By Kenechukwu Obiezu
Ailing Nigerian President, Muhammadu Buhari, arguably the only president to have inspired stratospheric levels of hope at any election since the country transitioned to democracy in 1999 had in his address shortly after he was declared winner of the March 2015 general elections fired a historic broadside at the country’s biggest conundrum since independence in 1960, corruption. Said Buhari ,’… Corruption will no longer be allowed to stand as if it were a respected monument in this country.’
The historic salvo at a monster that was fast asphyxiating the crawling giant called Nigeria has held true and fast in tremendous albeit latent proportions since the President fully and finally took the reins of power and unfurled a mammoth campaign against corruption in all its nauseous ramifications. The results have been mixed. Many would argue with strong reasons that it has been all smoke and no fire.
While the President continues to attend to his ailing health in far away London, and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) continues to battle for its image, and the soul of the anti-corruption battle amidst a string of demoralizing judicial defeats, the cheery news is that the handwriting remains firmly etched on the wall that finally, there are at least tough questions to be answered when corruption and all its appalling appurtenances are strongly suspected.
A time there was when the scale and magnitude of corruption was matched only by the impunity of its perpetrators and the calculated inertia of the EFCC and ICPC. In those heady days, the national treasury was plundered by all those opportune to keep it, without the slightest inconvenience of having to watch their backs or look over their necks.
President Buhari has, at least, effected change in this wise. Corruption is largely and firstly a mentality and a bug which has burrowed deep into the conscience and consciousness of this country and to quarantine such, very tough sanctions or at least threats of same are required. In a country of families whose generations have been sustained by proceeds of corruption, the cynics are bound to be plenty. This has proved true. So also has the President’s resolve.
The fight has been long and energy-sapping. The EFCC, which has had to battle for its image as well as sustain the fight against graft, has found itself bludgeoned from all sides. Whether in courtrooms, in the media, in public fora and even in the legislature. That it has held its ground and in fact put the peddlers of graft on pins and needless bespeak a new lease of life under President Buhari and the courage of conviction possessed in leaps and bounds by its Acting Chairman, Ibrahim Magu and his fearless personnel. That Magu has had to face a slew of personal battles verging on corruption bespeaks the depth of the problem we confront in corruption.
To put things in proper perspective, corruption’s gradual but inexhorable flight from the country has not all been precipitated by means as clean as whistles. The detractors of the anti-corruption battle, and there are many, point to the many yawning gaps created or neglected in the heat of the battle. Partisan politicians and their supporters readily and gleefully allege that the whole anti-corruption battle is an artfully designed smokescreen erected to shield the President’s loyalists, while hounding his opponents. For most ordinary Nigerians, the fact that the battle against corruption has coincided with crunching economic conditions is an omen bad enough. For this large group, whose frustrations continue to grow by the day, the fight against corruption is only a mask used to shroud the President’s incompetence. For the most extreme members of this group, while the EFCC haunts those who have supposedly assaulted the public till, the President’s cronies gleefully dip their hands into same at will.
For yet another group largely made up of the stakeholders of the judiciary, the EFCC breaks every rule in the rule book in its zeal to bring the corrupt to book. Some cynics would even interprete the recent string of judicial losses endured by the EFCC in various courts as a crystallization of the grudges a powerful section of the country holds against the anti-graft war.
The future is on its way to meet us and time will tell on which side of the divide history will perch. Yet, all those privy to the deleterious effects of corruption at all levels of our national life cannot afford not to be excited about the fact that for the first time in a very long time, those who had appropriated the common wealth to themselves now look anxiously over their shoulders every waking moment of the day.
The shocking impunity, which gave vent to the even more shocking mentality that encouraged unbridled corruption, is now giving way grudgingly to some form of slow but steady sanity. Nigerians should be excited and join the fight, for though the road is long, the signs are forcefully promising.
Obiezu writes fromAbuja.