Corruption has long been identified as the number one problem hindering our development as a nation. Attempts have been made in the past by successive administrations to defeat this vice. To date, such efforts have yielded little or no success. The reason for failure is not far-fetched. 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. Past attempts at curbing corruption failed due to lack of one or both of these components. It was either that the government was insincere in its war against corruption or that the people were not adequately sensitized to support government efforts.
President Muhhamad Buhari has again declared an all out war on corruption. In fact, it is a cardinal policy of his administration. The presidents’ integrity and track record leaves no one in doubt about his sincerity of purpose. His passion is unmistakable and his zeal enormous. In other words, the political will exists on the part of government. It is trite however to state that the presidents’ intergrity, zeal and passion will count for nothing if the people (represented by civil society organisations) are not in tune with the fight. Civil society organisations being a bridge between the people and the state, must make the fight theirs and be involved as critics, catalysts and advocates.
Unfortunately, the response of civil society to the latest assault on corruption has been rather muted. Civil society groups seem to have been compromised and divided along ethnic and religious lines. Some less altruistic leaders have even teamed up with politically exposed persons in their clamour to truncate the renewed fight against corruption. Some have been heard claiming that probe of past office holders will destablise Nigeria; that the fight is taking time and resources away from the economy and that the astonishing revelations on corruption in high places is driving away foreign investors. As ridiculous as these claims are, it does show that corruption truly fights back.
It is gratifying however to note that not all leaders have jettisoned the struggle. Some notable leaders of the civil society have taken the bull by the horn and thrown their weight in support of the anti-corruption efforts of the federal government.
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 Ugwummadu 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 Ugwummadu endlessly called attention to glaring cases of corruption in the 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 Ugwummadu, a one time General secretary of CDHR led in the past by late Dr Beko Ransome-Kuti, Femi Falana(SAN) and late Festus Iyayi, 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 . At the rally, Ugwummadu 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 Ugwummadu 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 irrespective of political afiliation. 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 trial 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 Ugwummadus and Ezejiofors for the war on corruption to succeed.