Kennedy Emetulu, writing with the dedication of Samuel, the agony of Job, and the hope of Jesus, and in a season of joy, provides with an elaborate treatise on corruption in Nigeria. Readers should refer to Dialogue No. 76 for the comprehensive framework provided by Dr.Mbaku, Africa's foremost scholar on the subject.
The Guardian Editorial is spot on! Of course, Obasanjo had all the goodwill he needed; all he needed to do was apply himself to the job. At the level he was, with the whole democracy near-martyrdom thing, the man was swimming in goodwill. He was chosen abroad, legitimized at home by his military cum civilian constituency. If there was one man who could do it in Nigeria, it was Obasanjo, everyone seems to be repeating. Five years on, even the original blare-on-demand hallelujah choristers are barely audible, not to mention those already recanting, as you would expect.
I actually find the spinning on methodology of the TI index a little comic, because these are worn out lines.
TACKLING CORRUPTION: TOWARDS A CITIZENS’ COVENANT (1)
When a man assumes a public trust, he should consider himself as public property.
------------------------------------- Thomas Jefferson
When I speak of a citizens’ covenant against corruption, I refer to a renewed determination, a promise or commitment by Nigerians to do something about the rampant infamy of official corruption that holds our nation hostage. It would seem that up till now, every prognosis proceeds from the assumption that nothing can be done by anyone about the problem except government; and that only a government with the political will and clear understanding and perspective to the problem can actually address it. Well, our story is that from time immemorial, we have awaited such a government without luck. Therefore, I think it’s time for us to begin to seek the solution from amongst ourselves, because if Nigeria, by the implication of Transparency International’s Reports since 1996 at least, can be regarded as having one of the most predatory elites of our times; the people themselves must also qualify as some of the most complacent in history. It is so easy to get into the groove of regarding the ordinary Nigerian as a ‘victim’ of corruption, but a more circumspect look would reveal that he/she is more likely to turn out an unstinting participant or a bastion of encouragement, advertently or inadvertently.
Of course, sometimes we get fooled by the perceived public reactions that greet some of the more high profile cases of the often half-hearted ventilations wafting into public space now and again as part of the inevitable fallouts when dishonourable thieves knock heads, as for instance being witnessed with the hoopla attending the latest episode pitting the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai against Senators Jonathan Zwingina and Ibrahim Mantu. Yet, when the clamour came that he should name names, I couldn’t banish the sneaky feeling from within me that it wasn’t exactly out of a pure sense of revulsion and determination for resolution of the matter on the people’s part, but rather another of those eternal Nigerian crave for drama. People wanted Nasir el-Rufai to name names only as part of their gist resume, not because they’ve got an action plan to deal with the matter judiciously and conclusively thereafter. Once Nigerians get their fix with the sight of ‘big men’ washing their dirty linen in public – some form of mass voyeurism, I suppose - they hobble along gleefully to face their self-cursed future. If you’re alien, you may not understand it; but it’s just another beautiful day in the life of the Happy Nigerian!
We certainly can justify the above view with the way things are going (or more appropriately, not going) regarding the matter right now. The man has named two senators as people who demanded bribe from him before confirmation, he produced no evidence, the two senators have denied it and denounced him, the Senate has come out to declare its men free of all charges, a few tepid threats of going to the ICPC here and going to the court there and the PDP and the presidency barge in, gagging every dramatis personae and declaring the matter closed! The Nigerian people have had their momentary fix, but the corrupt leadership must have its way. So, if you expect some groundswell of protest for the matter to be thoroughly investigated or for the slumbering ICPC or police to act when indeed no one has made any report to them (another convenient excuse), you’ll have to import new citizens from Mars to do so. After all, who does not know that Nigerians are notorious forgive-and-forget, sweep-under-the-carpet, let-sleeping-dogs-lie and let’s-move-on kind of people? Most do not have the conscience, patience nor the time to confront their most telling national problem; they would rather glide along in that hazy world of ‘wetin we fit do now?’ and ‘God dey’ until some new drama comes along on the political plane to get their tongues wagging again and to keep the accursed circle turning.
I certainly wouldn’t be saying anything new if I begin now to reel out the individual corruption cases that adorn our gallery of shame, even if only limited to the period of today’s supposed democratic rule. Nobody, I think, is still under the illusion that the problem of corruption in public service is now less than it was at any time during the preceding military or civilian rules. If anything, it’s grown worse and more brazen. And this is under the watch of an administration that rode to power with a mandate to tame the monster and with so much goodwill from within and without that just very few were cynical enough to think it won’t make a dent on the problem. Now, after four years of physical and psychological terrorism on the people, including very vicious attacks on what remains of the nation’s moral fibre, those cynics of yesterday are today’s prophets - the same government in a most wanton display of electoral rigging ever witnessed in Nigeria, returned itself to power for another term; while the people, being the loyal patrons of corruption that they are, accept this with notorious equanimity - yelping along like hapless poodles, jolly, as any complacent bunch can be.
Sometime last month, Chief Kanu Agabi, in his new incarnation as Senior Special Assistant to the President on Ethics and Good Governance, did try to propose a not-so-curious theory (I say “not-so-curious” because it is a theory that has been over-flogged by the failed post-colonial African politician in all guises). In a one-day public lecture titled: “The Anti-Corruption Crusade, the Cultural Perspective” (organised by the National Institute for Cultural Orientation), the man blamed corruption in Nigeria on the adoption of colonial laws which are inconsistent with the culture and experience of our people.
Yes, this is the same Godwin Kanu Agabi who until very, very recently was a two-time Attorney-General and Minister of Justice of the Federation, a position that empowered him to propose changes to the law and fashion the direction of legal development in the country. Throughout that period he didn’t find it necessary to propose one single change to the supposedly euro-centric common law rules and those legal traditions steeped in colonialism that largely govern our legal system. I mean, here he is, blaming the adoption of colonial laws for corruption and yet, when he had the chance, just up to a few months ago, he couldn’t propose one thing – just one thing - to change anything within the law! All we remember him for as an Attorney-General and Minister of Justice were his collaborating with Obasanjo to foist a forged Electoral Act on an unsuspecting populace and his blowing hot and cold over the adoption of unconstitutional Sharia. The Anti-Corruption Act, which he would possibly want to claim credit for is nothing but another document well steeped in colonial law, and which, as events have since proven, is observed more in its wanton breach right under his nose! And yet he hangs around the place as some “Senior Special Assistant on Ethics and Good Governance” – a position that itself is a corrupt contraption, created as a means to give jobs to the boys after being dropped as ministers to pave way for some new termites! Ask him what his job really entails and I’m sure he’d find it tasking enough to exhaust half a page of A4 trying to explain it!
Well, back to his argument. On the surface, it seems genuine; but on closer scrutiny, it is vacuous – it is of the genre that begins by hanging everything on the neck of the white man, proposing to paint us all as victims of some colonial legacy, even where it is obvious that we should be standing up to take responsibility for ourselves. Today, when I look at Transparency International’s corruption index, I find this theory inadequate to explain the progress being made in tackling or controlling corruption in some of those countries that have similar or worse experience than Nigeria in terms of colonialism, neo-colonialism or cultural imperialism.
Now, I am by no means saying colonialism did not play its role in fostering corruption. In as much as colonialism itself is roguery rather than a civilizing mission, it would be preposterous to assume some saintly posture for its effects. The white man came to loot and plunder; he found willing tools in collaborating ‘natives’, who, recognizing the colonialists’ superior military strength and criminal determination, found it convenient and exceedingly profitable to join him against their people. The white man bought those he could buy to his side, conquered those he couldn’t buy and went on to establish an administration that depended on subterfuge and behind-the-curtain manoeuvres to succeed in the continued exploitation of the people he administered. While the image of the ramrod butter-will-never-melt-in-his-mouth colonial official was being projected to the home audience by colonial propaganda, the Colonial Office understood what the bottom line was. Think of Joyce Cary’s Mr Johnson and the corrupt Harry Rudbeck driving on with his road-building project by hook or by crook, while allowing poor Mr Johnson to carry the can and you’ll understand how cruelly single-minded the conception of the colonial project was even in the minds of its servants. Think of Ezeulu in Achebe’s Arrow of God refusing to be bribed with the position of Warrant Chief, in spite of his helplessness before Tony Clarke the colonial Assistant District Officer, and you can begin to imagine how traditional society became overran by corrupt puppetry and the huge shock it underwent before realigning to the reality of thieves and scoundrels becoming the new law givers. Consider another Achebean character, Obi Okonkwo in No Longer At Ease struggling to meet up with the new materialist demands of colonial society and you’ll understand the new pressures put on the individual to meet the same age old social obligations with new and alien tools and outside the natural communal environment. Yes, colonialism has done its bit, but how long are we to hang on to that excuse for the failures of today?
Perhaps, if there’s something to learn from colonial corruption, it is the way the white man conceived and used it. Of course, anyone who’s read history properly knows that there was no idyllic corrupt-free Africa before the white man came and that though he may have introduced a new wave of and indeed dimension to materialism, his gifts of mirrors, guns and gin to the mercenary chieftains did not suddenly open up a new unknown evil in these people. They were more like water on the seeds and plants already there. Understanding that corruption was only a means to build wealth and sustain his own home economy in the very competitive world of his time, the white man made sure he didn’t transfer the habit back home. While it was alright for Westminster and Whitehall to cover up those undesirable aspects of the colonial enterprise, everyday British governance was still organised on the same principles of accountability and the rule of law. It was one thing to use savage means, including corruption, to control the “savages” abroad and another to import such habits home. Yes, those in colonial outposts were in service of king and country, but never was it conceived that their practices should become a benchmark for governance at home!
So, the point I’m making here really is that there’s nothing absolutely wrong in our laws; there’s nothing debilitating in having to live under a “new culture” supposedly foisted on us by colonialism. As far as no one is sticking a gun up our nostril to wear shirt and tie, practice common law, eat with fork and knife or speak Queen’s English, it’s all well and good. Culture is dynamic and the fact that we stick with what we’ve got today is largely because it’s convenient; it is the surer and better way to relate to the world we live in. We cannot rewrite history or continue crying over spilt milk. Botswana, third poorest country in the world by the time of its independence did not have to run back to the caves to find ideas to master modern governance or keep it amongst the top 30 of nations with less corruption in public service as it is today. Coincidentally, it was also a British colony, inheriting the same traditions of the common law as Nigeria and yes, there was no resort to Tswana pre-colonial traditions to make meaning of their future. They simply took to the business of building a modern nation and got on with it. What matters from all one can genuinely see is how a particular people perceive governance and the role and responsibility of individuals in public service and a general but strong commitment to abide by the rule of law. And that is where we as a people must start from before we can begin to set things right.
Therefore, the first question we must address before declaring a people’s covenant against corruption is: how does the Nigerian perceive public service? What does he/she expect from the public servant and how much does society depend on the public servant to function? More importantly, what rules govern the relationship between the public servant and the people vis-à-vis his/her duties and responsibilities to his/her office? In the Nigerian experience, it is fair to say that public service is perceived as a rich but helpless orphan under the claws of greedy and manic relatives. No one wants the responsibility to nurture him or attend to his needs, but everyone wants his money. And if it means shooting each other down in broad daylight in the middle of the street to get to that wealth or to control that orphan, the evidence is that you cannot seem to have a shortage of bloodthirsty volunteers! And why is this so? Because those the public services are meant to serve have never been made to understand the real purpose; they have never been made to realise the depth of relationship between public policy and their everyday life. Rather, they’ve become, wittingly or unwittingly, recruits in the sectional wars waged to corner the orphan’s wealth; they grow up fed on a diet of negative ethnicity, real and imagined marginalization, suspicion and senseless acquisitions, without anything by way of contribution and civic responsibility. A mono-cultural economy largely dependent on oil only helps to ossify this vampire ideology, which, taken from the bottom upwards becomes the face of political leadership and the basic realities of society which over time has conveniently assumed the bogus term, “Nigerian factor”.
Thus, it isn’t surprising that when a government proceeds to appoint ministers of government or anyone with enough clout to influence government policy, the overriding consideration can never be merit or service, but rather how each appointment would serve to capture or reflect the loyalty of one or more warring faction(s), expressed in ethnic groupings, power caucuses, professional groupings (especially military), business connections and plain friendships. And of course, each of these groups themselves are necessarily hostages to cliques of gun wielders and thieves that have been at it since the first day Nigeria opened her eyes. The implication of this is that the wrong people find themselves in charge of public policy and in order to retain that position have through a combination of violence, threats, subterfuge and inaction ensured from the beginning that the threshold of expectation remains very low.
Their most potent weapon of control and continuation is lawlessness (and the attendant impunity). This they’ve done by perpetuating a culture that seems to accept that they, the sacred cows, need not obey the law. Such disdain for law is open and verbalized and eventually it’s also become expressed in the intimidation and strangulation of the judiciary and the justice system. The idea of an independent judiciary gradually becomes an anathema as justice becomes only available to the highest bidder. That a democratic dispensation has now produced what is a separate arm of the legislature makes no difference. The over-centralisation of power at the centre and the equally considerable influence of governors in the states have ensured that prebendal dependence and the politics of patronage survive with visible arrowheads. Invariably, what we’ve got is a system that is hugely unaccountable at all levels, a system open to impunity, operated as favours and political racketeering and therefore gravely repressive and unproductive.
To an extent, yes, the people are victims, not least because they pay the taxes and thus should have some form of legitimate expectations from those who rule over them; but, like a people suffering from a severe case of collective amnesia (considering their experience), they inexplicably continue to hand over their lives and paycheques to the thieves that have taken over their family home! When people pick up the gun to overrun a government in their name, the Nigerian asks no question, but gets out the drums and cymbals to celebrate the new messiahs; and when some other persons come in the name of democracy, all the Nigerian has to do again is do the same dancing and singing routine. Yes, we are constantly celebrating the death and birth of ‘new’ governments, but never graduating from the class of hanging expectations because each past regime seems always to be worse than the previous one and all we get to live for is hope – hope that dares not speak its name, a shameful and burdened hope.
But perpetuation of lawlessness has not only been the forte of the criminal elite; the people themselves have imbibed the odious lessons. How many times do you hear Nigerians proclaim disdain for the law? How many Nigerians do really care about the provisions of the Constitution? How many are conversant with the various provisions of our laws dealing with official corruption? In Nigeria, it is normal to hear otherwise informed persons accuse you of being too legalistic if you as much as quote a provision of the law we are all supposed to keep. Ironically, their disdain for the law is justified on the grounds that the political leadership cares less about it! Yet, history and experience has proven time and time again that no society progresses by abandoning the rule of law; no society progresses by leaving the question of accountability and political responsibility solely in the hands of their rulers. It is the responsibility of the people to keep their leaders on their toes and nowhere has this been done successfully in history without the aid of the law and without a basic understanding by all stakeholders that it is the final arbiter.
So, it is worth pointing out here and now that this project of establishing a citizens’ covenant against corruption must begin with our own attitudinal change towards the law. But let me confess that like most Nigerians, I suppose, I am sometimes very weary of solutions that proceed from recommending ‘a change of attitude’ on people’s part. What does it need to change attitude? Who will begin the process of change? How long will it last if ever it gets started? And, what purpose will it serve if those in authority simply refuse to change while the rest of us are at it? Yes, I also ask these questions; but I also realize that most times these are mere expressions of frustration that take us nowhere. In this particular case, we simply cannot proceed on a path of national rejuvenation and desired change without a considerable change of attitude by a considerable number of citizens – considerable enough to pull their weight together to effect that change needed by all. It is not important that the law is imposed or that it is not an expression of the people’s will as it is today; what is important is that we hold all citizens to it on the same basis as those who make the law. In other words, our duty as citizens first is to obey the law, and, more crucially, to ensure that those we’ve elected to public office and those appointed to implement public policy are held to those same standards as the rest of us. This is the only way we can begin to appreciate the rule of law and to also begin the process of changing those rules that do not conform to it, but which nonetheless are parts of the law as it is today. The first real revolution begins in the mind - in the minds of a few who can see the big picture, but are not intimidated by it.
Once we get the above perspective right, we can then begin to use that new attitude and understanding to address the myriad of problems that are bedevilling our nation, including corruption. As a people, we must realize that we cannot address corruption, no matter the solutions anyone were to now propose, until we begin to understand what democracy really means and the power it gives to every citizen. Once it is understood that democracy cannot operate outside the rule of law, we will begin to want to know what laws apply to what and what to do when there’s a breach. Real development cannot proceed until the law is adopted as a partner, rather than being seen as an inconvenience to avoid. The result of this new attitude will therefore be that people are now more likely to question the calibre of people they put in public office at any level, with a clear understanding of what Jefferson meant when he spoke of those assuming public trust being public property.
What a citizens’ covenant against corruption should represent is an attempt by citizens themselves to begin to address this problem without having to wait for the government or those in authority to first address the matter. We know they are not ready and won’t likely be ready forever if we let things continue as they are, since they themselves are largely the perpetrators of the problem. So, addressing the problem ourselves and getting those in authority to toe the line should be our focus. And the specifics of that shall be the subject of the concluding part of this piece.
Sunday, November 30, 2003
TACKLING CORRUPTION: TOWARDS A CITIZENS’ COVENANT (2)
Perhaps, a little explanation is in order.
The first part of this piece was published a little over a month ago. I cannot now say I deliberately set out to present this second and concluding part this late, but somehow circumstances conspired to make it so. Nonetheless, I find the intervening time useful, because it’s brought to the fore in very practical ways the issue we are discussing and somehow does show this need for advocating a Citizens’ Covenant more. Indeed, it is to our benefit that corruption and the fight against it has been big news within this period. For instance, the United Nations Anti-Corruption Treaty is now in place, to be opened for signatories from the second week of December in Merida, Mexico. And, whether by design or coincidence (which really matters not), Obasanjo was the only president and national leader who went out during this period, nationally and internationally, to speak on corruption. It is crucial for us to follow these events and analyse them in the context of what they portend in our search for a Citizens’ Covenant.
Obasanjo spoke in Berlin at a Transparency International Lecture, titled, “Nigeria: From Pond of Corruption to Island of Integrity”. In the process, he committed Nigeria to the following:
(1) making the oil companies declare the costs they incur to do business in Nigeria by committing the country to the “Publish-What-You-Pay” and “Publish-What-You-Earn-Initiative” – so far, the oil companies operating in Nigeria have been falling over each other to publicly welcome this initiative;
(2) creating a separate Public Procurement Commission to “streamline purchases, cut waste, eliminate duplication, and bring sanity into business transactions” – this is to ensure that government business is run transparently and is backed by law ;
(3) strengthening the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC), with the latter now to be subject to an independent civil society oversight for the purpose of checking impunity and “heavy-handed behaviour” in violation of people’s rights, and
(4) signing the United Nation Treaty Against Corruption immediately it opens for signatories in Merida, Mexico in December.
All the above, as far as most people are concerned is good news. No one doubts that our President can talk the talk; the problem is in his walking the walk - that is leading a government that shows in character and performance that it understands its responsibilities where the issue of corruption is concerned.
Typically, Obasanjo had gone to Berlin and in what effectively amounted to spreading the blame challenged the TI to create more Corruption Indexes, such as Corruption Encouraging Index and Corruption Reduction Index along with the existing Corruption Perception Index. Obasanjo believes this would give a more holistic picture of the problem. Yet, I couldn’t help noting that at least it is well known that the TI publishes the International Bribe Payers Index which is permanently dominated by companies from the developed countries. I think that in itself serves the purpose of a Corruption Encouraging Index already, especially as it is also rated on country-by-country basis, just like the Corruption Perception Index.
As for the idea of Reduction Index, I don’t know what purpose that would serve being that reduction in any particular case is relative. Besides, one would have thought that the changing positions of particular countries yearly in the Corruption Perception Index would also be some invariable indication of whether or not the problem is being reduced in the country concerned. Personally, on a philosophical and idealistic level, I think “reduction” as a language should not be encouraged; even the president in this same speech proclaimed our task as one of pursuing “a zero-corruption tolerant world”. With such a vision, one can argue that idea of a “Reduction Index” paradoxically sounds much more like accommodation on this kind of issue. Though, the president may have genuine intentions in wanting the international community to reward those who are reducing the menace in their jurisdictions, one must conceive of reward in the effect such is having in the polity and in the lives of the people concerned. International recognition or not, the reward would already be obvious in the good governance conditions that would accrue to that society. Therefore, if the international community can welcome such as a good model and reward it with recognition, international aid and investments and so on and so forth, all well and good; but first, every leadership must do this for itself and the people it leads.
The president actually went on in that lecture to talk about how he’s winning the corruption battle. Now, who does not know that he’s losing this battle big time? Nigeria’s case is beyond perception; it is the reality which confronts Nigerians and the world everyday. No amount of comparisons with others will peel anything away from the fact that it is the singular most debilitating ailment in the Nigerian public service. The Corruption Perception Index, for which Nigeria almost topped the pile, bar one, “ranks countries in terms of the degree to which corruption is perceived to exist among public officials and politicians”. We merit where we are by perception, and if we are to really lift the lid off the real thing, the stench is even worse!
Yes, the president is right to draw attention to the fact that companies and organizations from Germany, China and France have been found to encourage and participate in corruption in Nigeria, but the focus must be on the fact that these companies/ multinationals find a fertile ground for such practice. Besides, the fact that today we cannot genuinely guarantee that such is no longer the case also weakens our position considerably. Obasanjo understandably was speaking from the perspective of a leader of a Third World country under attack from the sharks that are Western corporations and a whole lot of other external agencies doing business in Africa, so challenging TI to broaden its perspective is always right; yet we mustn’t lose sight of the primary contention, which is how much we have used the available anti-corruption infrastructure, nationally and internationally, to fight the disease and how much of a success we’re making of it. It is important for the Nigerian administration to go beyond these eternal textual battles. There’s no way to sugar-coat this truth, which is, we are doing very little to discourage corruption in the way we run the administration of our country at all levels; it’s no dispute, the evidence is everywhere, it is already institutionalized in the public psyche beyond the reach of any busybody spin-doctor. In fact, the whole idea of the Citizens’ Covenant is borne out of the presumption that the Ears of Government are dead to any measure to control the disease. Corruption is the life and soul of the establishment Nigeria runs today. We know how much the Nigerian government officials at all levels take away from national wealth through corruption; if we don’t know it in exact amounts we, at least, feel it in our lives. It’s there.
Obasanjo has not lived up to his words, or, perhaps more appropriately, has been alone in this campaign. Yet, the fact is, he’s leading a government that is, to all attestation, wallowing in the disease. In the lecture, he sought to push the blame on the other arms of government – the legislature and judiciary and attempted to launder the idea that the executive has been steadfast and that Nigerians are only raising issues with the other two. But is this true? The truth is Nigerians think of his executive (including their de facto appendages, in the circumstance, the legislature and judiciary) as the Fountain of Corruption! A just-released 2001 Federal Ministry of Finance-sponsored report on corruption actually rates the police as the most corrupt public institution, closely followed by “NEPA, political parties, local government, national and state assemblies, courts, customs and down to the base of the table where state budgetary authority concludes the ranking” in a survey comprising 28 public departments and institutions (see, Alabi Williams’ report in The Guardian On Sunday, November 30, 2003). This is an executive-sponsored report whose released findings indicate that two executive institutions, the police and NEPA are top of the infamous pack! So, what does the president mean when he contends that the feeling is that the judiciary and legislature “are not matching the enthusiasm of the executive in the anti-corruption campaign”? Any discerning observer can see that every arm of government is equally indicted! Yes, the president is awake, but he now needs to smell the coffee!
Right now as we speak, there are stinking corruption cases making the rounds. Such incidences of corruption are infinite as we’ve come to ‘accept’, and, at this moment, amongst such incidences of corruption in high places (with their greasy details already in the public domain) to which Nigerians are currently glued are the Nigeria Ports Authority sackings and scandals, the uncovered fraud at the Federal Inland Revenue, the case of El Rufai versus the Senators, the Akanbi graft case, the shady petroleum deals, the oil companies’ tax fraud, the NNPC probe that is not happening, the multi-million dollars contract scam in Aladja Steel, the COJA contracts, etc. It is perhaps to signal how seriously it’s taking this battle that the government released a draft white paper on the 2001 Justice Obiora Nwazota Judicial Commission of Inquiry to investigate the management of the Nigeria Airways from 1983 to 1999. But even that one has raised more questions than answers. Of course, the mandate of the Inquiry was to look between 1983 and 1999, but we all know it took more than sixteen years to fold up the Nigerian Airways!
Nonetheless, this Airways white paper has brought to the fore crucial questions also about how the Obasanjo administration handles the affairs of the airline. We know that the government is always quick to say this corruption culture did not start with this government and that it is this government that is showing political will to tackle it for the first time; nonetheless, this government must be judged by the way it has handled the affairs of the corporation too since its inception. That is only fair. To this end, Obasanjo and Mrs Chikwe must take responsibility for some of the things that happened in their time pertaining to Nigerian Airways. Even before the Nwazota Inquiry, the Obasanjo government received the Report of the Jonah Jang Panel of 1999 a few months after inauguration. The Report indicted ALL 12 past chief executives of the Nigeria Airways for “gross mismanagement and stealing”. So, it is fair to say that Obasanjo was very aware of the problem on assumption of office. The Nwazota Inquiry merely confirms Jonah Jang and could even be said to have left out quite a few names!
Now, by August last year Senator Idris Kuta, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Aviation, was calling on Mrs Chikwe’s Aviation ministry to explain why it sold 49% of the airline to leasing company Airwing Aerospace. Even though the deal later fell through, the whole thing was done without parliamentary approval, neither was the Bureau of Public Enterprises consulted. In fact, this led to a big face-off between El Rufai, then of BPE and Mrs Chikwe; with the president practically flying in to issue a ‘shut-up’ injunction on El Rufai. Some say the disagreement arose because Chikwe thwarted an attempt by the vice-president, Abubakar Atiku, to take over the airline; others say it was one of the things Obasanjo had to sacrifice in his face-off with the legislature over impeachment or no impeachment. But whatever the truth about motives, all that was done was done in clear contravention of due process. And the President presided over it. As we speak, the government is in the process of liquidating the airline and creating a new national airline – again, doing this without the knowledge of the National Council on Privatization (NCP) and without the blessing of the legislature.
The fact is this, we cannot probe Airways piecemeal and then close shop and start afresh. Let’s get the full picture, because at the end of the day what a report of this nature portends is the possibility of an incumbent administration using the failings of previous ones to selectively haunt individuals, but not necessarily to bring them to book. Worse still, this government overlooks its own failings and curiously expects that people would accept that such attitude addresses the problem of corruption and, if not, look the other way. If the government is serious that its just-released “Code of Corporate Governance in Nigeria” is for public companies, let it begin to apply it now to the case of the Nigerian Airways, covering also the Obasanjo period.
Meanwhile, another contagion in the credibility deficit is slowly but surely building up. For some time now, the PUNCH Newspapers have silently but professionally fought out a hide-and-seek,-search-and-destroy encounter with the government. This is on the small matter of the 1994 Okigbo Panel Report on the ‘Gulf War Oil Windfall’. When the PUNCH made the request for the Report, the Office of the Secretary of the Federal Government of Nigeria sweetly introduced us to the scary idea of such a Panel Report being missing! Curiously, Ufot Ekaette, our own dear Secretary to the Federal Government of Nigeria was a member of the 1994 Okigbo Panel! This is not fairytale; this is fact. The PUNCH wrote Obasanjo and pointed out the fact that from available information, there ought to be a copy at least at the Presidency; the president excused his administration of the whole thing on the grounds that they came in after this Report, but nonetheless, promised to FIND the Report and make it available.
So, there we are, nationally and internationally in the war against corruption; but then what does one make of it all? How do all these events relate to our search for a Citizens’ Covenant and how do they affect the final strategies that we the people are to adopt?
Indeed, what one would expect from a government with the political will and conviction to fight corruption is to do that fighting first within itself, and then use the new image to gain credibility with the people in order to cleanse the rest of society. That must be the vision. What successive administrations in Nigeria have failed to realize, or if they realize, ignore, is the fact that you cannot gain any legitimacy with Nigerians without first purging yourself. In the case of Nigeria, it is even obvious that there’s a lot of goodwill and encouragement coming from the international community. This is what we see with the opportunities given our president to address the issue in that lecture for instance, or with the Swiss promise to release some $618 million dollars of our stolen wealth in their possession, the Jersey payment of $149 million dollars to the Federal Government and the arrest, detention and planned repatriation of the Abacha front-man, Abubakar Atiku Bagudu from the United States.
But the issue has always been how this government manages such national and international goodwill. For instance, after the Swiss had reportedly handed over tomes of documentation to our government on the Abacha heist, it was a bewildered nation that woke up one morning to be told by their president that he was entering a deal with the Abachas – a deal that would see them walk away unscathed with millions of dollars! In the end, Nigeria got the wrong end of the stick; the Abacha boy did not sign or pay! What better way to encourage corruption than to let it be known from the highest quarters that depending on who you are, you can actually get to keep huge parts of the loot you’ve stolen through official negotiation, with agreements and obligations you need not keep? Besides, even this Bagudu affair is gradually being mired in further controversy as latest reports indicate that Nigeria never ever made an extradition request for the man, in spite of the very central role he’s played in siphoning money abroad for the Abachas. According to a report by Laolu Akande for The Guardian On Sunday (November 30, 2003), the United States authorities are actually acting at the request of Jersey, and from all indications even the planned extradition is no longer definite. At the very least, what this indicates is the fact that others are actually bending over backwards in certain cases to help us on the issue; but as usual, we are the ones exhibiting questionable motives at every turn. Why did Nigeria not make an extradition request for this man whose name has always been mentioned far more than any other alongside the Abachas in countless court documents and reports around the world?
Where personal agendas rule and sacred cows have to be ‘protected’, what you get is a total betrayal of the people amidst countless miscarriages of justice and abandonment of due process and the rule of law, as is the case right now in Nigeria. The corruption issues on the ground right now in our nation and the international coalition taking shape offer Obasanjo another opportunity to cleanse the Aegean Stable. But can he? Maybe he can’t, because he’s from the stable himself, but then that means Nigerians themselves must act! That is the vision of a Citizens’ Covenant. It is what citizen-to-citizen can do to bring this madness to a halt. In the face of official inaction against and indeed collusion with corruption, the burden of fighting against the disease (a necessary burden, I dare say) falls on the citizens. A Citizens’ Covenant is about knowledge, organization and conviction to actualize. It is a process the people must learn and master. More importantly, they must believe it.
The first thing is to know the law and to ensure that every citizen is aware of exactly what the law says with regard to official corruption. Ignorance of the law is no excuse and it certainly doesn’t help the cause of social advancement to do nothing about removing those huge pockets of ignorance that abound. It goes without saying that the rapacious and thieving elite would never make education or the business of spreading awareness an actionable policy or give it the priority it deserves, even where we are likely to hear them pay lip service to it in meaningless official speeches. It is not enough that the law is in the statute book somewhere; it is imperative that people get to know that it is there and that proactive awareness campaigns are conducted to bring such knowledge to every citizen, no matter their educational status. In a society where the distinction between gift and graft is becoming more blurred by the day - for political, cultural and economic reasons, etc - only the law will serve to point out where the dividing line is. I call this project domestication of the law of corruption. The analogy is one of the chicken, goats, pigs, sheep, cattle generally kept at home by our people, especially in the rural areas. Every Nigerian must be consciously TAUGHT, by every available means necessary, the laws that govern official corruption in his/her country. We must domesticate these laws, that is make them part of the things every citizen must know.
To accomplish this task of domesticating international and national anti-corruption laws, I am advocating for human rights and civil liberties groups to begin a process of liaising with one another to fashion out a simple strategy of involving every strata of society in publicizing and advertising these laws as a first step. I have in mind such tactics as publishing a list and summaries of sections of the anti-corruption laws, for instance, those of the Criminal and Penal Codes, Code of Conduct Bureau, Public Complaints Commission, ICPC Act or EFCC’s, etc, on the cover of children’s exercise books, at the bus-stops, develop them into little fliers to be permanently on schools’ notice boards around the country, encourage the arts to produce plays and popular dramas to sell the message and ensure that all these are translated into different languages and means to effectively communicate with all sections of society. Campaigns can be initiated to have companies and institutions make public declarations of this within their premises, whether in forms of permanent posters, notices or plaques and also to consider ways in which its advertisement can be incorporated into their products. I suppose most citizens would want to know those companies that sign up to the Citizens’ Covenant against corruption.
Such a campaign also should simplify explanations of the steps ordinary citizens can take if confronted by the crime of corruption. It should be noted that while we do not look to public officials to support these moves, it is possible that individuals in public service, who feel as strongly about the issue as the people need to be encouraged to join the effort. The point we are making at this early beginning of the domestication of the international and national anti-corruption laws is to first spread the awareness of what these laws are in every nook and cranny of our nation and amongst all strata of society. Until they are aware and ready, the people can’t take the fight to the public sector.
So, what I’m proposing is first a tool, which is the law as it is; secondly, how citizens can use that tool effectively in the circumstances we’ve found ourselves to create and build that solidarity to see this yield result. This of course requires some organizational means and it is in this latter regard that I think it is important for civil society groups to get organized and to liaise with each other, at home and abroad, in order to share perspectives on the problem. People must begin to make it their business to fight against corruption wherever it rears its head. For instance, such interaction could be in the form of lobbying the Nigerian Bar Association to establish a Corruption Report Unit in all of their state branches with a national coordinating office, which would be open for members of the public to make reports of official corruption of any kind. At these units, preliminary evidence will be reviewed and a determination would be made whether to pursue prosecution. It will be the duty of the body to liaise with government lawyers, police, the ICPC, EFCC and any of those bodies charged with prosecuting such crimes and make legal arrangements for the protection of the informants, if need be. And, along the line, private prosecutions should be encouraged along with other social actions against the disease – actions that will make it terribly unprofitable psychologically and materially for people to engage in official corruption. The point here simply is to carry along other members of civil society and professional groups concerned enough about the problem.
The NBA is very important in this fight, because to win this fight the foremost group of professional advocates must be onside. And when I speak of lobby, I do not mean it in the sleazy sense; it’s more like the NBA having to convince itself now that it has a role to play in our search for a popular solution to the problem of corruption. What we are doing is to challenge them. How as a professional group of learned persons have they substantively contributed to the fight against corruption? Are they happy with the state of affairs today? Isn’t there something more they can do? Such other professional groups, like Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria, Nigerian Society of Engineers, Advertising Practitioners Association of Nigeria, the Nigerian Medical Association, Nigerian Institute of Architects, etc must find their roles too. Workers organizations like the NLC, the Nigeria Civil Service Union, Trade Union Congress, etc must all be on board and, of course, the students’ bodies must remain the vital channels to the true leaders of tomorrow. This is the only way we can ever have a chance of spreading the awareness at all levels.
Then the next institution the people would turn their mind to would be the judiciary. Why, because the judiciary is the ‘weakest’ line of defence for the thieving establishment. It follows that if there are no crooked advocates, there would be less crooked judges; so, once the NBA is on board, the courts will return to their traditional duty of interpreting the law. Even the establishment will be wary of being found to be influencing judges at that stage because the people would have become so sensitized that the government will have to raise its game; and the more it does that, the more the people will ask for more until the disease becomes foreign to the Nigerian public service. That is just a goal; but, at least, people must first begin to make the move. The people must focus on the lowest and middle-level judiciary first. The idea is to return some independence to the judiciary by cutting off the connection between it and official interference and influence from the executive. It is obvious that not every member of the bench is in the payroll of executive lawbreakers and more obvious that magistrates and lower High Court judges are not likely to be since they are not usually in position to influence controversial government actions whether at the centre or state level. But they do influence on the local level. And if our fight against corruption is to make sense, we must take control of the local level. The cases that come before these judges and magistrates at these levels would really set the national tone.
Finally, let me end this by saying a few more words on international efforts at fighting corruption and how such efforts are likely to complement the people’s efforts through the Citizens’ Covenant in very crucial ways. It is important for Nigerians to realize that ordinary everyday people have championed the fight against corruption elsewhere and that such landmark achievements as the UN Anti-Corruption Treaty, the UN Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime, the OECD and the Council of Europe’s anti-corruption laws, etc have come about because of the great work members of civil society everywhere have done. It is time for Nigerians, at home and abroad, to begin to look at this kind of activism and contribute their own quota.
In this regard, special mention must be made of the International Anti-Corruption Conferences whose biennial conferences began in Washington in 1983 and which by the time of the 8th International Anti-Corruption Conference in Lima, Peru in September 1997 had solidly started to fashion a broad strategy against corruption. The Lima Declaration proposed actions on international, regional, national and local levels to fight the disease, including proposals to make prevention and prosecution more effective. By the time of the 9th International Anti-Corruption Conference in Durban two years later, when about 1600 participants from 135 countries had the opportunity to review and assess the progress they’ve made since Lima, it was obvious that the issue of corruption needs now to take a much more central stage than before, especially with the effects being witnessed in developing countries. The 1999 Durban Commitment To Effective Action Against Corruption not only restated the principles of Lima, but recognized in its Statement the leadership role Nigeria and South Africa must play in the African continent in the fight against the disease. Such conferences, along with The Global Forums On Fighting Corruption, the Monterrey Conference on Financing for Development, the Johannesburg Summit on Sustainable Development and the work of Transparency International amongst others led finally to the United Nations Anti-Corruption Treaty.
The importance of that Treaty for us cannot be over-emphasized. The idea of a Citizens’ Covenant is like swimming against the tide and in order to be successful, we need all the support and help we can get from international actions and legislations against corruption. For one, the Treaty makes it more difficult now for corrupt officials to store their loot abroad as there are clear provisions for such loot to be returned to the owner-countries, including provisions for stronger cooperation between countries for prevention and detection of such corrupt proceeds. Against the background of the fact that the issue of repatriation of corrupt money from developed countries had remained unresolved, even as late as at the Second Global Forum in 2001, that the negotiators were able to include such a provision finally in the treaty is a quantum leap. It shows that finally the developed countries now recognize how serious this problem is for developing countries and the need to use an extra-jurisdictional law as the UN treaty to cut out unnecessary bureaucracy and double-standards. But, of course, how such monies are spent would still largely depend on the nature of government in place. It is therefore the duty of citizens to demand accountability and monitor such repatriations. Other provisions relating to the funding of political parties, electronic methods for investigation and asset recovery, law enforcement and criminal justice are areas that would provide us with the right principles to pursue in enforcing or reviewing our domestic laws. In fact, one of such is our immunity laws, which recently was a source of concern to the EFCC. This treaty clearly prohibits statutes of limitation, which means anyone can be tried anytime for corruption. If immunity laws prevent prosecution while in office; out of office, such laws will not protect you as the charges are not time-barred.
It is gratifying to hear Obasanjo announce that Nigeria is “in the leadership of the Anti-Corruption Convention in the UN”, but doesn’t that stand the risk of ringing hollow in the face of the reality at home? While this is a call for a citizens’ action against corruption, one would hope that the Obasanjo-led government finally wakes up to its responsibilities immediately and make things easier for everyone by tackling this disease head-on. Otherwise, the people will have to champion the fight and let the chips fall wherever.