by Segun Ayobolu
On July 29, 1975, when the military regime of General Yakubu Gowon was overthrown, Nigerians trooped out on Lagos streets in their hundreds to boo the military governors of the then 12 states who were being taken to Dodan Barracks. They had fallen from grace to grass. A day before, they were the envy of the same Nigerians condemning them after the coup and decrying their alleged corruption. This tendency towards docility and complicity through silence in the face of corrupt impunity was portrayed by the master story teller, Chinua Achebe, in his novel, ‘A man of the people’. At the end of the novel, a coup overthrows the civilian regime and the military take over amidst popular jubilation. The people, who had tolerated, encouraged and even benefitted from the venality of politicians like Chief Nanga suddenly became wiser after the fact. They now hypocritically condemned the gross corruption of the politicians and expressed support for the new regime.
Has anything changed today as regards the passivity and unquestioning submissiveness on the part of majority of Nigerians to those in public office irrespective of the degree of malfeasance on the latter’s part? I do not think so. Long before now, there had been intimations of massive corruption perpetrated by top officials of the President Goodluck Jonathan administration. Nigerians, however, chose the path of silence and inaction. For instance, the former governor of Central Bank of Nigeria and now Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, had cried out loud that $20 billion due to the Federation Account was missing. The Jonathan administration was largely indifferent to the matter making only a few desultory motions without movement in response. Nigerians kept mum.
It was the same tameness and paralysis of the will to act by majority of Nigerians that was witnessed as regards the multi-billion Naira pension fund scandal, the atrocious fuel subsidy scam; the illegal procurement of two luxury BMW armoured cars for the then Minister of Aviation, Stella Oduah, or the obscene expenditure of over N10 billion to charter luxury private jets by a former super minister. There was also the fiasco in which scores of unemployed youths either lost their lives or were wounded in an ill-organised recruitment exercise that saw over 400, 000 applicants who had been charged N1000 each by a private consultant vying for less than 400 vacancies. In all these cases, there was thunderous quietness on the part of most Nigerians.
How then would public officials not believe that they could get away with anything no matter how heinous? Why should anybody blame the former National Security Adviser (NSA), Colonel Sambo Dasuki, if he casually and cavalierly dished out largesse in hundreds of millions of Naira and dollars to top PDP chieftains? The truth is that Nigerians as a whole are more to blame for not sustaining and even strengthening in this dispensation, the kind of vibrant, vigorous and virile civil society that so effectively confronted and ultimately helped to terminate military autocracy. Unaccountable power will sooner or later corrupt the holder absolutely and this is true irrespective of the party in power. This is why it becomes more imperative than ever that our currently slumbering civil society be urgently resurrected to help hold any party in power to account and discourage the tendency to impunity by governments that perceive their people as passive and biddable.
In any case, how many of those baying today for the blood of Dasuki and the PDP beneficiaries of his ample war chest would have resisted the temptation to do what he did if they were in the former NSA’s shoes? How many of us would, on ethical grounds, have rejected Dasuki’s bounteous largesse if offered?
The point I am making was that also made by Sam Omatseye in his Monday column in this newspaper. The on-going anti-corruption war is still a one man show of the latest Sherriff in town. There is as yet no anti-corruption mass movement. Most Nigerians simply do not see corruption as a crime. That is why the Abachas remain heroes in Kano today despite the hundreds of millions of dollars stolen from the nation’s coffers by the late dictator, General Sani Abacha. It is most likely that if Dasuki were to return home today, he would be given a rousing welcome reception. I do not see any of those PDP chieftains indicted in the Dasukigate affair being denied by their people. It is only that since everything has now been exposed, they will be forced to spread part of the money round just a little bit.
Indeed, there is even no guarantee that the trial of those currently indicted for corruption will make any headway because of the collusion between greedy senior advocates and judges who lack moral integrity. It is widely acknowledged that our legal system is laden through and through with corruption. President Muhammadu Buhari, it appears to me, is severely on his own in this war. We should, therefore, go beyond the current sensational preoccupation with Dasukigate to find out why corruption is so deeply rooted in our value system as a people and the way to reorient society to be less accommodating of corrupt behaviour.
Interestingly, as observed decades ago by the distinguished political scientist, Professor Peter Ekeh, strict moral values are rigorously upheld when Nigerians are acting within the context of their traditional and native communities. When functioning within the purview of the post-colonial state, however, Nigerians – both leaders and the led- have no compunction whatsoever in brutally and mercilessly milking the Nigerian cow even in the most criminal of manners. Why does the Nigerian state remain so alienated from the Nigerian people after over five decades of independence? The Buhari administration must confront the corruption menace not just at the level of recovering stolen funds and punishing treasury looters, but also at the theoretical level of investigating the root cause(s) of corruption as a first step towards conceptualising and implementing potent behavioural change strategies.
Another key issue thrown up by Dasukigate is the question of funding political parties particularly during elections. Let us not kid ourselves. As things are today, every political party needs some degree of financial support from the governments they control both to survive on a day-to-day basis as well as effectively contest elections. It is just that the PDP completely went overboard in a way that borders on sheer lunacy. They did not take heed of Achebe’s admonition that the wise thief does not steal too much for the owner not to notice. There is a limit to which wealthy party members can solely fund parties. To make matters worse, party members do not pay dues and so cannot claim ownership of the parties. And to compound issues, the electorate has over time become increasingly materialistic with a tendency to vote for the highest bidder. This was vividly demonstrated in the last Ekiti governorship election, where ‘stomach infrastructure’ was said to have played a key role in the outcome.
There are, in my view, two ways to tackle this problem. One is to go back to the model of the Babangida regime in the ill-fated third republic. At that time, the two officially sanctioned parties, the SDP and NRC, were funded by the state. Indeed, the government built party secretariats for them at all levels. They were thus able to function more efficiently and systematically while no party had a decisive financial advantage over the other. Now that we have an emergent two-party system, that option should be seriously considered.
Second is to return to the political culture that saw party members paying their dues and thus becoming the fiscal life line of the party. But in this austere economic clime, do rank and file party members have the means to engage in what they may consider a luxury? If they do, are they willing, do they trust the parties enough to invest their funds in them? If the parties can mobilise effectively enough to become mass movements, the amount each individual member pays as party dues will become negligible and less inconveniencing.
- This Best Outside Opinion was written by Segun Ayobolu/The Nation