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De-institutionalising corruption in Nigeria (1)
AT the recently concluded Fourth Annual Conference of the Academy for Entrepreneurial Studies (AES) held in Lagos, three former heads of state of the federation, namely, General Yakubu Gowon, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and Chief Ernest Shonekan, spoke on why Nigeria does not seem to be working, and recommended how to make it work. Central to their varied submissions seems to be the issue of corruption, which is regarded as the bane of development. They also contended that we need to build and strengthen institutions in order to make the country work. The main plank of my submission today is about institutions, and I will deal with that very shortly. Meanwhile, let me comment briefly about former President Chief Olusegun Obasanjo’s contribution to the discourse at the conference.
I had the privilege of watching a little clip of the event, specifically Chief Obasanjo’s comments, on Channels Television news on Wednesday May 23, 2012 and I cannot but agree with him. As is characteristic of him, Chief Obasanjo in that little clip pulled no punches, went straight for the issues without mincing words or engaging in useless diplomatic talk. He went for the jugular of the state Houses of Assembly and the National Assembly as being populated largely by rogues and armed robbers. Hear him, “what we have are more rogues and armed robbers in the state Houses of Assembly and the National Assemblies (sic). What sort of law will they make?” Give it to the old Generalissimo, double talk is not his forte, for he is bold, courageous, cruelly assertive and takes no prisoners! An uproarious debate that might have degenerated into an acrimonious war of words almost ensued in the House of Representatives on the matter but for the maturity of the Speaker, Aminu Tambuwal whose able intervention defused the matter. But no matter what, it appears the national legislators are not likely to allow the former President to get away with his submission.
He has undoubtedly opened a Pandora’s Box, stirred up a hornet’s nest, disturbed the waters, and has earned the hostility of legislators who feel their integrity has been questioned. Speaking very frankly, not many Nigerians have much regard for our state and National Assembly members who have been variously dubbed legislooters, legisla-thieves and sundry other unprintable epithets. It is difficult not to agree with Chief Obasanjo, although agreeing with him carries its own consequences. As a former President for eight years and immediate past Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the self-acclaimed ‘largest party in Africa’, Chief Obasanjo is as guilty as the rest of them. By this I do not intend to imply that he is either a rogue or an armed robber. Far from it! But I want to believe that the former President himself meant that our legislators are armed robbers in the metaphorical rather than in the literal sense of the word. Since I’m neither a legislator nor even a politician, I will leave those concerned to defend their integrity, if they have any. My main concern here is how de-institutionalise corruption and remove it from being a way of life that it has become in our country.
It goes without saying that corruption is not only the bane of our national life but one that has given Nigeria the worst image globally. Nigeria is much better known as a corrupt nation than an oil producing nation or even the most populous Black nation on earth. And it is not only because we are constantly and correctly rated by Transparency International (TI) as one of the worst corrupt countries on earth, but our own leaders and public officials are living proofs and advertisers abroad. Our elected and appointed public officials steal the country blind, stash the loot abroad where they and their families live in blatant and unconcealed ostentation, even to the chagrin of their hosts.
Nigerian public officials and their family members fly first and business classes across the globe on the choicest airlines at public expense; our so-called technocrats recruited and imposed on us from abroad live in ostentation and carry on with unchecked arrogance while squandering our national patrimony without adding value to our lives. Public officials purchase and own the choicest real estates in exotic locations in Europe, North America and now in Dubai, with money looted from our state and national treasuries. James Ibori, governor of hapless Delta State for eight years and an acknowledged power broker in Nigeria, was recently convicted as a common thief in a London court, with the same body of evidence with which he was discharged and acquitted by the courts in Nigeria. What a shame! Come to think of it, he was a prominent member of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo’s party and state governor during the same eight years when Obasanjo was President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. I am not insinuating any connections between them, but it seems curious that a President who declared war on corruption in his inaugural speech on May 29, 1999 and followed it up with the establishment of the ICPC and EFCC could not do much to stem the rampaging tide of corruption. The question is: why was this so? And why does public sector corruption remain persistent and unyielding to solutions?
For me, the main problem lies in the absence of institutional capacity to deal with the monster. Don’t get me wrong, we do have structures on the ground, which, sadly, have been mistaken for institutions.
Unlike structures such as the executive, legislative and judicial branches of the government, and such others as ministries, department and agencies such as the ICPC and EFCC, we need real institutions. In this context, institutions are procedures and established behavioural patterns that have become integral to a culture. It is in this sense that we have institutionalised corruption! It has become a way of life in the public sector, an integral part of public conduct such that anyone who does not practise it is regarded as either stupid or insane. Robbing the state for personal aggrandisement is the hallmark of governance and public service, it seems to be the only major activity going on in the public sector, and we seem to have developed a tolerance for it. What separates us from other societies is not that they are congenitally more honest and less corrupt than we are, but that their states have a zero tolerance for such behavior, and anyone who does the crime would do the time in the slammer. The opposite seems to be the order of the day here, that is, the more corrupt you are the more the chances that you would not only get away with it but that you would even be garlanded with national honours as well!
I believe that leaders such as Chief Obasanjo, with all due respect to his ambition to fight corruption, actually did much to encourage it. One example of his culpability was his lack of respect for the constitutional separation of powers between the various branches of the government, his disdain for the National Assembly and contempt for the rule of law. He openly and whimsically disobeyed court rulings, especially the Supreme Court judgement on the illegal and punitive withholding of Lagos State local government funds, which was intended to politically cripple that state which was governed by an opposition party. The point I’m making is that, more than any other leader since the advent of civilian rule in 1999, Chief Obasanjo did considerable and yet-to-be-repaired damage to institution building in Nigeria, and his examples of impunity and disrespect for the rule of law and civilised governance procedures are being emulated and copied by many others, not only in his own ruling party alone but also by others as well.
What makes this critically unacceptable precedent is that he, being the first democratically elected president after fifteen unbroken years of military dictatorship, had the onerous responsibility of breathing life into the new civilian constitution, navigating governance away from the crass arbitrariness of military rule, and consolidating democratic procedures and practices. In all of these, he failed woefully. Unfortunately for us, his immediate successor, Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, who was of a different democratic temperament, did not live long enough to make much impact. The present regime of Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, all appearances and rhetoric to the contrary, does not inspire much public confidence.
He does not appear a sure-footed leader when it comes to critical matters where hard-headed decisions are required, and this apparent weakness is further compounded by his being surrounded by many opportunists and ethnic rabble-rousers who make him look more like a sectional than a national leader.
(To be continued next week)