To curb this ugly trend, the ninth National Assembly of the Federal Republic of Nigeria would have to go beyond just probing the allegations of corruption in the ministries, departments and agencies (MDA) of government to legislating a framework that encapsulates far-reaching electoral reforms, which will return sovereign power back to the people through corruption-free and truly democratic electoral processes.
The corruption scandal rocking the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), as well as the allegations of financial misdemeanour against its now suspended acting chairman, Ibrahim Magu, more than anything else, have proved that Nigeria’s problem of corruption is a systemic one, which an individual or agency cannot 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 problem of corruption in Nigeria as one that can only be effectively fought through a people-driven process for it to be contained properly.
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 shrunk but only grown bigger, with its roots deepened and branches spreading cancerously and permeating every facet of the Nigerian society and government. Despite his pledge, President Buhari’s war on corruption has continued to record monumental losses on every front. In its report in January, the global corruption rating agency, Transparency International, considered Nigeria as the second most corrupt country in West Africa, with a corruption perception index that fell from a low of 144 to a lower position of 146, out of 180 countries surveyed.
The surge in corruption is clearly evident in Nigeria’s growing national debt that has now reached N33 trillion as at March, up from N12.6 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 the 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 manifest in the heightened insecurity of lives and property, as well as the 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. Buhari’s anticorruption strategy, which is built around the EFCC and its system of loot recovery, prosecution and jailing of offenders, was faulty from the very start, as evident in its failure to prevent corruption till date. President Buhari’s war on corruption has also been hampered by its selective nature, as it is perceived as unfairly targeting members of the opposition, while turning a blind eye to members of the ruling party. As a selective war on corruption perpetuates a vicious cycle of corruption, President Buhari is like a store keeper who left his shop open to run after thieves, and returns to an emptied shop with only a few recovered items.
The deep rooted problem of corruption in Nigeria will require a long term solution requiring 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 roots of Nigeria’s problem of corruption is deeply embedded in the structure of its federating units, which is organised along ethno-geographic fault lines. This defective structure of the Nigerian state has rendered it a country of over five hundred micro-ethno-geographic nationalities that are embroiled in an intense scramble for its internal oil mineral resources revenue, otherwise known as the national cake. With various contending tendencies coming to the sharing table of the national cake with sharpened knives, corrupt practices such as nepotism, cronyism, favouritism, sectionalism, tribalism, influence peddling and bigotry become legitimate cultural, as well as religious, means of securing for the respective sections of the Nigerian state advantageous shares of the national cake. Therefore, corruption is neither PDP nor APC but a deep rooted Nigerian problem that is legitimised by culture and religion.
The deep rooted problem of corruption in Nigeria will require a long term solution requiring 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. In this journey of a thousand mile, the first step will be to take advantage of Nigeria’s electoral democracy to elect a purposeful political leadership that can effectively lead it 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 elections management process. A defective and corrupt electoral management system, 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 last 20 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 of a corrupt electoral process will inevitably throw up a corrupt political leadership that is under no obligation to be accountable to the people on the use of their resources.
An excerpt from the 2019 Transparency International report on Nigeria sheds 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, the chair of Transparency International, 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.”
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 bad or good governance, accordingly, through the ballot.
As a result of the failure of President Buhari to sign the 2019 electoral amendment act into law, the last general elections was nothing short of extensive 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, as evident in the allegations and counter-allegations between the Ministry of Justice and the EFCC; the Office of the Vice President and the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs; the Ministry of Niger Delta and the National Assembly; the Ministry of labour and the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF), all revealing how corruption is fighting corruption everywhere and the casualties are the welfare and security of the Nigerian people.
To curb this ugly trend, the ninth National Assembly of the Federal Republic of Nigeria would have to go beyond just probing the allegations of corruption in the ministries, departments and agencies (MDA) of government to legislating a framework that encapsulates far-reaching electoral reforms, which will return sovereign power back to the people through corruption-free and truly democratic electoral processes. 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 bad or good governance, accordingly, through the ballot.
The urgency for the ninth National Assembly to embark on a comprehensive electoral reform process through the passing of relevant legislations cannot be overemphasised 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 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 July 8, the Centre for Liberty drew the attention of the National Assembly to the urgency of an electoral reform in Nigeria. In the letter, which was signed by Ariyo-Dare Atoye and Adebayo Raphael as conveners of the organisation, the Centre for Liberty called on the National Assembly shelve its plans of embarking on a recess by the end of July, but to rather focus on enacting an electoral reform bill before the end of the year. According to the Centre, “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 iota of commitment to the war on corruption, he should sign into law any bill of the National Assembly that is aimed at electoral reforms.