When Cameron said the country was fantastically corrupt, his statement, though unbecoming of a man in such a high political office, was not totally off the mark, more so, as the degree of corruption in Nigeria is incredible, scandalous and alarming.
It was strange but not totally new. And when it happened last week, all hell was let loose by concerned Nigerians. A television station in the United Kingdom had aired the transcript of what appeared to be an “official gossip” involving David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, who was caught on camera at a dinner where he labelled Nigeria and Afghanistan as two “fatalistically corrupt” countries.
Before Cameron’s mouth diarrhoea, a British tabloid had also run a story that was calculated to rubbish the anti-corruption credentials of President Muhammadu Buhari. The story had pointed accusing fingers at Buhari and his family, which the paper described as living in opulence, with his children attending expensive schools in London and flying in first class compartments of aircrafts, while the ordinary Nigerian is barely eking out a living.
While the dust raised by the tabloid was still simmering, the British Prime Minister rubbed salt on the injury. His unfortunate statement came on the heels of last Thursday’s anti-corruption conference which was hosted by the British government, where Nigeria’s president and a number of other leaders met to strategise on ways to end the scourge of corruption now ravaging everywhere.
Expectedly, Cameron’s comment attracted wide outrage with some accusing him of not being a saint himself as revealed in the now famous Panama Papers. However, in spite of Cameron’s undiplomatic tantrums, Buhari was unruffled as he threw a direct jab at Cameron whom he pointedly told to double up efforts to return Nigeria’s stolen assets and wealth now domiciled in the Britain and other parts of the world.
The Nigerian president was right. The United Kingdom is one of the most favoured destinations by corrupt Nigerian officials to hide funds stolen from the country’s treasury. And as these stolen funds trickle into the British economy, no concerted effort is made by the British government to question the source or legitimacy of these funds even when it is very clear that the funds are proceeds of corruption. Unfortunately, even when they are clearly identified as such, it takes eternity for the British government and other governments around the world to allow such funds to be returned to the legitimate owners. In that case, there is a seeming case of official conspiracy to commit money laundering or aiding and abetting corruption.
At any rate, no one is in doubt about the seriousness and the tenacity with which Buhari has been waging the current anti-corruption crusade in Nigeria. Hope was rekindled among the generality of Nigerians after the president delivered his acceptance speech before a capacity crowd at the Eagle Square, Abuja, on May 29, 2015. The president had declared that he was going to wage a titanic war on corruption which had long become an endemic cankerworm that has eaten deep into the fabric of the nation.
All along, Nigerians knew corruption as a hydra-headed monster destroying the nation. The reason is that everybody knows it. But nobody was bold enough or has been able to muster enough courage to tackle the menace. The closest we have come is for some past leaders to condemn the attitude by word of mouth whenever the opportunity presented itself, while they themselves, their cronies and acolytes are neck deep in nefarious activities.
…with the snail speed at which this anti-corruption war is being prosecuted by the anti-graft agencies, especially their system of arrest before scouting for evidence to nail suspects, we might end up just scratching the monster in the face.
Nigerians believed Buhari and actually routed for him. They were convinced by his track-record and they knew he could be taken for his words. So, Buhari rode on the crest of popular support into office. Not long after, he took off with the war on corruption in earnest. In the process, the gargantuan rot left behind by the immediate past government and other past administrations started being unearthed.
It will be recalled that at the inception of democratic governance in the country in 1999, the party at the centre then was the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), a behemoth that ruled the country for 16 years – 1999-2015. At a particular point during this period, there was a time when the party was in control of more than 26 or 27 states of the federation. At that time, the opposition parties were so fragmented and too disorganised to tackle the PDP. This gave the PDP a free reign to plunder the nation’s resources.
But thanks to the coalition of some four political parties and a splinter group from the PDP, the 2015 election saw the exit of the octopus PDP from power. It was succeeded by the Buhari administration which rode into the villa with its ‘change’ mantra. What is this ‘change’ mantra? The mantra entails that the country will have to change its ways from the way it did business in the past, to a new way in compliance with international best practices. It was obvious that the country was plagued by corruption at all levels–businessmen, bankers, politicians, civil servants, the Military, the Police and other surfeits of security agencies, are all intensely corrupt. And this was not leading the country anywhere. Instead, Nigeria and Nigerians had gained notoriety for corruption and corrupting influence.
Over the years, corruption had been allowed to flourish unhindered in our public and private lives on a very debilitating and disturbing scale. Reversing this trend, therefore, will certainly not be a day’s job. It is going to be a long haul. The president himself has said this much at many fora – that the anti-corruption war his government has embarked upon will be a difficult, tortuous journey, but he is determined to get to the Promised Land. That Promised Land is to make Nigeria a country where due diligence and transparency are observed in doing business; a country where accountability matters; a country that operates on a level playing field with opportunity to all, etc.
Of course, in the first few weeks of the Buhari administration things appeared to be moving fine and people everywhere applauded the bold steps the new government was taking to address the decay of the past. Even outside the country, the applause reverberated. The general feeling was that a new Sheriff had come to town. Compliance with best practices suddenly became a norm rather than the exception. Even the DISCOs – (Electricity Distribution Companies) – as the lords of power distribution are now called, quickly whipped their men into order. Light was everywhere unlike in the past when it was a luxury to even have 30 minutes of electricity. Civil servants in Abuja got to work early and things appeared to be normal.
People said it was a response to the new president’s body language. The nation’s anti-graft agencies, the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), also scrambled to their feet as the new president’s “body language” seemed to have woken them from their hitherto deep slumber. What followed was a rash of indiscriminate arrests, obtaining confessions under duress and trial on the pages of newspapers. In my life, I have not seen where a security agency became as loquacious as the EFCC has been doing these past few months. It is interesting to note that up till this moment, not a single suspect has been found guilty of any financial malfeasance as the EFCC had made the public to believe through the media. This is worrisome.
When Cameron said the country was fantastically corrupt, his statement, though unbecoming of a man in such a high political office, was not totally off the mark, more so, as the degree of corruption in Nigeria is incredible, scandalous and alarming. And with the snail speed at which this anti-corruption war is being prosecuted by the anti-graft agencies, especially their system of arrest before scouting for evidence to nail suspects, we might end up just scratching the monster in the face. May God help us!
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