An incipient global coalition is reading what can be regarded as the riot act to land speculators and grabbers on that aspect of corruption across West Africa. Nearly a dozen country chapters and strategic partners of Transparency International (TI) attending a 2-day advocacy meeting which opened earlier today in Abuja are moving in for a test of strength on the issue, believing corruption itself to be the biggest existential threat to Nigeria and democracy on the African continent. Civil society leader after civil society leader who addressed the opening session were all in agreement that nothing other than corruption could explain the paradox of a very wealthy continent but full of poverty stricken majority of the people.
Monumental corruption and kleptocratic governance, said Mallam Auwal Ibrahim Musa, Executive Director of the Abuja based Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, (CISLAC) which is hosting the meeting, has resulted in highest number of people living under extreme poverty level in the world despite huge deposits of oil and gas, solid minerals and human capital. Pursuing this paradox, the head of CISLAC points at “how ironic it is that while around 116 million Nigerians live on less than 1.25 USD a day, Nigeria recorded 23 billionaires with a collective wealth reaching almost 78billion USD and 43 000 individuals owning assets worth at least 1 million USD in 2016, according to Oxfam report”. His argument is that this reality is as a result of mismanagement and corruption in the allocation of the resources, most especially land.
Relying on the December 2018 Amnesty International report titled “Nigeria: The Harvest of Death” and its figure of 3,641 dead from violent clashes between farmers and herders from January 2016 to October 2018 in Nigeria, Musa said the said clashes were fuelled by land related issues. According to him, land corruption has prevailed in West Africa because citizens’ limited access to information, the complexity of the laws and procedures regulating land ownership, insufficient access to justice and hindrance to good governance practices constituted by traditional institutions.
He is also blaming rapid urbanization for leading to “unaccountable land management and urban planning in many of our cities and poor oversight by independent bodies”, resulting in relegating land corruption to a “petty offence”. Civil society, he said, has a duty to ensure that ownership of land is not restricted to the rich and wealthy alone or a particular gender or age group.
Speaking in the same vein is Dr. Samuel Kaninda, the Africa Regional Advisor TI Centre abstracted a different dimension of the African paradox in terms of being the most youthful continent but whose youths migrate in search of more hospitable environments outside the continent. Corruption, he says, affects development whether we are talking of clean water or the possibility of peaceful elections. Hence the initiative on Tacking Inequalities in West Africa through Transparent, Accountable and Participatory Governance, with particular reference to land tenure/ownership; land governance and land management on the one hand and in education on the other.
It is an evidence based approach with which they hope to engage with ECOWAS, he said, adding it is not as if TI and its chapters have monopoly of the solutions. All they know is about their vision of contributing to an Africa that is inclusive and prosperous.
Mr. Dayo Olaide who spoke for MacArthur Foundation took up the argument from there, insisting on a striking link between corruption and inequality, poverty, insecurity and decadence, (where everybody is waiting on the side for their time to steal). Corruption fuels intolerance and violence, he said, arguing that such it is why it is the most potent existential threat to the continent. He is confident that anybody denying the linkage between corruption and these variables is in need of rethinking.
His second line of argument is how it amounts to tragedy if fighting corruption is reduced to something that the government alone should do. For him, it is even suicidal for any government to come out and declare that it is fighting corruption, his own reason for identifying with the Buhari regime in Nigeria. Similarly, he doesn’t see how any single country can confront corruption alone because corrupt people have learnt how to move their loot from Nigeria to Ghana, Dubai or wherever. He spoke to the misnomer of fighting for increased budgetary allocation to one sector or another but without corresponding agitation against what he called the ‘invisible sector’ of the budget – corruption which visits every other sector and takes away the increased budgetary allocation. So many government agencies in Nigeria, for example, have never been audited since they were established. Unless there is an ‘Enough is Enough’ campaign by making a Budget Risk Assessment a qualification for budgetary allocation, government departments will remain more or less fiefdoms, said Mr. Olaide.
Lillian Ekeanyanwu of the Technical Unit on Governance and Anti-Corruption Reform assured of taking the reports being launched seriously, harping on how TI has successfully spearheaded the evidence based approach to crucial issues. She was happy that earlier speakers emphasised a gender dimension to land and educational corruption.
Supported by international organisations, particularly ECOWAS, the diplomatic community, leading Foundations and the larger civil society, what is a typical global coalition is in the making with the launching of the reports on land corruption and on educational corruption. The first time such a global coalition made its move right into the hitherto impregnable realm of international security, it successfully led to the Ottawa Treaty of 1997 which banned land mines in spite of opposition by powerful arms manufacturers. That success story has been repeated in the case of the International Criminal Court, the commission on dams, among others. Against this background, the initiative on Tacking Inequalities in West Africa through Transparent, Accountable and Participatory Governance might be nothing less than a quit notice to powerful individuals, institutions and governments who or which engage in dispossessing people of land.
In most cases, no compensations are paid. To make matters worse, some forcefully or arbitrarily acquired lands are re-sold and huge profit made by powerful individuals. How this initiative progresses is, therefore, bound to be of interest to several forces across the world.