President Muhammadu Buhari’s vow to combat corruption in Nigeria no matter whose ox is gored is a welcome commitment that cannot but please all those who wish this country well.
In response to the question on whether he would move against even members of his party, he said ‘I just have to. There is not going to be any party member or personality that can escape justice.’
This is right. Buhari, indeed, has no choice in the matter for a man who declared in his inaugural speech that ‘I belong to everybody and I belong to nobody.’
Besides, for one who cares enough for his country to seek its highest office four times with the intention to effect a change, Buhari knows too well that with at least $150 billion, and still counting, stolen from the public treasury by high public officials and their colluding with local and foreign business partners, if Nigeria does not kill corruption, this ‘number one enemy’ may eventually kill the country.
The matter is that serious and obviously, this president will not want this to happen. For other reasons too, the president is well on track in his avowed move against corruption.
As the head of state, it is his constitutional duty as stipulated in Section 15(5) of the extant constitution as amended that ‘the State shall abolish all corrupt practices and abuse of power.’
It can even be argued that ‘national ethics’ as itemised in Section 23 include discipline, integrity, dignity of labour, characteristics that are antithetical to corruption and which, if imbibed and practised by Nigerians, high and low, will check corruption and restore the nation to a path of greatness.
The constitution of his ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) takes clear positions on the issue of corruption. Item No.4 commits the party, if voted into power as it now has, to ‘preventing abuse of executive, legislative, and public offices through greater accountability, transparency, and strict enforcement of anti-corruption laws while strengthening the EFCC and ICPC.’
Item No.9 says that the party will ‘reform and strengthen the justice system for efficient administration and dispensation of justice along with the creation of special courts for accelerated hearing of corruption, drug trafficking, terrorism, and similar cases of national importance.
And the party promises in item No.10 to ‘ensure full implementation of the Freedom of Information Act…’ As a man whose unique selling point for the presidency was integrity, it is inconceivable that he will condone corruption for a moment. So, at a personal level, he has a personal battle to fight.
Both in his personal capacity and as president of this republic, Buhari has unceasingly declared his stand against the cankerworm of corruption.
He promised in his acceptance speech that ‘… We shall strongly battle another form of evil that is worse than terrorism – the evil of corruption [which] attacks and seeks to destroy our national institutions and character.’
Having noted in his inaugural speech the ‘pervasive corruption’ in the land, he promised ‘responsible and accountable governance at all levels of government’ and charged the judiciary to, on its part, ‘act with dispatch on all cases especially on corruption, serious financial crimes, or abuse of office.’
Given the enormity, the hydra-headed nature, and the huge resources at the disposal of its perpetrators to fight back, President Buhari can neither say nor do enough to fight corruption.
But he cannot do it alone. Therefore, some issues need to be kept constantly in focus. Whereas many are quick to think of corruption in financial terms, the hydra-headed nature of this evil manifests in the political, religious, academic, sports, and other aspects of national life.
As change agent, the Buhari-led leadership of Nigeria must be fully aware of these dimensions and plan its strategy accordingly. Two, the perpetrators and the beneficiaries of corrupt practices are well equipped to fight back: they have the ill-gotten wealth to hire the best legal defence, to corrupt or delay the judicial process ad-infinitum, to make key witnesses recant or disappear entirely.
The president must, therefore, act firmly on the commitment stated in his party’s constitution. As in all wars, tactics matter because not one method may work in every case.
Having said almost all the right things for public consumption, it is important to note that curbing corruption will require some behind-the-scene tactics such as moral suasion and quite pressure that can yield good result.
Finally, the point must be emphasised that anti-corruption war is to get justice not vengeance. So, as promised in Buhari’s statement, due process and the rule of law must also be scrupulously followed.
And this is where everyone in the entire judicial system – law enforcement, the Bar and the Bench – must, for the sake of a better Nigeria, commit to the highest standards of their respective practices.
Buhari has set the tone and so far sent the clear message that the end is near for roguery in high places. But it will be unrealistic to expect that government take on this multi-faceted evil everywhere that it manifests.
Nigerians who suffer the effects, one way or the other and who desired and voted for change must assist the new government, and challenge it if need be, to fight corruption. Everyone must do his or her bit in this matter.