Every Nigerian government talks of fighting corruption. It did not start today. Even the much-abused General Sani Abacha was, in his time, a very ferocious fighter of corruption. The list of bank fraudsters Abacha sent to jail on account of the vexed matter of corruption reads like the who’s-who of the idle rich class of the Nigerian establishment. When death overthrew Abacha, we started hearing stories of how the goggled one wrote new chapters into the book of corruption through direct stealing of government funds. Every Nigerian leader should therefore pray not to be overtaken by death for us not to start hearing these stories…

These Nigerian leaders who claim to abhor corruption remind me of the mythical Ghanaian bird known as the Chichidodo. According to Ayi Kwei Armah in his inimitable novel The Beautyful Ones Are Not Born, “the chichidodo is a bird. The chichidodo hates excrement with all its soul. But the chichidodo only feeds on maggots, and you know the maggots grow best inside the lavatory. This is the chichidodo.”

It is so like our professed anti-corruption leaders to hate the excrement of corruption only to keep the company of maggots that feed only on corruption. According to Wikipedia, “Prebendalism refers to political systems where elected officials, and government workers feel they have a right to a share of government revenues, and use them to benefit their supporters, co-religionists and members of their ethnic group. The term is commonly used to describe the patterns of corruption in Nigeria.”

In his 1987 book, Democracy and Prebendal Politics in Nigeria, Professor Richard Joseph describes the gross appropriation of state offices, especially by elected officials and government workers, and the corrupt diversion of the resources of the state to serve themselves, their cronies and their ethnic and other identity groups. The very insightful Professor Joseph thus chronicles the disorder, group conflicts and economic failings that have all but doomed Nigeria to this day.

President Muhammadu Buhari has made bold to stress that he would only probe the immediate past regime of ex-President Goodluck Jonathan. Incidentally, the former Governor of Rivers State, Rotimi Amaechi was a part of the past regime as both Jonathan and Amaechi belonged to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) before the latter’s dying minute defection to the All Progressives Congress (APC). Buhari and Amaechi are today padding along as buddies. One hopes that the probe should extend to Amaechi if it is ever aimed at winning the trust and respect of the public. It may interest Buhari to note that Bauchi State Governor, Mohammed Abubakar of the APC told Channels TV on Monday, August 3 that “Amaechi brought 80 percent of the money the party used for the elections.”

Buhari has initiated the audit of the civil service. One prays that he would go the whole hog and not spare some sacred cows. It needs to be recalled that the once Acting Auditor-General of the Federation, Chief Vincent Azie, published the 2001 audit report that indicted all tiers of government as being thoroughly corrupt. For what ought to be his laudable job, Chief Azie was sacked by the then President Olusegun Obasanjo on February 10, 2003.

Azie had written a huge 301-page audit report divided into 434 sections in which he exposed how billions of Naira got siphoned through the purchase of what was termed “various items”. Azie’s expose was a staggering case of collecting humongous amounts of money without making any purchases whatsoever, being paid for contracts not executed, collecting fuel cash for cars parked in houses out of region, etc. In his report, Azie even went further afield to expose how policemen were selling guns to robbers and sundry marauders! All he got for his efforts was a sack from the Obasanjo regime that claimed to be engaged in a fight against corruption! The then Finance Minister Alhaji Adamu Ciroma dismissed Azie as being incompetent while the then Information Minister Professor Jerry Gana carpeted Azie for being unprofessional.

If Buhari insists on a thorough auditing of all government agencies as and when due, as the constitution stipulates, there may not even be the need for such quangos as the EFCC and the ICPC. Corruption can be nipped in the bud if proper auditing is done instead of letting the corruption to accumulate before bringing in the EFCC and the ICPC to look into the books.

It is incumbent on Buhari to learn from the past by talking less. After overthrowing the Second Republic on the last day of 1983, Buhari undertook the prebendal path of putting the then President Shehu Shagari under house arrest while hurling Vice-President Dr Alex Ekwueme into prison. When queried about this very curious development Buhari stressed that his government had found Ekwueme’s hands in corruption during the overthrown regime. Ekwueme was detained in the following Lagos addresses, namely: Bonny Camp, Victoria Island; Temple Road, Ikoyi; Kirikiri Maximum Security Prisons; Ikoyi Prisons; Hawksworth Avenue, Ikoyi; Barlow Street, Ikoyi; Ruxton Road, Ikoyi; and Milverton Road, Ikoyi.

Ekwueme had the last laugh on Buhari when the Justice Samson Uwaifo Tribunal set up by Military President Ibrahim Babangida to try the detained politicians eventually set Ekwueme free, stating that punishing Ekwueme would amount to “setting a standard of morality too high for saints in politics in a democracy to observe.” The ultimate testimonial for Ekwueme came from the erstwhile Communications Minister Audu Ogbeh who stressed that “ministers and key government officials with frivolous memoranda at Federal Executive Council meetings usually feared Dr. Ekwueme,” revealing that Ekwueme saved Nigeria a loss of N800 million in 1983 alone.

Buhari ought to also remember of the 1984 closing of the borders for change of the Naira when the mysterious 53 suitcases passed through the airport which thoroughly embarrassed his regime.

Such embarrassments ought not to be his forte this time around. Mr. President himself has even revealed that he is finding it mightily difficult to find honest and trustworthy Nigerians to appoint to cabinet posts. Does this not amount to the Chichidodo scenario where one must perforce make do with maggots even as one hates excrement with all the soul?

Uzor Maxim Uzoatu writes from Lagos.