Columns

December 10, 2022

2023: Anti-Corruption is in Jeopardy

By Dr. Ugoji Egbujo

The anti-corruption war has slowed. Whistleblowers are on leave. The 2015 euphoria has died. Post-Buhari, anti-corruption could become an antiquated slogan. 

In 2014, the promise of that war swayed many neutrals to support the former opposition party. Today, eight years later, no party pretends anger against corruption. Anti-corruption enthusiasts and agencies can’t look towards 2023 with hope. The normalization of corruption will gather pace.  The EFCC deserves condolences. It has fought a good fight. A slender tree truly can’t make a forest. For that agency, the future looks patently bleak. 

Corruption is the abuse of power for private gain. Its consequences are rife and catastrophic. It undermines democratic institutions and processes. It hampers economic development by discouraging foreign direct investment and scorching start-ups.

Corruption drains public trust in government, fuels civic apathy and promotes social instability by widening the gulf between the rich and the dispossessed poor. Because of its enormity, the United Nations adopted a convention against corruption and designated December 9 as anti-corruption day.

But as that day is marked worldwide and commitments renewed, the anti-corruption zeal of  Nigeria has become worrisome. In Nigeria, anti-corruption slogans have become hackneyed,  and the people have become desensitized. 

The ruling party must have become tired of posturing too. For too long, it parasitized the people’s hunger for change. It had promised to sanitize the polity. But at the peak of its reign, it allowed politicians with crooked intent to try to defang the anti-corruption agencies.

The judiciary has remained a sleazy joint where black market judgments and perpetual injunctions against anti-corruption efforts can be procured. Those who had hoped for the re-enactment of the 1984 War Against Indiscipline have been left bemused as contagious moral lethargy spread wantonly.

The anti-corruption agencies have become pathetic underfed dogs scratching at unlucky politicians and barking at yahoo-yahoo boys while watching helplessly as big banks collude with big politicians to loot the country.  Recently the EFCC admitted numbing impotence by announcing that it knew where some governors were warehousing stolen funds. Perhaps it wanted the Boys Scouts to help it storm the criminal vaults and recover the funds. 

The major parties have become comfortable with corruption. In the name of political strategy, the APC embraced criminal suspects and demoralized crime fighting. Many had said the APC lived off propaganda and its anti-corruption attitude was showy and superficial. Unfortunately, they have been proven right.

Since APC, nothing has changed in the police and judiciary. Nothing has changed in the federal civil service. Nothing has changed in the APC-controlled states. After seven years in power, the APC no longer talks about fighting corruption. Instead, politicians indicted by the EFCC have become favourite politicians who receive awards for exemplary leadership from the president.

On corruption, the PDP has been relatively straightforward. The PDP has always been accommodating of saints, sinners and reprobates. Aside from the hypocritical Obasanjo, the party never claimed or pretended any righteousness. Holy Obasanjo fought corruption while propping up Chris Uba.

The PDP likes to brag about its foresight in establishing the EFCC. But had it any good intentions, it wouldn’t have taught EFCC political vendetta and witch-hunting, which dented the agency’s altruism in infancy. On corruption, the PDP’s attitude had been careful ambivalence. But in the last few years, the PDP has become the party that makes open excuses for corruption and talks down anti-corruption as hypocrisy.

Funnily, that stance might be partly correct because a lot of hypocrisy is required for any major party to fight corruption with any intent. But an opposition party that lacks all compunction against corruption needs to reinvent itself. The parties have cross-fertilized so promiscuously that they are morally indistinguishable.

The United Nations believes Nigeria won’t develop if the endemic rampant corruption is not contained. Interestingly, President Buhari used to urge Nigerians to kill corruption; otherwise, corruption would kill Nigeria. So the danger has been advertised, but Nigerians seem not rousable.

Bedevilled by banditry and bamboozled by politicians, the masses have succumbed to sentimentality and apathy. The sentimental have made big politicians their gods and invested them with practical infallibility. And who would blame?  The political culture has been contaminated with and crippled by ethnic, religious and partisan emotionalism. The apathetic has seen too many strange things.

The country discovered a 4-kilometre pipeline used to steal billions of dollars in crude oil. A whole month after the fanfare of that discovery, nobody has been arrested. If the government didn’t see the grand oil thieves as they robbed the country blind in daylight, then why would people bother listening to its anti-corruption sermons? If the government can’t find and arrest those who installed and used those pipelines to siphon the nation’s wealth, then the government doesn’t deserve public trust.

The anti-corruption war has been postponed. In 2014, Buhari inspired hope and promised action. Buhari’s personality made his anti-corruption stance believable. But Buhari has come, and Buhari is going. After Buhari, the future of anti-corruption looks utterly bleak. Most of those on the horizon lack the requisite personal traits to inspire tangible hope.

That is why none of the major parties wants to make a mockery of itself by putting anti-corruption on the front burner. They will mew about building institutions, but since they can’t present themselves as moral examples, they will lack credibility.

As the world celebrates this year’s anti-corruption day, they should pray for Nigeria.