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Fighting corruption through electoral reforms

By Majeed Dahiru

The corruption scandal rocking the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC as well as allegations of financial misdemeanour against its now suspended acting chairman, Ibrahim Magu, more than anything else has proved Nigeria’s problem of corruption a systemic one, which an individual or agency can fight successfully. The institutional and leadership failure of the Magu led EFCC in its duty as the arrow head of the Muhammadu Buhari administration’s war on corruption has further revealed the corrupt problem of Nigeria as not an event that can be fought by an agency but a process that has endemically etched itself like a cancer on entire system hence requiring a people driven process to effectively contain.

With a reputation for incorruptibility and a Spartan-like-personal discipline, it was easy for Nigerians to have entrusted the task of leading the war on corruption on President Buhari in 2015, when they came to a consensus that unless Nigeria kills corruption, corruption will kill Nigeria. Regrettably, five years after, the monster of corruption has not shrank but grown bigger with its roots deepened and branches spreading cancerously and permeating every facet of the Nigerian society and strata of government. Despite his pledge, President Buhari’s war on corruption has continued to record monumental losses on every front. In its report of January 2020, global corruption rating agency, Transparency International, rated Nigeria as the second most corrupt country in West Africa with a corruption perception index, which fell from a low of 144 to a lower position at 146 out of 100 countries surveyed.

The surge in corruption is clearly evident in Nigeria’s growing national debt that has now reached 33 trillion naira as at March 2020 up from 12.6 trillion in March 2015. Clearly unsustainable in the face of shrinking national income, Nigeria spent almost 100 per cent of its revenue on debt servicing in the first quarter of 2020 fiscal year. Unfortunately, there is not much to show for this huge debt by way of improved infrastructure and human capital development largely as a result of massive corruption at all levels of government. Consequently, Nigeria has continued to grapple with corruption induced socio-economic underdevelopment as manifested in heightened insecurity of lives and properties as well as increased poverty of the overwhelming majority of its citizens.

The failure of President Buhari’s war on corruption, which has left Nigeria more corrupt five years after he was first elected into office in 2015, is primarily hinged on his simplistic understanding of this very debilitating malaise. President Buhari’s war on corruption strategy, which was built around the EFCC and its loots recovery, prosecution and jailing of offenders activities, was faulty from the very start as seen in its failure to prevent corruption. President Buhari’s war on corruption effort was also hampered by its selective nature, as it is perceived to unfairly target members of the opposition while turning a blind eye on members of the ruling party. As selective war on corruption is a form of corruption that perpetuates the vicious cycle of corruption, President Buhari is like a store keeper who left his shop open to run after thieves and by the time he returned to his shop with some recovered items he met an almost empty shop.

The root of Nigeria’s problem of corruption is deeply embedded in the structure of its federating units, which is delineated along ethno-geographic fault lines. This defective structure of the Nigerian state has rendered Nigeria a country of over five hundred micro-ethno-geographic nationalities that are embroiled in an intense scramble for its internal oil mineral revenues otherwise known as the national cake. With various contending tendencies coming to sharing table of the national cake with sharpened knives, such corrupt practices as nepotism, cronyism, favouritism, sectionalism, tribalism, influence peddling and bigotry become legitimate cultural as well as religious means of securing for their respective sections of the Nigerian state an advantageous share of the national cake. Therefore, corruption is neither PDP nor APC but a deep rooted Nigerian problem that is legitimised by culture and religion.

Whereas, the deep rooted problem of corruption in Nigeria will require a long term solution of the gradual evolution of the Nigerian state from a country of indigenous tribesmen into a nation of citizens, through physical restructuring or organic reconfiguration of the existing structure, the first step in this journey of a thousand mile will be to take advantage of Nigeria’s electoral democracy to elect a purposeful political leadership that can effectively lead in this direction. However, this all important journey towards ridding Nigeria of corruption and consequent socio-economic underdevelopment cannot commence without the urgently required electoral reforms.
As a liberal, electoral and representative democracy, Nigeria’s political leadership recruitment process is primarily hinged on its election management process. A defective and corrupt electoral management process, which is characterised by vote buying, ballot box snatching, thuggery, rigging and outright manipulation of election results as currently obtainable in Nigeria has thrown up a succession of corrupt political leadership every four years in the last20 years. The deterioration of Nigeria’s political process into a criminal franchise of power grab through vote buying for self service has been aided in no little measure by a defective and corrupt electoral management system. Political leadership products a corrupt electoral process will inevitably throw up corrupt political leadership and are not under any obligation to be accountable to the people on how they [mis]manage state resources.
An excerpt from the 2019 Transparency International report on Nigeria sheds light more light on the nexus between a corrupt electoral management system and corruption in government at all levels when it states thus ‘’ The Corruption Perception Index 2019 reveals a staggering number of countries are showing little to no improvement in tackling corruption. Our analysis also suggest that reducing big money in politics and promoting inclusive political decision making are essential to curb corruption’’. On the need for urgent electoral reforms, Transparency International’s Chair, Delia Ferreira Rubio had this to say ‘’ Governments must urgently address the corrupting role of big money in political party financing and the undue influence it exerts on our political systems’’.
As a result of the failure of President Buhari to sign the 2019 electoral amendment act into law, the 2019 general election was nothing short of electoral banditry, which has inevitably installed administrative banditry at all levels and arms of government. Unfortunately, rather than taming it, corruption has become emboldened in Buhari’s Nigeria and from the allegations and counter allegations between the ministry of justice and the EFCC, office of the vice president and ministry of humanitarian affairs, Ministry of Niger Delta and National Assembly, Ministry of labour and NSITF, corruption is fighting corruption everywhere and the casualties are the welfare and security of the Nigerian people.
To curb this ugly trend will be for the 9th National Assembly of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to go beyond just probing allegations of corruption against Ministries, Departments and Agencies to legislate a legal framework that encapsulates far reaching electoral reforms that will return sovereign power back to the people through a corruption free and truly democratic electoral process. Reforming Nigeria’s defective and corrupt electoral management system, upon which its political leadership recruitment process is primarily hinged, will go a long way in reducing electoral banditry and the consequent administrative banditry. One of the most potent antidotes to the malaise of corruption is to empower the people to freely and fairly elect a political leadership they can hold them accountable as well as reserve the right to punish or reward through the ballot for bad or governance accordingly.
The urgency for the 9th National Assembly to embark on a comprehensive electoral reform through the passing of relevant legislations cannot be overemphasized if Nigeria is to take its first sure steps towards national redemption. While Nigerians are currently being entertained by multiple corruption entanglements rocking Buhari’s Nigeria, Ariyo-Dare Atoye, one of the conveners of the Centre for Liberty, a Civil Society Organisation that is supported by the Open Society Initiative for West Africa [OSIWA], has taken a very pro-active step towards a comprehensive overhaul of Nigeria’s governance system through electoral reforms.
In a letter to Senate President Ahmed Ibrahim Lawan, dated 8th July 2020, from Centre for Liberty drew the attention of the National Assembly to the urgency for an electoral reform in Nigeria. In the letter, which was signed by Ariyo-Dare Atoye and Adebayo Raphael as conveners, the Centre for Liberty called on the National Assembly shelve their plans to embark on recess by the end of July but rather focus on enacting an electoral reform bill before the end of the year. According to the Centre for Liberty; ‘’one of the ways the hallowed chamber can help the country in this regard is to consider the swift passage of the Electoral Reform Bill formally known as A Bill for an Act to Amend the Electoral Act [No.6] 2010 and Other Related Matters 2019’’. And if President Buhari has any atom of commitment to the war on corruption, he should sign into law any act of the National Assembly that is aimed at electoral reforms.

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