Buhari Must Win the Corruption Battle and War -By Vitus Ozoke

Filed under: Democracy & Governance |
Vitus Ozoke

Vitus Ozoke

 

Part of this holistic strategy is the need for a total value reorientation. Our value system has been so corrupted that modest living has become synonymous with a curse. People no longer find virtue in unostentatious life. There is a syndrome of wealth as the only accepted standard. Children learn early on that they must be rich to survive in Nigeria. Parents and society at large cajole their children into unquestioned quest for wealth. Society no longer scrutinises wealth for source legitimacy. Politics and public service have become Nigeria’s Wall Street.

One of the many valid conclusions that could be drawn from Nigeria’s last presidential election is that Nigerians have had it with corruption; they are sick and tired of it. The last several decades of our collective journey towards national development have been arduous at best and frustrating at worst. In those decades, a nation beset with monumentally endemic corruption, struggled on the uphill climb of national development with the heavy boulder of corruption stuffed in its knapsack. Every laboured forward step was checked and countered with a backslide that set the journey hundreds of steps back.

You would have expected that after a few attempts at this evidently futile climb, a sane nation would have long taken stock of its luggage with a view to making it leaner and lighter, and the journey smoother and swifter. Instead, we became the poster image of Albert Einstein’s fitting observation that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. In our year-in-year-out, decade-in-decade-out attempt at climbing our developmental mountain, hunched over by a weighty rucksack, we constantly and devotedly consoled ourselves in the tested, but in this case misguided, hope and belief that democracy is a learning process. Of course, democracy is a learning process, with its set curves; however, what is not a learning process is a corrupt democracy. In fact, rather than being a learning process, corrupt democracy is a learned process.

So, as a nation continued to drift in the perilous waters of official and governmental corruption, with successive governments – military and civilian – competing to outdo those before them in looting the common economy dry, a subdued citizenry bought the hoax of normalcy. They were sold the fallacy that every major successful nation passed through tribulations before getting to where it is today. America is readily cited as an example of one such nation. Unfortunately, however, what is left out in that American example, as in many others, is that every successive decade in America’s national evolution was a steady and determined match towards a more perfect union. No decade in America’s developmental journey has ever been worse than any before it. America dealt with slavery; it fought a civil war between the American North and the American South to end slavery; and even as it continues to deal with the stubborn scourge of race, racism, and race relations, America leaves no one in doubt that it is committed to gaining a good handle on it.

The same could hardly be said of Nigeria. Our progress has been in reverse. Things have got progressively worse over our post-independence decades. Who would have guessed that any government in Nigeria would have been worse than the government of Ibrahim Babangida? Who would have imagined a more brazenly corrupt leader than IBB? But along came Olusegun Obasanjo! By the gargantuan dimensions of his sleaze, Obasanjo has beatified and canonised IBB and made him look like a saint. And just when you thought that you had seen it all, a deceptively humble zoology lecturer, with luck as his north star, and with no shoes, treks to Abuja and takes the cake.

If we look for a reason to leave IBB and OBJ to God for the last day, we may find one in the logic, as warped as it may sound, that they stole from the country at a time the country had a fairly moving economy. The same cannot be said of Jonathan. Even as he and his inept co-travelers watched the Nigerian economy bleed and collapse on its knees, especially following the crash of world oil market, President Jonathan still personally engaged in and allowed the most heinous heist ever committed against an economic system.

There is one other reason Jonathan’s case is depressingly sad. It is neither because he outdid his predecessors in the gambit of official corruption, nor is it the uncommonness of his particular kind of game. It is the complete destruction of trust, faith, and hope. For the first time since Nigeria’s star-studded first republic, a man with a humble beginning, a presumably erudite college lecturer, a naturally reserved and shy fella, one you would relate to as your average common Nigerian Joe, became president by dint of a providential conspiracy.

Coming after years and decades of a revolving door of successive military kleptomaniacs, Jonathan’s improbable journey into Aso Rock was a classic Cinderella account. His humble profile gave Nigerians hope. He cut the perfect image of a good man. But you know what they say about looks – it could be deceptive. And that saying couldn’t ring any truer than in Jonathan’s case. He presided over what is arguably the most corrupt government Nigeria has ever known. With Babangida, Abacha, and Obasanjo, you had no expectations of good. They reeked of omen. But a shoeless college lecturer? Jonathan took away the last hope of a corrupt-free Nigeria.

He did.

This is why the current efforts of the Buhari government to rein in this monstrous beast that is rampaging the land with reckless abandon must be watched closely. Corruption has become so pervasive and almost genetically ingrained in Nigeria that containing it requires a surgical operation that gets to the very root of it. It is okay to set the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) after those who have looted the Nigerian economy. It is the right thing to recover those loots and plough them back into the ailing Nigerian economy. And it is absolutely desirable to prosecute the criminals to the fullest seams of the law, and send them away for the remainder of their natural lives. Those steps are necessary but not sufficient. Those are tactics in the battle against corruption. But the fight against corruption requires an overarching strategy. The fight must be a war; not just a battle. Unless and until a broader strategic approach is adopted, we may win the battle against corruption, but lose the war.

So, let the current battle against corruption continue. But let it not stop there; else, a battle will be won, while a war will be lost. Those who have stolen from us must be made to face the wrath of the society and the law. Their loot should be recovered to the last dime and desk. And they should be locked away – for very long. But we must not stop there. Corruption is symptomatic of a much deeper social and systemic malaise. Recovering the loot and punishing looters, without more, only treats the symptom, but not the disease. We must, therefore, find ways to reeducate, re-socialise, and reorient Nigerians.

Part of this holistic strategy is the need for a total value reorientation. Our value system has been so corrupted that modest living has become synonymous with a curse. People no longer find virtue in unostentatious life. There is a syndrome of wealth as the only accepted standard. Children learn early on that they must be rich to survive in Nigeria. Parents and society at large cajole their children into unquestioned quest for wealth. Society no longer scrutinises wealth for source legitimacy. Politics and public service have become Nigeria’s Wall Street. Lawmakers ride in convoys of thirty exotic vehicles, including Bentley convertibles, chaperoned by a retinue of armed police and soldiers, while teachers are owed several months and years of salary arrears. Nigerians are constantly assaulted at every turn by images of successful criminals – so much so that hard work and honest living no longer make the cut of norm.

The fight against corruption must be a bottom-up fight. Socialisation occurs mostly at homes, schools, and churches. The corrupt politician passed through these socialising institutions before gaining access to the common wealth. Therefore, parents must guide their children aright, not goad them into paths of unrighteous wealth; teachers must show up in the classrooms and teach, not sell handouts; pastors must preach God, not wealth; churches must prepare souls for the Kingdom, not produce wealthy pastors; judges must look in the law books, not in litigants’ banks; lawmakers must make laws, not money; governors must govern, not gather; public servants must serve, not steal. In sum, we must return to the original principles.

We must find ways to become good citizens and encourage responsible citizenship. The war against corruption must be accompanied by a national crusade for disciplined and responsible citizenship. It must touch every institution and group in a whole new way. It is not just the corrupt politicians; it is also the fraudulent pastor who becomes insanely wealthy by blackmailing his congregation, through a deliberate misreading of the scripture, into borrowing to pay tithes. If judges are not upright, as it appears they are not, how do you prosecute and imprison politicians for corruption?

Again, a whole new orientation is required. Civics must be incorporated as a curriculum component in our schools. Children must be taught what it means to be a good Nigerian. We must, as part of this new orientation, develop a national value system, and invite every child, through civic education, to buy into it. We must be able to condemn certain behaviours as being unNigerian. Nigeria being a secular society, religious instructions, as general education requirement in schools, should be replaced with civic education. Every Nigerian child should learn what it means to be a good citizen. Religious instructions should be left to religious institutions – churches and mosques and shrines. Students interested in religion could pursue a major along that track.

A new sense of nationalism and patriotism must be developed. Practical and symbolic steps must be devoted to achieving this. The Nigerian society has been effectively divided along religious lines. Children are taught the need for paying tithes to their church, but hardly the value of paying taxes to their government and country. Today, there are more signposts and billboards advertising churches and mosques than there are national flags advertising the country. Let me make a proposal here – and anybody could take it and run with it. Let somebody introduce a Bill in the National Assembly that requires every public institution to hoist a giant mast of Nigerian flag at the entrance of its premises. Nothing captures the patriotic pride and nationalistic essence of a people more than their national flag. We must mount our flag again! We must find a common centre around our flag. Even at schools, school materials should be designed with the solemn image of the country stamped on them. This country that we all love and want to see succeed must rise again.

So, let the current battle against corruption continue. But let it not stop there; else, a battle will be won, while a war will be lost. Those who have stolen from us must be made to face the wrath of the society and the law. Their loot should be recovered to the last dime and desk. And they should be locked away – for very long. But we must not stop there. Corruption is symptomatic of a much deeper social and systemic malaise. Recovering the loot and punishing looters, without more, only treats the symptom, but not the disease. We must, therefore, find ways to reeducate, re-socialise, and reorient Nigerians.

As a General himself, President Buhari must know that the one tactical mistake you don’t make is to leave unmanned a gained territory. Your enemies may recapture it. Recovering loots and punishing looters without a broader strategy of value rebirth is simply a mistake. Even though we focus on political and economic loots when we talk corruption in Nigeria, the police officer at what is supposed to be a vehicular search roadblock, who collects bribe in lieu of search, may just have contributed to the movement of weapons of terrorist mayhem. The admissions officer who accepts a bribe and an unqualified candidate has done harm of no less social consequence than the job recruiter who takes bribe and hires an incompetent applicant.

The war on corruption should be a bottom-up effort. It should touch every Nigerian in very fundamental ways. Truth be told, every Nigerian has room for change. If an ostensibly humble lecturer, with no shoes, and with luck as his north star, could turn out as corrupt as Jonathan did, then let this effort look beyond the obvious to the obscure. Let it include a remodeling of our social values. Let it engender a new sense of national pride. Let us engage this fight with the broader strategic focus of winning the war, not just the battle. And in anticipation of victory, let our flags – the glorious green-white-green – grace the skylines of a beautifully blessed country.

Viva la Nigeria!

Vitus Ozoke writes from Maryland, USA.

 

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