Friday, 20th May 2022
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The limit of war against corruption

Any attempt at battling the canker worm called corruption and wrestling its promoters and emissaries to the ground deserves the support of every right-thinking Nigerian.

President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo at the president’s office at the State House. PHOTO: PHILIP OJISUA

Any attempt at battling the canker worm called corruption and wrestling its promoters and emissaries to the ground deserves the support of every right-thinking Nigerian. The war is undoubtedly a noble one. President Buhari is irritated by it. For most Nigerians it is abhorrent. Buhari is a veritable mirror of the disgust it is to us. Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo in his accustomed eloquence, painted the picture vividly the other day, addressing a gathering of leaders of his party, APC. What could be more telling about where corruption has landed us as a people and as a country than his revelation that Itakpe rail project has been on for 30 years, and the Mambilla for 40 years. He said the laying of the Itakpe rail tracts had just been completed. Although he did not speak on Ajaokuta steel, but the project has been on for 38 years. It is one step forward and 10 steps backwards. Whoever listened to Rep. Nnenna Elendu (Bende, Abia State) giving the report of her committee on Ajaokuta steel earlier in the year on the floor of the House couldn’t but marvel at the mountain of filfth that has assailed the land.

President Shehu Shagari laid the foundation for the steel project in 1980 and it was to cost $4.6billion. In the economic circumstances of the land today its estimated cost so far is $15billion. Nigerian Steel Development Authority was established in 1972 and Ajaokuta Steel Company Limited was incorporated in 1979 pursuant to the discovery of iron ore at Itakpe in 1973. The Russians that began the project moved its development rapidly. Before Hon. Nnanna committee’s exhaustive report, Pulse, an online publication had, by May this year, done an investigative story on Ajaokuta steel mill which it captioned “The tragic story of Ajaokuta steel company.” The publication discovered that a great deal of progress was recorded between 1980 and 1983. With the appurtenances of a modern city of 24 housing estates, some of them consisting of more than 1,000 houses, hospitals and a sea port and a land area bigger than Lokoja, the Kogi State capital, by 1994 development of Ajaokuta had reached 98 per cent completion.

And here is the clang going by the revelation by Pulse: Compared to the progress between 80 and 83, not much has happened after that. It quoted a member of staff of the steel mill as saying: “Corruption started to happen, and Ajaokuta became a conduit pipe. It became an outlet where money meant for this place never really reached here.” As of today, there is no work going on at Ajaokuta.

This is the kind of situation which can send any well-meaning Nigerian crazy. It is, therefore, no surprise that a situation such as this has sent Buhari boiling. Because corruption is deeply ingrained and widespread in the country he has made a single-minded resolve to wage war on it. In his first coming in uniform in December 1983 war against corruption was his sing-song. Many politicians were herded into jail, first kept in prison before trial. It was because the malaise had become a matter of deep concern that when Obasanjo mounted the saddle in 1999, he wasted no time in establishing EFCC and ICPC, yanking them off the police to make them independent entities. The two institutions particularly under Nuhu Ribadu, made shocking revelations and a few high-profile public figures were jailed.

In the second coming of Buhari, he made war on corruption the major plank of his Administration. He believes corruption is the be all and end all of Nigeria’s problems. He did say at a point that if Nigeria does not kill corruption, corruption will kill Nigeria. It is that bad and his contention would seem borne out by the sordid revelations by EFCC at the advent of his Administration. Huge sums of money, in local and foreign currencies were recovered from some public functionaries—directly or through plea bargaining. The most disappointing of all was the retrieval from certain high-ranking military officers for whom the uniform should be indicative of discipline, character and trust-worthiness, indeed a very high and uncommon degree of wholesomeness. Alas, Neman was a great and valiant soldier, but he was a leper! He must go to River Jordan to have a wash, so wrote the Nigerian Tribune in its editorial in 1975 after General Murtala Mohammed dismissed some military governors whom he said had disgraced their uniform, soiling it with corruption. Only Brigadier Oluwole Rotimi of Western State and Brigadier Mobolaji Johnson of Lagos State emerged untainted.

How does one, for example, explain the unfeeling which led to the sharing of funds meant for procurement of arms to protect the citizens and prosecute the war against the Boko Haram insurgency in the North East, going by EFCC charges against them? The latest is a N37billion high-rise building on Banana Island. The property remains unclaimed by anybody. Festus Keyamo said on Sunday that the building was advertised for the owner to come forward to lay claim to it, nobody showed up. The owner no longer has trace, nor can the contractor be identified. And so when Buhari speaks about corruption and his iron resolve to battle it unreservedly one can understand from where he is coming. He breathes it; he sleeps and wakes up with the thought of war on corruption. And you can see the pains in his heart and a ring of sincerity in his tone.

The air is suffused with talk about corruption. Everyone knows a new sheriff is in town. He says it outside the country that the biggest problem in his country is corruption. Vice-President Osinbajo is on a three-nation tour in Europe; he is talking about corruption—in foreign lands. So loud is the talk about war on corruption that other African leaders have regarded Buhari as the anti-corruption warlord of Africa. Only on Tuesday, Ibrahim Magu, the equally committed czar and the terror of the corrupt, had a road show in Abuja in a campaign laced with strident warning on corruption.

The question that we may have to ask ourselves, however, is, are we on course? Are we likely to get the desired result? A humongous amount going into trillions has been waved before our eyes as product of the worthy efforts. That is thrilling indeed. But will the achievement endure after the exit of Buhari? Upon the exit of President Obasanjo, the gains of Nuhu Ribadu were thrown out of the window and he was humiliated. He was removed and ostensibly sent to Kuru to brush up his knowledge. An attempt was made to put on hold his promotion as assistant commissioner of police. If my memory serves me right, at a point he was asked to clear with the Attorney-General office whatever case he planned to take to court. Will the same fate befall Ibrahim Magu whenever Buhari vacates office? As of today, he is still acting chairman of EFCC!

Perhaps, we should recall the hints by Brig.-General Oluwole Rotimi on how he was saved from the hammer of Murtala Mohammed. He had the due process in the Western civil service to thank for his name being kept intact. The due process was a constraining system put in place by Chief Simeon Adebo and rigorously observed by his successors. Anything outside the rules and due process, despite Rotimi’s immense power as a military governor, no civil servant would carry out his orders. It was also the culture that spread to Lagos.

As far as Buhari and Osinbajo are concerned, there is nothing to hide and as much noise as is possible about the war on corruption should be made. They do not see anything wrong in their pronouncements, what many would like to believe are capable of demarketing the country especially when these are made overseas. The argument is that you cannot say your son is bad and decent people will not keep their distance from him, dealing with him, if they must, only at arm’s length, and standing on their guard!

Having said all this, I believe a review of strategies is called for. Beyond the campaign, beyond the talk, the war against corruption may not have taken into account certain correlations that govern life. It may not be so obvious now. It will eventually be. It can so happen that the thoughts and attendant noisemaking, the way we go about the campaign, may well produce the opposite of what is intended and the nation will discover to everybody’s chagrin that we have only been threshing the straw; we have only been dealing with the externals. Come to think about, let’s reflect a little. If it were not so that we have over the years only be dealing with the externals, the question to ask is: Why have we not made the desired progress since the coming of the military in the Nigerian body polity 52 years ago? Today we still talk about Abacha loot to bail out states that have not been up and doing in regard to payment of salaries. So moved was the President on the failure of some states to pay salaries that he wondered aloud when APC delegates came calling at Villa the other day: “I honestly don’t know how people sleep when workers have not been paid. The workers have to pay rent, buy food, send their children to school and they have health matters to take care of. I assure you that my main interest is all Nigerians in all parts of the country.” As usual, he slipped into his pet subject: War on corruption which the some media captioned: “Buhari to corrupt leaders: You will not escape jail.”

What I am getting at is that in matters of the war against corruption, laudable as the efforts are, good intentions are not enough. The approach and manner of execution are very important as there are far more incisive interventions in the battle against human weaknesses than the war has taken account of. Every such effort not consciously directed at atonement and reformation will amount to nothing. To overcome human weaknesses is beyond the rolling out of tanks and drawing of bayonet.

Next Week: War against corruption: The fundamentals
Excerpts: “In 1978 the Federal Government established Traffic Wardens to ease traffic jams in Lagos covering the Island and the metropolis. As Lagosians are wont to do, they wasted no time in calling them Yellow Fever both in derision and in admiration. Surprisingly, after a while the city began to witness an outbreak of yellow fever everywhere. Hardly did it occur to anyone that words are potent and are seeds. In the outworking of the immutable and incorruptible Laws of Creation, after the seeds of the words yellow fever had gone through maturation process, Lagosians were given what they wished: yellow fever! Today, the noise is about corruption. It may so happen at the end of the day that the affliction of canker worm called corruption will be compounded. It will be a nine-headed snake. At the moment the nation is choked with the noising making about corruption. It is in the air. It is in every corner you turn. The Law of Life works on both the word as well as on its content. We then find that it was not for nothing the Lord Christ said to us: ‘Let your yea be yea and nay be nay. Anything outside of this comes of evil.”