No sooner had President Buhari assumed office on May 29 than the cries for change soared. Both within and outside Nigeria, many could not wait for the new ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) party to create a different Nigeria. They want change now.
For change maximalists, change was expected to start with a storm that left no stone unturned. Change was to be a clean sweep of all that they saw as wrong; a visible show of business unusual where politics is done differently and new policies and actions were appear.
For change minimalists, the departure of PDP from power at the centre in Abuja and enthronement of APC was change already. The replacement of former President Goodluck Jonathan with President Muhammadu Buhari was a breather that signified progress. Sooner than later other major changes integral to Buhari and APC would manifest, they reckon.
The new government is acting decisively and visibly and strongly on two major planks of the campaign promises – stopping Boko Haram insurgency and fighting corruption. This article is about how to expand and win the fight against corruption, on the long run. Unless corruption is put at bay, even the efforts against Boko Haram will be inconsequential. President Buhari, with the best of intentions, cannot and should not fight a “lone” battle against corruption, nor should he aim only at short term goals within his mandate period. Corruption has become endemic and both its roots and trunks must be removed. His ongoing actions at the trunks should go further to the roots.
Already several former governors and top officials are answering to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) charges of corruption. No doubt this sends out the right message – we are out to get you, no matter who you are, no matter how highly placed. These and other actions infer that anti-corruption institutions and systems are being reinforced and officially encouraged to act. Funds and stolen assets will be (or are being) recovered from persons found guilty of corruption. It is telling that the immediate past President Goodluck Jonathan had said recently that any probes and investigation should not aim only at his administration, but should include those who governed Nigeria before he did. Whether to accept such advice is the prerogative of the current administration. But it is official affirmation that corruption lived happily in his (Jonathan’s) administration, and that of his predecessors’.
The personality, personal life and habits of President Buhari stand him in good stead. His anti-corruption past characterizes him as decisive, firm, incorruptible and fearless. Without massive support of Nigerians, actively and purposefully fighting the anti-corruption battle, President Buhari will achieve very little though.
The explanation of what corruption is and how it affects societies and countries is already done. Actions taken by Nigeria will rely on existing laws, institutions and authorities. His dialogue with external parties – governments and institutions – rely on existing international instruments such as UN Convention against Corruption, UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, UN Global Compact’s Tenth Principle, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development Convention on the Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions; Revised Recommendations of the Council of the OECD on Combating Bribery in International Business Transactions. At the African regional level, there are the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption, Southern Africa Development Community Protocol against Corruption and ECOWAS Protocol on the Fight Against Corruption, among others.
After three failed attempts as presidential flag-bearer of his former political party, Buhari rode into power through the APC, an alliance of four parties – ACN, CPC, ANPP, APGA- and politicians from PDP and others who though undeclared for APC, supported it. This is an albatross on the neck of the new leader. All too soon, the fracture of the alliance through the National Assembly leadership mess confirmed the fragility of APC. Other problems associated with such a political hybrid are expected; testimony to a consortium brought together not by ideology or policy but by personal interests. The fight against corruption cannot be meaningfully and strongly pursued with a weak alliance. Corruption is a strong adversary, and it has many desperate adherents.
Inherrent in the diminished APC is the number of strong, well-financed party leaders who are friendly and comfortable with corruption. These people are ripe candidates for sanctions, funds recovery, and perhaps imprisonment. They will position themselves to rock the boat and even overturn it at sea rather than sink alone.
Despite these organizational limitations, President Buhari’s anti-corruption efforts can be meaningful, even revolutionary. It should be anchored on people. He cannot do it alone. He cannot do it with few people and organizations or institutions. He needs mass followership – committed, energized, knowledgeable, determined and enabled to serve a cause willingly.
Estimates of costs of corruption are about 5 per cent of global GDP. No question that in Nigeria as in similarly corrupt-ridden countries the costs must be much higher. Studies show that corruption is the basis for poor pay to civil servants and workers, defective, dangerous medicines, lack of and poor education, unemployment of young people, unavailability of infrastructures.
There are hidden and implicit costs of corruption. Transparency International reports that statistical analysis of data from 42 countries show that where more bribes are paid, there is a lower literacy rate among 15 to 24-year-olds. A rise in reported bribery is also associated with higher maternal deaths regardless of a country’s wealth or how much it invests in health. Data for 51 countries shows that people’s access to safe drinking water falls as bribery increases. The effects of bribery and kickbacks in the education, water and healthcare sectors represent the implicit costs of corruption. Corruption “taxes” basic services beyond the reach of the poor. It is the poor and vulnerable who suffer most due to corruption as they rely on government services and public systems to satisfy their most basic needs. Corruption results in the deviation of funds intended for development. It undermines government’s ability to provide basic services. It also undermines the rule of law, feeding inequality and injustice. Nigeria is the leading source of illicit financial flows out of Africa.
A four-tier approach can serve to overcome endemic corruption in Nigeria. It comprises: the ruling APC; the media including online media which have demonstrated invaluable anti-corruption reporting to date; educational institutions at all levels, including for research and analysis; and the general population – the most important.
Working closely only with political leaders who mostly are neck-deep in corruption themselves means that President Buhari’s efforts are likely to touch just the surface of the problem. He has to mobilize people of like minds within the APC. Change begins with a turnaround of mindset that says leaders are not measured by their material assets but by their contribution to society’s growth and social upliftment. Party rules and policies that encourage stealing, misappropriation, unbridled acquisition of wealth, arrogance display of wealth, illegal acquisition of assets, unexplained wealth, over emphasis of wealth to attain party offices must change. A different system must be instituted to attain political posts. The real meaning of politics is service.
The future APC should thrash the political system that compels candidates to amass money to “purchase” party and government offices – from local government counselors to presidential candidates. Such huge investment by candidates and/or their supporters invariably leads to recuperation of monies spent once they get to offices. It perpetuates corruption. It is linked to lack of accountability to the electorate, inclination to satisfy those who finance candidates. It results in having poor candidates in high political offices, unprepared for the jobs. The retooling of the current political system is fundamental to bringing about change.
Nigeria should adopt a programme of ethical rebirth. Change of attitude of the populace is fundamental. Rather than do a “panel beating” job, change of prevailing norms and creating of new ones should begin. Research and studies on corruption, related issues and linkages with society should provide a theoretical and practical framework to build lasting change. President Buhari, his cabinet and key officials should live by example. They should support and commend good acts, as much as they denounce wrongdoing. New standards for leadership; challenge the minds of new generation of Nigerians on purposeful politics; formal and informal education – can rebuild the nation. Nigerians are good followers. If President Buhari mobilizes the people in support, and if his collaborators set and live by new standards, yes, the change can begin.
Makinwa is a communication for leadership entrepreneur based in South Africa and Nigeria. Twitter: @bunmimakinwa