By Jerome-Mario Utomi.
Without overlooking other serious socioeconomic challenges bedeviling the nation, corruption appears to be the greatest problem confronting us today. Though neither new nor peculiar to Nigeria, it has observably flowered frighteningly in public life in Nigeria.
What has however, made it a reality that Nigerians now worry about is that despite the acclaimed widening steps by past/present administrations to arrest the malady, corruption is racing forward so rapidly in scope and intensity- ‘stifling development, siphoning off scarce resources that could improve infrastructure, bolsters education system, and strengthen public health.
This underlying suspicion regardless of the virtues and attributes of assurances by Mr. President and his calls for the international community for assistance has signaled a tragic recognition that today’s effort may not be different from the past results.
Undoubtedly, this genuine/deep concern cannot be described as unfounded because right from the nation’s independence in October 1960, different administrations have intermittently raised strong voices but demonstrated inabilities to design a sustainable solution out of this agonizing national crisis; thereby prompting Nigerians with critical interest to ask if this orchestrated fight against corruption were mere declaration of objective or reality?
As an illustration, on the 31st December, 1983, General Muhammadu Buhari, the military president (as he then was)while unfolding his plans to tackle social ills in the country stated thus; ‘while corruption and indiscipline have been associated with our state of underdevelopment, this evil in our body politics have attained unprecedented heights in the past four years. We deplore corruption in all its facets –this government will not tolerate, inflation of contracts and over-invoicing of imports etc nor will it condone forgery, embezzlement, misuse, and abuse of office and illegal dealing in foreign exchange and smuggling’’
Expectedly, the administration created a cloud of opinion that viewed corruption in public offices as evil but was unable to solve the problem from its root. And as a consequence, the country went through socioeconomic difficulties.
As if the weight of such a broken promise to the life and future of Nigerians weren’t enough, General Abacha, another military President, in 1995 raised a strong voice against corruption and other social ills saying; ‘the twin evils of indiscipline and corruption have severely affected the social integrity of our society and have frustrated the great hopes of our people to genuine development’. However, Nigerians after his demise were shell-shocked to learn that monumental corruption flourished under the same man.
Indeed, the question may be asked as to why President Buhari and General Abacha in 1984 and 1995 respectively were unable to stamp out corruption as promised? The answer to that question in the writer’s views is simple as it hardly needs to be said that the culture of broken promises in that direction predates the two administrations.
Going by the records, it is factually documented that as the most senior military officer after the Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu aborted coup, in 1966,General Thomas Johnson Umunakwe Aguiyi-Ironsi, the first military Head of State in his resolve to curb corruption among other comments declared that ‘the military Government will stamp out corruption and dishonesty in our public offices with ruthless efficiency and restore integrity and self-respect in our public affairs’. That statement turned out to be a mere rhetoric that only existed in the frame as he was later killed on July 29, 1966, by the bloody revenge coup.
Very instructive, there is no single answer to this chain of inabilities to stamping out corruption in the country as it again raised its ugly head under the Yakubu Gowon’s administration. He (Yakubu) designed five main issues that his administration will handle with the fourth focusing on ending corruption in the country. It turned out to be a paradox of the sort as he was later accused of that same corruption while in office.
However, what appeared like a departure from the old order came the way of Nigerians in 1975 when Brigadier Muritala Mohammed upon ascending the mantle of leadership, forfeited to the nation the property he acquired with the public fund as well as constituted the Pedro Martins Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau to among other responsibilities probe Gowon’s administration. Regrettably, this ‘revolution’ came to an abrupt end with his assassination. A development that made Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, as the most senior military officer then to ‘against his will’ take over the mantle of the nation’s leadership which he later handed over to Alhaji Shehu Shagari.
The impact of President Shehu Shagari, fight against corruption was like others not seriously felt. Apart from his call on Nigerians to support his administration fight against corruption, he created the Ethical Re-orientation Committee and the Code of Conduct Bureau. These notwithstanding, his administration were in the public court reputed for allowing corruption becomes a native.
Identically, it is not as if General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida and General Abdulsalami Abubakar did not make any effort to rid the nation of corruption but such record remain sketchy as they said little, and Nigerians are yet to stumble at a documented account of their achievements in this direction.
Also, in his short stay as the Head of the Interim National Government (ING), Chief Ernest Shonekan succulently stated;’’ I am serving notice here and now of the determination of the Interim National Government to launch a crusade against corruption in public life. To this end, I shall strive to lead by personal example. The ING will also ensure that laws against corruption are enforced without fear or favor. Each and everyone must be ready to expose corruption wherever it exists’’. That comment like every other ended as a gospel without the truth as his government was sooner expected declared illegal.
At the dawn of Democracy in May 1999, President Olusegun Obasanjo that recorded a vague result in corruption fight as a military President in the late 1970s suddenly became an anti-corruption crusader creating two anti-craft bodies- Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC). The two bodies have at different points performed to the admiration of the global community. However, OBJ was later accused by Nigerians with critical minds of using the anti-craft bodies as an instrument for witch-hunt/ political vendetta.
Not to say anything about President Umoru Yaradua’s effort will render this piece a one side-narrative as his short stay as president of the federal Republic witnessed some steps adjudged as transparent by Nigerians and earned him goodwill.
Conversely, while Yaradua enjoyed goodwill, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan’s administration faced more credibility burden than goodwill as he was perceived as not resulted in fighting corruption- a factor largely responsible for his failure in his 2015 general election.
So I say, this account has deeply exposed the mal performance that is deeply rooted in the nation and suggests the urgent need for a change in strategy if we are to win this war against corruption in the country. This time is auspicious for Mr. President to realize that it’s not about calling on the international community for assistance but on his ability to ‘’ correct the past corruptions’ by ensuring that those who cheated did not get away with it, and all transgressors treated equally and without exception.
Jerome-Mario, A Lagos Based Journalist/Researcher Writes via;firstname.lastname@example.org.