One issue that kept coming up again and again during the 2015 presidential campaign was how Candidate Muhammadu Buhari, as he then was, would deal with corruption. There was no question that corruption was killing the country.
Instead of tackling it, the PDP government under President Goodluck Jonathan was feeding it, dressing it and redefining it.
What was Buhari going to do about it, and how? In what I thought was one of the most practical answers then, he said he would draw the line from May 29 and make a fresh start.
That may no longer be the case. President Buhari’s recent comments and body language clearly indicate he would launch massive, wide-ranging probes that would spare no crook.
It’s no longer a question of scope but range – how far back he will chase the thieves. Or, put slightly differently, how far back he should chase the thieves. They are running already and hiding in all sorts of places, including temples, the homes of political godfathers and hospitals.
There are arguments on both sides about just how far and wide the chase should go. Some have even challenged Buhari to take the probe to the doorstep of his sponsors in the last election, to prove his honesty.
On one side are those who insist that the president’s pre-election pledge to draw the line from May 29 was a mistake. To root out corruption, he must go back, as far back as when and how we came to lose over $600billion to corruption (largely in oil-related deals) from 1960 to date. He must dust the files, tackle all high- and low-profile corruption-related cases from Independence, bring justice to all living culprits and shame the dead.
This may sound like loose cannon, but it’s not. It is guided missile targeted mainly at those who ruled the country between 1985 and 2015, the period widely regarded as the golden age of corruption in Nigeria.
In other words, any probes that exclude the seven administrations from General Ibrahim Babangida to former President Goodluck Jonathan can at best be described as ‘selective’. You cannot draw any line outside the golden era.
On the other side are those who argue for a more focused, systematic approach, a position largely articulated by syndicated columnist, Sonala Olumhense. For better results, keep the probes focused on institutions, not persons.
This may sound like making omelets without breaking eggs, but every chef knows that the chicken must first survive to lay the eggs. We must kill corruption before it kills us, but there are several reasons why we can’t swallow this elephant whole.
The first is time. Buhari does not have time on his side. Any probe that looks back 20 years plus, digging root and branch, will take at least eight to ten months to complete, in the first instance. And that does not include the time for splitting hairs over the ethnic or religious representation of the panels, potential legal landmines and the anticipated red tape.
Buhari does not have that time. If he’s lucky, the fracture in his party caused by the sharing of offices could mend by year’s end, giving him room and pace to use a wider range of resources. But that is also assuming that the Peoples Democratic Party will remain in disarray. My guess is that the APC could take slightly longer to heal, and that before the end of 2016 the PDP could regroup, in alliance with other tendencies, to prepare for the next election.
Because by some default of body language some members of his own party think he might not do a second term, Buhari will face early challenge for his party’s 2019 presidential ticket. Politics will come in earlier than usual, bringing its own pressure to bear on performance.
The second reason for a focused approach is the current high tide of expectations. Nigerians want to see crooks, especially those who have been protected over the years, hanged on the next pole. But after nearly 100 days of running his government on ad hoc mode, Buhari needs to redeem the time by providing a clear direction on the economy, dealing with the insurgency and tackling power.
He can hardly make progress in any of these areas by driving with his eyes fixed on his rear-view mirror.
Lee Kuan Yew met similar circumstances in Singapore when he came to power in 1965. Corruption, ethnicity and a hostile alliance of the country’s neighbours and foreigners were threatening to lay the country to waste. He drew the line, reformed the laws and followed through painstakingly.
Buhari needs a leaf from Yew’s book. There are enough probe reports from the past that he could update and use without getting sucked in the mire of fresh endless probes.
Two exceptions can be made – the NNPC and the war on terror. The NNPC remains the world’s best example of how not to manage a government corporation. Until around last October, crude oil was selling for $100 per barrel – and was so for nearly four straight years.
The billions of naira earned were either siphoned in sweetheart swap deals or stolen outright. NNPC under Jonathan was a cesspit of corruption but no meaningful answers can be found that does not trace the hubris back to 1999.
As for the war on terror, I’m galled by stories of fictitious equipment bought and monthly allocations assigned to service them whereas nothing was actually bought. It was an unconscionable crime that thrived under Jonathan, but it certainly predated him. It is difficult not to hear the cries of the innocent blood of soldiers and civilians, including helpless women and children, whose lives could have been saved by any serious and responsible government.
Culled from Leadership Newspapers
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