Opinion: If Buhari Gets It Right In Fight Against Corruption, He Will...

Opinion: If Buhari Gets It Right In Fight Against Corruption, He Will Get It Right Everywhere

By Opinions | The Trent on October 18, 2015
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President Muhammadu Buhari addresses the United Nations General Assembly in September 2015| Frank Franklin II/AP

by Charles Agboeze

If there is an issue over which millions of Nigerians have a univocal opinion, it is that public institutions should be rid of corruption, become more transparent and efficient. Over the years, the phenomenon has accumulated. Now, it has reached an intolerable height. On the international scene, news about Nigeria is redolent with abuse of political office and outrageous tales of corruption, in the tune of billions of dollar. Everyone seem to deplore it, but as Hassan Kukah rightly pointed out, you still find it wherever you go, even in our embassies outside the country.

Virtually every past administration had on its priority list the fight against corruption, but as our records show, they often became actively involved in the loathsome corruption network they purported to be confronting. With these memories still fresh on the minds of many Nigerians, it is natural for one to wonder if Buhari would not end up like his predecessors.   

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In his first term inaugural speech Buhari acknowledged that corruption was one of the major challenges that confront the country and he promised to address it head on. However, his determination and resolve to tackle this ugly phenomenon seemed to have vitiated when he said:  “There will be no paying off old score. The past is prologue”. What exactly did Mr. President mean? If the nation had been brought to its knees as a result of corrupt activities of the past, would justice not demand that old scores be settled as well?

During a BBC Hardtalk series of 27/04/2015, Fayemi Kayode, Buhari’s chief strategist stated that the president would look favourable on corrupt individuals ready to return whatever they had stolen from the nation. But, would the so called ‘favourable look’ mean allowing them escape justice? This was the question posed to him by Zeinab Badawi – the BBC journalist who interviewed him.

To this query, Fayemi was unfortunately unable to produce a satisfactory response. So, the big question still remains whether Buhari would eventually take up this herculean antigraft war. If yes, how? Are there going to be some “untouchables”? In the past, there have been instances where anti-corruption campaigns were simply used as tools by the ruling power to threaten enemies and opponents, undermine their legitimacy, suppress and make them entirely dumb as it (the ruling power) continued the corruption business as usual. How is one sure that Buhari’s current anti-corruption campaign has not been designed to achieve the same purpose?  Only the future can tell.

When Buhari was announced the winner of the last presidential election, the reaction of the vast majority of his supporters was: “finally, here comes a man who could fight corruption to a standstill”.

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This shows to what extent Nigerians perceive corruption as the central problem confronting the country. Buhari’s presidency would have been a success if it managed to bring back trust, transparency and respect for due process back to public institutions.

As some argued, there is a good reason to believe that if corruption is controlled and transparency restored, a lot of other institutional malfeasance would naturally disappear and sustainable development process would set in. Nigeria is full of smart, intelligent and entrepreneurial individuals, some of whom have been internationally recognized and honoured as great innovators and wealth creators. But corruption has always been a hindrance. This is why we consider it the most pressing need that must be addressed by the present administration. There is a sense in which it could be argued that Buhari was elected to clean up the mess.

Fighting corruption is not an easy task. It could be likened to stepping into the lions’ den. To address it, one ought to understand its nature, manifestations and the type of provisions required to contain it. Now, let us rapidly attempt a working definition of what corruption is.

For Chabal and Daloz (2009) Corruption could be described as the blatant absence of respect for given procedures – in other words, a self -evidently reprehensible deviation from a politically legitimate state of affairs.

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In Nigeria, the walls of public institutions have been terribly weakened. Through disregard for due process and usurpation of governmental authority for private gain, the official domain has become virtually privatized. More often than not, the real business of politics is conducted informally and more stealthily, outside the official political realm. There is no doubt that one of the major causes of high-level corruption in Nigeria is the informalization of politics and of the official domain. It will be difficult, if not entirely impossible, to fight corruption in a country where the boundaries between the official and the private domains are vague, fragile and overlapping.

In a country like Nigeria where poverty rate is high, the economy ill-developed, and the importance of bureaucratic transparency ignored, the state usually became the focus for wealth accumulation and an easy escape route from poverty and insecurity. It is for these reasons, and many more, that the struggle for access into the corridors of power has heightened, and become a matter of life and death. Interested egocentric politicians are ever ready to invest heavily in whatever makes the acquisition of state power possible, including the use of violence.

One of the channels most commonly used in Nigeria is the “patron-client” network. That is, the distribution of favours and benefits such as political appointments, jobs, contracts etc. by a political patron to his clients (valued supporters) in exchange for their continued loyalty and backing.  Quite infrequently, such networks are constructed around ethnic and religious cleavages – identities quite facilely manipulated for political ends.

Occasionally, attempts are made, with varying degrees of success, to co-opt small social, religious, professional and civil group into this nexus. In patron-client network, there must be real material and, or, symbolic good to be delivered in exchange for political support. It is a rule that both the patron and his clients understand.  So, in moments of economic or political crises and uncertainties, both the patron and his clients (usually kin, ethnic and religious groups, cronies and allies) are mutually supportive. It is the strong support provided by this tough, and often nefarious, networks that usually obstruct, frustrate and annihilate efforts at investigating or prosecuting corrupt officials. The formidableness of one’s patronage network goes a very long way to determine who is a “sacred cow” and literally untouchable in Nigeria. Furthermore, maintenance and sustenance of this network requires that political patrons will have to keep embezzling.

Running out maintenance fund means losing one’s clients and their backing; and running the risk of being prosecuted and sentenced. This is why most patrons are never willing to turn their back on corruption. When Buhari talks about fighting corruption, this is the type of organisation he must be ready to confront. Unfortunately, it does seem that some of those likely to be investigated are already forming part of his cabinet. This makes one wonder to what extent he is ready for this war.

However, assuming that Buhari is still ready to successfully execute this daunting task, here are the few sectors he should sort out first: the judiciary, the police and the prison services. It is no longer news that our judiciary is not free of corruption. To forestall the miscarriage of justice, the judiciary should be composed only of those who are not ready to compromise their delicate function of delivering of justice. The same is applicable to the police and other law enforcement agencies. These two institutions are vital to any successful fight against corruption. Reforming and making them robust is indispensable. Buhari’s determination to fight corruption should be measured by the number of corrupt individuals that have been properly prosecuted and jailed.

As mentioned above, the nation cannot move forward if the issue of corruption is not properly addressed. This seems to be the major demand that Nigerians are making of Buhari. The reward of a good anti-corruption campaign are: the return of order, transparency and due process to our public institutions, that official appointments are made on the basis of merit and competence, that the public domain is restored to a field in which every Nigerian has an equal chance to play and succeed, and many more.

With all these in view, I would like to encourage the President to stay focused and work hard like there will not be a second term for him. Thoughts about the second term at this stage will constitute a distraction.  If he does well now, there is no doubt that Nigerians will return him unopposed; and his return will never have to depend on any godfather, paid clients, or on rigging the election votes. At 72, this is most probably Buhari’s best and last chance to make history with and for Nigeria.

Chuka Charles Agboeze is a doctoral researcher, SPAIS, University of Bristol, United Kingdom. He can be emailed HERE.

The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.

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