By Tabia Princewill
It stands to reason that to achieve our common goal (a society where corruption is no longer the norm) we must first become a country where people are ashamed to be seen as corrupt.
One good thing has come out of the moves by some politicians to stop President Muhammadu Buhari from publishing the names of those accused of looting funds: looters now feel a certain stigma is attached to their actions.
Faced with public anger, we are finally inching towards a point where officials do care about public perception. The violence and arrogance of military rule gave politicians the impression of being god-like and untouchable, unquestionable in all things.
They could claim, like David Mark once did, that mobile phones were not for the poor, revealing their complete contempt for the masses as well as their profound, misunderstanding of development. Suddenly, looters of public funds, whoever they might be, want to shield their devious actions from the public eye. What changed?
Simply, the will to do something about corruption, the single most powerful issue at the root of all others keeping us from progress. Professor Itse Sagay recently said in an interview (about the Federal Government’s refusal to publish the list of people from whom it has recovered government funds): “I believe the government feels that if you name names, those who are about to come out and also bring out whatever has been looted, would withdraw”.
For him, it is about “encouraging others, who are still hiding their loot and speculating what to do, to come out and hand over the loot”. I don’t disagree with pragmatic strategies for the recovery of stolen funds.
However, the idea that those in possession of our commonwealth are still allowed to “speculate” and weigh their options is the crux of our problem as a country. Prof Sagay further stated there was also, probably, the desire not to “embarrass” those who received government funds without the knowledge funds were stolen.
Indeed, one cannot prove without any doubt that everyone who receives government funds knows exactly where they come from, in a country where government business is the only real business to begin with. The anti-corruption drive has tangibly revealed a lot of issues relating to our functioning as a society, which were previously abstractly discussed as we all covered up both their real existence and effects. Herein lies another fundamental issue: the untrustworthiness of successive governments, which many either knew of or suspected yet accepted for their own personal gain. I’ve said many times in this column that many Nigerians have no love for this country and it is no news that we’ve all collectively contributed to its destruction.
We’re paying for it all today, now that there is no money to pay militants, and no money to do the things we should have done almost 50 years ago; in essence, develop this country to prevent the violence and sectional conflicts which are the norm today.
“Can one really blame those who chose to do business with corrupt governments?” The cynical might say: “What else is there to do in Nigeria?” Those with some morals or ethics might ask if it is so far-fetched to imagine that some people would rather live quietly and without ostentation than get their hands dirty or have their names and reputations sullied by corruption.
In answer to the question, BMW once profited from Nazi slave labour; its main business was the supply of arms to the Nazis, and for this, the company, like many others, was later sanctioned. Anyone who believes corruption isn’t a crime against humanity should visit Ogoniland today and attempt to legitimately live or even survive in such a polluted area, or go to Chibok to speak to mothers who haven’t seen or heard from their daughters in two years, or go all around this country to see children deprived of an education succumbing to violent religious fervour; unemployed graduates turning to crime, etc.
We must begin to see those guilty of corruption (and their associates) as enemies of the state, but you might still say, what about those who really didn’t know the funds they’d received were stolen?
To start with, what exactly does the ambiguous “doing business with government” mean? Every governor, minister, politician, has beneficiaries, side-kicks who financially (and illegally) benefit from the association. Such people cannot claim not to know the origin of funds they receive: shielding their names from public scrutiny amounts to subtly telling Nigerians that there is still a hiding place for corruption.
Corruption is our only real industry in this country, most of those we call millionaires today started their businesses in nefarious ways and continue to be aided by government policies in their favour. Without corruption, many of our so-called top businessmen wouldn’t be creative enough to compete and create products to fulfil any real need. The ugly truth is that we must purge the society of the willing collaborators, fronts and aides corruption has found over the years. When will we stop punishing the assailants of corruption and punish those who are guilty?
It is rumoured that a former President was among those who prevailed on President Buhari not to name the looters because “mobs” would go after them. If they were so afraid, they should have considered the right of the “mob” to a decent life in the first place. Beyond the actual looters, I am more worried about their beneficiaries who are ready to create many problems for government and for Nigerians, as their source of wealth is increasingly threatened. There is truly a group of unscrupulous persons holding Nigeria back.
Serving public officials
The real mob in Nigeria isn’t comprised of the poor and destitute. It’s the associates of serving public officials replicated across the country who know all about these people’s alleged misdeeds yet failed to report them. Our entire system has protected corruption: what will happen to the MDs of the banks that accepted funds allegedly meant for bribing INEC officials?
Virtually every institution in Nigeria is compromised but let us not be disheartened. Other countries have successfully purged themselves of cancers (the most notable example might be post- war Germany after Nazi rule) and we can do it with special courts to circumvent a corrupt judiciary.
It won’t be easy, but it’s not impossible, if we, the people, decide to support the process and to continuously make a lot of noise about it. We must also monitor the Senate’s passage of the new anti-corruption bills and make sure they aren’t watered down.
Our survival as a country depends on it. It’s no coincidence that armed groups appeared once the elite’s livelihood was challenged. In the words of Jonathan Swift, an English satirist: “I never wonder to see men wicked, but I often wonder to see them not ashamed”.
Niger Delta governors should be the first to answer questions about the region’s underdevelopment. Second, the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, then our successive Federal Governments which created a situation where criminal elements exploit the region’s poverty for their own gain.
Who exactly are the Niger Delta Avengers “avenging” now that government, in accordance with the United Nations Environment Programme, UNEP, 2011 report, has commenced the Ogoni land clean-up? How ironic, for groups so obsessed with ethnicity and religion, to see a Hausa-Fulani man do the right thing. It just proves right and wrong have neither ethnic nor religious coloration.
Consistent miscomm-unication (e.g. denial of Buhari’s illness only to later announce his travels), confusion over issues that needn’t be misunderstood (Buhari didn’t destroy our healthcare system), exist because those communicating don’t possess enough understanding of policies, or the eloquence to convey the part Buhari has come to play in Nigeria’s story. Rather, this government’s PR is as arrogant as all the other governments’. What a waste of goodwill.