Every dollar that a corrupt official or a corrupt business person puts in their pocket is a dollar stolen from a pregnant woman who needs healthcare; or from a girl or a boy who deserves an education; or from communities that need water, roads and schools. Every dollar is critical if we are to reach our goal to end extreme poverty by 2030 and to boost shared prosperity.
It was somewhere on a Nigerian campus in mid 1995. The class discussion was on the role of individuals in history. A neo-Marxist scholar was moderating the discussion. Towards the tail end of it all, one student asked why the name Muhammadu Buhari had not been mentioned. The presiding intellectual was not too keen but Buhari was debated anyway in response to the question on the floor. Everyone had his say about why Buhari is a historical personage and why he is not. When the presiding intellectual came to round off, he said something like: the problem with Buhari is his insistence on principle even when the principle is wrong. It was such a crisp, memorable verdict.
The interesting thing is how the verdict of 1995 is in demonstration two and half decades thereafter. Of course, there is a sense in which more than 70% of what is playing out is simply an outcome of the Buhari problem – the problem of insisting on principles even when the principle is wrong or are wrong. However, groomed in dimensionality and calculability, he has, like all those surrounding him, been unable to anticipate what is unraveling before him now. It is said that the president is not in the mood to worry about what keeps the average Nigerian awake. Well, whatever mood he is, he must worry about what he confronts today. His life-long claim to being an honest man has been disrupted and ruptured forever. Even if he gathers and sends all his anti-corruption war commanders straight to jail without trail, the idea of presiding over this degree of rottenness until it all exploded would still deny him restitution. How would it not?
But, in addition to the Buhari persona, one must also wonder what sort of elite would be so mindless to the normative and empirical implications of this level of recklessness. In other words, assuming that a combination of whatever factors have worked against an effective Buhari agency, is that also a license for failure in collective self-criticism among the elite on the convulsion against themselves they are preparing the ground for? What sort of an unthinking and, therefore, a fake bourgeoisie could this be?
As things are, no exaggeration is involved to say that, if Nigeria were a nuclear armed nation, the issue of who controls the button would have come up by now as a threat to international security issue at the UN. This would be so because there is no guarantee that one of the embattled anti-corruption war commanders might not reach for the button so as to blast his or her opponent to pieces. Thankfully, Nigeria is not a nuclear armed nation and the instruments of war remains mainly the media – newspapers, television stations and the social media.
But even then, the world is watching as combatants tear at each other. According to yesterday’s national edition of The Nation, US, UK, France and one or two others said they are watching with interest. When great powers say they are watching, what they mean is watching with reference to whether a particular flashpoint could trigger a major threat to international security. In a deterritorialised world, nobody knows what and from where could originate from. So, unlike majority of Nigerians who are already used to this sort of entertainment from their elite, world powers are watching with interest, a coded language in international security discourse. They have investments here and this is a very bad moment for any situation that would demand sending troops to a huge African country to stabilize it. Not when AfricaReport is hinting continent wide mass protests, (https://www.theafricareport.com/33300/pandemic-to-poverty-nigeria-in-the-post-covid-future).
It is unclear if such a statement makes any sense to the war commanders caught in the show of shame, including President Muhammadu Buhari who has been reduced to a spectator in chief in his own funeral. He was persuaded to send EFCC Chief, Ibrahim Magu, on suspension but only to open a floodgate of believable and unbelievable claim and counter claims about corruption. Senator Godswill Akpabio, Minister for Niger Delta and the former Chief Executive of Niger Delta Development Commission, (NDDC) Barrister Joy Nunieh have actually stolen the limelight from Attorney-General, Abubakar Malami and Ibrahim Magu, theirs being more sensational as sexual harassment and juju are thrown in. But something else is also unfolding from the Nigerian Social Investment Fund, (NSITF) whose suspended Executive Director, Kemi Nelson, is opening another flank by shelling Labour Minister, Dr Chris Ngige. Nobody can be sure if the season is closing.
Is it possible that President Buhari is thinking now that it might have been better if he never came back to power? The integrity make-up that gave him everything he had is gone. With the degree of anti-Buhari sentiments observable in the Northwest today, what could he say he has gained compared to what he has completely lost? And then this corruption soap opera involving his own key appointees.
Fighting corruption has been one of his main aims of seeking power. He has spent five solid years in power during which claims of recovery of looted public funds dominated list of achievements his government parades. Now, the story coming out powerfully in the intra-camp shelling is that much of that have been re-looted in one form or the other.
Out of the two governors or jailed for corruption in the past five years, none whose case was taken to court under Buhari. They were cases he came to meet. Only two or so of significance convicted in the past few years were fresh cases initiated by his regime. Although the number of suspects sent to jail does not necessarily or automatically measure effectiveness of an anti-corruption war, this number does not speak to a Buhari regime that made fighting corruption the cornerstone of his agenda in power and throughout his life.
Lastly, information kept circulating about individuals who found themselves in the power room of the Buhari regime siphoning large sums of money without the president ever sanctioning them in a manner that satisfies public curiosity. How could that be under a Buhari? The president has certainly not been in that health condition to have a bird’s eye view of governance and government but his health challenges are not such that he cannot leave no one in any doubt that he disapproves of blatant looting. That statement has not been made.
Bandits are at work everywhere; Boko Haram is trumping Nigeria, public universities are down, Covid-19 pandemic is taking a toll on the society. The economy is not working for many and unemployment is a frightening trigger hanging like the sword of Damocles. And the level of corruption is going on so near the president and heads were not rolling until someone’s over-confidence occasioned mountainous revelations.
Before now, the standard alibi for failure was put on corruption fighting back. That narrative has now been challenged and the question now is, which corruption was ever fighting back?
A potentially destabilizing implication of what is happening came in the form of a recent joke at a group sit-out. An elder who hadn’t spoken throughout the evening was asked why he had been quiet about the debate of the day. The debate was whether there is any guarantee that a quality candidate would emerge in 2023 or not. He said he did not speak because he could not see any candidates for 2023. How come he could not see a presidential candidate somewhere? His answer is that he can see one or two persons here and there who can rule Nigeria without hitches but his problem is that they are all too decent that they will be unable to function among the wolves.
That is, in 2023, you can find a decent guy, he might win the election quite alright but he will be overwhelmed by corrupt persons. If you pick a certified rogue, then the quotation that opened this piece will apply, creating a crisis with imponderable implications.
It was a sermon from a puritan or is it a disciplinarian? but a message nevertheless. Nigeria might just be about to know what grammarians call catch 22! Those involved in looting have also closed the political space against anyone whose own lens on social reality is a critique of the looting culture. Meanwhile, the quotation that opened this piece presents a frightening portrait of the moral and security implications of corruption.
Predicting the future can be such a hazardous game. Even then, it seems safe to say that, with battle commanders shelling each other instead of the ‘enemies’, the anti-corruption war is over for now because victory is simply elusive?