BALA DAN ABU e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
I don’t know how seriously Nigerians still take the promises their politicians and other public servants make on their way to the offices they offer them with their votes. There is practically nothing under the sun that this country and its highly patient citizenry have not been promised by those who seek their mandate, some of them so beguilingly robust that they cannot be suspected as fraud. But that is what most of them are – grand statements of false intentions and duplicity. The eradication of corruption in our country is one of the most familiar of these promises.
In fact, it is a dictum, a kind of political philosophy that is common to the political manifestoes of all Nigerian politicians and their political parties. But what it means to almost all of them and which is what they actually do when they get into office with the help of our vote, is the exact opposite of what they had promised. They make corruption a bigger and more ravenous monster. That is the reason the anti-corruption war occupies a permanent place on the list of failed projects of most, if not all, our elected public office holders and their political parties.
That is also the reason Nigerians always end up biting their fingers in regret at the end of the tenures of most of the people they send into public with their votes. Look at what is currently happening in our country. Anywhere and everywhere we turn to, we are daily assaulted by the foul odour of corruption left behind by those who just finished their tenure of office and also their predecessors. The media is awash with stories about billions of public funds in Naira or Dollars that have been stolen by our erstwhile political leaders and public servants.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, seems to have been roused from its deep sleep by the coming of President Muhammadu Buhari into some action. Its lawyers are back in the courts with the dusted files of old and hitherto abandoned corruption cases while files are being opened for new comers to the long queue of the nation’s executive thieves. Is this then the beginning of the new dawn in the battle to break the jaws of corruption? I’m not sure. I’m not inspired yet and will not be inspired until Buhari who has promised to lead the new phase of the battle against corruption begins to fire the bullets. Whatever EFCC is doing now may all turn out to be motion without movement, noise that may be no indication of a new and positive posture of commitment.
What will raise our hope is a new strategy that is both patriotic and pragmatic and which radiates the sincerity of President Buhari and his team to deal with corrupt public officials. That strategy must be borne out of a thorough understanding of the nature of this public enemy itself. Corruption is so widespread and endemic that it is difficult to find Nigerians who are either not already infected with its virus or enjoy immunity against. Money and the desire to acquire it by means that is anything but honest and fair is the mission of most Nigerians who venture into politics. Sadly, most of these people make a huge success of this ignoble mission to the detriment of the collective goals of the citizenry.
Every political dispensation since 1999 has been a tragic tale of improvement over the previous one in terms of theft of public funds. Before now, public servants only stole as much as would last them and their families for only a few years after leaving office. Now, the philosophy has changed. They steal not just what would last them forever but ensure that it is enough to also take care of their stubborn pursuers. Who are these stubborn pursuers – members of our various security agencies, the anti-graft agencies and the judiciary. Every ‘checkpoint’ on the escape route for looters of public funds costs huge sums of money to scale. The people in charge of all the beats on these routes will insist on getting their cut of the looted funds. That is the reason stealing in high places has assumed a frightening dimension in our beloved country. It has graduated from the range of millions to billions of Naira or Dollars.
The unwritten rule is that the more money you steal, the brighter your chances of escaping justice. People who get jailed for corruption are mostly those who made the mistake of not stealing enough. So you will be a fool not to steal more than what you and your family members need for comfort. The new phase of the war against corruption under President Buhari must first seek a thorough understanding of the science of theft in public office.
It has become complex and puzzling with those who should be part of the foot soldiers in the war for its eradication defecting to the other side. Why has money and the quest for it become a compelling aspiration of most Nigerians? Is arrest, trial and jail the only option we have for winning the war? Will it even win the war for us? What other options do we have? These are some of the question that the Buhari administration must address as it prepares to face the monster called corruption.
The new approach must also address the fears that fuel corruption the most. That is the fear of the uncertainty that comes with the tomorrow of most Nigerians. It is the fear created by the reality of the total absence of social support schemes and lack of functional social infrastructure which leaves everybody at the mercy of God.
It makes stealing very tempting for those who have access to public funds. Our society must make elaborate provisions for citizens who cannot help themselves, especially when they become old and unable to work for self sustenance. Those who become governors of our states in particular, need special prayers. They are desperately in need of deliverance. Most of them cannot take their eyes away from public funds and property.
They steal and steal until there is nothing left to steal any more. Then they arrange for dubious loans which they also embezzle. When leaving office they go away with almost every movable item in their official residences – beds and beddings, furniture and even cutleries. They then go on to package for themselves in the name of severance benefits and other allowances which they earn for the rest of their lives in addition to houses built for them by the state in some of the country’s major cities, particularly, Lagos and Abuja.