African leaders gathered in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia recently. It was the 30th African Union (AU) summit. Two critical themes ran through the summit: Corruption and terrorism. These are the two most niggling torments that assail a continent in dire need of deliverance from self-inflicted contradictions.
At the summit, Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari was named by the African Union (AU) leaders as its first ever anti-corruption champion. This honour, the AU says, is in recognition of his efforts to end graft in his country Nigeria. This honour was not however celebrated at home. While Buhari smelled like rose in the historical city of Addis Ababa, the Champion of Anti-corruption was not as much as garlanded in his home country. And it’s not a case of a prophet not being honoured at home. It’s just that the Buhari at the AU summit looked rather different from the Buhari that occupies Nigeria’s Aso Rock whom many now see as not exactly what he claims he is in matters of anti-corruption. But we should not begrudge our Buhari.
In the community of the blind, it is only commonsensical to make the one-eyed man the king; at least his partial sight, whether feigned or real, will suffice for the community at critical moments. Buhari deserves his laurel. Credit must go to him in the manner he has voiced his anger against corruption which he eloquently described at the summit as “one of the greatest evils of our time”. As the newly installed anti-corruption champion of Africa, Buhari lived up to the billing at least on the floor of the summit. His speech resonated with sound logic, wisdom and poignancy befitting a champion. In my estimation, it will rank as one of his best speeches. Barely 1000 words, it was loaded with sagely nuggets that shamed the culture of corruption and the platoon of the corrupt on the continent. It elucidated vividly the dangers and consequences of corruption on a continent that has attracted the most denigrating and derogatory qualifications.
Just a few of the deep thoughts of our President: “Corruption is indeed one of the greatest evils of our time. Corruption rewards those who do not play by the rules and also creates a system of distortion and diversion thereby destroying all efforts at constructive, just and fair governance”. Indeed, from a Nigerian perspective, corruption rewards the weak (those who are not qualified get good appointments, get admission into Unity schools and other schools while the brilliant and intelligent are shut out), the bad and the lawless. On this count, I stand with Buhari.
He continues: “Corruption and its effects have many sides. It poses real threat to national security, unity and survival of the African State and people. A Judiciary which stands firm against arbitrariness and injustice by the executive is a vital pillar in the anti-corruption fight. As leaders, we must build synergy between the Executive, Legislative and Judicial arms of government in order to entrench good governance, transparency and accountability”.
These are well thought out lines but by the wrong messenger. If the symptoms and syndromes of corruption listed by Buhari are true, indeed they are, then Buhari has only just indicted himself as much as he did other African leaders, past and present. Buhari lists executive arbitrariness and injustice as ensigns of corruption but the same Buhari has locked up former National Security Adviser (NSA) Sambo Dasuki for over two years even when several courts have ordered his release from detention. The same Buhari has refused to investigate the $25 billion contract corruption allegation in the NNPC and usually stinking oil and gas sector exposed by his Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu.
Inside that hall in Addis Ababa were two past Nigerian leaders who also failed the corruption test. Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and Abdulsalami Abubakar were both adjudged to be very corrupt by relevant institutions and persons. Let’s rewind to 1999. Soon after his inauguration as a democratically elected President in 1999, Obasanjo during his inaugural Presidential Media Chat described Abdulsalami’s military government as “reckless”. He was referring to the mindless looting of the nation’s foreign reserve by the military junta that handed over to him led by Abdulsalami. On the eve of their departure from Aso Rock, the military top brass liquidated the foreign reserve. Obasanjo, obviously stunned by the brigandage, dismissed the looting Generals as “reckless”. Till date, they were not investigated and prosecuted.
Obasanjo himself has a reputation for repudiating crooks in government. He likes to make a show of perceived thieves. His constant profiling of his former deputy, Atiku Abubakar, as one who cannot be trusted with public funds hence unfit to be Nigeria’s President, his dismissal of National Assembly members as unworthy of their office on account of corruption and the manner he shamed former Inspector General of Police, Tafa Balogun, and ensured that he was pictured in handcuff and the photograph used on the front pages of major newspapers in Nigeria at a time the nation was hosting the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Abuja. That was vintage Obasanjo, a man legendary for looking good while robing others in scarlet garment. Yet, the same Obasanjo turned the Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF) account into his personal purse during his tenure as President. The same was said to have corrupted the National Assembly and according to the senators introduced the ignoble culture of bribe-for-budget and inducing lawmakers to do his bidding including removing one Senate President and installing another. The Nigerian lawmakers still insist till this day that every trick of corruption they learnt was taught them by Obasanjo; meaning they are students of corruption while Obasanjo remains their teacher. Can’t say more!
The corruption bazaar under Buhari was captured recently by Obasanjo himself. In his letter to Buhari, he wrote: “There were serious allegations of round-tripping against some inner caucus of the Presidency which would seem to have been condoned. I wonder if such actions do not amount to corruption and financial crime, then what is it? Culture of condonation and turning blind eye will cover up rather than clean up. And going to justice must be with clean hands.” This bombshell by Obasanjo mirrors an earlier thesis by Senator Shehu Sani (Buhari’s party man). He accused Buhari of fighting corruption with insecticide and deodorant. Space will not permit me to delve into Babachir David Lawal and Ayo Oke’s cases. But they all stink up Buhari’s anti-corruption garment.
Injustice, nepotism (Buhari is the champion of nepotism and clannishness in the history of governance in Nigeria and Obasanjo alluded much to this in his letter), inequality, manipulating the constitution to suit one’s whims, etc are all by-products of corruption. African leaders (past and present), including Buhari, Obasanjo, Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Paul Biya of Cameroon, Goodluck Jonathan, Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea among others have all failed the leadership integrity test. African nations share a common index: Poverty! While their citizens grieve, their leaders keep grooving. The 30th summit was just another occasion to groove and African leaders had it to the max. Back home in their respective nations, citizens still lack access to potable water, steady electricity, qualitative education and affordable healthcare. If African leaders are serious about fighting corruption, let the sit-tight ones among them exit the stage. All African leaders should submit to the supremacy of the law including obeying court judgments. That is the first step to ending corruption.