Post-election agenda: The place of 2014 National Conference recommendations in fighting corruption
NIGERIANS, including the political elite can often be seen much of the time choosing to live in denial.
Mainly because of bountiful natural endowments, especially of hydrocarbon minerals, particularly oil, which brought with it, huge, somewhat providential free-donation petro-dollar-rain, it is a tall order for the country to begin to see things as they truly are.
As the oil wealth dwindles following changing circumstances the world over, the country’s economy still precariously largely depend on the product and it is tough business getting out of the woods.
The unworked-for national wealth and riches has, in its wake, enthroned a culture of naked greed, avarice, looting, bribery, corruption, plain stealing, a get-rich-quick mentality, lopsided sharing and a lot more – now so deeply rooted in the entire fabric of the society it is finding it almost impossible to overcome.
No person or group of persons, talk less politicians, could succeed in fighting, for example, public sector corruption given the Unitary Structure falsely and fraudulently tagged Federal Structure or Federal Government.
And this is without prejudice to the manifestoes (if there are any such well-articulated manifesto or program of action) of the two main political parties – Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and All Progressives Congress (APC) in the 2015 election or what their candidates – President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan and retired Maj. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari – are saying in their campaign for the Presidential election.
Fighting public sector corruption, a systemic malaise that cuts across institutions, agencies, officials and functionaries of government, which has also largely contributed to the breeding and nurturing of private sector corruption and corruption in almost every facet of the country’s life, could never go far or go deep and wouldn’t achieve any meaningful impact under the country’s existing structural imbalances.
Even if an elected President were to initiate an anti-corruption crusade in the midst of the federal imbalances as they currently are, his success could only at best be modest. Let him introduce a well-articulated reform agenda. Let him make it comprehensively inclusive and involve every institution and every official and stakeholder. It could only amount to a mere slap on its wrist.
If he likes, he can take the “with immediate effect” action of Nigeria’s only acclaimed dynamic leader General Murtala Ramat Mohammed in his anti-corruption war of the mid-1970s.
The late revered military Head of State who ruled for just a little over six months had started the first-ever anti-corruption crusade, first by forfeiting to the State substantial assets, which he had corruptly accumulated, especially during the 1967-1970 civil war. This had immediately conferred credibility and legitimacy on the crusade and endeared him to the people.
It was a lone, individual action – a personal atonement, kind of. No public official, military or civilian; military politician or civilian politician – has or will ever do that. His then second-in-command and successor, Olusegun Obasanjo, did not do it.
Later on, Obasanjo himself elected President for two terms (8years) beginning the current democratic dispensation in 1999 after successive prolonged military interregnum set up the 2005 National Political Reform Conference to engage delegates representing all segments, and all groups and interests to find answers to the political and economic instabilities facing the country.
Needless to say the report of that conference was aborted over an alleged third term plot alleged to have been forced through the back door into the recommendations. It was scheme to enable Obasanjo elongate his stay in power beyond the constitution-approved two terms (8 years). The report was jettisoned.
Had Mutala Mohammed lived to pursue his anti-corruption crusade, which was part of his administration’s plan for orderly transfer of power to a civilian government to a reasonable conclusion, it would possibly have resulted in the political elite of that time committing something of a class suicide. As it were, they would have had to make sacrifices or forfeit something to follow the leader’s example.
He (Mohammed) broke rules and brushed aside protocol for the common good. No such personal sacrifice would be possible now. Let it simply be said that no politician today would do it. If any as good as tried it, his own relatives or his part of the country would more than likely pick-up a quarrel with him than commend him or accord him with heroism.
The politicians at the federal capital, Abuja, particularly the distinguished and honorable members of the National Assembly would not be impressed by such a sacrifice. Or would they?
It is doubtful whether if an incumbent President were to commence an anti-corruption crusade by forfeiting his illegally acquired assets under the current dispensation, the lawmakers in Abuja or governors and lawmakers in the state Assemblies would be moved to look in-ward at themselves and their reputation as the highest-paid legislators in the world.
How about the civil servants who are anything but civil or schoolteachers who are “businessmen and women” than teachers or Pastors and Imams who are General Overseers and lords of the manor than Shephards?
Some of the personal character traits that Gen. Mohammed was known to have exhibited at that time – boldness, impulsiveness, selflessness, charisma, populism, mercurial or quick-silver action etcetera – are not known to be possessed or exhibited by any high or low public official now.
Between campaign promises and what is achievable
So far, no known incumbent President or senior government official (late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua is the only exception), had mustered the will to publicly declare personal assets. Jonathan didn’t do so. He did it privately. Buhari as Head of State didn’t either. Neither Jonathan nor Buhari, whichever wins the March 28 Presidential election would contemplate an anti-corruption crusade beginning with forfeiture of some of his assets to the State.
And it doesn’t require rocket science or extravagant intelligence quotient to see that.
Take an issue as simple as the access granted under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to enable public scrutiny of assets declared by public servants: In practice, it is a ruse. The Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB), the Act’s custodian is not bound to produce on demand a government officials’ declared asset. It has never happened.
A concoction dredged up by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) called plea bargain seems the dubious but practical method so far to recover some of the stolen assets of Abacha and some former State Governors. Most illegally acquired assets and publicized efforts to recover them have remained trapped in judicial acrobatics.
IN the on-going Presidential campaigns, the absence of a Presidential debate between Jonathan and Buhari has succeeded in blocking off allowing the two candidates to explain their thoughts on corruption. Jonathan was interested and ready for the debate. Buhari made excuses/criticized organizers. He has managed to turn down the idea as at now.
Corruption, along with security, appears the major planks on which the electorates have seemingly made up their mind to vote Jonathan or Buhari. In the interim, both candidates, particularly Buhari have so far been making speeches of promises and assurances over corruption.
He has promised to strengthen institutions as a strategy for fighting corruption, if re-elected for second term. He spoke with personal conviction, for example, on the efficacy of the use of Information Communication Technology (ICT) software, HYPSS, to detect and clampdown on ghost workers in the civil service, pension scam etcetera. The system, he said, now tracks and saves N2 billion public money annually.
He has distinguished between stealing and corruption. Stealing, he says, has been with us. When people steal goats, yams, fowls, cows in the village, they are sanctioned and this could even bring about a social stigma, as in “that house or that family is a house or family of thieves” – a common event in various communities across the country.
Corruption, including public/private sector corruption, he says, is bound by law. When a culprit is caught, he says, he/she has to be charged to court. Only the judiciary has the powers to adjudicate; the President has no such judicial powers. This clarification was essentially directed at his critics.
Elsewhere, Jonathan had made a controversial statement that 70 percent of what Nigerians call corruption is stealing. He explained that it was not his opinion but that of a senior official of the judiciary and then went on to make the distinction between corruption and stealing.
Jonathan’s critics, including his opponent, Buhari, would often been found criticizing his government as not fighting corruption or of aiding and abetting corruption. Had there been a Presidential debate, a televised event recognized internationally as a major feature of Presidential campaigns, it would have nice for voters to properly assess the two candidates, at least on how they would actually go about fighting corruption.
The 2014 National Conference recommended the setting up of Special Court to try cases of corrupt enrichment by public officials. Jonathan is a advocate of Special Court.
Corruption and security is arguably the fulcrum of Buhari/APC Presidential campaign. On security, Buhari seems more attractive to most electorates than Jonathan based on being a retired soldier and a former Commander-in-Chief. But at 72/73, it is not as if he would personally lead the fight against Boko Haram in the fashion of Abdullah al-Hussein, the 53-year Jordanian King, a fighter pilot who put on his military garbs to personally take the battle to ISIS in Syria.
On corruption, the much that can be said about Buhari is that, as Head of State, he clamped politicians into jail slamming them with terms of many years. This, along with his perceived austere lifestyle and personal discipline makes his admirers to conclude that he will fight corruption better than Jonathan and indeed than any other politician alive in this country today.
There is no confusion, Buahri maintains, in a recent speech he delivered at Chatham House London, as to where he stands on corruption. He says corruption would have no place in his administration, if elected and no corrupt persons would be appointed into his government.
He would plug holes in the budgetary process. He would open one set of books only for revenue producing entities as the Nigeria National Petroleum Commission (NNPC) and Customs and Excise. The revenues would be publicly disclosed and regularly audited, he says.
He will give independence and authority to prosecute to the institutions of State dedicated to fighting corruption. Is this to the regular and existing Courts or to Special Courts? There will be no political interference, he assures. His war against corruption would not be used to settle score or witch-hunt, he further stresses.
Elsewhere, he promised to build “a new Nigeria” where sanctity of lives and property would be protected.
Again, had here been a Presidential debate, voters would have been enriched to watch Buhari, for example, speak on how far these assurances of his will go in suppressing corruption.
Jonathan, Buhari and the 2014 confab option
As the nation goes through the countdown to the elections, opinions are still divided whether the polls should be held or not. Concerned citizens like the political crusader, Tunde Bakare, the Pastor of the Latter Rain Assembly, who was at the 2014 Conference had called for putting the elections on hold for six months to avert crises and bloodshed.
Already, the elections have taken one postponement for six weeks over various hiccups. It would seem now potentially more dangerous to even contemplate another postponement. There is a seeming silent general agreement that the way to go is for the polls to be held as rescheduled to March 28 and April 11 from February 14 and 28.
Former External Affairs Minister and Deputy Chairman of the 2014 Conference, Prof. Bola Akinyemi did write an open letter calling for Jonathan and Buhari to sign a Peace Accord, which both candidates were to sign. That was before the elections were rescheduled.
Other citizens like Human Rights lawyer and political activist, Dr Tunji Braithwaite are calling for fundamental change and proper transformation, and not change of personnel – a reference to APC/Buhari campaign for change. To Braithwaite who also was at the Conference, “our economic project and politics will continue to under-perform unless there is a structural change in our fiscal Federalism.”
Key recommendations of the 2014 confab
ALTHOUGH the 492-delegates National Conference of 2014 chaired by the retired Justice Idris Legbo Kutigi was not elected, many of them are credible Nigerians from all works of life. Despite being precluded from discussing some touchy national questions such as whether Nigeria should continue to exist as one entity or should be broken up, the delegates set out to do a lot of groundwork through committees and to engage in robust debates.
Their recommendations hammered out across mostly nose-to-nose verbal warfare but eventually agreed to on consensus represents some of the most praise-worthy, practical attempts to proffer solutions to the country’s many political, economic and social questions.
They talked a lot about corruption and many other issues related to it, appropriately identifying it as deep-rooted and pervasive. But they seemed to have taken it as an article of faith that for unity and peace-sake, the approach should be gradual: for example, gradual reduction of the powers and functions concentrated on the Federal Government, including cutting down on its institutions, agencies and functionaries.
•Reduce the sharing of funds from the Federation Account; Cut allocation to Federal Government from 57/58 percent to 42.5 percent. Wisdom: Let FG have less to play with, and let the states and local governments (35 percent from 23 percent; 22.5 percent from 18 percent) have more for them to be more effective, lesser dependent on the FG and more functional components of the Federation.
•President should pick no more than 18 Ministers from the six geo-political zones and not more than 30 percent from outside the legislature
•Let number of local governments no longer count as criteria for revenue allocation. Wisdom: no need for states with large numbers of local governments to be collecting huge sums at Abuja because they happen to have been allocated with many local governments while smaller states look on with anger and bitterness as they collect their peanuts based on few LGs.
•Local governments should no longer be third-tier: let states be free to create any number useful and beneficial to them.
•Discontinue the state-local government Joint Account. Wisdom: the Account is unnecessary where states create and manage their LGs.
•Legislature should be part-time.
All these were designed to cut cost and waste – a pragmatic approach to tackling corruption. A number of them would require constitutional amendments, meaning that they would require a lot of cooperation between the National Assembly saddled with passing them and the executive that will push them.
The 2014 Conference would have been the most important achievement of the Jonathan administration if he had convoked the body earlier and its report made available for implementation and not kept in abeyance till after the election.
So far, only the pan-Yoruba socio-political organization Afenifere in the South West has publicly committed Jonathan to implementation of the report before endorsing him for second term. Other Southern or Northern supporter of the President have not specifically made implementation of the decisions as prelude for supporting him to be returned although most would seem to be all for it.
Buhari’s supporters believe that he could single-handedly fight corruption and revive Nigeria’s chances to survive and prosper. Because the North (far North that is, Hausa/Fulani), his primary constituency, continues to strategize for an all-powerful Federal Government that will perpetuate their control of the Centre, it is doubtful if he would bring out the Conference report, if he is elected. He hasn’t said so.