DIALOGUE WITH NIGERIA BY AKIN OSUNTOKUN
“You don’t expect your judges to live in squalor, to operate in squalor and dispense justice in squalor. This is part of the changes that are necessary. We must fight corruption but we must definitely look at the other side of the coin. If you don’t want your judges to be corrupt, you got to pay attention to their welfare. You don’t want them to operate in hazardous conditions,”
-’President-Elect’ Bola Ahmed Tinubu
It was nothing short of audacious of Tinubu to choose, without being prodded, to speak to corruption and judiciary in Nigeria the way he did at Port Harcourt, the other day. Rightly or wrongly, if an opinion poll is conducted on who is the most corrupt public official in Nigeria today, there is all likelihood that Tinubu will carry the day.
If another poll is conducted on who has had the most corrupt influence on the Nigerian judiciary today, the odds are he will similarly rank higher than any other Nigerian. With this personality profile, you can now understand my attribution of audacity to anyone of his specification pontificating on the subject matter of corruption and judiciary in Nigeria.
Implicit in the observation of Tinubu is the shared conviction that the judiciary is rotten and that the reason they are predisposed this way comes down to economic vulnerability. He is of the belief that their remuneration is not commensurate with the gravity of the role assigned to them by the constitution. Since nature abhors vacuum, into the gap that separates remuneration from the magnitude of their role enters corruption. Beyond the judiciary, the thesis of this subversive vulnerability is generalisable across the public service.
Exactly the same argument can for, instance, be made for the Nigerian police and allied security institutions and agencies. This is why Nigerian law and security officers are incriminated in sundry crimes and devastation of the entire security architecture they are sworn to protect and deploy to serve the common good.
In a baffling display of state capture, we were treated to the novelty of the institutional collusion of the police, department of state security, dss and the military with the Nigerian electoral agency, INEC and the ruling political party, All Progressives Congress, APC, to literally steal the 2023 general elections. This was followed with the institutional implication of the judiciary in which the dispossessed is dared to “go to court” where the crime is perfected with the imprimatur of a compromised bench.
If we were to believe the fabled proweress of Tinubu as political godfather and Mr fix it, then his proposition at Port Harcourt was somewhat a Freudian slip. In the prevailing fourth republic, he has been credited with the feat of procuring several governorship seats through the instrumentality of a suborned judiciary. The most conspicuous of which were the Justice Ayo Salami serial interventions.The Times of London* was the most disrespectful in characterising him as “a wealthy kleptocratic ‘godfather’ of politics”.
There is however a utilitarian perspective to his Port Harcourt declaration. First, he is bringing, perhaps, the biggest sociopolitical challenge of Nigeria, corruption, to the front burner as a priority area of his potential presidency. He is doing so, coincidentally, at a time, the Nigerian judiciary is facing the make or mar integrity test of a lifetime; to determine the fate of an alleged mastermind in the institutional subversion of the judiciary.
In the crusade against the Nigeria-wide free fall in corruption, he has the choice of serving the utility of “it takes a thief to catch another thief”. In this imagined transformation of Tinubu from Saul to Paul, he will turn out the opposite of his predecessor who spectacularly turned out a bad cop against his mythical good cop reputation.
Now to the theory. In my estimation, the preeminent theory of corruption in Nigeria, was the one formulated by Professor Peter Ekeh of illustrious memory. He postulated that “Corruption arises directly from the amorality of the civic public(the government) and the legitimation of the need to seize largesse from the civic public in order to benefit the primordial public (Ethnic and kinship affiliations).
He argued that there are two forms of corruption that are associated with the dialectics. The first is embezzlement of funds from the civic public, from the government, to be more specific. The second is the solicitation and acceptance of bribes from individuals seeking services provided by the civic public by those who administer these services”.
“Both carry little moral sanction and may well receive great moral approbation from members of one’s primordial public. But contrariwise, these forms of corruption are completely absent in the primordial public. Strange is the Nigerian who demands bribes from individuals or who engages in embezzlement in the performance of his duties to his primordial public. On the other hand, he may risk serious sanctions from members of his own primordial public if he seeks to extend the honesty and integrity with which he performs his duties in the primordial public to his duties in the civic public by employing universalistic criteria of impartiality”.
Wraith notes that, ‘while the local government authorities, with their civic structure, have ‘a sad record of muddle, corruption and strife’, the ‘ethnic unions are handling sums of money comparable to those of many local authorities; and are spending it constructively and honestly. Wraith rightly emphasises, ‘To put your fingers in the till of the local authority will not unduly burden your conscience, and people may well think you are a smart fellow and envy you your opportunities. To steal the funds of the union would offend the public conscience and ostracise you from society’
Allied to Ekeh is the concept of autochthony, (autochthony is defined as the quality of belonging to or being connected with a certain place or region by virtue of birth or origin inclusive of linguistic and cultural homogeneity) and the sociological notion of state-society discontinuity. It proceeds from the premise that corruption is rooted in state-society discontinuity and there is a positive correlation between this discontinuity and sociopolitical dysfunction.
The more the discontinuity, the more the dysfunction. This is typically the case with post colonial African states and Nigeria is a good illustration of the phenomenon. Nigeria does not organically evolve from a prior Nigerian society; the Nigerian state/nationality is not coterminous with a preceding Nigerian society.
Prior to Nigeria, what we had were Yoruba, urhobo, Igbo, Kanuri, Tiv, Hausa, Fulani societies. Nigeria was solely a creation of British colonialism into which these disparate societies were forcibly incorporated. In the path to Nigerian freedom, the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, drew the contrast that we do not have Nigerians in the same manner as we have Germans, French, English corresponding to Germany, France and England. Arising from this formulation, the policy prescription here is the ‘need for an autochthonous transformation of the state in Africa’
Autochthony is when Nigerian political leaders and intellectuals advocate that ethno linguistic commonalities should constitute the basis for drawing the map of states/regions within Nigeria. It was this logic of autochthonous transformation that informed the recommendation of regional federalism for Nigeria (which resulted in the constitutional birth of Western, Eastern and Northern region at independence in 1960).
Let us now look at the applicability of Ekeh’s theory to the charmed political career of Tinubu.There is nothing to contest in the observation that the Nigerian presidency has become the fountain of corruption in Nigeria. As we learned from the presidency of Muhammadu Buhari, it has played out in the personality cult appropriation of the Nigerian state, and an unprecedented primitive accumulation of resources. Some, with reason, have described the Nigerian presidency as the most powerful (read limitless and unaccountable power) in the world. This resonates with the quip of Lord Acton that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Such tendency towards absolute corruption in Nigeria is reinforced by the resource curse syndrome in which you do not need to work and be productive in order to acquire wealth.”The big idea
behind the ‘resource curse’ is that mineral and fuel abundance in less developed countries (LDCs) tends to generate high levels of corruption, ineffective governance and greater political violence”.
Since the proclamation (in the early 70s) by General Yakubu Gowon, that money was not Nigeria’s problem but how to spend it, corruption had taken a cue and soared like the meteor. The need to ameliorate the destabilising zero sum dimensions of Nigerian politics, has necessitated the adoption of presidential power rotation otherwise known as Turn by Turn Nigeria limited.
Thus the default perception of the Nigerian presidency has become how much public wealth the incumbent can confiscate and acquire for himself, his kith and kin inclusive of ethno regional confederates and nationwide political allies-and do so with impunity. Following Peter Ekeh, this is the oblique inherent errand, Tinubu voters especially the Yoruba faction are sending him to accomplish.
It has been long in coming but this is the new normal in Nigeria.
Who cares if he is El Chapo, Pablo Escober, Donald Trump, Omar Bongo, all rolled into one? Who cares about the usurpation of the zoning principle and the degeneration of Nigeria’s power politics into the cesspit of dogs eat dogs?. As I have iterated, no Yoruba can claim to support Tinubu on the grounds of any fine principle, idealism, altruism or patriotism.
And as if the moral problematic of a Tinubu presidency is not enough, the two frontrunners for the Senate president position are Godswill Akpabio and Orji Uzor Kalu. In a subsisting petition before the economic and financial crimes commission, efcc, it is alleged that “the cumulative aggregate of these monies stolen by Godswill Akpabio from the coffers of government as pocket money is the annual budget of some states in Nigeria put together”.
That of Kalu is more egregious “the trial court found him guilty in December 2019 and was sentenced to 12 years in jail.
But in one of a series of questionable judgements given by the Supreme Court, his jail time was nullified on technical grounds: that the judge who jailed him was ineligible to handle the trial having been elevated to the Court of Appeal’s bench as of the time he concluded the case”.