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Time to give anti-graft war needed tailwind


The Muhammadu Buhari administration, through several agencies, has been battling a headwind in the fight against corruption in the polity.

This is made the more daunting, as the typical Nigerian politician has assimilated the ‘statement and provocative poem’ by Pastor Martin Niemöller (1892-1984). One memorable liner of his speeches was “about the cowardice of German intellectuals following the Nazis’ rise to power and subsequent purging of their chosen targets, group after group.”
An adaptation from the speeches (as per Wikipedia), states that:

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out- Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out- Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out- Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.”

Pastor Niemöller’s speeches warned about “political apathy” – a situation where individuals tend to feel unconcerned about happenings that do not directly affect them. That is the notion of, “It’s them, not me.”

But as the usual Nigerian politician, especially of the 2000s variant, has displayed time and again in matters of financial corruption and electoral malfeasance, what affects one affects the other.

Thus, applying the Niemöller principles, the politicians should not stand aloof when their associates are being hounded for alleged corrupt enrichment. Because, today, it might be them; and tomorrow, it might be me.

This “we are in the same boat together” has developed into a bond of solidarity often exhibited by government officials (politicians). Of recent is their propensity to abandoning duties to attend court sessions with suspects, visit detainees in confinement centres, and arrange and/or join demonstrations against the government for declaring wanted, arresting, detaining or prosecuting the said suspects. Such solidarity visitations have literally become a comedy of the absurd in the past few weeks in Abuja.

Flowing from the foregoing therefore, the fight against corruption in today’s Nigeria has been met with a very strong resistance by the same powerful interests that are the primary targets of the anti-graft campaign.

Hence, these interests are quick to label the fight as “politically-motivated” ostensibly because those being investigated or taken in by the anti-corruption agencies are majorly members of the opposition to the government of the day. In doing so, they generate public sympathy to themselves, and resentment against the government.

It does not matter to these politicians that the targets of investigations are those that occupied positions in the previous government, and are alleged to have misappropriated (looted) funds meant for specific projects, and for the overall development of the country.

Rather ironically, their accusation of “political witch-hunt” is helped by the “seeming” reluctance of the government to extend similar treatment to members of the cabinet alleged to have dipped their hands in the coffers of the respective state governments they had superintended for many years.

While there should be no “selective investigation” of financial malpractice in government (or elsewhere), the purveyors of the argument of government’s politically-motivated investigations are in deliberate denial or engaging in selective amnesia.

The ongoing sweeping and widespread investigations by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) (with complementary activities by the Independent Corrupt Practices (and Other Related Offences) Commission (ICPC) and Department of State Services (DSS)) are directed at those accused of sharing in the $2.1 billion earmarked for the fight against Boko Haram insurgents that occupied three Northeast states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa in the last few years.

Indeed, revelations from investigations by the EFCC have shown that, save for a few co-opted individuals from outside, only members of the previous administration at the centre, who incidentally are now in the opposition, participated in the sharing of the huge amount budgeted for the fight against Boko Haram.

Initially when the EFCC turned on the heat, many of the people under the radar sold the seed of doubt and confusion, by outrightly denying they had anything to do with the grave allegations against them. They quickly followed with the accusation of being witch-hunted politically.

When the EFCC persisted in the charges against them, the tune changed to: “I did not receive any money from the Office of the former National Security Adviser (NSA).” “I did not know the money was from the NSA account with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).” “The amount alleged is not correct.” “I did some work for former President Goodluck Jonathan, for which I was paid.”

Yet, as they were being declared wanted for failing to report themselves to or taken in by the anti-graft agency, virtually all the suspects maintained their innocence, with many of the them preferring they were charged to court, which would inevitably grant them bail, and thus secure the latitude and freedom to continue in their obstinate denial of culpability in the alleged financial crime.

But their recalcitrance was not to last, as confinement began to take a toll on their psychological, mental and physical wellbeing. And there came admission by a few of them: “Actually, I received the alleged sum, and I’m ready to refund part or all, to secure my freedom from incarceration.”

With this development, most Nigerians, who were up in arms against the government of President Muhammadu Buhari, which the indicted politicians blamed for their “harassment” on ground of alleged political differences, began to witness the ‘mother of all confessions’ in the participation in sharing of the money allocated for combating the Boko Haram scourge.

True to their word, some suspects had returned all or part of their shares of the loot, while several others, “who have seen the light,” are now in the forefront of crusading for the anti-corruption war of the government they had derided to no end.

Lessons: Without the staunch stand in the fight against corruption, which forms a major plank of the Buhari administration, our perception wouldn’t have turned into reality. Nigerians wouldn’t have believed that:

• Politicians could be forced to return illegally acquired/obtained money from the treasury.

• Many politicians, Judges and officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) are bedfellows in financial compromises.

• Supervisory bodies (National Judicial Council (NJC) and INEC) of these officials could, at least, bar them from official engagements in their respective areas of jurisdiction until they prove their innocence of the allegations against them. (The NJC and INEC sanctions are particularly heart-warming, as these officials have turned elections into a honey pot.)

So, isn’t it time all Nigerians joined the train, and give government the needed tailwind in the war against corruption, instead of fanning the embers of sectional, tribal or political antagonism?

And it no longer pays to sit on the fence. Actually, the fight must begin with me!

Ezomon, Journalist and Media Consultant, lives in Lagos.

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