The fight against corruption is the trump card of Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari. He has realised that most Nigerians hate the blow corruption has dealt on Nigeria for decades. Much of the money that would have been used to provide infrastructure and build the nation has been stolen and stashed away in foreign bank accounts and also invested in property and businesses overseas.
Therefore, anytime Nigerians hear that a corrupt public officer has been arrested, they go wild with joy, asking for stiff penalty for the person. Some even ask for the death penalty. But who can blame Nigerians? Corruption has caused the death of many children who could have survived if there were good medical facilities in our hospitals. Many Nigerians had died in road crashes caused by potholes that would not have existed if the money set aside for road construction was not embezzled. Many Nigerians had died of dehydration in the desert trying to cross over to Europe for greener pastures because the money that should have been pumped into the economy had been embezzled, leaving the nation impoverished.
Having realised how impassioned Nigerians are on the issue of corruption, Buhari has taken advantage of it fully. There is no speech he makes in Nigeria or overseas that he does not harp on corruption and how it has crippled the nation. The same thing occurs when Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, presidential aides and APC leaders speak.
Anytime there is a negative news story against the government, the Presidency releases a story on corruption or announces some huge amount of money recovered, and the attention of the public is immediately taken away from the negative story.
But there are issues that point to the fact that corruption is laughing at the efforts being made to eradicate it. The first instance is the shocking pictures of malnourished and dying Internally Displaced Persons in camps in Borno State released to the media last month by Doctors Without Borders. The pictures looked as if they came from some distant country ravaged by war and blockaded from food and water or like pictures of Biafran children during the Nigerian Civil War.
Doctors Without Borders said that 200 people died in a month in the camp from starvation and dehydration. The body described the situation as a “catastrophic humanitarian emergency” and said that refugees at the camp spoke of “children dying of hunger and digging new graves every day”.
It was shocking that such pictures came from an IDP camp that the Federal Government and the state governments said they had spent billions of naira to take care of in addition to the various products donated by individuals and organisations. It is obvious that while the President tells the world that he is fighting corruption, corruption is waltzing around under his nose, stealing the funds and the food meant for the IDPs.
Similar pictures emerged recently about our prisons, where inmates, especially those on the awaiting-trial-list who are not allowed to step out of the prison, were seen looking like skeletons because of starvation and malnutrition. Ironically, the Minister of Interior, Abdulrahman Bello Dambazau, said in May that the Federal Government had an annual budget of N10bn for the feeding of its 63,142 prisoners (the population as of March 31, 2016). Nigerians asked in shock: “What happened to that money?” The answer is simple: Corruption.
Also, some weeks ago, it was reported by some news channels that the Central Bank of Nigeria embarked on a secret recruitment involving only children of the top political class. It sounded like a joke that could not be possible in the administration of Buhari, who has repeatedly said that he would fight corruption to a standstill. But that story turned out to be true. The Presidency said nothing about that corrupt practice.
While that was dying down, another story surfaced that the Federal Inland Revenue Service had done a secret recruitment that had the children of the high and the mighty as beneficiaries. Again, the Presidency said nothing, and did nothing. No person was punished. The recruitment was not cancelled.
As if that was not enough, last week, it was reported that the Nigerian Prisons Service had undertaken its own secret recruitment. It still followed the same pattern. As usual, the Presidency said nothing and did nothing.
Excluding these three Federal Government bodies, other government bodies may have carried out a similar secret recruitment or are planning to do the same. And there is a trend in all of the recruitment exercises. To fulfil the requirement of the constitution that recruitment must reflect the federal character, those recruited were randomly assigned states across the federation.
What can be deduced from this secret recruitment of the children of the influential and well-connected is that the silence of Buhari shows that he is aware of it and endorses it. How then can the fight against corruption be successful with such occurring repeatedly?
To know whether the fight against corruption has any effect, you need to visit any government agency or attempt to do any transaction with any of them, whether on the federal, state or local government level. It is a complete case of business as usual. Bribes are still demanded brazenly. There is no secrecy about it. Nothing still gets done if bribes are not offered.
Buhari may spend four years in office, or a maximum of eight years, if he gets re-elected in 2019. It will be tragic if after all this effort and raised hope, we discover at the end of his tenure that nothing has changed on the issue of corruption. Corruption is not like armed robbery whose perpetrators can be easily seen. Corruption is also tempting unlike armed robbery, which is too risky. It does not have the type of bad image associated with armed robbery. It pays huge dividends, given the honour society accords to those who are well-to-do. Therefore, fighting corruption is not as easy as fighting a crime like armed robbery. It requires a systematic and systemic approach, with the creation of strong institutions, investment in technology, reduction of the direct contact of officials with funds, reorientation, and living by example by the leaders.
But most importantly, something feeds the corruption that takes place in Nigeria. It is the availability of free money that is seen as belonging to nobody. There is a kind of competition among those who are involved in public service to grab as much as they can. This attitude of public money not being anybody’s money has its root in the type of federal structure we practise, which makes all resources deposited in the federation account and shared among the three tiers of government every month. If it is not changed for a structure that empowers the states to work for their money and choose how to spend it, corruption will continue and even get worse, in spite of all the efforts of Buhari and anybody who will come after him.
In its manifesto, the ruling All Progressives Congress has this as one of the things it would do if elected: “Initiate action to amend our constitution with a view to devolving powers, duties and responsibilities to states and local governments in order to entrench true federalism and the Federal spirit.” Since the APC won last year, its top guns, including the party chairman, the President, and the Vice President, have been singing a different song on the issue of restructuring and true federalism.
On bended knees, we appeal to this administration to embrace restructuring and true federalism to save Nigeria from corruption, retrogression and ethnic and religious strife.
Azuka Onwuka is a veteran journalist and writer. He is also a social commentator and public affairs analyst. Connect with him on Facebook.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.