It Wasn't Cor­rup­tion That Threat­ened to “Kill” Nige­ria

Financial Nigeria Magazine - - The Fixes From The Managing Editor - +234 802 343 9098 jide@fi­nan­cial­nige­ Twit­ter: @JSAk­in­tunde

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.

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