Nigeria is in turmoil and that is no exaggeration. Simply take a look at the daily newspapers and learn of our country’s daily diary of disaster. Nigerians are being slaughtered in large numbers in various parts of our country. Children who went to school to learn things that can make their lives better are learning something strangely new: that schools are no longer safe for them.
They will probably conclude that it is better to stay away from school and be safe than go to school and be kidnapped. But nowhere is safe today because people do get kidnapped in churches, mosques, markets and streets anywhere in Nigeria.
There is actually no foolproof formula for safety in Nigeria today because the country’s security apparatus has been dismantled by an assortment of gangsters: terrorists, kidnappers, bandits, armed robbers, you name it, they are there. But today’s homily is not about insecurity. It is about its younger brother, corruption. Because of or maybe despite the intensity of insecurity, corruption seems to have become famously a growth industry. I see both as two peas in the same pod, as Siamese twins who massage each other, feed on each other and prosper from that feeding process.
Corruption breeds insecurity and insecurity breeds corruption.
Let me explain. Nigeria has been voting huge sums of money yearly for security equipment and armaments but no one knows precisely whether the money was spent for the designated purpose or not. The National Assembly seems to smell a rat and is asking some uncomfortable questions about military spending which has not been satisfactorily answered so far. Of course, the National Assembly has every reason to be suspicious. Our soldiers have been complaining of the lack of modern equipment. Huge sums of money have been traced to a former Air force general whose death has saved him from being in prison. So there is empirical evidence that our defence spending was not fully spent on defence but that part of it may have been spent on the knick-knacks that encapsulate men of power in Nigeria. That is only one man, caught pants down and there is no viable reason to assume that everyone else who has manned the commanding heights of our security apparatus should not be called to account for his days in office, especially since there is an inexplicable escalation in the tenor of insecurity.
The obverse side is that insecurity has also led to corruption. Today, no one can truly account for the money paid as ransom to terrorists and bandits by various governments in Nigeria. So it is obvious that between payment and receipt of ransom there could be corruption because the conversation between bandits and negotiators is somewhat confidential. Banditry gets its oxygen from ransom payments and negotiators may also be in a position to smile to the nearest bank. So if insecurity becomes a going concern for all concerned why should it be tamed?
Infact, for the time being Nigeria seems so consumed by the thought of survival from insecurity, poverty and impecuniosity that it pays little or no attention to matters of corruption. A recent report by Mr. Matthew Page, an associate of the London-based Chatham House that says about 35 past and present Governors, and 299 office holders in Nigeria have acquired choice properties in the United Kingdom and Dubai amounting to hundreds of billions of naira has received no meaningful attention here.
According to Page, Nigerians own about 800 properties worth $400 million in Dubai alone. He did not name names but named only the offices held by those unnamed names. He said that a North West Governor, two former Deputy Senate Presidents and a former Chairman of the PDP are on the list. The list also includes 15 former ministers, a judge, 14 police officers, security and military chiefs, five staff of the Presidency, 11 officers of the NNPC, 16 heads of departments and agencies, 50 businessmen, 158 politically exposed persons etc. He said that a serving governor from the North West owns eight Dubai properties worth $5million and a former PDP Chairman also owns 11 Dubai and two London properties worth $15million. The list grows longer. A former Deputy Senate President acquired 14 Dubai properties worth $12million while one of his successors bought eight Dubai assets and three United Kingdom properties for $15million. The list covers principally five sets of people namely Governors, Senators, Party Heads, Government company officials and businessmen.
From this it is evident that corruption is growing beards in Nigeria now. Hardly does anyone including those in government who made corruption one of their three mandate items talk about corruption any longer. The paradox is that while it is growing exponentially the will to fight it is dead, practically dead. The reason that the fight is dead is that corruption is the grease that oils Nigeria’s politics and governance. You would remember that the former chairman of the ruling party APC, Mr. Adams Oshiomhole had urged corrupt people from other parties to stroll across the carpet and join the ruling party so as to be free of harassment from anti-corruption agencies. In other words, the party he headed was considered by him and other leaders as a safe haven for the corrupt. If I remember correctly no one in the party or government called him to order for saying what he said.
In any case, even before his wise words some corrupt people had read the body language of the party correctly and had already come to the inescapable conclusion that their salvation lay in going over to join people of kindred spirit. Have you seen any one of them being dragged from court to court? You see, the people who buy properties abroad are doing so not simply because of the lack confidence in the resilience of our economy. That may be a tangential issue. The principal issue is to be shielded from exposure, since these properties are products of corruption. But the world has become smaller, a so-called global village and the gospel of transparency and accountability has become an article of faith for many nations.
In matters of corruption the Buhari government has only two choices, namely either a fight or a flight. The government may say that it hasn’t run away from the fight even though we the onlookers have seen no evidence of any serious fight. For starters, there was a documented statement of alleged corruption submitted by the DSS on the former Acting Chairman of EFCC, Mr. Ibrahim Magu but the government retained him despite that. He was rejected twice by the Senate but he was retained on the job. Where is he now? Only public pressure got him out of his chair, not government’s will.
A few years ago, the Minister of Information Mr. Lai Mohammed had issued a list of PDP’s alleged corrupt persons. The PDP responded in kind by also flaunting a list of dirty APC men. Many people thought the government would merge the lists and drag the alleged dirty men to court. For where? Nothing happened after that. Everywhere has been and is still silent. Mr. Mohammed has ceased to crow on the subject. The government has been sleeping on the list. The lackluster approach to fighting corruption is the reason that politically exposed persons and high profile public servants have become as rich as Croesus.
If corruption is not fought vigorously and wholeheartedly no tangible results can be achieved. It is a former American President, Franklin Roosevelt who said; “No man can tame a tiger into a kitten by stroking it”. Part of the reason the Electoral Act has not be amended to accommodate electronic voting is corruption. Electronic voting can reduce substantially a lot of the money-funded mago mago and wuru wuru in our elections. If that is amended a lot of the crocks that find their way into elected high offices will remain on the ground floor. If there is no level playing field in our elections then the crooks with ill-gotten money will continue to have the upper hand and the honest folks will be relegated to the bitter territory of near irrelevance. Truth be told, our governance is largely about making money. So the long list of dirty men provided by Mr. Page does not surprise me. That is also why people move from one office to another, licking the juices available in each office.
Once they are in they never want to give way. They seek to be PAs and SAs, parliamentarians, commissioners, ministers, governors and presidents and any other offices in between. It is not service that takes them there. These offices are diamond mines. That is why there is a cut-throat competition for these offices because they offer opportunities for a chopping spree. The chopping is more important to them than the service. That is why corruption lingers and that is why insecurity has defeated us. That is why Nigerians are stitching their wounds and burying their dead every day because the twins, insecurity and corruption are working hand in gloves with each other.