Ofeimun: The 2015 election and after (5)
Continued from yesterday
THESE measures, which touch upon teaching the central bank and the NNPC how to count, could undo corruption at source. Isn’t it embarrassing to have a Central Bank Governor whose inability to count becomes more sensational than the corruption he wishes to unearth? Surely, we must appraise the improvements on the 1979/99 Constitution to see how it provides for a better system. For that matter, if the new Constitution, with a few extra provisions added had been adopted, a year ago, it would no longer have mattered too much the zone that is producing the President. It still does matter today because the 1999 Constitution is like the dog in the manger.
By the same token, the fight against corruption does need a new and proper constitutional cover. It is also about the education of the anti-corruption crusader in appreciation of the complex nature of corruption itself. Goodluck Jonathan inherited from Olusegun Obasanjo a hideously corrupt state, which is symbolized most rankly by an organization called Transcorp into which the Federal Government has privatized oil blocks and statutory corporations but in which the former President is a prime share holder. This is where corruption is king, as Gani Fawehinmi told fellow Nigerians. It bears a family resemblance to how the minders of the Petroleum Trust Fund allowed an extra-statutory body, named as a consultancy, to help spend and defray expenses at the PTF. It was simply a case of doing corruption in a less obvious manner than may be proved by the billions that the PTF could not account for. On this, Goodluck Jonathan was right when he made a distinction between stealing and corruption. Although, he and his men have tried to show that they, too, have jailed as much, if not more than predecessors in the war on corruption, it is really like bragging about unimportant things. Proof of a great or greater commitment to the anti-corruption campaign needs to be shown along the lines of President Jonathan’s admission during the subsidy occupy Nigeria protests, that his government had been overtaken by cabals. He was truly hunting where the antelopes were supposed to be. But who can remember how the anti-corruption crusaders across the country responded? The country shouted at him to release the names of the cabals but slunk with tails between the legs into hibernation once it was done. It showed that fighting corruption is not only about a willing government but an organized, or better to say, a mobilized society that won’t slink away in the face of cabals.
Now that General Muhammadu Buhari, once again has his name on the Presidential ballot, shouldn’t we be asking what he has learnt from fighting corruption in those days when, with Major General Tunde Idiagbon, he was overtaken by what some people called an IMF coup? His experience showed that there are more uses to a freezing plant than stocking beer. It can also stock dead bodies, as one Soyinka poem, which our leaders may not be reading, has put it. In essence, the anti-corruption struggle must go beyond the oft-touted need to jail the thieves, important as it is to do so. Ensuring that institutional designs do not constitute an open sesame to structural corruption – the greatest form of corruption of them all – is really the way to escape kleptocracy as label for our country. I must say, in this regards, as I have argued in Taking Nigeria Seriously, that those who jailed politicians of the Second Republic for giving ten percent to their political parties but have never argued for a proper law on the finance of political parties and do not see the need to insist on parties based on subscription are merely shadow-boxing with corruption. The reality is that political parties of the Fourth Republic, including Buhari’s APC, are obliged to live on corruption because the institutional context in which they operate simply prescribes it. A little honesty is required of our leaders to admit what they have had to do to put their parties on the road. Let the leaders dare to set up a truth commission on the running of the political parties. The results would be out of this world. This is really another way of saying that those who are talking about fighting corruption have first to define it. They are yet to offer a definition that accounts for the real cankerworm, as it used to be called before it went nuclear in the Fourth Republic. The short of it is that structural corruption, once contrived, creates room for all the other forms. Thieves and loot-sharers come and go but the kleptocrats overcome and overtake institutions even unto eternity unless they are out-organized. Which is why merely talking about jailing the corrupt remains part of a hoodwinking game. That is, until it is conceded that corruption is about organized power structured to ignore the law in favour of malfeasants who constitute the power.
Necessarily, a coalition of Nigerians beyond the political parties and beyond the people in government is required for the war on corruption to take off in earnest. A dilemma does present itself in the sense that it is only a government that is creating genuine development and creating jobs that can build up the context for such a coalition. A situation where every body looks to a leader in power but none has independent organizational format for intervening, outside the command of the leader, soon becomes a joke. Every such coalition, lets face it, must have the capacity to build production systems that negotiate the field of play. Only a people being actively mobilized to provide the means for people to earn genuine livelihood are in a position to join in the fight against corruption. It is largely about giving people something of their own to defend: jobs, education, health, and pensions. It is not about erecting new school buildings without labouring on a proper educational system, or doing heavy road infrastructure as a form of graphic proof of working hard while the core content of party programmes continue to look more like throwing money at problems away from the deeper cravings of the masses. I mean deeper cravings like the establishment of proper agro-allied industries, and return of proper factories as a means of job creation instead of multiplying civil service perquisites, or counting the sellers of recharge cards on street corners as properly employed people – as if they who describe them as workers would like their own children and siblings to be so described.
Anyone who has bothered to look at the prognostications of the new constitution will agree that it offers a social welfare dimension beyond what any of the existing governments in the Federation have challenged themselves to uphold. In a country where education and health have been serious issues in the politics of welfare, the new Constitution requires that items in chapter two of the old constitution on fundamental objectives and directive principles of state policy be exported to chapter four and made justiciable. This amounts to proclaiming a social revolution. Issues immediately arise as to how to make it possible, beyond platitudinous approaches, for many state governments that have erected smart primary and secondary school buildings to have meaningful educational systems. What one ought to expect in the circumstance is that the political parties that are interested in the future and not just in power would be retailing how to meet the needs of the new constitutional frame. That it is not happening is what should worry all of us about this election.
• Ofeimun, a renowned poet, is former president of Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA).