Which of the following statements, in your opinion, best reflects President Goodluck Jonathan’s “honest-to-God” attitude to corruption? (A) The “I don’t give a damn” outburst provoked by the simple demand that he declare his assets publicly? Or (B) this, from his inauguration speech: “The bane of corruption shall be met by the overwhelming force of our collective determination, to rid our nation of this scourge” and in which he declared anew a war against corruption in order to ensure that “the limited resources of this nation will be used for the growth of our commonwealth?” In answering the above question, did you consider his rejection of the report of the Nuhu Ribadu special task force on petroleum revenue?
I thought as much: Statement A. And, yes, you are both amused and mortified by the latest scene from Jonathan’s absurdist drama entitled My War Against Corruption. A truly funny war it is one that is more metaphor than marching armies. It does not require men of character, of probity and proven moral courage, which is why public assets declaration has no place in it. Only words, spoken by him or written in the reports of countless probe panels, committees and special task forces. In the light of the unfolding drama around the Ribadu report, of Jonathan’s determination to “rubbish” it, as the Punch headline of November 9th aptly put it, I am reminded of the words spoken by Jonathan four months ago, on 1 July 2012, through Reuben Abati, his special adviser on media and publicity. In that despatch from the war front, Abati assured us that the war was being bravely fought and won by his boss. Yet, instead of an account of the mounting casualties, of the many corrupt enemies either socially dead or mortally wounded or in panicked retreat, Abati sought only to dismiss the notion that the commander-in-chief is “soft on corruption.” The allegation of tardiness in the prosecution of the war, said Abati, is “aimed at creating the totally false impression that the Jonathan administration is not doing enough to curb corruption.” For the true picture of the battle-field showing the army of the corrupt in disarray, we must first “be wary of those who seek to heat up the polity by politicizing the issue of corruption in the pursuit of their selfish personal and sectional agenda.”
In other words, if you believe that Jonathan is not doing enough to “curb” — let’s not even speak of combating — corruption, then you are selfish. Pursuing a sectional interest. And heating up the polity (wish we had one to heat up!), as much as or far more, perhaps, than Boko Haram’s bombs and bullets. Abati had gone on to recite Jonathan’s many war victories, among them, his appointment of “a tried and tested corruption investigator to head the EFCC,” his decision not to “swear in a nominee for the chairmanship of the ICPC when questions were raised by the public” (so he gives a damn about the public?) “about the propriety of his nomination and clearance by the Senate,” his referral of the report of the House of Representatives ad-hoc committee on fuel subsidy to the EFCC, the pending review of the report of the Aig-Imoukhuede committee to verify fuel subsidy payments, and his directive that “the report of the technical committee which reviewed the Petroleum Industry Bill be speedily evaluated and appraised by relevant government ministries and presented to the Federal Executive Council for approval before being returned to the National Assembly for speedy promulgation.” Just the way wars are fought, not so?
And so with the war going so well, Jonathan had no qualms rejecting the report of a special task force he constituted through his petroleum minister, the oil goddess Diezani Alison-Madueke, for the principal purpose of determining and verifying upstream and downstream petroleum revenues. This time, it fell to the self-styled “attack lion,” Doyin Okupe, to send the war despatch. Ribadu and his fellow task force members, he says, did a shoddy job. Expectedly, they were hindered by personal and political interests. “It was a job handled badly and only political and personal interests were bandied,” says Okupe, the clumsy diction betraying his intent to mislead. But when did the government discover that Ribadu was not up to the task, given that the sixth term of reference mandated him to “submit monthly reports for ministerial review and further action?”
And how could Ribadu have failed to see this coming? Can he have forgotten so soon how he was butt-kicked out of the EFCC and hounded after his exit? Constrained to go after only those highly placed treasury looters that happened to be “enemies” of former president Obasanjo — who, lest Abati and Okupe forget, declared the first war against corruption, bandied about the phrase “zero tolerance” and swore to know no “sacred cows” — Ribadu had nonetheless managed to arouse hope and qualified optimism that with just enough sincerity the corruption monster might be chained, if not slayed outright.
Now that another president has made a fool of him once again, it should be clear that the greatest error any one can make is to believe a single word of Jonathan’s anti-corruption drivel. “Certainly, nothing has been done or left undone under the President’s watch to justify the labelling of his administration as “soft on corruption,” says Abati. Well, here is one thing that has been left undone, not minding things not done: Jonathan’s public declaration of his assets. If he won’t do this very simple thing to prove his determination by deed and not mere words, thereby striking fear in the hearts of all who bleed the country to death with their thieving, he should spare us the constant aggravation by confessing what the world already knows: that he does not give a damn.
Corruption is eating us alive and we cannot be patient. We cannot settle for the mere hope that “ultimately” the named and yet-to-be-named thieves robbing us to death will be tried and punished under the law. For as John Maynard Keynes famously put it in a different context, ultimately, meaning in the long run, “we are all dead.”