As 2013 beckons, we need to reflect on the important lessons we have learnt or failed to learn during the course of this difficult and eventful year. This Saturday, during the funeral service for the former National Security Adviser (NSA), Gen. Andrew Azazi in Yenagoa, the Bayelsa State capital, the Bishop of the Bomadi Catholic Vicarage, Rev. Hyancith Egbedo read the Homily. He attributed the bad condition of the East-West Road and the series of plane crashes in the country to corruption in the polity. But President Jonathan disagreed with the cleric’s assertion that poor infrastructural development under his administration was due to the active involvement of elective office holders and political appointees in corrupt practices. The president insisted that what the nation needs was for Nigerians to change their attitude towards governance and development. He said that: “We talk about corruption as if it is the cause of our problems. No, yes, we have corruption in this country. The government has also been fighting corruption.” President Jonathan said from 2007 when he served as vice president and now as president, Nigeria has more agencies that fight corruption. The President added that after reviewing the cases in court, it was discovered that about 80 per cent of them are not corruption cases. This might indeed be true but it tells us another more important truth. The Government has decided not to fight corruption.
Yes indeed, there has been spectacular failure of recent high profile criminal prosecutions relating to corruption and this fact dramatizes the collapse of the system of public prosecution in Nigeria. Public prosecution rests on a tripod – the detection and investigation of crime, the prosecution of offenders and the conviction and punishment. All these levels are being subverted and are indeed in crisis due to the appointment of successive Attorney Generals who see themselves as the President’s poodle rather than an independent and impartial officer of the State determined to advance the cause of justice. There is no political will at the very highest echelons of authority to fight corruption in the country. The current Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Adoke (SAN), has been notorious in systematically refusing to prosecute high level corruption.
I started the year by writing an open letter to President to President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. I advised him not to withdraw the fuel subsidy regime. I drew his attention to the eighteen previous attempts over a 26 year span to completely remove subsidy and how they failed. I also drew his attention to the very influential and widely distributed calculations by Dr. Izielen Agbon that the real cost of producing a litre of petrol in Nigeria is N33.36, while the cost of the imported swapped litre is N34.45 which means that the Government had built its anti fuel subsidy story on a lie. I appointed out that the government position that the real cost of a litre is now N141 is more a narrative on corruption in the system than the real cost of fuel.
I told Mr. President that there was a question of trust between him and Nigerians and I drew my example from the Catholic Archbishop of Abuja, John Onaiyekan who had addressed the issue at a stakeholders meeting held in Ilorin the previous December to discuss removal of fuel subsidy. The Archbishop explained the issue clearly.
“Why is there no trust? It is simply what we see on the ground, not just the oil subsidy which amounts to about 4% of the Gross National Product. We see the whole of Nigeria and we cannot see it being used properly. The roads are still bad and the educational system is still in tatters. What is the magic in fuel subsidy that 4% will achieve what 96% has not done… As a religious leader, I spend most of my time trying to get my people to make acts of faith in God, but I will tell them that this God delivers. If this god does not deliver, if he is a god that betrays you, if he is a god that makes promises that he doesn’t fulfil, I have no business telling anybody to make an act of faith in him. That is the problem that we have with the fuel subsidy removal…. (Onaiyekan adds the words of a Muslim leader at the Ilorin meeting). It seems you have called us together hoping that you will use us to sell the idea of fuel subsidy. Are we going to stake our own credibility on the promises of government which we ourselves are not sure of?” (Sunday Trust, 25/12/11).
It did not take long for the verdict to be announced. The fuel subsidy probes that followed the January demonstrations have revealed that mega corruption has been galloping under the Jonathan Administration. We now know that there is a new trend. In the past, corrupt transactions took place mainly through contract inflation, over- invoicing and receiving of kickbacks. But the fuel subsidy corruption has witnessed situations whereby people collect subsidy payments without making any supplies, collect foreign exchange without supplying petrol and collect subsidy payments for not supplying petrol having collected foreign exchange for the purpose. The amount of monies stolen is in the trillions. We have never had it so bad.
It is clear that public corruption has run out of control. We are recent witnesses to the police pension scam and the unbelievable spectacle in the House of Representatives on the power probe where it was discovered that over $16bn was spent to provide electric power without commensurate results. The evidence is massive that there is a pattern of organised looting of our national resources emanating from the Executive Branch. It continues because Nigerians do not stand up to fight and hold their leaders accountable for their actions. This is necessary because we now know that that government is not guided by the dictates of the rule of law and due process which means criminals must be prosecuted and punished for their crimes. The message we get from the body language in the Presidency which is affirmed by Jonathan’s statements during the Azazi burial is that if they refuse to prosecute perpetrators of mega corruption, then the impression will be created that mega corruption is on the decline. This explains why they are in no hurry to identify and prosecute the culprits of this mega corruption.
The key challenge facing Nigerians in 2013 is that of launching a campaign to compel the President to come out openly and show commitment to ending impunity. The first step in this regard is to immediately terminate the appointment of the Attorney General, Mohammed Adoke, SAN and appoint a credible Attorney General who has the skills and the will to combat and prosecute corruption. Government will not act if citizens do not mount sufficient pressure. We Nigerians must act more as citizens and not subjects. The country belongs to us all and we can no longer leave the political space and bureaucracy to shenanigans, and for common thieves and crooks. The fight against corruption must be comprehensive and all encompassing; all sections of the society must stand up and fight corruption.
In my column on 9th January 2012, I argued that one of my greatest fears about the future of Nigeria is our collective loss of the capacity for anger. I was then celebrating the manner in which the fuel subsidy struggle enabled Nigerians recover our collective capacity to be angry. I had referred to the Cameroonian author, Celestin Monga, who reminded us in his book, The Anthropology of Anger: Civil Society and Democracy in Africa, that the capacity of civil society and citizens in Africa to advance the democratization agenda of their countries is a function of their ability to express outrage at the destruction of their societies and its assets by selfish ruling classes.
The nouns that define how we feel are important indications of our capacity to act. Anger, rage, fury, ire, wrath, resentment and indignation are vital elements in creating human agency and carrying out a real transformation agenda. Fury denotes our marked displeasure at a particular situation and demonstrates we have not given up and substituted passive sadness for anger. Every week, Nigerians are inundated with news stories about massive corruption and bad governance.
This is the catch 22 situation. When mega corruption becomes routinised and happens on a daily basis, people get used to it and become despondent. The spread of the internet and social media has made it easier, faster and safer to expose mega corruption. The disadvantage is that it becomes an everyday story of “normal life” and the anger gets dissipated. Our task in the coming year is to learn how to keep the narratives of mega corruption running but link the routine story to the bigger picture about the destabilization and destruction of Nigeria. As insurgencies and kidnapping from below compete with mega corruption from above, the citizen caught in between is being sacrificed from both ends and it is only concerted and focused struggle that can save Nigeria and Nigerians.