“The world has enough for everyone’s need, but not for everyone’s greed.”
– Mahatma Ghandi
Intricately linked with the WAI was the War Against Corruption. Although every military coup since the first on January 15, 1966, had touted the bane of corruption in the country as the reason for the military intervention in governance, it was the regime of Muhammadu Buhari and Tunde Idiagbon that brought it into central focus with the promulgation of decrees and swift investigations that sought to jail every public official that dipped sticky fingers inside the nation’s coffers.
Quoting from my most recent book, “How Little We Are,” I stated that: “Corruption threatens sustainable economic development, ethical values and justice; it destabilises our society and endangers the rule of law. It undermines the institutions and values of our democracy. The effects of corruption are severe and widespread, and a larger number of our populace suffer its harmful effects most grievously, with the increasing levels of poverty and income inequality. But even worse is that corruption constitutes a threat to security as an enabler for crime and terrorism, which is alarmingly evident in the country today. Corruption became a menace, such that the unique selling proposition of a battle against it excused and paved the way for military rule and dictatorship in young independent Nigeria.”
However, rather than strangle and eradicate it as promised, corruption seems to have won the battle eating deeper into the fabric of our society. Eventually, when the democratic dispensation was ushered back in, the aspiring leaders chanted phrases like “no more business as usual” making promises, once again, to fight corruption. The theatrics were so convincing, some of us believed the infallible corruption might have finally met its match. Alas, we spoke too soon.
The anti-corruption war in Nigeria has spanned several decades across different regimes and governments. In other words, from military to civilian governments, every potential power seeker always devised one form of mechanism or the other in the prosecution of the fight against this social menace, and still failed.
This fight, in some way, even dates back to the pre-colonial era, as the various pre-colonial societies had early warning structures in place. For instance, my research revealed that the Yoruba Alaafin, who was the traditional head of the Yoruba society, stood to commit suicide or be banished in the event of abuse of his office. This act was to check the Alaafin from corrupt practices, and he was to ensure that his officials were also not corrupt. In Igbo societies, for fear of any possible abuse of office, the political system did not repose authority in a single individual. In the North, the Emir was checked by the collective efforts of his officials, the kingmakers, and the Sharia law.
Agencies like the first military-sponsored anti-corruption campaigns under General Murtala Muhammed, called “Operation Purge the Nation,” to President Shehu Shagari’s ethical revolution, to Major General Idiagbon’s “War Against Indiscipline (WAI),” under Gen. Buhari’s military regime, later adjusted to “War Against Indiscipline and Corruption (WAIC)” by General Sani Abacha, had been established to battle this scourge. The era of civilian governments also had their different anti-corruption mechanisms, like Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and Independent Corrupt Practices and other related Crimes (ICPC), among others.
However, the failures of these institutions followed the weaknesses of the officials in resisting infections of the same vice they were to fight. These have made the fight against corruption more longwinded than many hoped. It is mind-boggling that, after all these, we seem to be left with no clues of how to win the battle. Many times, it almost felt like we had decided to live with it or accept peanuts.
For instance, it is appalling how it was lauded as a major success in fighting corruption when some monies stolen by private individuals and government officials were returned to the treasury from outside and within the country, when, in fact, it is a very shameful situation. How did, and why would, the money leave government treasury in the first place?
Furthermore, some social critics would tell us that corruption is responsible for poverty, while others would say that poverty is responsible for corruption. Whatever the case may be, allow me to briefly describe examples of harms corruption has done to the nation and the psyche of the people all the way down the societal pyramid.
Over 50 years ago, Western Nigeria was the first part of the country that started a television network and the slogan adopted for the station was “First in Africa.” This was a few decades before apartheid South Africa established a television station. Today, South African television stations broadcast all over the continent, including Nigeria. In addition, Nigerian television stations need the South African-owned DSTV platform to reach out to other parts of the country and the world. So, where is Western Nigeria Television today, the first in Africa? It has actually been split into five state TV stations, none of which can broadcast outside their individual states. What went wrong? Poor funding and ill training of staff.
Then there was NITEL, created in 1985 from the merger of the telecommunication arm of Post and Telecommunications Department (P & T) under the Ministry of Communications, and the Nigeria External Telecommunications Limited (NET). The company was the first to establish a cable network that was also the first in Africa. After years of moribund operations, NITEL was liquidated in 2015 and its assets sold off to NATCOM who incorporated another iteration called Nitel Ltd. Today, I am not sure there exists a single telephone landline anymore belonging to this group, or a mobile line for that matter. What went wrong? Inflated contracts, poor management of resources and embezzlement.
Another parastatal that has bitten the dust is Nigeria Airways. Our national carrier started with 28 planes and was the pride of Africa. I recall flying from Banjul, Gambia, to Abidjan, in Cote d’Ivoire, in the 1980s and feeling overly excited as I landed at the airport and saw three Nigerian Airways planes set to fly to different parts of the world. It was one of my proudest moments as a Nigerian. But where is Nigeria Airways now? Gone with the wind, as they say. Nigerians in this age connect with the rest of the world through Kenyan Airways and Ethiopian Airways, institutions that started decades after Nigeria Airways. So, what went wrong? Poor management, servitude, undue government intervention, embezzlement, cronyism, and poor business practices.
I can write a whole book about the collapse of our four refineries. But collapse they did and, for years, we have been importing refined products from countries to which we export the raw crude oil. It is noteworthy to learn that a few oil-producing countries never export their crude or, when they do, only just a fraction is exported to friendly nations. These countries as well as some others who habitually export oil to other nations have invested in building and owning refineries all over the world. Their oil is then exported to these refineries for processing and subsequent sale of the refined products to all. The wisdom in this is that not only are those countries shielded from the politics of OPEC and their trading partners, the vagaries of the fluctuating oil prices have little impact on the refined products, and so the owners of these refineries are better insulated from oil price crashes.
Let us not forget the pathetic situation with our electric power supply. It is worthy to note that most of the countries enjoying uninterrupted power supply did not invest one-tenth of what we did into power generation. However, while these countries generate between forty and fifty thousand megawatts, we are still generating under 7,000 megawatts. Actually, in the week I wrote this essay, power generation for the whole nation was down to under 3,000 megawatts. To put things into even more damning context, Norway produces 36,000 megawatts of electricity for five million people, while Nigeria struggles to produce and hold on to 3,000 megawatts for 200 million people. But the country consumes much more than that amount of energy per day. The harm the poor electric power generation and supply have done to our economy is unimaginable, unbelievable, and defies logic that it was allowed to continue. It appears the zeal to fight this scourge has left government officials. They are now comatose, belly up to the skies.
In the 90s, I was posted to Atlanta, USA, for a few years and later to London for nine months by my company. While in the United States, I bought a car for my use and, following my transfer, I had the car shipped to Southampton, UK. It arrived UK a day before I did. At home, I met a note from my agent requesting that I present myself with all documents at the port by 14:00 hours the next day. I took a train from London and reported at the port few minutes before the time, showed all my papers with my passport and was given a pass and a map with which to locate the car. I followed the instructions and within an hour I was out of the port driving my car to London. The same car was finally shipped to Lagos after my tour of UK and it took me almost two and half weeks to clear the car from the Apapa port. The port clearing and forwarding experiences have not changed one bit till date. Yet people retain their jobs and even get promoted. Amazing.
Regrettably, the fight against corruption in Nigeria assumes that corruption is only about embezzlement and thieving. This approach is wrong because it gives a pass to the very ills that lead to those acts. Corruption thrives when there is no accountability, no oversight, and zero application of the rule of law. When you leave excellence in favour of mediocrity, that is corruption because your intent is to present the semblance of work without performance. When you appoint your relations or kinsmen into positions of power, that is nepotism with a corrupt intent. When you bend the arc of justice in favour of a friend, colleague, or family member, that is corruption of the law. When you delay or refuse services until you receive gratification whether directly solicited or not, that is corruption. When you ask for gratification before awarding a contract, or before processing a payment for work done, that is corruption. When you accept money at the ports, at the security posts, at the loan disbursement meetings in order to look away, that is corruption. When you demand money from students in whatever guise before they can pass their examinations, that is corruption that undermines your manpower assets. When you disburse money to the electorate to buy their votes, that is corruption that puts the wrong men and women to govern in ignorance and with abject incompetence. When you buy a transformer for your own electricity installation and thereafter it is taken over by the same power company as their legitimate property, that is corruption. When you cannot sue the power company for power disruption and damage to your property as a result of the disruption, that is corruption. When you cannot sue the local government or the federal government for the potholes on the road that have damaged your vehicles, killed or maimed your loved ones, that is corruption. When the government agency charged with providing you with water surcharges you for sinking a borehole in your house to access water that they have failed to provide, that is corruption. Corruption in Nigeria is, therefore, institutionalised through bad governance, ineptitude, injustice, ignorance, and impunity. We live it out every day. There actually is no war against corruption. The war is on decency and the goodness and well-being of Nigerians.
•Next week, we shall examine the other wars that we have been waging, some more recent than the others