Buhari or Not, Corruption Will Not Go Away

In the past months, Nigerians have not only been treated to serialised scandals of the immediate past administration, we have seen so many plot twists that even the staunchest defenders of the past government would think twice before throwing up the cliched defences.

There is a lot about the ongoing Dasukigate scandal to rave about, definitely, but anyone who has been a Nigerian long enough should hardly be surprised at any of the revelations. Never mind the exaggerations one hears in public discourses these days that suggest the scale of the looting that occurred in the immediate past administration was particularly novel.

These days, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo is all over the place telling Nigeria how to order her affairs when the amount of looting that went on under his watch. the power probe being one of the many examples, makes what subsists now seem like just an episode in a nightmare Nigeria cannot wake up from.
Corruption is a Nigerian culture and there are different reasons that can be adduced for its intractability.

One is that corruption in the country is frequently misdiagnosed and therefore poorly treated by successive governments. One good example came from President Muhammadu Buhari himself during the presidential media chat.

When asked about defying court orders on the immediate past National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki, he became testy and retorted: "You can see the type of atrocities that those people committed against soldiers and the country. The former President goes to the Governor of the Central Bank and says, Give N40bn to so, so,  And then he fails to account for it and you allow him to go and see his daughter in London while you have two million people in the IDP camps, half of them don't even know their parents. Which kind of country do you want to run?

This statement has been over-analysed as both evidence of the President's strictness and starvation of an understanding of democratic principles. I shall not go over that anymore. However, the point Buhari made in that statement  judging from the accompanying comments and many bandwagon analyses that followed understandably resonated with a lot of Nigerians. That is because, for the most part, when we talk about corruption in Nigeria, we are fixated on abuse of state resources by officials.

The other part we barely acknowledge is the good that corruption does. In a country like Nigeria where access to capital in whatever form is built around the government, and government itself is rigidly personified in the so- called strong men whose overbearing influence on institutions weakens its structures, citizens do not have choices that one way or the other, does not lead back to government patronage.

In such a context, corruption cannot but thrive. Buhari can talk about two million children in the IDP camps all he likes, there are more millions of children out there whose education is being funded with proceeds of corruption; people who are alive today because someone used stolen money to pay their hospital bills; religious houses built on the foundation of money sourced through corruption; schools and social facilities built with money corruption made possible. In fact, Buhari himself can posture all day about Dasuki using state funds to run an election but until he tells us where the money that was emptied on his own election came from, the much-needed honest conversation on how to tackle corruption has not even begun.

Corruption does some good in Nigeria by helping to redistribute funds that people would have otherwise been unable to access due to the many constraints
built into the system. This is anomalous, no doubt, as it ultimately strangles productivity and innovation in the country. Yet, we cannot but admit that corruption enables us to frequently bypass unworkable systems.

To tackle corruption through arrests and trials without addressing its sociological impact is a waste of efforts. The good corruption can be self- legitimating and that is an aspect that is definitely uneasy for us to talk about because it implicates almost everyone one way or the other, forcing us to revising our otherwise principled stand.

It gets to the point where even our intellectuals pit one corrupt politician against the other and make spurious judgment about overlooking allegations against some in favour of their achievements. Rather than a discussion of corruption developing into a broader framework that can be universally applied, it is particularised and ultimately becomes a clash between who is obviously corrupt and who has managed to cover his tracks better; whose corruption is in service of progressive ideology and whose belongs to the clan of the defeated.

It is important that our anti-corruption effort not only dissembles existing structures but also replaces them with legitimate ones so we do not regress even as we purport to advance.
Two is that the anti-corruption war itself breeds corruption in Nigeria. We can go back in history a bit to the first coming of Buhari where those who were found to have plundered the country were slammed with heavy jail terms. Now, there is a tribe of nostalgic who will absolutely swear that such a
move was healthy for the soul of the country. These days, one senses such a wistful longing among people exasperated with the depth of looting in the
country each time they urge the government to moderate the rule of law in tackling alleged criminals.

They argue that offenders should be grievously punished even if their rights were abridged in the process. The truth is that an overkill in supposed administration of justice and key word is "justice" and not mere vengeance has the counter effect of valorising the very act it intends to extinguish.
The purpose of the law is to restore social equilibrium, not upend it.  When attention is focused on acts of corruption committed by the previous administration, and it becomes an all-consuming affair, then we may be celebrating the power of the looters over us rather than our strength and potential as a people. I am not suggesting a total blackout but their sins need not overshadow the entire society in the guise of pursuing justice.

Corruption is insidious but Nigeria can afford to spend less time talking about corruption and more about where we are headed as a nation. There is a reason retributivist policies cede such authority to a branch of government and then prescribe an amount of punishment that is neither too much so as to lose its social utility or too little to be meaningful.

We need not be consumed with the past when the future holds far more opportunities for us. There is no revelation that has come out so far that did not happen in the previous past, which may not be occurring now and with a strong probability of taking place in our future. So why are we hyperventilating, with people falling over one another to denounce corruption?  The third reason corruption is not about to cease is the habit of turning corruption to show business with the emphasis on the show part. When you become a country where the operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes and Commission grant interviews telling us they are going to be arresting so many people soon, then believe that nothing substantial is happening. This is Nigeria; we have travelled this path too frequently.

The role of prosecuting agencies is not supposed to be that of an entertainer who spectacularises the legal process but a sober one that carries out its investigation, seals its case and heads for court.

When arrests and interrogation are so frequent that it becomes impossible for everyone to keep track;

when figures of stolen funds are overblown but do not tally and no one explains why; when the media keeps supplying stories of who has confessed to what for no fathomable reason considering that the public has no power to prosecute; when we are treated to mundane reports of an accused eating up pieces of paper during interrogation, then we are not fighting corruption. We are only keeping a bored audience distracted.