Insecurity and corruption

By Jerome-Mario Utomi

ON-GOING commentaries on corruption, prevailing insecurity and harsh economic situation in Nigeria, can only but remind me of a conversation I had with a friend following the declaration of the 2015 presidential election result. This friend of mine cautioned me thus: “Men will change their ruler expecting to fare better; this expectation induces them to take up arms against him, but they only deceive themselves, and they learn from experience that they have made matters worse”.

Still, in that milieu, I had reminded him that the result ushered in a season of integrity in the country. He again replied thus: no single attribute could be identified as a ‘virtue’. “Remember,” he added, “politics has its own rules”.

Six years after that conversation, I cannot categorically say that my friend was right or wrong in his prediction. But the present situation in the country explains two things: first, apart from the fact that the shout of integrity which hitherto rends the nation’s political space has like light faded; jeer has since overtaken the cheers of political performance, while fears have displaced reason – resulting in an entirely separate set of consequences – irrational hatred and division.

Adding context to this discourse, it is important to underline that this piece is not out to commend or condemn the present circumstance summed above but to mourn our nation’s weak system which breeds corruption and the deformed structures/institutions which nourish dishonesty/bribery in the country while promoting economic poverty and powerlessness among the citizenry.

Based on the above, it is also relevant to the present discourse to admit that the corruption ravaging the nation did not start with this administration. For instance, corruption is but a human problem that has existed in some forms. The fight against it also dates back to the colonial era when the colonial overlords legislated against it in the first Criminal Code ordinance of 1916 (No.15 of 1916) which elaborately made provisions prohibiting official bribery and corruption by persons in the public service and in the judiciary. Also at Independence on October 1, 1960, the criminal code against corruption and abuse of office in Nigeria were in Sections 98 to 116 and 404 of the code.

But while the situation then may look appalling, what is going on now is even worse and more frightening. Nigerians are not particularly happy that the President who rode to power courtesy of the votes of his fellow citizens, cannot effectively tame corruption in the country in spite of his much-avowed integrity.

Sadly, at a time the country’s economy is showing its inability to sustain any kind of meaningful growth that promotes the social welfare of the people, corruption has become even more entrenched as scandal upon scandal had completely laid bare or put to question the anti-corruption stance of this administration, an indication that nothing has really changed.

The situation is even made worse when one remembers that the list of actions not taken by this administration to confront corruption remains lengthy and worrisome. Chiefly among these is Mr. President’s failure to understand that when prosecuting corruption: “It matters not whether the exchange is initiated by the person with the money or the person with the power; it is the exchange itself that is the essence of the corruption. It matters not if the private enrichment is with cash or with its equivalent in influence, prestige, status, or power; the harm is done by the fraudulent substitution of wealth for reason in the determination of how the power is used. It matters not if the purchase of power is seen as beneficial by some or even by many; it is the dishonesty of the transaction that carries the poison”.

The President in my views has not taken the fight against corruption as a personal priority for him or those who report directly to him. This is an opinion shared in many quarters. Just very recently, a well-respected newspaper in Nigeria noted in one of its editorial comments that the campaign against corruption, a cardinal programme of the Muhammadu Buhari administration, is certainly reeling from a major setback going by revelations that recently came out at the House of Representatives Ad hoc Committee on the Investigation of Recovered Looted Funds and Assets of Government.

It went further to note that unless government moves to quickly allay the serious doubts thus cast on the seeming compromise of efforts to recover huge stolen public funds, then the authenticity of the campaign cannot be guaranteed to Nigerians. That will be a big blow to probity in the public space.

Without any shadow of the doubt, the present political temperature in the country fittingly presents Mr. President as one who started off on high moral standards, strong conviction and determination to beat down corruption but has neither lived up to that good intention nor dealt with all transgressors without exception.

No wonder Chinua Achebe in his book The Trouble With Nigeria, stated that Nigerians are corrupt because the system under which they live today makes corruption easy and profitable; they will cease to be corrupt when corruption is made difficult and inconvenient. The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership and Nigeria can change today if it discovers leaders who have the will, the ability and the vision.

Thinking about all these, one thing seems to stand out. It will be imperative to say that for Mr. President to pacify and unite Nigerians and maintain his integrity while keeping his administration, a point he must not forget is that like everything in nature, he came to power but lacks strong roots; he must, therefore, work hard to uphold what fortune tossed on his laps by providing Nigerians with a people-purposed leadership.

Mr. President urgently needs to create a climate where truth is heard and brutal forces confronted, particularly now that Nigerians have previously seen some of our elected officers become the reality to worry about. While some of these public officials visibly work at cross purposes, others are consumed by the vertical pursuit of self-aggrandizement.

This time is also auspicious for our nation to adapt, adjust and, possibly, implement the above useful lesson in our ceaseless effort to find a lasting solution to insecurity/terrorism challenges on our shores. Yes! We shall, like other nations, collectively defeat insecurity and corruption, using informed decisions based on research.

But while we wait, it is crucial that the Federal Government remedies the present discomfort and pain of inflation and recession, subsidises health, saves the nation from the looming food crisis, and encourages technological innovations. It should invest in people and mobilise the talents of a large number of its citizenry whose skills are needed for economic growth.

To use the words of Kenneth Tuchman, this is a healthy moment for the President to demonstrate that he is a finisher in a society of starters, that he can see something through and get the sense of completion. Accepting the above concerns, in my opinion, is an opportunity that the President must not overlook.

Utomi, Programme Coordinator (Media and Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy, SEJA, Lagos, wrote via: [email protected]

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