In this write-up, the word “fight” is used instead of “war” to describe the efforts to stop corruption. It is an abuse of language to call the make-belief that has been going on until now by the name war. It is not anything remotely like a war, nor is it even a spirited fight. But whatever we call it, the fight or war, to be meaningful and successful, should be waged holistically across the lines separating successive Administrations, and should not be constrained by any dividing line between one Administration and another.
Why probe of corrupt practices should not be confined to the Jonathan administration only
Probing corrupt practices is being demanded for two main reasons. The first reason has to do with the purpose or end intended to be achieved by probing corruption. A probe is being demanded not for the sake or fun of it, but rather as a means of stopping or eradicating corruption which, apart from Religious Divide, is the foremost factor strangulating the country. Probing just the Jonathan administration, when there are other past administrations equally or nearly as corrupt as, or perhaps more corrupt than, his, will not stop or eradicate corruption. It will not therefore achieve the purpose or end for which a probe is wanted; it will not even add much to the attainment of that purpose.
Probing the Jonathan administration alone when there are other past administrations equally or nearly as corrupt as his own is not right, proper or justified for various reasons.
(i) It is selective, and selective probe has the appearance of a vendetta aimed mainly at denigrating or demonising individuals. It discredits the exercise, and deprives it of public confidence. The people must be made to believe in the genuineness and sincerity of the exercise if they are to give up the entrenched and rampant culture or habit of corruption. This is the factor that robbed the so-called war against corruption under the Obasanjo administration of all credibility and effectiveness. Indeed, the entire EFCC outfit as an agency of government and the way it was used by Obasanjo as an instrument for the harassment, persecution, victimization and repression of opponents ostensibly for corruption, while his favoured group, “the Obasanjo Boys”, as they were called, were left untouched, need to be investigated, and the EFCC itself overhauled.
There is, however, the rather strange argument that Jonathan has a “duty to have probed the [Obasanjo] government from which he took over”, and that, because he failed to do so, “Buhari has no business going to a government which is not back-to-back with him.” The insincerity of this argument is transparent on its face. It is simply an argument of convenience or expediency, one that completely disregards the compelling need to eradicate corrupt practices, which, as earlier stated, is the raison d’etat for probing them.
To begin with, from the point of view of truth, it is not correct that Jonathan took over from the Obasanjo administration; Umaru Yar’Adua did. More importantly, the argument conveniently disregards the inescapable reasons precluding Jonathan (and Yar’Adua too) from probing the Obasanjo administration. All three administrations were PDP governments, and it seems inconceivable that one PDP government should probe another. Standing above all this is the circumstance that Obasanjo was the father of the PDP (albeit self-proclaimed), its leader for life and, on the cessation of his tenure as President, the Chairman of the Party’s Board of Trustees (BOT), with power to direct the PDP State Governors. It was he who chose Yar’Adua as the Party’s presidential candidate in the 2007 election, with Jonathan as his running mate, and foisted the two of them on the Party and the country. Thus, there was simply no way Jonathan (and Yar’Adua too) could have probed the Obasanjo administration.
Yet, the existence of factors precluding Jonathan from probing the Obasanjo administration does not remove the compelling need for such a probe. For the PDP, as a ruling Party for 16 years (1999-2015), was a government characterised by so much evil, including corrupt practices and impunity, which reached their zenith during the eight years of Obasanjo’s rule. The country yearned for deliverance, for a change from PDP rule to rule by another party. The deliverance, the change, came with the March 2015 presidential election that flushed out the PDP, replacing it with APC as the ruling party. (The personal characteristics of the man heading the APC Government, President Buhari, as well as those of former President Jonathan, raise an altogether different issue, which makes choosing between them a perplexing matter.)
Taking over from the PDP government, the new APC government is, to use the language of the argument above, “back-to-back” with the PDP government and, by the logic of that same argument, owes it as a duty, not only to itself, but also to the Constitution and the Nigerian people to probe the corrupt practices that took place during the rule of the PDP administration from which it took over. It is a duty it can only shirk at the peril of disappointing the passionate expectations and aspirations of the people and thereby losing credibility in their eyes.
As to how far it should go in probing past administrations, the limit is set by the facts on the ground, and by the magnitude and enormity of corrupt practices during each of the successive administrations that is within common knowledge. The Gowon administration (1967-1975) has been investigated by the Mohammed/Obasanjo regime, the Shagari administration (1979-1983) by the Buhari/Idiagbon regime; the Abacha administration (1994-1998) by successor regimes. That leaves the Babaginda (1985-1993) and Abdulsalami Abubakar (1998-1999) regimes as the past regimes that need to be investigated, in addition of course to Obasanjo’s administration (1999-2007).
(ii) Selective probe is unfair, and unjust. It is contrary to the Constitution of Nigeria, which ordains in section 17(1) that “the state social order is founded on the ideals of Freedom, Equality and Justice”. This is the principle that must inform all actions of government. It offends against Justice to probe the Jonathan administration, and not other past administrations equally or nearly as corrupt as, or perhaps even more corrupt than, his.
(iii) Probing the Jonathan administration alone is not justified by the reason that there is massive and readily available evidence of corruption committed during that administration. No evidence of corruption is more visible and concrete than palatial houses built by past rulers, multi-billion projects like a university, a library, a mechanized farm etc. A probe will ferret out hidden evidence, which is available in various places.
(iv) Probing other past administrations beside Jonathan’s is not a distraction, as the Presidency says. A distraction from what, one may ask? Apart from the destructive and devastating crisis arising from the religious divide, nothing else is more important for the survival and development of the country, and creates more imperative necessity for change, than the eradication of corruption, as to make probing of past administrations a distraction.
The second reason why a probe is necessary and demanded is that eradication of corruption will enable Nigeria to make a New Beginning, which is an imperative necessity if the slide to state failure is to be halted. Nigeria needs a New Beginning, a clean slate unsmeared by the prevailing rottenness due to rampant corruption. A New Beginning requires or implies a Social and Ethical Revolution. This is a vital part of the change desired by Nigerians, and which the new APC Government under President Muhammadu Buhari is supposed to usher in. It is a duty it owes to Nigerians.
A New Beginning cannot be launched, nor can corruption be eradicated by probing just the Jonathan administration. It requires more radical action. Jerry Rawlings launched Ghana on a new beginning by the public execution of some past rulers perceived to have perpetrated corrupt practices of enormous proportions. I do not approve of his method but the Ghanaian example does suggest that the matter requires very radical action. Until very radical and drastic action is taken to stop corruption, Nigeria cannot make a new beginning. Probing the Jonathan administration alone cannot stop corruption or even have effective impact on it and cannot therefore start Nigeria on a New Beginning.
Probing buccaneering or piratical corrupt practices otherwise called stealing or theft
Stealing or theft of crude oil or of money taken straight from the coffers of the state is a corrupt practice of a buccaneering or piratical type that cries loudly for probing, no matter under which administration it occurred. It began with the coming of oil as the predominant source of national revenue. Since then corruption is no longer confined to the rake-off on land, business, supplies and so on purchased on behalf of government at grossly inflated prices or licences issued or other patronages dispensed, or to the percentage on contracts awarded, or to the form which it originally took, i.e. bribery – the taking of money or other valuable thing as a condition or inducement for the performance of an official act in favour of a person or for forbearing action. But its charactisation as stealing or theft does not make it any the less a corrupt practice deserving to be probed and eradicated. Its operations straddle various past administrations.
The Niche newspaper in its issue of Sunday 26 July, 2015 describes it as a business involving “an international syndicate of politicians, top military officials, businessmen, warlords, who use others to cover their tracks. ‘You may have to peel off four or five layers of men to get to the bottom of their operations’. The crime also involves officials of the Villa, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Nigeria Maritime Administration and safety Agency (NIMASA), local chiefs, militants, and petty thieves.”
TO BE CONTINUED
The author, a constitutional lawyer wrote this on behalf Igbo Leaders of Thought