By Ochereome Nnanna
IF you ask the typical Nigerian what he understands by corruption, he will tell you it has to do with people who loot the public treasury. Therefore, a leader who fights corruption is that superman who exposes treasury looters, recovers the looted funds and sends culprits to jail.
This definition is so narrow and unhelpful in grasping the essence of corruption that it bears very little resemblance with what the English man had in mind while coining the word. By the time you are so corrupt as to loot the public treasury you are now a thief operating at the tertiary level of corruption. This was what former President Goodluck Jonathan was trying to say, but it was deliberately twisted out of context by the propaganda machine of the All Progressives Congress (APC) to: “stealing is not corruption”.
It is, therefore, not surprising that President Muhammadu Buhari, who is a great acolyte of this school of thought, only sees the fight against corruption in the light of recovery of funds looted from the Federal treasury by officials of the Goodluck Jonathan regime and their prosecution. Having circumscribed it to such a convenient perimeter instead of taking it back to 1999 to bring back public assets stolen in the name of privatisation among other mind-numbing acts of corruption wreaked by many of those who are today rubbing shoulders with him in the ruling party and corridors of power, the fight immediately acquired a political toga. It became an unwinnable war. What about those who stole billions from banks where they governed other people’s money?
Before we can sustainably fight corruption, we must first adopt a holistic definition of it. Based on that, we create the legal framework, build institutions, recruit the soldiers and evolve the strategies to fight it. Simply put, corruption means compromise. Anything whose integrity has been impaired is corrupt. Wikipaedia offers a surprisingly simple and useful meaning which we can easily relate to: “corruption is a form of dishonest and unethical conduct by a person entrusted with a position of authority, often to acquire personal benefit”. It is the illegitimate use of public power for private gain.
I am convinced that nepotism (favouritism granted to relatives, friends and political benefactors in various fields) is one of the worst forms of corruption. It is not only the root or foundation of corruption in Nigeria; it is also the fuel that feeds graft, impoverishes the nation and sets off one section (those who are benefiting from the nepotism) against the others (those being made to lose out). It is a major contributor to national disunity and instability.
It was for the fact that nepotism is the greatest form of corruption that the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) went to elaborate ends to forbid it in the distribution of our public offices and goodies. Section 14(3) says it all:
“The composition of the Government of the Federation or any of its agencies and the conduct of its affairs shall be carried out in such a manner as to reflect the federal character of Nigeria, and the need to promote national unity, and also to command national loyalty, thereby ensuring that there shall be no predominance of persons from a few states or from a few ethnic groups or other sectional groups in that Government or any of its agencies”.
The government of President Muhammadu Buhari has flagrantly violated this constitutional injunction in almost every aspect of its appointments and activities. In fact, the President defined his formula of nepotism and favoritism (“97%/5%”) which is brazenly unconstitutional, and he has continued to abide by it in spite of public outrages against it.
A fallout of this act of corruption is reflected in the President’s latest letter to the National Assembly notifying it of his indefinite medical vacation. Unlike most of our presidents who kept their VP’s at arm’s length in governance, Buhari, who has a strong track record of working closely with his Deputies, wanted to follow the constitution and transmit power to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo. But this genuine effort was thwarted by some of his relations in the Presidency who felt that his absence and Osinbajo’s full powers as Acting President would prevent their cabal from corruptly ruling Nigeria in his name.
If Buhari had composed his inner cabinet by reflecting the federal character as the constitution commands, the composite, pan-Nigerian make-up of the Presidency would make such a conspiracy against the constitution and the Nigerian people impossible. It would have ensured that the right thing was done in the overall national interest.
The principle of nepotism puts personal, family or sectional interests above that of the nation. It ignores constitutional injunctions and superimposes the vital needs of small groups over those of the generality of Nigerians. As the constitution fears, it always creates the kind of hoopla that followed the “Coordinator of Government Activities” controversy raised in the wake of Buhari’s (externally-corrupted) letter to the National Assembly transmitting power to the Vice President.
If you check very well, most of the recorded allegations of corruption in the Buhari administration have circulated mainly among those top officials either related to him or who have longstanding personal links to him. Where their personal interests clash, you see it manifesting in open inter-agency feuds, such as the case between the Directorate of State Services, DSS, and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.
In a government rooted on the foundation of nepotism, those who belong to the President’s clan, section or political roost will always exhibit the bragging mentality that the government belongs to them and everyone else has been invited to “come and eat”.
Nepotism is a huge monster that lays the eggs which hatch into so many types of corruption. The earlier we get rid of this, the sooner it becomes obvious that we are ready to fight corruption.