The most prominent plank of president Muhammad Buhari administration’s change agenda is the fight against corruption. It formed the bedrock of All Progressive Congress (APC) party’s electioneering campaign in the 2015 general election and has become the focal point of Muhammad Buhari’s presidency.
Corruption is hydra headed and endemic in Nigeria. It has ruined our institutions, led to decay in our infrastructures and generally retarded our development as a country. In fact, it has plundered a vibrant nation to stupor. The need for a war on corruption therefore cannot be over-emphasized. President Buhari put it succinctly thus. “If we do not kill corruption, this corruption will kill us”. It is a no brainer therefore that for Nigeria and Nigerians to experience any meaningful and sustainable development, corruption must be fought to a stand still.
It is in recognition of this and in fulfillment of his campaign promises that president Muhammad Buhari has confronted the monster of corruption head on. Since the inauguration of his government, the police, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB), Independent Corrupt Practices and other offences Commission (ICPC) and other investigative agencies seem to have acquired new teeth. There is renewed zeal on their parts to expose, investigate and prosecute cases of corruption wherever they are unearthed. For the first time in a long while now, politically exposed persons, often seen as untouchables in the past, are being arrested and charged before courts of law for various corrupt practices. The nation has been held spellbound by revelations coming out from investigations over how the sum of $2.1billion earmarked for the fight against boko haram insurgents disappeared into private pockets through the machinations of Col. Sambo Dasuki. Col. Dasuki was the national security adviser to former president Goodluck Jonathan. Our attention has also been riveted by the disclosures coming out of the investigation of the former Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) Air vice-marshal Alex Barde and the former chief of air staff, Air vice marshal Adesola Amosu over their roles in the purchase of military hardware during their tenures. Not less mind boggling are figures coming out of the investigations and trials of former heads of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), the Nigeria Customs and Pension Reform Task Team. This renewed push by the anti-corruption agencies has put every politically exposed person on tenterhooks. Some past office holders have since escaped the shores of Nigeria in a bid to flee from justice. Even then, the government is utilizing several bilateral treaties and the offices of the international police (INTERPOL) to go after them and to recover whatever they have stolen and stashed in foreign lands. In other words, there is no hiding place for those who pillage our commonwealth.
It is universal truth that the best solution to the problem of corruption entails the political will of the government and the existence of a strong influential public opinion. We are all victims of corruption. For any anti-corruption measure to succeed, all hands must be on deck. Every one, often times represented by civil society organizations (cso) must be involved. As individuals and organizations, we must step step up to own the anti-corruption war of this government and the attendant change that we all yearn for. The fight must become ours for us to effect a permanent change in the affairs and fortunes of our great country.
Civil society organizations act as a bridge between the individual and the state. Typically it is made up of professional associations like Nigerian Bar Association, Nigeria Medical Association, Nigerian Union of Journalists, National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers e.t.c. It also includes the mass media and other formal and informal non- profit associations like Campaign for the Defence of Human Rights, CHDR; Green Women for Change, GWC; Campaign for Democracy, CD; Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP e.t.c. Their participation in nation building is voluntary. The participatory process entail identifying lapses in policy and law and proffering solutions; raising public awareness of cases of corruption within government and the corporate world; mobilizing for rallies against or in support of policies and actions of government in tackling corruption; investigating and reporting cases of corruption or abuse of office and inculcating in the public the ideals of honesty, transparency and integrity in public office. In essence, CSOs act as critics, catalysts and advocates of interests. In the process, they give voice to the voiceless and power to the powerless. When properly harnessed, civil society organizations can aggregate the interests of the masses and coalesce same into a movement. Such is the power of civil society that it practically brought the nation to a standstill during the struggle in 1993 to actualise the presidential mandate of late chief MKO Abiola. Its power was also seen in resisting the attempt by the Goodluck Jonathan regime to remove fuel subsidy in January 2013.
Recognizing the unique role of civic society in the fight against corruption, one is forced to ask what, if anything, this important group has done to aid the on-going battle with corruption. Regretably, some hitherto vociferous groups seem to have suddenly lost their voice in the current fight against corruption.Some less altruistic leaders of such groups have even joined forces with politically exposed persons in their clamour to truncate the fight against corruption. These turncoat civil society leaders could be heard claiming that probe of past ofice holders will destablize Nigeria, that the fight is taking time and focus away from the economy and that the astounding revelations on corruption in high places is driving away foreign investors. As ridiculous as these claims may be, it does show that truly corruption does fight back! Some of these erstwhile leaders may probably have been compromised by the political class.
Thankfully, not all such leaders have jettisoned the struggle. Some notable leaders of the civil society have taken the bull by the horn with their firm stand in support of the anti-corruption efforts of the federal government in this dispension. While some were swayed by the tenacity of purpose and integrity of president Buhari, others have been in the anti-corruption vanguard even before the coming of Buhari. Deserving of special mention is Mr Malachy Ugwumadu of the Movement for Fundamental Change (MFC) and president of the Committee for the Defense of Human Rights (CDHR). A committed and principled activist and advocate, Malachy Ugwumadu endlessly called attention to glaring cases of corruption in the past regime of Goodluck Jonathan. His calls for the prosecution of some top administration officials then were regretably ignored. With what we know today of the sleaze that permeated that regime, Nigeria would have been better for it were his calls heeded then. Malachy Ugwumadu, who is not one to court media attention, has variously in the past offered his legal expertise free to the EFCC in their fight against corruption. With his well heeled background in the human rights advocacy community, Ugwumadu’s latest intervention in the change project of president Buhari can only be commended and held up as a model for all civil society groups. Malachy Ugwumadu, a one time General secretary of CDHR founded by late Dr Beko Ransome-Kuti, recently orchestrated the relaunch and repositioning of the organization. The Committee for the Defense of Human Rights, under his presidency has since come out in total support of the curent war to recover all looted funds and apply same to the development of the country. It recently staged a well attended anti-corruption rally in Ikeja from where they marched to the office of the Lagos state governor at Alausa. At the rally, Ugwumadu said that all those found guilty of looting our treasury must be jailed so as to serve as a deterent to others. Also speaking at the 2016 National Conference Meeting of the CHDR in Lagos, Mr Ugwumadu said “ In the weeks ahead, we intend to effectively capture the entire looting activities in the country, properly liaise with the relevant law enforcement agencies and document names of those alleged to have milked our country dry”.
Note worthy also are the activities of another non-governmental organization, Green Women for Change (GWC) ably led by one Dr Chinwe Ezejiofor. The GWC has recently been organizing seminars and town hall meetings in some parts of Anambra state sensitizing rural dwellers on the effects of corruption in their lives. Speaking at one of such events held at Nanka Civic Centre, Dr Ezejiofor implored the people to jettison partisanship and support the government’s efforts at ridding the country of corruption. She reasoned that corruption knows no religion or ethnicity. It affects us all whether we are in the Peoples Democratic Party or the All Progressive Congress or even All Peoples Grand Alliance. The fight against corruption is not targetted at members of any political party but aimed at recovering what has been stolen from us and making sure that never again will politicians be allowed to get away with sleaze in this country. Dr Ezejiofor insists that her group will take the campaign to every region of Nigeria.
To be fair, all successive governments at the centre in Nigeria have always had the fight against corruption as one of their cardinal programs. Unfortunately, every one of those regimes has left the country more mirred in corruption. Even with the best intentions, these governments have failed to make any appreciable impact. These failures stem from the fact that the people who stand to benefit more from a corruption-free country have never really been part of the fight. As a result, we succumb so readily whenever corruption begins to fight back. In a multi-ethnic and religious society like ours, people tend to see the prosecution of a figure from their ethnic or religious group as an attack on them. They therefore immediately take the side of the accused and condemn the prosecution as persecution. The politically exposed persons know this and often use it to great advantage. It happened during president Buhari’s first coming as military leader in 1984. Thirty-two years after, such sentiments have not diminished.
To stand a realistic chance of stopping corruption in its tracks, the people must stand up and own the fight. We must as individuals and groups, stand up in support of the president. More civil society groups must quit the fence and get into the arena. We need more of the Ugwumadus and Ezejiofors for the war on corruption to succeed.