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TI report: Wrong testimonial at the wrong time

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Transparency International, the global corruption watchdog, issued its 2018 Corruption Perception Index this week. And the news is bad for the Buhari administration. It said that Nigeria “was still perceived as highly corrupt” Meaning the anti-corruption war has not made a significant impression on corruption.

This, certainly, is not the testimonial that President Muhammadu Buhari desperately needs at this time. It is like piling it on, really. The president faces critical battles on many fronts. Insecurity is one; labour is another and of course, the university teachers on strike over their demands for improved facilities in our public universities, cannot be forgotten. The TI report complicates matters because it tends to put a lie to the claim by government of its success in the anti-corruption battle that Buhari has waged since he assumed office nearly four years ago. Fighting corruption is his single most important national agenda. Everything else pales in importance.

The report on where Nigeria stands on the corruption perception index ought to be better now. A thumbs up is what Buhari needs at this critical time in his political career when he is asking Nigerians to renew his mandate on the basis of his singularly determined war against corruption. Sadly, he has not received it from the global watchdog whose annual reports are respected world-wide. I am sure that will make him sad, truly sad.

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The report shows that Nigeria moved from 144th positon to 148th position last year. Its slight movement along the corruption scale does not tell the full story. TI says that the country, and to put it a fine point to it, “the most populous black nation,” did not improve on “its score of 27 out of a possible 100.”

TI made some important points we must take into consideration about the anti-graft war in our country. One, it said “its analysis showed a clear link between having a healthy democracy and fighting public sector corruption.” It cited Turkey and Hungary as good examples of what happens to corruption when a country faces the “challenges of the rule of law and press freedom.” Turkey is in trouble with corruption because it is no longer perceived as “free” on its TI’s democracy ranking.

Buhari needs to hear this loud and clear. A strict observance of the rule of law is still critical to a society anxious to rid itself of the cankerworm of corruption. National interest, however it is defined, cannot, therefore over-ride the rule of law. After all, nations are guided by the rule of law, not something as vague as national interest.

Two, Delia Ferreira, chairman of TI, pointed out that “corruption is much more likely to flourish where democratic foundations are weak and …where undemocratic and populist politicians use it to their advantage.”

You need strong institutions of democracy to fight corruption. If you weaken them, you weaken the war too. Buhari needs to hear this loud and clear. In his desperation to win the war, he has taken down those institutions that should help him win it. What has been happening to the judiciary since the operatives of DSS raided the homes of some judges in 2017 is a case in point. His autocratic action on the Chief of Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, for alleged corruption, ignores the rule of law and tends to intimidate the judiciary into submission.

It is impossible for the president to fight corruption without the full co-operation of the judiciary. The president vows to jail more treasury looters. Jailing anybody is the constitutional duty of the judiciary. If the judiciary is intimidated, two things could happen: judges would simply jail those brought them on charges of corruption in order to please the president and save their jobs and justice in the land would be a travesty. If the law cannot be interpreted in accordance with the intention of its framer, it is worse than useless. It may serve the limited ends of the anti-corruption war but it would eventually destroy the only institution in a democracy that protects the weak, the poor and the innocent.

Three, in briefing the press on the TI report in Abuja, Auwal Ibrahim Musa, executive director, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, said that one of the recommendations made at the launch of the CPI in 2017 “was the immediate appointment and prompt inauguration of the National Procurement Council.” This has not been done. Buhari needs to hear this loud and clear. Musa pointed out that “corruption in procurement (is) responsible for around 70 per cent of the aggregated menace in public administration.”

Fighting corruption does not begin and end with arresting, trying and jailing those accused of corruption. More importantly, it involves preventive measures. The result of government failure to set up the National Procurement Council, according to Musa, is that “the public image of the anti-corruption campaign in Nigeria was tarnished domestically and internationally by the ‘extremely slow progress’ to match words with commitment made by the government.”

Four, “CISLAC notes that lack of progress in the fight against corruption as testified by this year’s edition of CPI is a consequence of partial or non-implementation of recommendations issued by corruption experts and activists.”Government can make no tangible progress in the anti-graft war if it continues to only listen to its own counsel. It needs the views of experts on how best to prosecute the country’s longest running battle with evil. The sheer traumatisation of individuals fingered in corrupt practices needs to be urgently re-considered now. If the government listens to others it would benefit from expanded views on a periodic re-evaluation of its strategy.

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Five, Musa said that “despite some indisputable evidence, many corrupt politicians and businessmen as well as women seemed to be above the law and out of reach of law enforcement agents (and) that most corruption scandals involving politically exposed persons had not witnessed diligent investigation, prosecution and convictions.”

Poor me. I had thought Buhari’s anti-graft war was no respecter persons. I do not believe I am the only person who must be unpleasantly shocked by the revelation that sacred cows are still sacred and are munching away in the green grass of our federal and state government treasuries. I have repeatedly heard the argument that the prosecution of the anti-graft war is selective. I think TI has confirmed that. Apparently, some animals are still more equal than others.

Buhari needs to address this urgently. The integrity of his anti-graft war depends on this as much as it depends on his protecting and strengthening the institutions of democracy. It is the wish of most Nigerians that the anti-graft war be won and the nation rescued from the grips of corruption and the corrupt. It is now clear that the president needs to address the issues raised in the TI report. He said at a campaign rally this week that he had never been corrupt. It is good to know that because I suppose it gives him the moral right to lead the anti-graft war. But it is not enough for him to be an island of incorruptibility in the swirling, murky sea of corruption. One incorruptible man does not an incorruptible nation make.


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