By Obi Nwakanma
President Muhammadu Buhari provoked guffaws in many quarters when he said last week in Accra at the 61st Independence celebration of the Republic of Ghana where he was an honored guest that he would help Ghana fight corruption. Many saw the irony in the situation. First, Nigeria under Buhari is in no position to teach anyone, least of all the Republic of Ghana, how to curb corruption, or how to organize an effective response of government in the civilized process of public governance that should curb or limit corruption.
In the first place, Ghana’s presidency is a democratic presidency. But the office of the Nigerian president is designed to be a tin-god presidency. It is the very source of national corruption. It is not even President Buhari’s fault. It is just the way it is meant to be: the office of the president of Nigeria was designed constitutionally to be corrupt. It only requires its individual occupant, often typically socialized within the Nigerian national ethos, which is in its very sense corrupt, to attain and perform extreme levels of corruption that should normally startle any other society, but which we in Nigeria take for granted.
Secondly, President Buhari certainly has very little of the mental sophistication of the Ghanaian president, Dr. Nana Akufo-Ado, who personally reminds me of Aesop, as described in the legends. He is certainly not much to look at, but his mind bristles with genius and learning. Where Nana Akufo-Ado could understand systems, and comprehend the process required in creating systems, as result of his very high intellectual exposure, President Buhari might, from both his regimental training and his academic limitations dismiss serious analysis as “too much turenchi,” and move on to quick solutions, or what he might consider quick and practical solutions that often narrows down the edges of a problem, rather than its soul. It is a matter of orientation.
The Ghanaians are beating Nigerians to it. They are electing well-grounded and articulate public servants to steer them through the miasma of post-imperial catastrophe. Ghana began well with Nkrumah, and then fell off to the deep end with its relay of crises, following the years of military dictators after the overthrow of Nkrumah. After the early blight of its republic which saw the dispersal of Ghanaians all over the world, Ghana was forced radically to a new path by Jerry Rawlings. While Ghana was busy rebuilding, Nigeria was heading to its own path of self-destruction.
Although Ghana like Nigeria is a multi-ethnic and multi religious society, its citizens are profoundly “nationalist” – Ghanaians are proud Ghanaians because they have always been oriented towards a profoundly exceptional Ghanaian nationalism. They may have their difficulties, and certainly contradictions, but it is a relatively safe society for her citizens; there is a higher tolerance for the rule of law; Rawlings, if he did not achieve much, achieved a fundamental nationalist orientation, and the idea that public action has consequence, and that sanction was inexorable irrespective of one’s status in Ghana. Where there is no fear of consequence as in Nigeria, where the EFCC is for instance, a hunting tool of the presidency rather than an independent investigative body accountable to the public, and which also should have an independent watchdog over its functions and activities in a system of concentric oversight, there will be impunity. And impunity is the product of a disregard of laws by those who feel themselves above or unaccountable to the law. For instance, people often say, “the President is the Chief Security Officer of the land.” This is ignorant talk. This should never be, and I’m certain is not designed to be so. The Nation has a Chief Law Enforcement Officer, and that by law is the Inspector-General of Police, who is the Chief Security Officer appointed by Law, and paid for by Law, who ought to answer to the Chief Law Officer of the Federation, the Attorney-General of the Federation, and Minister for justice. The president is the president, not the Chief Security Officer of the land.
The President’s chief adviser on National Security is his National Security Adviser who provides independent executive advisories and assessments for the president and his National Security Council. But the Chief Security Officer of the land – the Inspector General of Police – reports to the presidency, but is not, or by sensible law, must not be beholden to the president. He must be beholden to the constitution that established the office and its functions, which should be to serve and protect the national security interests of the federation once appointed and to report to parliament, and the Chief Law Officer, the Attorney-General of the Federation, whose office on the protocol list is next to the Vice-President, and who once appointed by the president and ratified by the National Assembly, reports both to the president and to the National Assembly on the questions of Law and the National Security of the land. The Attorney-General therefore has a dual mandate. It is the most powerful executive office in the land other than the president, and by the established principle of that office, he is the chief agent of the state, not of the president. He is therefore, or ought therefore to be, independent of the president. He it is, for instance, who on advice of the National Assembly, appoints an Independent Public Prosecutor to investigate the president should the occasion arise. But what we have in Nigeria is utterly different and chaotic. We inverted the systems that should have protected the rule of law, and created a monstrous presidency. That is why we have corruption.
Corruption is a national security issue. Until we reform and reposition the office of the Attorney General, the system of national policing, the court systems, and the enforcement capacities of the courts, whose function the constitution currently places in the hands of the executive, Nigeria will continue to be mired in corruption. Let’s be very clear about this, however. The main problem in Nigeria is really not corruption. It is a systemic failure and institutional dysfunction.
The executive office is the source of all national corruption. Yet Mr. Buhari continues to play the ostrich on this matter, and continues to trumpet this fictional fight against corruption. This president, let us be clear, is not fighting corruption, or does not yet know how to fight corruption. To fight corruption, President Buhari must first dispense with his own extremely corrupt executive privileges. This constitution created an executive office modeled after a feudal authority, and it is by law unaccountable and cannot be transparent. It is shielded by a right to secrecy, and by an absolutist right to executive impunity. This president can appoint himself Minister for Petroleum, refuse or close down any legislative investigations into his office, and order the police, if he chooses to close down parliament, should it go any further. He could even order the police to arrest Supreme Court Judges. This president appoints ministers to an “Executive Council.” The keyword here is “council.” But that is only in name only according to the powers granted the executive office by the constitution. The President is rightly in charge of the National Civil Service, but the independence or autonomy of the Civil Service guaranteed through a constitutionally established civil Service commission is compromised by the current structure and orientation of the Civil Service Board.
There cannot be corruption without a compromised civil service. A civil service without the tools; the quality of personnel; the sense of a nationalist orientation, and the right quality of leadership or doctrine, will create grounds for corruption. So, what is corruption? We in Nigeria generally think of corruption only in terms of embezzlement of public funds. But the question is, what factors make the embezzlement or the misuse of public funds possible in the public system with all the so-called checks placed through the expenditure rules of the civil service? How is it that a Minister of government, a chairman of a public corporation, a National Legislator, an Adviser in the office of the president; a governor, a Permanent Secretary, a local government chairman, or even an executive officer in JAMB can have access to government funds – particularly cash given that by law, no minister handles cash, or supervises procurement? How are the pay-offs made? How are the public tenders rigged; how are the bribes paid; and how are the budgets inflated to create a muck-up? These are the questions, and it is the fundamental question. It is not merely about integrity, for an individual may have integrity, but may be forced by systemic failure to be corrupt.
The greatest source of corruption in Nigeria is the current Nigerian constitution, and the ways it established and concentrates powers in executive offices. These offices have absolute powers, and have created the “oga-at-the-top” situation, which makes public office feudal, unaccountable, and inured to inspection and sanction.
It is top-down governance rather than horizontal governance. And president Buhari has not proposed a sensible reform formula to deal fundamentally with this question. He is just simply saying, “I shoulda” and “I woulda.” Close to four years after he took office he is still making excuses and blaming his predecessor. He has nothing to teach Ghana.