On Buhari’s War Against Corruption

Just yesterday, President Buhari at the 30th summit of the African Union in Adis Ababa, Ethiopia was declared African champion in the fight against corruption in Africa.

Back home in 2015, when he was sworn in as president, he declared war on three major fronts: 1. war against insecurity, especially insurgency and Boko Haram;
2. War against corruption; 3. war against unemployment and improvement of the economy, and other wars. In his first outing as Nigeria’s military Head of State, he declared “War Against Indiscipline”, WAI. One could term it war against corruption, although, they talked of “indiscipline” as in military parlance.
But a serious attempt to institutionalize this war was made during Dr. Obasanjo’s second outing as a democratic president. He created the ICPC, EFCC, SERVICOM, CODE OF CONDUCT BUREAU, DUE PROCESS OFFICE, and other bodies to fight the war. Incidentally, and paradoxically, corruption seemed to have peaked during his time, reaching its zenith with subsequent presidents, up to Goodluck Jonathan, all of them presiding over what had become an octopus. But the second coming of Buhari seems to have given the fight some oxygen. There seems to be a positive correlation in the Nigerian experience between who is president and the intensity or the lack of it in the war against corruption.
Apart from the definitions of corruption that might have been given in the laws establishing these institutions, the public are not aware of the full ramifications of the use of the word “corruption”, in the laws establishing the ICPC, EFCC and other bodies beyond our ordinary understanding of the words, “financial crimes and corruption”. It is in this light, President Jonathan attempted to explain the wider implications of the word corruption by insisting that the public understands it to be “ordinary theft” in the public arena. He tends to have captured it correctly, although he was derided in the press as alluding to only theft rather than the wider concept known as corruption. But President Goodluck captured the public’s perception of corruption correctly – that corruption is “mere stealing”. Even the African Champion on corruption President Buhari tend to have this narrow perception of corruption.
Therefore, his perception of it as “mere stealing from the treasury”, has made him go after only those that are perceived to have stolen from the public treasury only. This perception of corruption as “mere stealing”, has made him to be like a trained police dog, who would not nib-the planning to steal – in the bud, but will only sniff and go after those who are perceived to have stolen. We now ask the question, what is corruption?
Does it mean only when you steal what should belong to the public treasury? Or such acts as will involve bad governance such as discrimination based on tribe, ethnicity, sex and other indices that separate one community or one individual from the other?
Does corruption involve discrimination in appointments based on nepotism or religious bigotry? Does it involve not taking steps to provide adequate security to all parts and sections of the country or a seeming tendency to support one side only and ignoring the others? Does it involve delegating and abdicating of authority? Or a situation where only you alone is seen as not stealing or having stolen from the public treasury, but one who has surrounded himself with those who are not so clean, and those who would have stolen, at one point or the other, yet there seems to be a toleration of their presence and his relations around him against others? If the definition of corruption excludes all of the above, what then is corruption? Does it involve a restricted usage as to stealing of public funds? Or it spreads to include bad governance, injustice, lack of fair play; and discrimination and all kinds of acts that are not standard but are impure? An excursion into the dictionary meaning of corruption will throw some light on the subject.
Corruption is both autonomous and transactional. Corruption is derived from the word “corrupt”, to be corrupt means: 1. In a depraved state, debased, perverted, morally degenerate, and weak in morals.2. to be corrupt also means to be with a lot of errors in it, not genuine or correct; in an invalid state. 3. the third meaning is to be in a putrid state, spoiled, tainted, and unsound state.
When used in a noun form, corruption means one of many meanings: the first is, act of corrupting, or of impairing its integrity, virtue, or moral principle, it could be a state of depravity, wickedness, impurity or bribery. Corruption could be an act of corrupting. It could also be the product of corruption. It could as well mean the decomposition of a biological matter or, as in computing, the destruction of data by manipulation of parts of it, either by deliberate or accidental human action or by imperfections in storage or transmission media. Corruption also means the act of changing, or of being changed, for the worse; a departure from what is pure, simple, or correct; as a corruption of style, and language as in linguistics.
Corruption could also mean something that is evil but is supposed to be good. The standard is good but it is bad, therefore it is corrupt. Corruption could therefore be an act of corrupting, or a state of being corrupt; changing for the worst; or being changed for the worse; or departure from what is pure, correct, or what is debased, and is in a non-standard form etc.
From the above, we can see that corruption is an act, a process, a product, a state, etc of impairing integrity, or a change for the worse. It goes through the whole gamut of life, either in public, or in private life.
When used in connection with the public arena, where standards are set, such as the rule of law, constitutionalism, liberal democracy, federalism, federal character, and all those concepts that are essential, that make up for an ordered society, once there is a departure, or impairment of integrity or whatsoever, which is not the standard and acceptable state of things, then it is corruption, or the thing has been corrupted, or it is in the process of being corrupted.
Looking at issues that confront the Nigerian state today, we can say that corruption is endemic, going through the whole gamut of governance and the fabric of society. Like the concept of sin in our religious books, no sin is small, sin is sin and no matter the magnitude, it condemns. Therefore it is either hypocrisy or lack of knowledge, to hide behind one aspect of corruption and condemn others. It is the proverbial Ostrich that hides its head in the sand, while leaving outside, its huge body.
The United Nation’s Convention in 2003 has provided for prohibition of corruption and has defined the various forms of corruption.
The African Union, as one of its objectives, has provided for good governance and anti corruption. Specifics of corruption are given in the African Union’s Convention. It talk’s about illicit financial flows. There are illicit financial leakages in Africa of up to about 50 billion dollars annually.
We have to look at specific types of corruption. Occurrence of corruption is a function of opportunity, and it shows weakness of institutions. There is corruption in the political sphere because the democratic processes are infested with vested interests and impunity. Its occurrence also shows lack of strong legislative framework.
To achieve success in the war against corruption key players have to be strengthened i.e. the legislature, the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and the Ministry of Justice. All of them have to collaborate and cooperate. Key issues deal with transparency and accountability. However, in Africa, there is impunity and lack of political will to ensure enforcement. Where it happens, it is more against the opposition party and its members.
It is therefore a call to government to define what aspects of corruption it is fighting, seeing that it is endemic, so that proper focus can be given to it, rather than creating the picture or impression that corruption is just financial theft in the public arena excluding other forms of corruption that make for good governance, non discrimination on the basis of tribe and religion, nepotism, and not following justice fair play and the rule of law. We should stop behaving like a trained police dog sniffing, for those that have stolen from the public treasury only and include nepotistic and narcissists. For the war against corruption to succeed we have to include assessment and punishment where there is bad governance and nepotism. This requires building attitudinal changes in society and strong institutions. We should not be like the proverbial Ostrich.

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Chief/Barr. J.D. EPHRAIM writes from Abuja

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