Guest Columnist By Issa Aremu
The Africa Union (AU)’S selection of President Muhammadu Buhari as the Champion of the fight against corruption in Africa at the just successfully concluded 30th AU Summit in Addis Ababa is commendable. That singular action of the AU has further restored Nigeria’s integrity in the continent and indeed the world.
As the AU chairman, Paul Kagame, rightly observed, corruption is not peculiar to Africa but remains a global cancer. Almost all nations are ranked on the International Corruption Index. No nation is 100% corruption free. Which might explain why Dave Cameroon, former British Prime Minister, could know “a fantastically corrupt country”. It takes a corrupt country that gave the world the word “corruption” for its Prime Minister to know a country that beats it to it in graft. Nations that make a difference, positively rated are those whose leaders frontally apprehend corrupt officials and hold them accountable.
Regardless of the challenges associated with anti-corruption drive, the point cannot be overstated that President Buhari has raised the tempo of anti-corruption by exposing and catching public thieves and commendably prosecuting them which had in turn made some impression on Africa. We commend the good jobs of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) under Ibrahim Magu. The recent score card report that in 2017 alone the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) recovered as much as N473 billion and $98.2 million (totalling N473 billion), among other foreign currencies, as proceeds of corruption is salutary. The recovered loot of almost N500 billions is more than the states budget of Niger: N108bn Abia: N107bn Enugu: N105bn and Imo: N102bn and half of Lagos state’s budget of N813bn and same as Rivers state’s of N470bn in 2017!
With the singular recognition as the continent’s public thief catcher, President Buhari obviously has a big job cut out for him. The new challenge tasks him on the need to consolidate on the gains recorded against graft in Nigeria remove doubts arising from some shortcomings of his efforts and at the same time help Africa urgently face us to development agenda in place of corruption agenda and champion charity must start at home.
Currently there is a deep conceptual crisis about what corruption is and what is not. Buhari’s predecessor former President Goodluck Jonathan indulged in sophistry differentiating between “stealing and corruption”. Let it be accepted that corruption is “the abuse of public roles or resources for private benefit”. Of course as we have seen in Nigeria definition of corruption does not tame corruption! But the late Fela Anikulapo Kuti defines it better: “ Authority Stealing”! Buhari and indeed Africa need theoretical clarity before practical sustainable curtailment strategy. Corruption has underdeveloped Africa just as colonialism did. Money meant for roads, rail, public medicine, social security, salaries and pensions had been brazenly stolen by few corrupt public officials.
The report of the 2014 National conference which sadly Buhari administration dismisses puts it better: “Its (corruption!) corrosive impact continues to undermine governance, stability and progress. It distorts and undermines efficient allocation of resources, and by extension the country’s capacity for competitiveness. It reduces the net value of public spending as well as the quality of services, public infrastructure, and the volume of tax revenues; and it encourages misappropriation and misallocation of resources.
Corruption smears the nation with the most odious of perceptions and further impedes economic growth by discouraging investments both local and foreign. -Politically, corruption desecrates the rule of law, respect for human rights, public accountability and transparency. It undermines the electoral process; it creates and exacerbates the problem of legitimacy for government and its institutions. It deepens income inequality and poverty even as it erodes the moral fabrics of society and fans the embers of grievances and conflicts while engendering trafficking in human and other illegal substances, armed robberies and related violent crimes including terrorism.”
For Africa, corruption is a zero-sum game with the few corruptors taking the loot, while the nation bleeds. It is therefore self evident that anti-corruption campaign cannot be one-President orchestra. President Buhari must make integrity, probity and accountability a shared value starting with his government and party. Indeed there should be a bipartisan and pan African strategy against graft. With all the efforts so far, Nigeria ranks 136 out of 176 countries. Corruption is not African but most corrupt countries are in Africa. President Buhari puts it better in Addis Ababa that “As leaders, we must build synergy between the executive, legislative and judicial arms of government in order to entrench good governance, transparency and accountability.” But the President must walk his talk at home first in this respect. How the President resolves the embarrassing lingering crisis of confirmation of the Chairman of EFCC, Ibrahim Magu by the Senate is one acid test for President Buhari on consensus building around the fight against corruption. On the whole, in terms of priority what does Africa need; development or anti-corruption drive? Obviously the continent needs both. However it is the absence of development agenda that has left considerably room for theft, rent seeking and sheer looting of common wealth.
Definitely let’s continue the war against all forms of corruption! But beyond that, let’s get it right: assuming the war against corruption is won, it does not mean that we have won and even started the real war for development and against poverty. The promise of independence (Nigeria will be soon be 60 this year!) and governance is not for us to be catching thieves and fighting corruption as such. The 1999 constitution says the primary purpose of governance is security and welfare of the citizens.
The promises of governance include promotion of investment, job creations, opening industries, schools, ensuring food security and self reliance, not headers/ farmers clashes!) and join the comity of nations in the match of humanity for prosperity and general well-being. Therefore the earlier Africa gets corruption and financial crimes off its agenda by eradicating this cancer in all its forms, judicial, social and political, the better. Indeed I prefer my President as champion of Development of the continent just as President Paul Kagame of Rwanda unofficially is being perceived by observers of the African condition.
• Comrade Aremu is a member of the National Institute