am worried but still hopeful. I don’t want ‘see finish’ to set in. A few sting operations can get us moving. Stir the masses, check apathy and cynicism. Let the sort of verve injected into the military in the war against boko haram be given to the police. Let some war start. The president should engage the public, embolden the people to resist corruption on the streets. It should be a crusade. Reward whistle blowers . Give the Police and Customs clear marching orders.
If Seme is the most important land border Nigeria has, then one must wonder if any kind of security exists at any of our borders. You can drive across that border post hundred times a day without any check. Yet a multitude of checkpoints litter the road after the border within our territory. Between Seme and Agbara there are up to 20 checks by all manner of agencies. But if you think that the checks are to stop smugglers then your delusion is cleared when a “firewall vehicle”, those motorized contraptions custom-built for smuggling, breezes effortlessly past you and the checkpoints. Road safety corps have their own checkpoint. They look into faces rather than documents and peer into boots since they cant ask “wetin you carry”. On a particular segment of that road there are about five Customs checkpoints with just barely 10 metres between them and this does not include those of the police and immigration service.
At the border post proper, in clear view of all, touts, otherwise referred to as ‘kelebes’ mount road blocks and collect fees . What kind of security exists at an important border post where hooligans operate as security agents to extort motorists in daylight? You have to wonder whom they work for. Taxi drivers say they collect bribes for the law enforcement agencies. The absurdity is worsened by the fact that this brigandage appears institutionalized.
The new Inspector General of police , like the new Customs boss are fine gentlemen. But the sort of radical confrontation against established and entrenched corrupt traditions and practices that can usher needed institutional changes in these establishments must be engineered by the president. The president has the political followership and the credibility to engineer such social crusades. It is hoped that when his cabinet is fully formed the political will to declare war against corruption and indiscipline will be more manifest and that he will really fight the war in earnest.
For now, three months after, all we hear are feeble, distant , discordant , drum beats of war. We wait.