During the last Media chat earlier this year when Mr. President spoke to Nigerians on a number of front burner issues, it was to my quagmire that I discovered he played down corruption as one of the major issues confronting or acting as a clog in the wheel of our progress. In his words, “although there is corruption in SOME (emphasis mine) sectors of the Nigerian government but the situation is not as bad as it is being portrayed”.
Personally, I was disappointed by Mr. President’s annotations so much that I took to the social Media, registering my irascibility and discontent that Good luck Ebele Jonathan astoundingly by his words, seem to be telling those indicted or fingered by anti-graft agencies especially members of his kitchen-cabinet, that they are merely been attacked prejudicially in order to discredit his administration or maybe because they do not “like his face” as he likes to tell anyone who cares to listen.
It was the least I expected from him as by those words or what the speaker of the House of Representatives, Honorable Aminu Waziri Tambuwal has transposed into his “Body Language”, he has shown prima facie that he is not literally committed in the fight against corruption as in his approximation, it is not as bad as it looks. Instead of accepting that corruption has pervaded the fabric of government to the extent that it is so glaring for even the blind to see, and then showing the proactive and reactive steps set in motion to see the socio-political menace is brought to an all-time low, he labored to play-down the effect of corruption. Instead of showing that he is also displeased by the trend, he somehow, by that response nailed himself to the cross with his own hands and shot himself in the foot. To cut the long story short, he cast suspicion on himself and left people like me with no other option but to set the proverbial eagle’s eye on him.
His statement is reminiscent of those of the former president of 2nd republic Nigeria, Alhaji Shehu Shagari. In a statement credited to him in those days, history books was so kind to let us know that he once said that there was corruption in Nigeria but that it had not yet reached alarming proportions. Alhaji Shehu Shagari and Goodluck Ebele Jonathan’s arguments without mincing words, lends credence to the trite that the problem of Nigeria is the problem of ineptitude and compromise in leadership. It doesn’t matter that Shagari made his own statement some three decades ago.
If Mr. President thinks that corruption is not as bad as it is portrayed, what I make out of it is: we should not go about hankering and bickering or we should not fight corruption until it becomes “as bad as it is portrayed” to borrow his words. In the same vein, a father whose, son comes 11th in a class of say, 32 should not chide the son until he comes 28th or may be “until he carries the class for head” as we use to say in those days at Kings Nursery and Primary School Kano state. Similarly, Alhaji Shehu Shagari, by his words to wit: that there is corruption in Nigeria but not having reached an alarming proportion, is another way of saying that we should not worry about the religious and organized crude-oil theft and the festival of loot in the ministries, departments and agencies of government until they have run the treasury down as that is the only definition of “alarming proportion” that I can understand. Perhaps we can also say by syllogism, that a man with let’s say, Flu symptoms ,should not visit a nearby pharmacy shop to get say ‘pro-cold’ or any anti-biotic to contain the ailment, but must wait until it deteriorates further in aberration of the age-long medical dictum-prevention is better than cure. For him, it is better to wait and ‘tuntubi likita’ if the symptom persists after 3 days as they say in the drug commercials.
Umu ibem, does anyone still need to be told that corruption has secured for itself a posh apartment and permeated every facet of our society completely so much that one may be justified in calling it the condition par excellence of contemporary Nigerian society? We see, hear and read about corruption in the school, in the public service, in the private sector, in the government, in the legislative assemblies, in the religious organizations, on the road, in the air. We can go on and on. So therefore, in the words of chief ‘Zebrudaya okorigwe nwaogwu’, the least a president can tell those who brought him into the saddle is that Corruption “is not as bad as it is portrayed” for to do so, as we have said, is tantamount to an indictment of himself and elicits a lack of political will to fight or do away with the scourge. My frank and honest opinion is that anybody who comes up to say that corruption in Nigeria has not reached an alarming rate or is not as bad as it is portrayed, is either a fool, a crook, does not live in this country or even though he lives in the country, is removed from society or finally as we say in the Law courts, a ‘criminise participise’ (partner in crime). If anyone should hold so, then they must also be brave to tell us that ‘Boko Haram’ insurgency, unemployment and infrastructural decay have not reached an alarming rate or bad as it is made to appear. For it will be a futile exercise for anyone to engage in a forensic analysis of what has brought us to the quicksand we are now muddled in, without mentioning the triumvirate of corruption, unemployment, Boko Haram insurgency. In a nutshell, if Boko Harm has reached an alarming rate, then Corruption has reached even further heights as there is no way to explain away what led to the insurgency, without a mention of the high culture of governmental intransigency and elevation of corruption to the throne of impunity.
Before we proceed to the chief-business of the day, anyone reading this close to Mr. president and his bootlickers should please help tell the ‘throne’. that the cancer worm of corruption in the country he superintends, has passed the alarming rate and has entered the fatal stage and that Nigeria will fall off the precipice if we keep pretending that Nigeria is only slightly indisposed as they will have us understand and that the earlier it is fought with clenched fist and ferocious mien, our wait for a corruption-free society will be akin to ‘waiting for Godot” in Samuel Beckett’s seminal work. IT WILL NEVER COME.
Dear readers, yours truly, have chosen to plant this essay on the foregoing ground in order to bring to all and sundry, or to make it clearer to many an objective reader, why the Speaker of the House of Representatives’ recent ‘attack’ on the office of the presidency, should not be seen as any political schism or bad politics from the leader of the lower chamber but rather, should be judged on its merits if really we are committed in kicking out corruption like polio out of Nigeria.
Speaking at an event organized by the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) to mark the 2013 International Anti-Corruption Day in Abuja earlier this week, the honorable Speaker of the House said among other things that Mr. president’s “Body Language” does not show or suggest that he is interested in the anti-corruption fight by virtue of the bureaucracies he sets-in to gag the constitutional duty of the anti-graft agencies. In his words, “the executive by constituting committees to investigate what ordinarily should have been investigated by the EFCC, the ICPC or the Code of Conduct Bureau, is engaging in the duplication of efforts. The executive should have no business with that, they should just refer corruption issues if they mean business, to the EFCC”
However, it appears he dropped the bombshell when he said and I quote, “by the actions of setting up different committees for straight forward cases. The president’s body language doesn’t tend to support the fight against corruption”. He went on and on to say a lot of things that has predictably left the entire political atmosphere bursting to the seams as we are wont to do here.
Since the media caught wind of that, the proverbial hell has been let loose. Cacophonies of noise have rented the atmosphere as every tom, dick and harry wants to comment on the matter especially observers of the political scene from those that are banal to those that are otiose, odious and many others, out rightly bereft of logic.
The presidency through its walking-talkie Dr. Reuben Abati chose to avoid the issues raised by the parliamentarian and has left us the rhetorical rhetoric thus: when has Tambuwal become a sorcerer to read body language as though that is what led to the discourse. For Chief Ayo Adebayo, Afenifere Chieftain, he chose to decline faulting or endorsing Tambuwal’s statement saying that it is Tambuwal’s viewpoint and not His. In his words, “I will not say Mr. President encourages corruption but he has not done enough to discourage the menace”. However, Chief Cliff Mbaugwu, chieftain of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), towed the path of the proverbial “kettle calling pot black” by insinuating that since the House of Representative itself is corrupt, any one from the chamber lacks the moral ‘locus standi’ to pock nose into the business of the executive arm, much less attempt to remove the speck of dust in their eyes when a log of wood lies deep-seated in their two blinds. In his words, “the speaker is part of government even though he belongs to the legislative arm. If the executive arm cannot fight corruption, then the speaker also has his own share of blames. Others like Chief Ebenezer Babatope, former transport minister and PDP chieftain Yinka Odumakin, Afenifere National Publicity Secretary, all had bad words for the law maker as they disregarded the messenger and posited that he was out to score political points. As for Chief Lai Mohammed, the APC National publicity secretary, I need not rehash his reaction as only a politically naïve fellow, will find it difficult to guess his position.
It is a culture in this clime, to do murder to the messenger and if possible burry him together with his message, it is even immaterial what the message holds for us as individuals and as citizens. Welcome to Nigeria where the standard of what is good or bad is measured with the yardstick of who said what, his political affiliations, ethnic and religious affinities. Tambuwal’s statement today in some quarters has been greeted with applause and commendation for brevity, but in others, it has been reduced as bad politics and treated with opprobrium. For some of us, he is a true statesman and for some others, he is merely a political entrepreneur or opportunists. And I ask, is this how we intend to cross over to the other side? When will our voices be one in calling a spade a spade not minding who owns the spade? Must everything here be subjected to unbridled politicization?
Going back to the Tambuwal interjection, I am yet to find anything wrong in the law makers words for the presidency and it is immaterial the intention of the law maker for even the devil knows not the innermost recesses of the heart of man. And if the devil cannot, who then are we to know? Hence, why our attention should be fixated on the message and a blind eye turned to the messenger. Whether he is acting the APC script or otherwise, talk for the birds! One need not look keenly enough before it becomes clear that there has been a systematic institutionalization of corruption in the last few years. We cannot be inundated every now and again with exposed corruption cases with millions of dollars being in the drain and the only thing we get back is some phony committee being set up and before one could say jack Robinson, they are hurriedly deposited in the bin of dusty history and business continues as usual in a country where only ten percent of the controversial population are positively affected by the much touted economic growth that has not affected the price of a ‘mudu’ of garri at the local market, next door in Africa’s largest producer of cassava.
From the SEC scandal to the Pension Scam, to the Malabu Scandal, the Subsidy Scam, Farouk/Otedola hide and seek and a host of others. What has happened to the list of all those who had benefited illegally from the subsidy programme which included relatives and colleagues of key government officials? The $ 32 million criminal charge against Former governor of Bayelsa state -Timipre sylva for laundering funds billed for the state? Why has the last not been held from those scandals and many more of their ilk running to the tune of billions of dollars that ordinarily should have been committed in giving governance a face lift? There is abruptly no explanation, you know why? Because this is Nigeria where anomaly is the norm.
In a recent report submitted to the United States Congress by the secretary of state John Kerry, he alleged massive corruption at all levels of Nigerian government. The document titled: “Country Reports on Human Rights Practice for 2012” which was prepared by the Department of State using information from US embassies, consulates abroad, foreign government officials and published reports, the estimated money lost to endemic corruption and entrenched inefficiency amounted to 1.067 trillion naira while recommending reforms of the oversight functions and enforcement mechanisms and further endorsed investigation and prosecution of culpable officials. The report, is another testimony to the cesspool of corruption that public office holders scamper for space to swim in here at the expense of the millions of Nigerians whose life such funds should have bettered ‘ceteris paribus’.
Tambuwal’s admonition is therefore in order and should serve as a wakeup call and not be treated with the disdain it has been received this is even as the occasion in which the said statement was made is a suitable one it is however, unfortunate that it has been met with biased and jejune backlashes from cavernous forces who should not be taken serious.
Meanwhile, such attack, should not be for Mr. president alone as there is no law that excluded the executives at the state level from intensifying efforts towards eradicating the bad blood of corruption from our national bone marrow. While it is easier to see the spoils of government at the center, the state executives must also know that Tambuwals remarks is also for them to ruminate over as it is not the president’s alone to chew. The state governors must step up efforts in the fight against corruption by showing and ensuring financial fair play in their handling of the state funds as the rot that has eaten deep into our system is even of high pedigree at the state and local government levels but often overlooked. It is no longer news that most governors if not all, can barely account for the fund accruing to the local area councils which pass through their offices hence one could see why they are stoutly against granting autonomy to Local government areas. They have all appointed sham care-taker committees in their respective states to over-see the local area councils and in their posh lodges, dictate the how the administration is run and how the funds are handled. This trend must be urgently reversed as the fight against Mother corruption is a collective one which must be tackled by every limb and sinew even though the buck still stops at Mr. president’s table.
Tambuwal, the good messenger must be commended for such brave and uncommon feat by throwing darts at the executive arm. It is to the credit of our democracy that the legislative arm does not ‘Siddon Look’ while the executive arm runs the country as the kings ran the courts in the middle ages according to their whims and caprices. It is a vindication that there is not a text- book fusion of powers as Baron de’ Montesquieu postulated for a democratic state where the rule of law should be the fuel that burns the train of government. But does it end at pointing out the rots when constitutionally you should be a part of the panacea to the menace? Your guess I am assured, is as good as mine.
As the leader of the lower House, tambuwal and his colleagues in the green chambers can start by making laws that allows it or makes it easier for accused public office holders to face prosecution and their guilt or otherwise proved through a fast judicial process that is not fraught with bottle-necks or unending adjournments in the litigation process. To this end, the judiciary comes into the simultaneous equation as the implementers of this law and the bulwark of the civil liberty of the citizens (Apologies to Rt. Hon. Nnamdi Azikiwe). Plea-bargains should not be invoked in the litigation process to make sure that the accused official is not only convicted but also, visibly seen to have been convicted and in so doing, they can begin to win back the trust of the masses and the international community will begin to see us a people ready to walk their talk and sanitize their economy.
It takes a lot more than setting up committees and at the end of the day, feed on our collective terminal disease-Amnesia. Nigerians will never be happy, if alleged looters of our patrimony still walk the streets free and ever more free than migratory birds in flight and continue to wallow in pain-arousing opulence at the detriment of me, you and you. The much touted transformation Agenda of Mr. president will not be given its credit as long as corruption continues to be elevated to the tune of an article of faith.
Obviously, this situation which has built up over the years will take some time to be corrected assuming we want to get serious and tackle it head-on. But to institute this change, the president of this country must take and be seen to take a decisive first step of ridding his administration of all persons on whom the slightest wind of corruption has blown. When he can summon up the courage to do that, he will find himself grown overnight to such stature and authority that he will become Nigeria’s leader and not just its president. Only then can he take on and conquer corruption in the nation and not waiting until it is serious “as it is being portrayed”.
In the final analysis, the governors, the legislature, the judiciary, the executive and the anti-graft agencies must show probity in their dealings and be seen to be willing and ready to blow the whistle at the slightest suspicious or ‘kurukere’ movement in all business of governance. There must be a mutual suspicion enthroned whereby everybody is watching everybody’s track and before we know, transparency would have been instituted as the canon of our government as it is in saner climes. The earlier we do that, the better it will for all of us.
Tambuwals’s interjection should be judged on its merit as the whirlwind of politicizing the issue, will blow no one no good. GEJ has a lot of work to do, to lift the web of corruption that every other day, risks being what his divine administration will be synonymous with many years after leaving power which he himself once acknowledged is transient. (ONUKWUBE).
The writer tweets @RayNkah