President Muhammadu Buhari recently penned an article in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) titled, “The Three Changes Nigeria needs”, where he brilliantly articulated the three major changes he feels Nigeria needs at this point in time. The summary of his postulation is hinged on the fight against corruption and rebalancing of the economy away from dependence on oil to create durable economic growth.
For me, corruption is indeed a very serious problem to the Nigerian state, if it can be properly tamed, then development will manifest genuinely in the polity. And, it is on this premise that the change mantra should be largely predicated. If the issue of corruption is properly addressed and dealt with then other sectors of the economy can be effectively taken care of, as things will methodically fall into place.
Corruption in Nigeria had more or less become the official policy of the state. Sadly, any nation that exalts corruption to a place of pride can never make any tangible progress in the real sense of the word. Development and progress will be elusive while the resultant poverty will exacerbate violence and conflict. Such a country will take a step forward and ten steps backward. That is the truth and the reality that cannot be circumvented.
We are all too familiar with important development projects that are initiated for the wrong reasons; they are located in places where they are least beneficial economically on account of political considerations. Moreover, important contracts and licenses have been given to VIPs who are unable to execute them successfully or who sell them to other contractors in circumstances that are a negation of national interest. Sometimes well paid positions are created just to give jobs to people whose political support is considered important. The country pays for no service rendered, worse it pays for nuisance value. In some cases people are overpaid for what they do in order to keep them happy, thereby creating demoralizing disparities between reward and effort. This why corruption is antithetical to growth and development as well as precipitates violence. It makes countries backward; it retards progress, makes planning cumbersome, spreads poverty and engenders the development of underdevelopment in any social formation. Once corruption spawns poverty and want, these ubiquitous deprivations automatically breed violence. Violence to demand for legitimate rights; violence to demonstrate disaffection for state policies and violence as an expression of the contradictions inherent in the prevailing order. Violence is not just physical but psychological. Corruption buoys poverty, societal inequality, and inequitable resource distribution that fuels conflict. Corruption is, however, endemic in all aspects of Nigerian society, government and the private sector. Again, it is germane to note that, much of the corruption in the public sector is the result of the adaptation of the existing institutions to corrupt modus operandi with bureaucrats and other agents of the state following the predatory examples of, and taking instructions from, their principals in the political arena.
The alarming rate at which corruption continues to loom large in the country, in spite of all attempts to curb it by this government, is very disturbing and indeed an abnormality. Yet, so much lip-service has been paid to the issue of fighting corruption over the years, but there is no silver lining in the horizon, until the coming of the present administration. The issue of corruption is therefore, not only worrisome and appalling but out rightly disgusting. Is it the case of police officers collecting bribe from motorists on the highways across the country that we want to talk about or various government officials at different levels of government that openly demand for gratifications before they can carry out their lawful duties. It would be recalled that some few years back CNN ran a damaging documentary about corruption in Nigeria. But in spite of this, corruption is still prevalent in the country. It needs reminding that PMB’s government has made a bold statement and taken practical steps to deal a mortal blow to corruption in the country and that the efforts have been acclaimed locally and globally too.
The various anti-graft agencies, namely ICPC and EFCC which have become toothless bull-dogs over the years until the present government came to power. But to reinvigorate the anti corruption battle, the agencies need to be merged, re-structured and empowered to fight corruption in a functional and pragmatic manner. Secondly, government should put in place people-friendly policies that will ensure gainful employment, drastically reduce poverty, thereby minimizing the proclivity for corruption. This is because development cannot be achieved by proxy. A people develop itself or not at all. It can develop itself through a strategy of self-reliance via the commitment and the energy of the people. That is where democracy comes in. Self-reliance is not possible unless the society is thoroughly democratic, unless the people are the end and not just the means of development. Development occurs, in so far as it amounts to the pursuit of objectives set by the people themselves in their own interest and by means of their own resources.
The other level of change which is also closely related to corruption is making democracy real in the country. First, the electoral reforms particularly as put forward by the Justice Mohammed Uwais panel must not only be strictly adhered to, it must be implemented wholesale. As has been noted earlier, this government is making giant strides to build institutions of government that are truly enduring and not personality cults around a few characters at the helm of affairs that are ephemeral. Secondly, there must be the integrity of the ballot box and the vote of the people must always count: the era of having elections without voting should be jettisoned. If the various political gladiators know that indeed ultimate political power belongs to the people and that they can be voted out of power, politicians would be forced to be more decorous and decent in their approach to politics as well as up their ante in performances while in office. A situation where the vote of the people do not matter, where the INEC is always on the side of the party in power and where some so-called power brokers think they can decide for the whole country without their consent is not only totally unacceptable, but it would also not allow the occupiers of public offices to have legitimacy and this would ultimately have adverse consequences on their productivity.
****Jide Ayobolu writes from Lagos