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Johnson: Corruption, Stealing And 2015 Politics


IT is amusing that when the President, Goodluck Jonathan, said corruption should be called by its true meaning, “stealing”, there were people who had a lot of disagreement with it. While there may be very sophisticated definitions and understanding of corruption, there is no doubt that with most Nigerian communities, the meaning is clearer when you say “a man is a thief” than when you say “ a man is corrupt”. 

To say a man is corrupt in a law court in Nigeria may have distinct meanings, but on the street, it may be confused with several perceptions. He may be thought to be involved in sundry other matters such as being a regular patron of brothels, mixing low quantity and quality of cement while embarking on the construction of a public building, knocking in the bottom of a metal cup for selling rice or beans to the public, tampering with the metering of petrol pumps, etc; these are all diverse forms of corruption and fall into the different forms of fraud which may be motivated by corrupted values. But when the political parties say they want to fight corruption, clearly what they have in mind is the huge amount of public funds used for private gain and, no other words explains it better than “stealing”.

If we fight public stealing, the fight against corruption will be better directly conceptualised for Nigerians, and in that sense the President is very accurate. But if we want to play on the sophisticated understanding of words, then we have a big problem, particularly with the position of the All Progressives Congress, APC, presidential candidate who has anchored his campaign on fighting corruption because the  different definitions of corruption will throw up many contradictions on how the APC and its presidential candidate can truly fight corruption.

If we take corruption by its common definition, as the misuse of public power by elected or appointed officials, it is difficult to see how Muhammadu Buhari can be an advocate of that. The crudest misuse of power on record in Nigerian history are attributable to Generals Sani Abacha and Buhari. In one case Gen Buhari was also complicit by working under Abacha as a Chairman of the agency to which most of the petroleum resources in Abacha’s era were directed, the Petroleum Trust Fund, PTF. In that PTF, the fight against corruption will require that the agency ought to invite bids for consultancy services to determine how its projects were awarded. But on record, Buhari reportedly appointed the late Salihijo, without even a reference to or consultation with the PTF board, an issue that led to the resignation of a former Governor of the defunct Kaduna State from the board of the PTF.

In the conduct of the appointed consultant at the PTF, it has been revealed that several cases of the misuse of private funds for public gains were rife, including over-invoicing and misapplication of fund outside the remit of the PTF. Therefore, can a man who appointed without proper procedures at the PTF claim to be the best advocate of anti-corruption?

If we were to take another definition of corruption as acts that are immoral or incompatible with ethical standards, we are forced to look at the empirical evidence for trusting Gen. Buhari to defend such values. It is a matter of public record that the late Fela Anikulapo-Kuti was jailed for 18 months by Buhari, but Fela was later freed by the Gen Ibrahim Babangida government when it was revealed that the presiding judge in the case went to the hospital where Fela was being treated to apologise to him, pleading that he only convicted Fela because he was forced to do so. To suborn a judge to jail an innocent man is the lowest form of immoral corruption. But even worse, how can we rate on the corruption scale, the refusal to respect an acquittal by a judge? The same Gen. Buhari refused to obey the acquittal of Pa Ajasin, and he did this three times after several acquittals. Is this not grossly corrupt?

Again since the proponents of Buhari’s candidacy want us to examine all the sophisticated dimensions of corruption and ignore its literal meaning of “stealing” in our context, let us examine another definition of corruption which describes it as any abuse of a position of trust to gain an unfair advantage.  Using this definition, we should look at two acts of Buhari and Idiagbon during their tenure in government. These leaders prohibited Nigerians from travelling abroad on pilgrimage with under-aged children, and imposed an austerity measure which forbade Nigerians from spending foreign exchange for foreign trips. But did these laws and measures apply to them? No way! Idiagbon went to Mecca with his under-aged son, Rafindaddi. While the respected diplomat Ambassador Olisemeka in recently trying to burnish Buhari’s image, inadvertently revealed that Buhari sent his wife and kids to Washington for medical care under the Nigerian High Commission for a lengthy period, which only ended after he was kicked out of office. Normally this should not be an issue, being a medical trip, but when you make one law for others but take advantage of its loopholes for your private needs, is that not a form of corruption?

How many Nigerians with similar medical needs were given similar opportunities by Buhari while he was in power? Even worse, Buhari has no sense of remorse for his corrupt failings. Asked recently by Christine Amanpour on CNN what he thought of this corrupt past, rather than apologise, he claimed he was being harshly judged. Indeed, in any Nigerian community when you say  “that man is a killer” as many have said in regard to the judicial murder of Ogedengbe and others, no one will crown you a champion of anti-corruption, let alone elect you president.

Johnson, a public affairs analyst, wrote from  Lagos.

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