Friday 25 September 2015

Buhari And Sustainable Anti-Corruption War

by: Bolanle Bolawole

I feel strongly about the present administration’s coalescing war against corruption that I have decided to think aloud on some salient aspects of it. I wish that the right template is set for the war so that the pitfalls of our recent past can be avoided and the anti-corruption drive made a roaring success. 

Fearful that the war could end up in acrimonies and drive the nation deeper in the miry clay rather than take us to the much-advertised Eldorado of our dreams, I have chosen to take the risk of doing the unpopular here today, believing that we still have a significant section of the reading public that is discerning and which is, therefore, able to give this piece the careful consideration it deserves.

But in the event that this hope is misplaced for whatever reasons, I have set my mind to travel this road all the same, even if hard and lonely, believing with the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, that light beckons at the end of the tunnel. Ibsen, the German writer, says the strongest man is he who stands alone – especially on principles. Should we fail to get the template of this anti-corruption war right from the very outset, I dare to say that it may, in the end, prove Williams Shakespeare right as so much sound and fury but signifying little or nothing. Much drama but less positive result is one disaster we should not allow befall the anti-corruption drive.

That the vast majority of Nigerians support the war against corruption is not in doubt. I have quoted Ibsen and I do also understand the central place of leadership in all human organisations; yet, I doubt whether only two men in government can effectively and successfully prosecute this all-important war and achieve results commensurate with the resources that will be committed to the efforts as well as meet up with the Mount Everest-high expectations of the citizenry. In the end, are we going to settle for “half bread is better than none”, as they say? Some have also asked whether a Buhari government sired largely by stupendously wealthy politicians who funded his campaign can truly and effectively turn round to destroy the ladder that took him to the top. If he does, how about second term? If a referendum is done today, I suspect that the vast majority of Nigerians will prefer to have a Jerry Rawlings and Ghana-style retributive justice for the corrupt; we should, however, count ourselves lucky if we end up with a USSR-style Gorbachev who, with his twin policies of “Perestroika” and “Glasnost”, broke with the Soviet dictatorial tradition and set in motion, even if inadvertently, the process that dismembered the behemoth called the USSR and yielded the limited democracy on offer today in Russia and its previous clientele-states.

There are two sides to the anti-corruption war: To block all leakages; and to recover looted funds. Both are two sides of the same coin or what African-American leader, Jesse Jackson, described as a bird needing two wings to fly. The Treasury Single Account policy is, perhaps, the central measure aimed at achieving the first objective; noble as it may look on the surface, it has drawbacks that are already sending alarming signals down the spine. It is estimated that money deposit banks will there from lose over a trillion naira funds. Many of the banks have started bracing themselves for this eventuality by down-sizing or right-sizing, a euphemism for retrenchment, which will further worsen an already bad situation of massive unemployment. 

Therefore, an adroit management of the economy that manifests in a balancing act that takes all contending issues and forces into consideration will have a more salutary effect on the economy than a one-way traffic, jackboot policy that may result into cutting the nose to spite the face. It is good not only to go after looted funds but to also mete out appropriate punishment to the culprits to deter others. The other side of the coin, however, is that the processes involved are not as simple and straightforward as they appear on the surface. Stolen funds are difficult to track; expensive to locate and retrieve; and getting the support of foreign countries and international organisations does not come easy. Worse is that it is time-consuming. Fears have been expressed that President Buhari is spending a disproportionate part of his time chasing stolen funds to the detriment of governance. If the trend continues, we may in the end be kobo wise but naira foolish. Effective governance must not be sacrificed on the altar of chasing after looted funds. Both should be done pari-pasu but should one threaten to stand in the way of the other, I will suggest we adopt the time honoured aphorism that “prevention is better than cure”.

I am also apprehensive because many critical stakeholders needed to sign up for the anti-corruption war have voted with their legs. Many of the noise makers (apologies, Buhari!)organising public rallies and street parades all over the country cannot be trusted to stand firm when push comes to shove. Take, for instance, organised Labour and pro-democracy activists. How many of them can adequately account for the check-off dues they collect from workers and the grants wrenched from foreign donors? If, as it is said, electoral heist is the worse form of corruption, what do we make of the inability of the NLC to conduct a free and fair election into its national offices? Twice it attempted and twice it failed, such that today, it is factionalised. Yet, they have the temerity to march in support of the anti-corruption war! Physician, heal thyself! First get rid of the log in your own eyes; only then can you be clear-sighted enough to remove the speck in your neighbour’s eyes. Politicians across board are not supporting the war against corruption, save by mere rhetoric. Evidence: They have emphatically refused to emulate Buhari and Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo and declare their own assets publicly. Also, in a random sampling of political leaders conducted by a national newspaper recently, an overwhelming number of governors voiced opposition to death penalty for the corrupt.

Buhari and Osinbajo are the two-man riot squad in their vaunted war against corruption. The All Progressives Congress governors, legislators and party leaders have declined to declare their assets publicly. Yet, this is the course of action expected of them if, truly, they mean to be the true harbingers of the CHANGE they vociferously trumpeted from the rooftop. As things stand, Buhari and Osinbajo are like Generals without troops. If, in an APC-led government, the APC leaders will not lead by example, is it the APGA or the PDP that will do? Worthy and dependable allies are needed by Buhari and Osinbajo in this all-important war. I therefore suggest the following categories of officials must be compelled to make public declaration of their assets if the much talked-about war against corruption is not to end up a ruse. One: Buhari’s and Osinbajo’s spouses and adult children. Our experience here has been that leaders hide much of their ill-gotten wealth under the cloak of friends and family members. Two: All political appointees. In fact, this should be a condition for anyone who accepts such appointments. Three: All elected officials at federal, state, and council levels, including the National Assembly and state House of Assembly. Four: All heads of Ministries, Departments, and Agencies of the three tiers of government. Five: All top civil servants from the level of Assistant Director. Six: All judges and judicial officers. Seven: All heads and principal officers of the anti-corruption agencies. Eight: Heads of military and para-military forces.

To conclude: At the moment it looks as if enlisting in the anti-corruption war is seen by many political leaders as optional; it is not. Rather, it is a task that must be done and all hands must be on the deck to achieve this mission. Buhari’s and APC’s statements before, during, and after the last election left no one in doubt that the anti-corruption war would be an important plank of their CHANGE mantra.

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