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The fury over the TI report

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It should not be difficult to see why the president’s men greeted the latest annual Corruption Perception Index issued last week by the global corruption watchdog, Transparency International, with fury and a howl of protests. We expected the thumbs up, not the thumbs down, for the Buhari’s administration’s anti-graft war. But the administration received the thumbs down. Not fair.

TI says the country is more corrupt now. Holy Moses, after nearly five years of a committed prosecution of the war that even dislodged a chief justice of Nigeria and some court of appeal and Supreme Court justices? Sadly, yes. TI ranked Nigeria 146th out of the 180 countries surveyed. The year before, Nigeria came in at 144th. Not particularly impressive but it indicated a slow but steady progress uphill. Now, instead of a leap, we have a slight slide; unexpected and painful for the president and his men. It has some serious implications for the integrity of the war. That South Africa, Rwanda and Ethiopia, which are not waging an anti-graft war as stridently as Nigeria, appear in the estimation of TI, to be doing a better job of chaining the monster cannot gladden the hearts of Nigerians, patriotic Nigerians.

The report certainly made a disappointing reading for all those who thought the country was about to emerge from the effluvium that continues to taint our country and its public men and women with a spruced up local and international image. I think the report does not appear to square with what is on ground. What we have on ground are these: three former state governors are in jail because EFCC proved that they freely helped themselves to the common wealth of their various states. They enriched themselves but impoverished their own people. The law, as you know, does not think such things are right, hence their descent from their gubernatorial height into the valley of the condemned. The commission has recovered huge amounts of money in local and foreign currencies from those who thought they were smarter than the laws of the land. These indicate should progress, not retrogression, I think.

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The jailing of three former state governors should count for something in the estimation of TI in the anti-graft war. This is the first time such men are in jail for corruption since the Buhari military regime terminated the life of the second republic and herded the movers and shakers into the slammer with stiff jail terms for corruption. In a country such as ours where the law is a respecter of the big man and a dis-respecter of the small man, TI ought to duly acknowledge that there is some hope that the good would eventually triumph over evil and one day, my little grandchildren would have cause to celebrate a nation that resolved its own contradictions and discarded the Ajegunle perfume to be admitted into the comity of countries that make a fine distinction between public and private funds.

TI ranks countries on the corruption index “by their perceived levels of public sector corruption, as determined by expert assessment and opinion surveys.” The use of the word ‘perception’ in the title of the report is apt. It is a perception.

I am afraid it is no longer possible for a fair assessment of the anti-graft war. Any assessments that do not glorify its success, is instantly condemned and taken as a personal challenge to the big man. His acolytes rush in to shut up the man they believe acted out of an unholy desire to rubbish the president. This, I think, has the unfortunate consequence of the president’s men feeding him with, you got it, fake information on the anti-graft war that obviously delights the president but has problems with being facts. Drowning the TI report in fury and a howl of protests does not make the report false or unfair or even diabolical.

Had the report been positive, the same people who are condemning it would sing its praises. None of them has given us a clear evidence that TI was wrong in its assessment. The minister of information and communications, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, told TI, “We are not fighting corruption to impress you.” I found that strange coming from the minister. Of course, we are fighting corruption to impress the local and the international communities. Some of the privileges that Nigeria enjoys or seeks to enjoy in the international community ride on what we make of the anti-graft war. International opinion matters. We must learn to have a sense of proportion and balance favourable reports with unfavourable reports because that is the natural order of things. The good and the bad tend to trudge along the same path.

I have always had problems with the anti-graft war since it began during the Buhari military administration, 1984-85. My problems with it centre on three factors. One, the war is mostly about the theft of public funds by those entrusted with its safe-keeping. Corruption is much more than that. One of the most pernicious forms of corruption is what TI calls political corruption, which it defines as “the use of powers by government officials or their network contacts for illegitimate private gain.” This is achieved, according to TI, through the many children of corruption such as bribery, extortion, cronyism, nepotism, parochialism, patronage, influence peddling, graft and embezzlement.” Give a thought to that in the context of the anti-graft war.

Two, corruption does not just happen. It is naturally the product of a corrupt system. We fight corruption but we ignore the system that breeds it. The corruption of the system is the worst form of corruption. It is its tap root. So long as the system is the way it is, corruption will thrive, no matter how many former state governors lose their liberty as free citizens.

Three, there are glaring contradictions in the anti-graft war that need to be remedied. In the first phase of the war, 1984-85, some bribe takers were jailed but the givers were not even prosecuted. This was the case with the late former governor of Kano State, Alhaji Abubakar Rimi. In other cases, the givers were jailed but the receivers were not even prosecuted. A good example would be Alhaji Abba Musa Rimi, former governor of Kaduna State.

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Section 108 of the constitution is part of the contradictions in the anti-graft war. It is a huge stumbling block, yet no one wants to remove it. Section 108 (a) provides that “no civil or criminal proceedings shall be instituted or continued (my emphasis) against a person to whom this section applies during his period of office.” The president, the vice-president and the state governors are the persons mentioned here. Thus, a state governor has immunity from prosecution even when he committed an offence before he took office that would morally and legally disqualify him from seeking the high public office in the first place. And while in office, EFCC can watch him loot the treasury and only bite its fingers. Theodore Orji, former governor of Abia State, for instance, was in detention on a criminal charge when he was spirited out in 2007 and sworn in as governor. His immunity kicked in. End of the story. Peter Ayo Fayose, former governor of Ekiti State, was on trial for alleged corruption arising from first term in office and EFCC said so when PDP fielded him as its governorship candidate. The commission was ignored. He went on to win the election and serve out his term.

Hope Uzodinma is now the governor of Imo State. This is a man who, according to The Punch of January 19, 2020, was facing N4.3 billion fraud case. His immunity has kicked in. EFCC has said it can’t touch him anymore. I think it is sheer legal sophistry to argue that he had the right to contest the governorship election because he had not been convicted. If a man’s integrity has been questioned, his moral right to lead the people is effectively impaired because a public office is a public trust. It is reprehensible for the system to protect such people. It is even worse that the president’s party, APC, fielded him as its candidate.

How do you deal with the contradictions of an anti-corruption crusading president and his party embracing a man the EFCC is prosecuting for alleged fraud? I thought Buhari and his party would keep a clear distance between them and such a man, if only to make the point that a man being tried for fraud involving public funds, is not clean enough to be in their company. Give a thought to that in the context of the anti-graft war.

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