In his weekly televised media chat on the television network on Sunday, President Goodluck Jonathan came out forcefully to explain the efforts his administration is making to tackle and eliminate corruption in public life. I have never seen him so prepared for a television appearance. He smiled a lot. Contrary to the perception of lethargy that seems to characterize the war against corruption, the President explained the strategy of his administration, which he said, includes a stage-by-stage approach to the biggest challenge facing a developing country like Nigeria.
According to this strategy, the Commander-in-Chief explained that his government focuses first on eliminating electoral corruption and corruption in fertilizer distribution. He argued that this approach is yielding results, citing the successful conduct of the Ondo and Edo States’ governorship elections as one of the signs that the war against electoral corruption is working. The President’s confidence is bolstered by the fact that both Ondo and Edo are opposition States.
Eliminating corruption in fertilizer distribution is another area of success cited by the President. One is not, however, sure if many Nigerians would agree with the President that the strategy he announced is actually working according to plan. The “success” story announced by the President may have stemmed from the briefings he had received from his officials and state governments. The story of the so-called “GSM fertilizer” cannot be the basis of this outlandish claim. GSM fertilizer is a mere sprinkling of fertilizer distribution to meet the needs of propaganda by government. To say that other countries are sending their officials to study how it is done here is the height of deception. Can corruption be tackled by half way measures?
To say that corruption has been eliminated in fertilizer distribution is a bit too far-fetched. When party men and women handle fertilizer distribution, the beneficiaries are mainly party loyalists. To receive two bags as allowed under the “wallet” or GSM scheme, farmers were made to undergo a further screening by party committees. Theoretically, it was to get to them without intermediaries. If, indeed, corruption has been eliminated from fertilizer distribution, how does one explain the fact that fertilizer allocation enriches officials of local governments, state governments and party leaders? If not because of the corruption in the fertilizer distribution system, the current fertilizer price of N5,000 plus to non-party members would not have been as exorbitant as it is in reality when it reaches the average farmer.
The fact, is that the corruption in the fertilizer distribution system that makes few people rich overnight at the expense of the average farmers who are supposed to be the intended beneficiaries. Nigeria seems to be like a country that has lost its soul. If pensioners’ funds are not out of reach to greedy and corrupt officials, one wonders how fertilizer distribution system could have escaped the deadly grip of the hands of corruption.
Can the President assess the success of the war against corruption from the cozy comfort of Aso Rock? When election observers were describing the 2011 election as orderly, peaceful and free and fair, it took the audacious intervention by a former U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. John Campbell to jolt us from our complacency. He said that voter queues at polling stations might seem orderly and peaceful, but the devil lies in the collation centres to which election observers have no access.
Is it not too early to declare victory against corruption when the government itself is taking panic measures to reassure a skeptical international community that the war against corruption has not lost momentum? The re-arraignment of the former Minister of Works, Dr. Hassan Lawal, and such other cases in a fit of frenzy in the last two weeks on fresh charges of corruption is part of the desperate official efforts to deflect criticism of lethargy on the part of the Jonathan government.
When she visited Nigeria in August 2009 during her first-ever African tour, U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, regretted that the war against corruption “had fallen back.” As expected, rather than being humble enough to accept honest criticism, Mrs. Clinton came under attack from government officials, including Senate President David Mark, who had warned her to mind her own business.
Living in denial and rejecting honest criticisms as needless interference, wouldn’t help Nigeria’s anti-corruption efforts getting anywhere. We cannot fight corruption by wishful thinking or rhetoric. Contrary to Jonathan’s strategy of stage-by-stage approach, fighting corruption demands radical action. It demands courage and iron will to confront corruption.
What our President seemed to have played down is the hydra-headed nature of corruption and its deadly grip. Can we declare success when the judiciary, the police, the civil service, the EFCC and the politicians appear stubbornly corrupt? When corruption sinks its teeth into the souls of these key public institutions, is it safe to declare success by stage-by-stage approach or method? Do you scotch a deadly enemy like corruption or eliminate it totally? If it takes three years of his war against corruption to declare victory on only two counts in this litany of corruption, how much time does Mr. President require to achieve results dealing with the scourge in the NNPC, the Courts, the Police, the Civil Service and the entire gamut of public life?
In fact, one may even go further to ask whether the forces of corruption are not stronger than the state. Fighting corruption goes beyond courtrooms drama when fuel subsidy fraud culprits and corrupt officials are briefly presented before judges and granted bail. No big man has been successfully jailed to serve as a deterrent. While ordinary criminals that steal goats, wrappers and handsets are sent to jail almost daily, corrupt officials use technicality to escape justice.
The irony and hypocrisy of fighting corruption came to light during the recent public hearings on constitutional amendments held at zonal centres across the country at which governors were said to have opposed the death penalty for corruption. This is a very interesting revelation in a country that frequently wastes no time in jailing and hanging ordinary offenders. Are we doomed? Has corruption defeated us? The late radical A.B.U. lecturer, Dr. Yusuf Bala Usman once predicted during the rule of former President Obasanjo that if the government could not fight corruption, the monster would fight it. Is Dr. Bala’s prediction coming to pass?