President Muhammadu Buhari’s recent lamentation over corruption fighting back in the wake of his fight against graft must be a true reflection of the state of affairs but such open acknowledgement of the ‘enemy’ may undermine the spirit and purpose of the fight. Self-defeatism may be read into that lamentation which could, in fact, embolden those corrupt persons the more. The President is completely in charge, he has the backing of Nigerians and should decisively confront the problem instead of lamenting in seeming exasperation.
A general in battle cannot expect to be taken seriously when he constantly moans that his enemies are fighting back. If he actually assumed that those enemies would fold their arms and watch themselves destroyed with their ill-gotten wealth, that general would seem qualified for a return to training school.
President Buhari, a retired military general, is in a better position to appreciate the art of war. He should know that the only thing expected of him in the warfront is to use all in his arsenal to confront the enemy and win the battle. There is no other alternative, except abandoning the fight, which would prove more disastrous.
Buhari had, during the just concluded Conference on Climate Change (COP22), in Marakech, Morocco, while having a meeting with the American Secretary of State, John Kerry, bemoaned the fact that his government’s war against corruption had been grueling, adding that the perpetrators of the evil against Nigeria were viciously fighting back.
While assuring Kerry that Nigeria was determined to emerge victorious, Buhari stated the obvious: that corrupt Nigerians had built a formidable arsenal of illicit wealth, which they were deploying against the government on diverse fronts.
Kerry, expectedly-expressed delight at what he called the many successes of the Buhari administration and pledged his country’s continued support for Nigeria to overcome security, humanitarian, political and economic challenges.
Before embarking on the challenging anti-corruption drive, President Buhari must have known that given the monstrous nature of the scourge in Nigeria, the battle wouldn’t be an easy one. It would not only task his government’s energy, it would also strive to derail it. The enemies of state will fight back with all in their power, and in some cases, out of impatience, Nigerians would even accuse the government of not doing enough. But neither can he afford to be exasperated nor deterred.
That Nigeria’s corruption monster is systemic and hydra-headed is not in doubt. This endemic nature of the scourge is why the President could not have jumped into the ring with kid’s gloves. There is need for a holistic and formidable strategy that tackles the malaise from all fronts. A half-hearted approach would be ineffective, as the corruption that is fought today would again rear its ugly head tomorrow. Besides, the government would be accused of being selective in the fight, as many in the opposition are doing.
The effect of corruption on Nigeria is, of course, unquantifiable. Aside from soiling Nigeria’s corporate image in the international community, all the social, economic and political structures in the country have been ruined by corruption. Social services and infrastructure are in a shambles. The people are pauperized as the ordinary people are always the victims. While the people wallow in abject poverty and want, members of the political class and their business class associates bask in stupendous stolen wealth.
But expunging this malaise, from Nigeria’s system cannot be a day’s job. First, it is necessary to fish out corrupt individuals and have them properly prosecuted and punished as deterrence. To do that would require a strong and independent judiciary that is committed to the fight. A weak and corrupt judiciary, as is presently the case, cannot accomplish that task. Maybe the time has come for a special court or an anti-corruption tribunal to do a better job. Such a tribunal would fast-track corruption cases instead of allowing them to drag on for years at the end of which nothing is achieved. Then, commensurate punishment like forfeiture of all assets, recovered from those found guilty or even life imprisonment would be most appropriate.
Some countries like China even prescribe death penalty for corruption.Corruption also has to be tackled from the grassroots because it is more pervasive than often acknowledged. From the market to offices, schools to government institutions, banks to hospitals, in the police, customs service, and even the military to faith-based institutions, everywhere oozes the stench of corruption.
Tackling corruption should therefore start from the schools where children should be taught the virtues of discipline, honesty, truthfulness and patriotism. Parents and guardians should be made to show good examples right from the homes.
Therefore, a complete value re-orientation is needed in Nigeria. Buhari needs to redraft his anti-corruption strategy and institutionalise the fight, so that his exertions may not be wasted as that would be the conclusion if corruption rears its ugly head even after he leaves office.