By Ladesope Ladelokun
With Nigeria having the dubious honour of being the poverty capital of the world, it may not be long that it will parade another inglorious trophy of corruption capital of the world if one goes by the stench oozing out of the most populous black country to the rest of the world.
Without a whiff of doubt, the vermin called corruption has always been a barrier on our journey to development. From the power sector to the health sector, energy to works, ear-aching tales of elephantine graft perpetrated by sleazebags stir concerns among Nigerians who are victims of merciless looting in high places.
But, was it not the reason millions of Nigerians queued behind Gen. Muhammadu Buhari in 2015 and 2019? With the background of a no-nonsense General and his perceived abhorrence for corruption that earned him the moniker ‘Mr Integrity’, expectations were high that the multi-headed monster would at last be crushed and buried with its shadows. And, at the mention of the name of the one seen as a squeaky-clean man in a sea of Nigeria’s corrupt politicians, corrupt people would develop apoplexy.
No doubt, Buhari was armed with the knowledge of the havoc caused by graft. Little wonder it was top on this three-point agenda that he vociferously trumpeted across the length and breadth of Nigeria, stating why Nigeria must kill corruption.
“So, we have to get the issue of economy right to make sure the jobs are made available and we should try to kill corruption before corruption kills Nigeria,” he said.
But, five years after the Daura-born assumed power, one must really be a hardcore news junkie to keep pace with the rate at which corruption stories involving appointees of government are churned out. In fact, the president was sincere enough to admit recently that appointees of government in previous administrations and his had abused trust reposed in them while answering questions on the probes of the leadership of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).
If the suspended EFCC boss, Ibrahim Magu, is not accused of living above his means, fraternizing with corrupt people and diversion of loot by the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, the AGF is accused of deliberately frustrating the fight against corruption by withdrawing cases of corruption in courts and living above his means by Magu.
Ordinarily, people considered fit to hold sensitive offices currently held by both men dancing naked in public should be above board. With egregious allegations of financial malfeasance flying in all directions, the joke is not just on the Buhari government but entire Nigerians. It is a shame manufactured in Nigeria and exported to the whole world by men who should fight criminals at a time alleged international fraudster, Hushpuppi, grabbed the headlines across the world for allegedly duping unsuspecting victims of millions of US dollars. Nigeria’s suspended anti-corruption Czar also shared in that dishonour. For example, see how The New York Times and The Washington Post cast their headlines: Nigeria anti-corruption chief suspended, accused of graft. No doubt, it does not tell good story about a country still battling to salvage its battered image.
Sadly, we cannot quantify the damage the accusations of graft involving Nigeria’s suspended anti-corruption Czar and the nation’s number one law officer has caused to Nigerians and Nigeria. But it is a story those who have lost life-changing business deals and job opportunities because of their Nigeria link can relate to.
While we may concede that accusations and counter accusations between Malami and Magu are still in the realm of allegations. What shall we say about the revelation by the Acting Managing Director of the NDDC, Prof Keme Pondei, that only N1.3bn and not N1.5bn was shared among staff as COVID-19 palliative to take care of themselves despite getting their salaries? Or the disturbing Senate report that the NDDC paid scholarship grants to the Acting MD and the directors of the commission?
But the NDDC and the Niger Delta story is the story of Nigeria. A country very rich yet parades the most wretched of the earth. A people surrounded by water yet none to drink. Nothing explains it better than the Niger Delta scholars neglected by their sponsor (NDDC), making them resort to begging on the streets of the United Kingdom at a time they read and hear sordid tales of financial recklessness rocking the NDDC. Thank God for the order from the president that the commission should do the needful.
Truth is, corruption in high places did not start in 2020. As a matter of fact, any young person desirous of having a fair idea of how long it has been with us, the late afrobeat creator, Fela Kuti, gave what can pass for a research material in 1980 (40 years ago)when he dissected patterns of stealing by public servants in his “Authority Stealing”, which gave a lucid explanation on why pen robbery is worse than armed robbery, stating euphemisms- misappropriation, misapplication, embezzlement- deployed in describing stealing by men of power. Little wonder Nigerians suffused the cyberspace with pictures of the music giant recently to celebrate the 23rd anniversary of his departure from mother earth at a time nauseating stories of corruption spark anger across the land.
However, in spite of the present administration’s anti-corruption campaign, Nigeria dropped two places to 146 out of the 180 countries considered in 2019 on the corruption perception index by Transparency International. With 26 points out of 100-just like in 2015- nothing advertises the present administration’s motion-without-movement corruption war better.
If Nigeria must make any meaningful headway in its anti-graft war, the battle must start from the president. The president cannot mouth his desire to crush corruption while his body language reveals the opposite. How, for example, does one reconcile the fact that Buhari, an anti-corruption warlord, raised the hands of Kano governor, Dr Abdullahi Ganduje, who was secretly filmed stuffing wads of dollars he allegedly collected from contractors as kickbacks in his babaringa to campaign for the reelection of the governor? Or his endorsement of the governorship candidate of the All Progressives Congress in the forthcoming governorship election in Edo state, Pastor Ize-Iyamu, who currently has a N700m fraud case in court? What shall we say about the former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal, who was indicted of corruption by a senate panel only to later become one of the leaders of Buhari’s reelection campaign in his Adamawa home state after months of pressure from the press and parliament for him to be fired?
Those who knew the Buhari of old would confirm that an allegation of corruption was enough for the Nigerian leader to avoid the accused like a leper till they clear their name. The new Buhari, however, wines and dines with men with allegations of graft hanging over their heads everywhere they turn.
If we must not sink deeper into the abyss of ignominy and corruption, there must be consequences for bad behaviour by lovers of filthy lucre regardless of their relationship with the president – and the president must be seen to lead that charge, else another inglorious trophy may just be in the offing.