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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Challenges in Fighting Corruption

Challenges in Fighting Corruption

Since the election of General Obasanjo, many Nigerians have been praying for a probe into the activities of past corrupt administration. Given the government pledge to probe past regimes many will feel that those prayers are answered already.
However, three things have made me treat this optimism with caution. One, my experience with the probes under the Murtala and Buhari regimes; two, the scope of the one in question; and three, its political complexity and implications.
On the first count, this is not the first time the nation is listening to the “probe them” music. It sounds all too familiar. To the best of my knowledge, all past probes yielded nothing. The hopes of Nigerians were repeatedly dashed when the campaign against corruption by Generals Murtala and Buhari were abandoned shortly after their tenures.
If corruption before Murtala was a monster jumping about on one leg, it gained a second one after his death. By the end of the Shagari era, it was working on four legs. During the regimes of “the Twins”, it turned into a real monster with sixteen legs. In a nutshell, corruption has become a recurring decimal in our political arithmetic.

How relevant or successful would a probe be this time around? Are Nigerians really interested in fighting such a crusade or would it just be a repetition of the past, yielding nothing in the long run?
The answer to this question demands an examination of some odds against such an exercise. One of them is that of scope. At the local government and state levels, probes could be relatively easy because the political entities are small and the exercise involves mostly contracts that could be easily verified by records and field observation. It is easy to constitute a committee to probe such contracts and punish collaborating officials and contractors accordingly. The same thing applies at the state level. At the Federal level however, we are faced with corruption of various dimensions.
First, contracts which are themselves of various categories. There are those for which payments were collected but never executed. Let the contractors simply return the money with the accrued interest.
A more difficult form of corruption for the Federal Government to probe is the corruption in the presidency and this is the one in which most Nigerians are interested. Several agencies and task forces have been formed under it to execute projects that could have been easily handled by ministries. This has put the bulk of our resources under the direct control of the President. Of course, they did not hesitate to use it in various ways like “settling” the thousands who were regarded as “security threats” to their regimes.
The nation will definitely be willing to learn how much was expended on option A4 and several other fake transition programs. The security vote has also been proved, by the recent testimonies of Gwarzo for example, to be conduits through which colossal amounts were siphoned out.

Depending on the adopted style and methodology, a probe could be one of the most difficult undertakings by a government. We can draw lessons from our experiences with the Murtala and Buhari styles. Within few months of his assumption of office, Murtala conducted a probe that resulted in the confiscation of wealth and properties of governors in the Gowon administration and the sacking of many top civil servants. When the Buhari administration came to power eight years later, it wanted to be thorough in its investigation of the massive corruption reported by the media during the Shagari era. None of the newspapers that were crying foul during the Shagari era could come forward with a single proof. Clearly, some of the allegations like that on rice importation was simply exaggerated. The regime itself depleted a good part of its energy in trials that have today proved useless.
In a political regime, a probe could face more difficulties due to democratic imperatives. The President has already committed himself by assuring the public that “any probe will follow due process of law.” So one could easily foresee defense lawyers asking many questions that could hardly be answered by government or dragging it to a state of fatigue.
We cannot also be sure that those claiming a looting of $53 billion dollars will be willing to prove their case in court.

Who Will Probe Whom?
Lets consider the hard nut that Obasanjo will find difficult to crack – that of morality. What enough moral justification does the present leadership has to probe the past. I am really afraid of a boomerang.
I have repeatedly put forward the argument that the present political elite will be the first casualty in any probe into the mismanagement that took place during the Babangida and Abacha era. Obasanjo has professed that corruption is a crime, it is timeless. So Babangida could also argue that let the probe include the tenure of Obasanjo himself between 1976 and 1978. Beside, both the Abacha family and Babangida would not hesitate to implicate thousands of Nigerians that were beneficiaries of their squander. This will embarrassingly include almost all the present politicians, traditional rulers, media executives, academicians, military officers and businessmen. The judiciary itself will not be exempted. You recall the last minute scandal during the Babangida era involving those limousines?
The ideal is for the President and the Senate to go ahead according to the injunctions of the following Qur’anic verse:

“Staunch in justice, witnesses for God, even though it be against yourselves or (your) parents or (your) kindred, whether (the case be of) a rich man or a poor man, for God is nearer unto both (than you are). So follow no passion lest you lapse (from truth) and if you lapse or fall away, then lo! God is ever informed of what you do.”

In the other words, the regime should turn into the proverbial chicken that uncovered the knife of its master. Kai! This is too strong a purgative for its stomach. Nigerians should lower their expectations and simply be contented with a hope in the future.
I can be accused of pre-judging the regime. But without being told, the extent to which the government intends to carry out the probe campaign is already clear. Take for instance the list of ministerial nominees. In my opinion, a puritanicalical government will never appoint as ministers people who were active participants of the regime it intends to probe. Let’s be specific on some few cases. How will the president nominate Jerry Gana as minister if he truly intends to probe MAMSER as a prominent organ under the Babangida regime? Also how can you probe PPMC with Haruna Abubakar as a deputy senate president? Or how can he probe Abacha without including the Chagouris thereby stepping on the toes of Danjuma.
Some of the measures the government wants to employ in curbing corruption sound a bit funny to me. Consider the announcement by the President that government functionaries should not engage in private business. How is this possible? Let the President know that no one in the civil service today is monthly paid the equivalent of N500.00 in 1978. How do we expect then a Director to make his ends meet? What will happen also to the hydra-headed businesses of our ministers and senators?
Consider also the issue of direct labor that the president said he would use to reduce cost and generate employment for “our youths”. The most dangerous implication of a direct labor policy is its undeniable ability to impregnate the public sector with large-scale corruption, taking us back to square one. How can this be reconciled with the intention of the President to recruit ultra-capitalist organizations like the IMF and the World Bank in “training” the public sector, or with the principle of free market, the twin partner of bourgeois democracy?

In conclusion let the President consider this peace of advice which is hereby given with a deep sense of humility, modesty and concern for the success of his regime. We are not against a probe. But if at all he is interested in one, then justice demands that it should not be selective but thorough. Before it is too late, this regime, which claims to be puritanical more than any previous one, needs to be sure of its steps.
Finally, knowing how endemic corruption has become, the greatest service the President will do to this country is not to probe the past, though we do not mind an attempt, but to make sure that it is not perpetrated this time during his tenure. The monster should not gain sixteen additional legs.

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