The corruption scandal rocking the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) as well as allegations of financial misdemeanour against its now suspended acting chairman, Ibrahim Magu, more than anything else, has proved Nigeria’s problem of corruption a systemic one, which no single individual or agency can fight successfully. The institutional and leadership failure of the Magu-led EFCC in its duty as the arrowhead of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration’s war on corruption has further revealed this problem of Nigeria as not an event that can be fought by an agency but a process that has endemically etched itself like a cancer on the entire system hence requiring a people-driven process to effectively contain.
With a reputation for incorruptibility and Spartan discipline, it was easy for Nigerians to have entrusted the task of leading the war on corruption on President Buhari in 2015, when they came to a consensus that, unless Nigeria kills corruption, corruption would kill Nigeria. Regrettably, five years after, the monster of corruption has not shrunk but grown bigger, with deeper roots and branches spreading cancerously, permeating every facet of Nigerian society and strata of government. Despite his pledge, President Buhari’s war on corruption has continued to record monumental losses on every front. In its report of January 2020, global corruption rating agency, Transparency International, rated Nigeria as the second most corrupt country in West Africa, with a corruption perception index, which fell from a low of 144 to a lower position at 146 out of 100 countries surveyed.
The surge in corruption is clearly evident in Nigeria’s growing national debt that has now reached N33 trillion as at March 2020, up from N12.6 trillion in March 2015. Clearly unsustainable in the face of shrinking national income, Nigeria spent almost 100 per cent of its revenue on debt servicing in the first quarter of the 2020 fiscal year.
Unfortunately, there is not much to show for this huge debt by way of improved infrastructure and human capital development largely as a result of massive corruption at all levels of government. Consequently, Nigeria has continued to grapple with corruption-induced socio-economic underdevelopment as manifested in heightened insecurity of life and property as well as increased poverty of the overwhelming majority of its citizens.
The failure of President Buhari’s war on corruption, which has left Nigeria more corrupt five years after he was first elected into office in 2015, is primarily hinged on his simplistic understanding of this very debilitating malaise. President Buhari’s strategy against corruption, which was built around the EFCC and its loot recovery, prosecution and jailing of offenders, was faulty from the very start as seen in its failure to prevent corruption. President Buhari’s war on corruption was also hampered by its selective nature, as it was perceived to unfairly target members of the opposition while turning a blind eye to members of the ruling party. A selective war on corruption is a form of corruption that perpetuates the vicious cycle of corruption. So, President Buhari is like a storekeeper who left his shop open to run after thieves and, by the time he returned to his shop with some recovered items, he met an almost empty shop.
The root of Nigeria’s problem of corruption is deeply embedded in the structure of its federating units, delineated along ethno-geographic fault lines. This defective structure of the Nigerian state has rendered Nigeria a country of over 500 ethno-geographic nationalities that are embroiled in an intense scramble for its internal oil mineral revenues, otherwise known as the national cake. With various contending tendencies coming to the table for a share of the national cake with sharpened knives, such corrupt practices as nepotism, cronyism, favouritism, sectionalism, tribalism, influence peddling and bigotry become legitimate cultural as well as religious means of securing for their respective sections of the Nigerian state an advantageous share of the cake. Therefore, corruption is neither PDP nor APC but a deep-rooted Nigerian problem that is legitimised by culture and religion.
Ending corruption would entail a long-term solution of the gradual evolution of the Nigerian state from a country of indigenous tribesmen io a nation of citizens through physical restructuring or organic reconfiguration of the existing structure. The first step in this journey of a thousand miles would be to take advantage of Nigeria’s democratic setting to elect a purposeful political leadership that can effectively lead in this direction. However, this all-important journey towards ridding Nigeria of corruption and consequent socio-economic underdevelopment cannot commence without urgently required electoral reforms.
As a liberal, electoral and representative democracy, Nigeria’s political leadership recruitment process is primarily hinged on its election management process. A defective and corrupt electoral management process, which is characterised by vote-buying, ballot box-snatching, thuggery, rigging and outright manipulation of election results, as currently obtainable in Nigeria, has thrown up a succession of corrupt political leaders every four years in the last 20 years. The deterioration of Nigeria’s political process into a criminal franchise of power grab through vote-buying for self-service has been aided in no little measure by a defective and corrupt electoral management system. A corrupt electoral process will inevitably throw up corrupt political leaders that are not under any obligation to be accountable to the people on how they [mis]manage state resources.
An excerpt from the 2019 Transparency International report on Nigeria sheds more light on the nexus between a corrupt electoral management system and corruption in government at all levels when it states thus, “The Corruption Perception Index 2019 reveals a staggering number of countries are showing little to no improvement in tackling corruption. Our analysis also suggest that reducing big money in politics and promoting inclusive political decision making are essential to curb corruption.” On the need for urgent electoral reforms, Transparency International’s chair, Delia Ferreira Rubio, had this to say: “Governments must urgently address the corrupting role of big money in political party financing and the undue influence it exerts on our political systems’’.
As a result of the failure of President Buhari to sign the amended Electoral Act into law, the 2019 general election was nothing short of electoral banditry, which has inevitably installed administrative banditry at all levels and arms of government. Unfortunately, rather than taming it, corruption has become emboldened in Buhari’s Nigeria and, from the allegations and counter-allegations between the ministry of justice and the EFCC, office of the Vice President and ministry of humanitarian affairs, Ministry of Niger Delta and National Assembly, Ministry of Labour and NSITF, corruption is fighting corruption everywhere and the casualties are the welfare and security of the Nigerian people.
To curb this ugly trend will be for the 9th National Assembly of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to go beyond just probing allegations of corruption against ministries, departments and agencies to legislate a legal framework that encapsulates far-reaching electoral reforms that will return sovereign power to the people through a incorruptible and truly democratic electoral process.
Reforming Nigeria’s defective and corrupt electoral management system, upon which its political leadership recruitment process is primarily hinged, will go a long way in reducing electoral banditry and the consequent administrative banditry. The urgency for the 9th National Assembly to embark on a comprehensive electoral reform through the passing of relevant legislations cannot be overemphasized, if Nigeria is to take its first sure steps towards national redemption.
And, if President Buhari has any atom of commitment to the war on corruption, he should sign into law any act of the National Assembly that is aimed at electoral reforms.