By Rotimi Fasan
PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari is this week making another appearance in New York to attend the 73rd General Assembly of the United Nations. It won’t be unreasonable to think that he would find time on the side to reflect on the pet subject of his self-imposed fight against corruption. The Buhari administration has transformed the very rhetoric of anti-corruption into an art form. Every state official and others determined to reap from the gains of being close to power spew one form or another of the anti-corruption pep talk. If venting about an issue is the same thing as acting on it, if talking is all there is to fighting corruption, then the Buhari administration could be expected and said to have won its much-trumpeted anti-corruption war. But wishes are yet not horses. So we must continue to struggle for release from the groove of empty words that this administration’s stylus is apparently stuck in.
If we move beyond the exclusive and simple-minded definition of corruption as the primitive acquisition of wealth or looting of the national treasury (which is stealing; and stealing, contrary to President Jonathan’s formulation, is indeed corruption- let no one be deceived!) and adopt a holistic view that embraces the former definition and this latter one that views corruption as any negative deviation that undermines the integrity of a normative practice, then the Buhari government has yet a tough row to plough before success is proclaimed. I admit, as I have done severally in this column, that corruption under the Buhari administration seems a far cry from what it was under Goodluck Jonathan, when the country’s treasury hemorrhaged uncontrollably from innumerable injuries inflicted on it by state bandits.
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That being said, it amounts to an unnecessary display of an inflated sense of self-regard for state officials, not the least of who is the President himself, to act as if we must simply take their word for it and accept that corruption is whatever they choose to see as such. Even more dangerous is what their behaviour suggests- that corruption is about one man’s individual behaviour or celebration of his anti-corruption posturing. President Buhari continues to behave as if the mere fact that he positions himself as an anti-corruption crusader necessarily places him and others associated with his administration above board. This hypocrisy is proportionate to the degree that actors in his administration deviate from the narrow path of moral uprightness. Which is why we must challenge his strategy of fighting corruption in very personal terms. For as along as this continues to be the case, there can be no significant national uptake of this tiresome fight. Nigerians will simply not own it no matter the rhetorical flourish that Abuja brings to bear on it.
What we need is an institutional framework that can serve to re-orientate Nigerians and wean us from our corrupt ways. Where people with the right kind of training and education are recruited into the police, for example, there can be no doubt that the police as a state organisation would perform its duty with neither fear nor favour of those who might currently be in charge of the affairs of the state. But where state officials like the Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, perceive their role as one of personal allegiance to the man to whom they owe their appointment, then Nigerians can expect all kinds of interference. Such as the type of intervention that saw President Buhari ordering the IG not to interfere with the Peoples Democratic Party’s candidate, Ademola Adeleke’s participation in last weekend’s governorship election in Osun State on grounds of forgery. If the president could order that investigation stopped (something All Progressive Congress’ stalwarts must now be regretting in view of the outcome of that election) he could also initiate one, albeit illegally, against anyone that catches his fancy.
Still on this personalised definition of corruption, what do we call or make of the acceptance of that N45 million bribe to President Buhari? For that was the amount paid to obtain the president’s nomination form by an unknown group of individuals that called itself the Nigeria Consolidation Ambassadors Network, NCAN. Who are the members of this group and what are they consolidating? What is their stake in choosing to underwrite the president’s bill? Why should the President accept this gesture? What’s all this stretching of credulity meant to achieve? That the president is too poor to afford his party nomination form? Should our worry about a cabal running the presidency not begin with questions about a strange group paying for the President’s nomination form? Where does corruption begin? Where will it end?
Elsewhere caps are placed on what an individual or a political party can spend on an election to say nothing of them accepting gifts (especially of a compromising kind like the one from NCAN) from known or unknown individuals and/or groups. One of the reasons President Donald Trump is under fire today is over suspicion that he overshot the approved spending limits for electoral expenses after paying hush money to the porn star, Stormy Daniels. If it was in Nigeria somebody would say the President has no explanation to offer. How does President Buhari hope to pay back the gesture from the NCAN? By making the kind of skewed appointments that has seen him overwhelmingly populate the Nigerian security sector with Nigerians from his part of the country?
We continue to lower the bar of expectation and redefine corruption in a bid to satisfy one man. Some have explained Buhari’s skewed appointments in terms of his need to work with those he can trust. But Nigeria is a plural society with plural claims and ethnicities. A president that can only trust Nigerians from his part of the country should not seek votes from other parts. He should otherwise canvass for votes from members of his immediate and extended family.
Emplacing a solid institutional framework, one that works for everyone at all times, will check the undisciplined ethnic proclivity of President Buhari. But the king and his palace jesters are making this impossible. The President pretends he believes in the capacity of Yemi Osinbajo to act in his stead but thrives at strategically undermining him to show he is the powerhouse of the administration. He named Osinbajo Acting President when he went on his usual leave to the United Kingdom but returned to reverse key decisions taken by the Acting President in his absence. In one stroke he promoted the careers of two northerners, one as Director General of the Department of State Services and the other as Finance Minister. Buhari knows how to get Osinbajo working. The cabal through him knows how to run Nigeria. Monkey dey work, baboon dey chop.