Of Corruption and Collateral Damage

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Perspective
The time has come for President Muhammadu Buhari to determine which is more hurting: corruption or its collateral damage, Magnus Onyibe asks
Some of us have literarily been at President Muhammadu Buhari’s ‘throat’ over what we deem to be economically, socially and politically rough methods and procedures that the president has been adopting in combating corruption in Nigerian and the catastrophic effects on the nation. Apart from the evidently obtrusive anti-corruption war, another clog in the wheel of progress is the knee jerk and pigeon hole policy initiatives that have led to failed expectations of positive outcomes, as opposed to unleashing a holistic policy package, which could have addressed all identified economic, political and social challenges harmoniously in a timeous manner, without equivocation and thus yield the desired socioeconomic liberation of Nigeria.
By now, it must be clear to all, as it has become incontestable that, it is the economic, social and political fallouts of the brutish pursuit and tunnel vision of eliminating corruption at all costs by this administration that is the culprit for the unprecedented hardship currently putting the nation’s economy on a lockdown.
The fiasco that the economy has been plunged into is reflected in the imminent recession now confirmed by both the IMF in its World Economic Outlook, WEO report and the Central bank of Nigeria, CBN via Governor Godwin Emefiele’s recent testimony to the Nigerian senate.
Other incidents or events signposting the fact that Nigeria and indeed Nigerians are in dire straits are:  social upheavals in the north east triggered by Boko Haram terrorism resulting in millions of families being consigned to living miserably in Internally Displaced People, IDP camps; renewed Niger Delta militancy focused on bombing oil facilities that has crippled oil/gas business and damaged the ecosystem and environment very badly; the recent increasingly violent crimes popping up in the suburbs of Lagos and in fact, across the country in the form of kidnappings and violent attacks on defenceless people by bandits disguised as Fulani herdsmen.
As glaringly disruptive and debilitating as the effects of the anti-corruption war has been on the hoi poloi, whom the president is ostensibly protecting, nobody has considered a change of tactics to ease the pain on the less privileged members of society. This implies that our leaders may be oblivious of the reality of how, cruel, grueling and dreary life has become for the average Nigerian in the past one year.
In the light of the growing and palpable despondency being foisted on the populace, following the economic woes in the country fueling the emasculation of the common man, the rhetorical question elicited by the circumstances would be: which is more hurtful, corruption or the collateral damage of fighting it?
On a scale of balance, the simple and rational answer would be that corruption is more harmful, because it is debilitating and virulent like HIV/aids, Ebola virus and cancer disease combined, but in fighting the malaise, authorities should be careful not to inadvertently throw away the baby and the bath water, otherwise, the collateral damage could be equal, if not more devastating, as we are currently witnessing in Nigeria.  
Tell me, who would set a house on fire along with ornate and precious artifacts just to catch or kill a rat?  My heart skips a bit when l read online comments by Nigerians, whose backs have been pushed against the wall to the extent that they are now saying something like, BRING BACK GOODLUCK JONATHAN AND PDP with all the warts of corruption, as alleged, simply because life was less hellish under his watch than it currently is.
Understandably, the world economy is presently suffering from bouts of recession, so all is not well globally, but the anti-corruption war in Nigeria, being executed after a historic successful transfer of power to an opposition party that trumped the incumbent at the polls, is definitely a major culprit for Nigeria’s current stagflation. 
Put succinctly, the financial crisis situation could not have gone south, had the anti-corruption war not exacerbated the situation. The foregoing stems from the fact that while most countries were writhing in and agonising in financial pains, Nigeria came out of the 2008 global recession unscathed due to buffers creatively woven into the financial system.
So, it is possible that the current global recession might not have been as devastating on Nigeria’s economy, had authorities not literarily added fuel to a raging inferno by staging an all-out war against corruption resulting in exodus of funds and businesses from Nigeria at a time we should be courting both.
A strange illustration of the alarming level of poverty in Nigeria was recently made by a pastor in Benue State, who openly complained in an address to the governor that these days, church congregations hardly have enough to drop in offering boxes and attributed the unprecedented situation to the severe financial hardship that the masses are experiencing .
Despite the obvious hunger in the land, those buffeted and cosseted by the paraphernalia of top level public offices and operating within the locus of power in Abuja and the 36 state capitals, are basking in the euphoria that all is well in Nigeria, hence they don’t deem it fit to change tactics. 
Such calibre of people are guaranteed their monthly wages unlike the civil servants in 27 states of the federation that are being owed salaries for up to six months in arrears; they are not amongst those, whose children could not graduate from even primary and secondary schools this year due to inability to pay their school fees as they are being owed salaries. There are many more, who as a result of loss of jobs and income arising from the prevailing inclement business environment, could not send their wards to local universities, not to talk of universities overseas as they see fellow parents and their children celebrating in graduation gowns.
They are also not among the long suffering Nigerians, whose livelihood is based on what they earn on a daily basis from engaging in menial jobs such as helping load and unload cargoes in markets, motor parks, sea and airports – erstwhile bustling locations – which now experience little or no activities.
Similarly, they are not amongst those roasting akara (bean balls), corn, yam, etc on the roadsides from which they eke out a few naira with which they survive on a daily basis, but are now experiencing low patronage as their clientele has also been decimated by the bleeding economy.
Finally, they are not amongst the IDPs, who are estimated to be over 8 million nationwide (about the size of nation’s civil servants population), who are living in hellish conditions and those who have lost their loved ones to terrorism as well as the over 200 Chibok school girls unaccounted for, over two years after they were abducted; not to mention their grieving parents, who have been left in the limbo to lick their wounds.
Fair enough, Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo is leading the charge in government’s policy to provide succour to the very poor and down trodden amongst us by way of a social security package featuring free feeding for school children nationwide and payment of N5,000 monthly stipends for the indigent as well creation of 500,000 teachers jobs for the unemployed of which N15bilion has been appropriated in 2016 budget.
The truth is that although the social safety net initiative is noble, the palliatives cannot sufficiently ameliorate the sufferings or steer the masses off the cliff of hunger and starvation allegedly brought upon the country by the outgone regime via massive corruption and now being consolidated by the suffocating policies that the incumbent government has introduced to wipe off corruption.
As earlier stated, we the active members of the commentariat must have riled the president or rankled him enough to make him wonder if we are indeed not part of the cabal – usual suspects – that the anti-corruption crusaders refer to each time they allege that when you fight corruption, it fights you back.
Well, those who doubt our motives and wonder how noble and altruistic our intentions are when we ‘call out’ the authorities are implored to direct the economic and financial crimes commission, EFCC and the directorate of state security service, DSS to take closer look at our finances to determine if our bank accounts have swollen as a result of funding by any internal or external influencers.
They should conduct trend analysis to trace the pattern of our social comments to determine if they have not remained pro society since the return of party democracy in the past sixteen years. They could even get the anti-graft agencies to engage hackers to break into our social media accounts to scurry for any sinister motivations as they often do, when desperate to nail enemies – perceived or real.
I loathe to say it, but the simple truth is that since May 29, 2015, when the APC became the ruling party and Buhari ascended the leadership mantle, the political atmosphere in Nigeria has been on the boil as the ruling party and the president have been swimming in the ocean of controversies as intra party crisis have been morphing from one shape to the other like the amorphous amoeba organism. 
It is disheartening if not sickening that one year on, the election of principal officers in the National Assembly, which is contrary to the dictates of APC, has remained a bone of contention between the executive and legislative arms of government, with huge collateral damage to good governance. 
Amongst other consequences, NASS has dissipated enormous amount of energy and wasted precious time in courts in solidarity with their leaders – Senate President, Bukola Saraki’s trial by Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT or Saraki + his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu, arraigned in federal high court for alleged forgery of their own internal document. 
The ongoing cat fight between the executive and legislative arms of government reminds me of the bruising battle of supremacy between the presidency as embodied by Goodluck Jonathan and the Governors’ Forum, personified by Rotimi Amaechi, within then ruling PDP party in the immediate past administration.
Needless pointing out that it was that tussle for power that fractured the PDP and sounded the dealt knell for the erstwhile ruling party, which one of its former chairmen once boasted would be in the leadership saddle of Nigeria for 60 years.
To counteract the executive arm of government’s perceived undue attack on the National Assembly, as the battle rages on within the APC, the parliament has also invited the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Shehu Malami – a symbol of the executive arm of government – for grilling by aggrieved senators.
While all the power show is playing out, policy paralysis has surreptitiously crept in and it is taking its toll with a negative manifestation as national paralysis. This happened because of the seeming lethargy in making the following five policy decisions listed below.
The measures are: (1)The  appointment of a cabinet, which took Theresa May, the new British Prime Minister only a couple of days, took six months in Nigeria and dragged the economy down as the world waited endlessly for clarity on the direction of the new government. (2)The budgeting process which became rancorous owing to accusations and counters about padding and other improprieties by civil servants, pitted the legislative and executive arms of government against each other, as they tried to outshine one other in their obsession with who the public would perceive as having the highest integrity.
Consequently, we have a budget that got approved nearly half way through the year and of which capital release is still a mirage (3) The decision to remove the obnoxious fuel subsidy, which could have been made from the day President Buhari was sworn into office was eventually accepted nearly one year after assumption of office and after about three months of persistent fuel shortages that nearly grounded the nation.
(4) The agreement to float the naira was not reached until a full year had lapsed and investors had become weary of the lack of a clear policy vision of government, which appears not have been hinged on any sound underpinning economic principle. (5)After reneging on the previous amnesty for militants brokered under the watch of former President Umaru Yar’Adua, (of blessed memory) by not making provision for its continuation in 2016 budget, no clear strategy has been crafted on how to maintain peace in the volatile Niger Delta region to ensure that oil production goes on unhindered.
More so since the region is the treasure trove of the nation, which should be guarded jealously, if the foregoing policy initiatives were taken holistically and simultaneously as soon as APC took over the reins of government a little over one year ago, the nation’s economy now in a cliff hanger, could have been pulled back from the precipice.
One conventional wisdom, which seems not to be obvious to Aso Rock villa occupants is that life is dynamic and as the popular saying goes, time waits for nobody. Another impotent wise crack in pidgin English “Time na money” obviously has not been taken to heart by those pulling the levers of authority or those in the apogee of power, hence the unofficial policy of government appears to be slow and steady wins the race, which is an anathema in this age of cut throat competition amongst nations for investments and markets. 
As the local saying goes, when two elephants fight, the grass suffers, thus the hapless Nigerian masses are now holding the short end of the stick. I had in an article published widely on both online and mainstream media on March 7th 2014 titled “APC: Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing” and another version titled “APC: When Accord Con-cordial Becomes Accord Discordant” published 11th June last year, listed the various stages that an organisation must go through before being considered to have achieved  complete formation.
These are Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing. It was pointed out in that piece that the APC skipped the Storming stage in order to avoid the crisis that could have arisen from the amalgamation of five political parties with conflicting interests and leaped into the Norming stage which is tantamount to postponing the evil day.
As a consequence of the contravention, the APC has been detained in the Storming stage and the prospect of advancing to the next level which is Norming, how much more Performing, has continued to elude the ruling party in particular and the nation in general.
Given the ongoing ‘internecine’ war within the party and relying on the street lingo – he who fights and runs away, lives to fight another day –APC merely carried forward their inevitable dirty fight from the day their convention was held in 2014 and where political posts were apportioned to the partnering parties without engaging in rigorous contest.
This is because the party made a conscious effort to adopt a pacifist plan of getting all the adversaries in the amalgamated parties to sheath their swords until the new opposition has snatched the leadership baton from then ruling party, the PDP. 
To the utmost delight of the consolidated party, APC and to the chagrin of PDP, the erstwhile ruling party that thought that the union of the four opposition parties plus a splinter group from the PDP would not stand the test of time, the strategy worked out very well, and reinforced the popular notion, united we stand, divided we fall.
As it is often the case, when a problem remains unattended to, it usually simmers underneath the surface for some time, and erupts at the point of sharing the booty, hence the ruling APC and by extension, the leadership authorities in Nigeria have been in turmoil and the reason President Buhari is yet to enjoy peaceful reign since assumption of captaincy of the ship of state.
On one occasion during the Ramadan breaking of fast, when president Buhari hosted the under privileged and physically challenged Nigerians at his Aso Rock residence, he told his guests that the ambience and comfort of the presidential villa has not ensconced him from the masses, so he feels their pains. It’s now time for the president to match words with action, so the president can ease the pains of the masses by freeing the economy from the present jackboot policies and avoid the eminent socio-economic strangulation of Nigeria and Nigerians.
As someone once mischievously quipped, President Buhari was elected to rule over Nigerians, who are alive. By the time his war on corruption might have been won, he would probably be ruling over more dead Nigerians.
Worst still, at the rate at which our economy is tumbling, Nigerians may not be far from sharing the fate of the sick child of The Americas, Venezuela, which although very rich in crude oil resources like Nigeria, has been mired in unending financial mess owing to the wrong headed populist policy tendencies of its past and present leaders – the late Hugo Chavez, ex-president and incumbent president, Nicholas Maduro.
What more evidence does the president need to realise that Nigerians are literarily and practically dying? 
One solid evidence is the fact that our compatriots  living in IDPs in the North east, particularly children, have been reduced to walking skeletons due to malnutrition as acknowledged by UNICEF, which has raised an alarm that 250,000 children in Borno State alone, were suffering from acute malnutrition and that 134 of them could die every day from the condition. The last time I heard or read about such large scale suffering of Nigerian children, the presumptive leaders of tomorrow, was during the unfortunate Biafran war.
If current media reports are anything to go by, CBN governor, Godwin Emefiele has also in a briefing to the parliament informed that “if the current trend continues, the federal government might be unable to pay salaries from October.”
With 27 states already grappling with insolvency, federal government’s inability to pay salaries would be a major disaster not only for Nigeria, but the entire sub-Sahara Africa as it is believed that one out of every five Africans is a Nigerian. The massive sack of bank workers a couple of months ago is an ominous sign of how stricken the economy has become.
Although further staff sack has been suspended following repressive tactics adopted by labour minister, Chris Ngige, who threatened cancelation of licenses of banks that would further retrench workers, mass retrenchment in the financial services sector is a sign of grave danger lurking in the corner. The monetary authorities may not admit it, but the banking system may implode if some critical adjustments are not made fast.
Banking which is like the heart of a human, can be equated to the engine room of any nation’s economy. If it is ailing as evidenced by the current lull in the sector, the nation would be on the verge of being unhinged.
In my considered opinion, the president does not need more than the above catalogued grim realities to admit that his leadership approach, particularly with respect to his sledge hammer approach to combating corruption which borders on obsession, delay in attending to identified  political/economic challenges and reluctance in implementing articulated policy responses, are taking heavy toll on society.
Rather than being hell bent on fighting corruption to a finish with calamitous consequences, as a veteran army General, who knows when to retreat if the death toll on his troop maybe too heavy, when he advances further, President Buhari should rethink his anti-corruption strategy and dye-in-the-wool stance on some critical economic and political matters, which have the capacity to be disruptive to the polity.
Instead of new strategies on how to pull Nigeria back from the brinks of collapse, what we are seeing and reading in the mass media are new vistas of the anti-corruption war, while the economy suffers.
Could this not be equated to the narrative about Emperor Nero playing the fiddle while Rome was on fire?
How about making Nigerians see and feel more positive outcomes of the innovative and dynamic policies pointing to how to pull the economy out of stagflation? The recently proposed initiative of promoting made in Nigeria goods now being legislated upon in the National Assembly and promoted by the pair of CBN Governor Emefiele and budget and planning minister, Udo Udoma is one such silver lining on the horizon.
It is a pity that what is dominating the mass media are new vistas of the anti-corruption wars such as arraignment of more ex-military service chiefs and opening of investigations in the brutal and gruesome assassinations of past political leaders like the former minister of justice, the late Bola Ige, fondly referred to as the Socrates, and sagacious Niger Delta politician, the late Aminasari Dikibo, while the economy suffers.
Don’t get me wrong. Re opening of the murder cases is good but that can’t take precedence over fixing Nigeria’s economy and they could also be accomplished without fanfare and drama that they are currently being accorded.
Owing to uncertainties arising from the prevailing policy inertia, and the consequent socio-economic miasma now hanging over Nigeria like a wicked ghost contemplating revenge, businesses have taken flight out of our shores. The much sought after foreign direct investments, FDI which was the main justification for the policy action of floating the Naira, has become even more elusive with the Naira further plummeting in value without corresponding inflow of funds and investments.
After all said and done, I align with Debo Adesina, of the Guardian newspaper whose opinion piece on the back page of the newspaper titled “Buhari, End The Pains, Build A Future” was instructive in so many different ways, as he was urging the president to review his policies and give them a human face, so that posterity would judge him positively.
I also wholeheartedly identify with Issa Aremu, Secretary General, Alumni Association of National Institute, Kuru, who in a compelling article, on the back page of THISDAY newspaper of July 20, 2016, titled: “Will Buhari Lead Like Mandela?” – very complimentarily compared Buhari to the late Nelson Mandela, former president of South Africa, while urging the president to emulate the leadership icon in magnanimity by leading an all-inclusive, not the exclusive government that is currently tending to be the norm rather than exception in the present dispensation.
Being in the good company of the aforementioned duo of Adesina and Aremu, who are apolitical, only irredeemably mischievous elements in the corridors of power, would label me anti-Buhari or PDP apologist, as the irredentists in government, would when they are confronted with the truth, which they stubbornly refuse to acknowledge, while preferring to live in denial.
Hopefully, President Buhari would not allow himself to continue to be blind spotted in policy initiatives to the detriment of the masses, in whose interest he has often professed to be working.
-Onyibe, a development strategist and former commissioner in Delta State is an alumnus of Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, Medford, Massachusetts, USA