It Wasn't Corruption That Threatened to “Kill” Nigeria
Progressive societies continue to seek new answers to old questions. Therefore, the productivity question did not end with the answer provided by the technological inventions of the First Industrial Revolution in the 18th century. The advanced economies are now at the cusp of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, marked by additive manufacturing, artificial intelligence, robotics, Internet of Things, etc.
Similarly, we must continue to seek new answers to the Nigerian distemper and development challenges. During the campaign season for the 2015 presidential election, General Muhammadu Buhari grandiloquently declared: “If we don't kill corruption, corruption will kill us." This prognosis and his campaign promise to deal a fatal blow to corruption won him the election.
Most Nigerians had become irritated by the culture of corruption, which evolved with the Fourth Republic and became out of control during the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan. 55 percent of Nigerians, represented by the voters, shrugged off doubts over Buhari's competence and probable transformation into a leader that can unify the country, and voted for him.
Buhari's anticorruption rhetoric did not end with the campaign. His anticorruption bombast gained ascendancy and became the key policy of his administration. But after pursuing this policy for two years, out of a four-year tenure, the country is almost in death throes.
Around the country, expressions of disaffection with the existing federal structure have become high-pitched. A group of Igbo youths has been raving about the Biafra nation that wants out of the Nigerian federation. And the economy has been in its worst downturn in 25 years; driving up corporate failure, unemployment and general economic hardship. Thus it has become apparent that Buhari's government is in itself more formidable a threat to both the Nigerian polity and the economy than corruption.
President Buhari has been very divisive as many people had suspected he would be. As Fulani herdsmen unleashed terror and death against southern communities and Christian communities in the north, he kept mum. Buhari's appointments are lopsided in favour of the North. He justified his discriminatory body language by saying he could not possibly treat the same way the constituency that gave him 97% votes as one that gave him 5%.
Those who were familiar with Buhari's performances during his previous stints in government – including as Head of State in the '80s – had said he was not the strong leader he was mistaken to be. Even now, the northern cabal, which had long hijacked his administration, has reduced the functions of the Acting President Yemi Osinbajo to endless consultations and “coordination” of government activities, undermining the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
Similar indiscretions have applied broadly to policymaking by the administration. The consequence of this is the lingering economic downturn.
The truth is that corruption in Nigeria is often exaggerated. From being one of the effects of inept leadership, corruption is proclaimed as the cause of the country's problems. The international Western media has always obsessed with Nigerian corruption in a wider pejorative reporting. Unsuspecting Nigerians accept the exceedingly-corruptNigeria narrative by christening almost any act of corruption by fellow citizen as something that happens “only in Nigeria.”
Buhari and his surrogates latched onto the corruption hyperbole. He even agreed with then-British Prime Minister David Cameron that “Nigeria is fantastically corrupt,” indicating Buhari represents perhaps the clumsiest leader the country could possibly have.
The health metaphor of Buhari's anticorruption is, in the least, compelling. If corruption were a serious threat to the country in the way Buhari has said it is, then it doesn't make sense that his anticorruption crusade is characterised by glaring partiality. Among the many valid criticisms of Buhari's anticorruption is that it targets his political opponents, and even the judiciary, but largely overlooks his party people. A wave of defections to the ruling party, APC, has therefore continued. This can only cause the system as a whole to develop immunity to anticorruption, ensuring – if it were possible – that corruption would “kill” the country.
At the core of the Nigerian malaise is inept leadership. Corruption is only but a stock-intrade of a clueless leadership. An incompetent leader can have some anticorruption inclinations, but would only fight corruption ineffectually.
But the country can overcome its leadership challenge. In the context that Nigeria is a constitutional democracy, we would come by a competent president if a competent individual with political leadership skills and foresight runs for office; the majority of the electorate votes for him; and there is general insistence on free and fair election.
This is the age of extreme electoral possibilities. A 39-year-old Emmanuel Macron brushed aside the French political establishment and won both the presidential and parliamentary elections with his young party. Macron sold a centrist and pro-Europe agenda to the electorate. His domestic agenda denoted his good understanding of the need to close the political fissures, which for years had thwarted economic reform in France. Macron also understood that a united – not a fragmented – Europe would serve better the geostrategic interests of his country. A similarly policy-savvy Nigerian also has the social media for electoral outreach to the large youth population.
A competent Nigerian president will fight corruption in fundamentally more effective ways than Buhari. Like the Nigerian religious practices that obsess with fighting demons but not befriending the holy angels, Buhari's anticorruption rejects due process of law and diligence in the prosecution of accused persons. This weird approach has continued to meet its waterloo in the courts. But a transformational anticorruption would essentially be fair, just and focused on outcomes and not merely on actions.
A successful Nigerian anticorruption strategy must factor improvement in productivity. This would be quite unlike Buhari's quixotic approaches, including his repudiation of the Presidential Amnesty Programme that resulted in the loss of one million barrels of oil per day to militant attacks last year, or the wholesale implementation of the Treasury Single Account that sterilised government's funds and added an additional layer to the bureaucratic process.
A successful anticorruption in Nigeria would require astute scoping. It is now abundantly clear that exaggerating either the problem of corruption or anticorruption as a magic wand in addressing Nigeria's development challenges is not up to scratch.