Nigeria should look up to Brazil and South Africa in its anti-graft war
Former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva last Saturday turned himself in to the police whose men immediately whisked him to prison in the southern city of Curitiba, where he will serve his 12-year sentence for corruption. Lula was convicted of trading favours with a construction company in exchange for a beachfront apartment after an investigation and trial spanning several years. Twenty four hours earlier, former South Korean President, Ms Park Geun-Hye was sentenced to 24 years in prison for abuse of power and corruption. On the same day, in South Africa, President Jacob Zuma, who left office in February, was formally ducked on a 16-count charge of corruption, racketeering, fraud and money laundering.
Unfortunately, after three years in office, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in Nigeria has remained frozen in its campaign rhetoric of blaming former President Goodluck Jonathan for everything that is wrong with our country and specifically for ‘looting the treasury’. Yet no charge has been preferred against the former president in any court of law beyond meaningless tales, including by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, who incidentally is a Professor of Law with specialty in the law of evidence. Rather than make corruption a crime to fight, the federal government has turned it into a propaganda tool, an indication that it is yet to come to any meaningful understanding of national problems let alone formulate sensible policies and programmes to tackle them.
The publication by the Information and Culture Minister, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, of a list containing names of some Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) politicians at different stages of trial in various courts (as well as those not in any court) barely a year to the next general elections is not only suspect, it betrays a serious lack of commitment to fighting graft. Meanwhile, the PDP’s response as a party falls squarely into a predictable pattern. It has released an equally speculative list of alleged looters. Taken together, both lists fail as a diversionary tactic.
While we need to address the issue of corruption in our public life, it must be done in a non-partisan and legal manner; just like it is being done in countries where leaders take their people very seriously. As we have seen from the examples of Brazil, South Korea and South Africa, corruption wars should be driven more by institutions rather than personalities while the judiciary remains very critical to sustain such efforts. Therefore, much as Nigerians are eager to see the results of the anti-corruption promise that brought President Muhammadu Buhari to power, the public is not fooled by the act of bandying the same set of names with allegations that are yet to be proven in court.
It is evident from what has transpired in the past three years that the anti-corruption war of the Buhari administration was just a populist gambit that was meant to secure the votes of Nigerians rather than a programme of action. But the drama and media showmanship that Nigerians now witness almost on a daily basis can only worsen corruption in the future.
As we have stated repeatedly, there is hardly any difference between the weakness in dealing with some corrupt elements in his government by President Jonathan and President Buhari’s total inertia in similar circumstances. While that remains a big shame for an administration that was brought to power on the pretext of coming to fight corruption, President Buhari must also remember that he has a responsibility to uphold the constitution. In a society ruled by law, as distinct from some tribal domains ruled by unproven perceptions and assumptions, nobody should be called a ‘looter’ except on conviction by a competent court of law.