President-Elect Buhari

Some Nigerians have begun to wet their pants. And many others have seen their blood pressure rise to dangerous levels. This is so because, for the most part, many do not know what would happen to them the day Mr. Jonathan leaves office and General Muhammadu Buhari takes over.  What Nigerians knows is that beginning May 29, they will witness a new era come to life. They know that the political, social and economic culture of the country will change.

But will GMB really live up to expectation? After several decades of waste, fraud, theft, and excesses, would GMB make a difference? Well, millions of Nigerians think so. And so it is that at home and abroad, they see him as the man able and capable of resetting and advancing Nigeria’s destiny. The expectations are high, and one can only imagine the pressure on the president and vice president-elect.

From all indications, Buhari-Osinbajo is likely to concentrate on four major issues during the first years of their administration: power supply, employment, security, and issues relating to waste and corruption. Of the aforementioned, many Nigerians believe that the government will devote sizeable resources into fighting corruption. This is understandable when one sees and understands the impact corruption has had on the country’s growth and development.

Nonetheless, it must not be blinded – blinded, distracted and obsessed -- in its fight against corruption.  Essentially, therefore, Buhari-Osinbajo must be clever and innovative in their approach towards this disease. After all, we live in a world that demands new ways of thinking, new approaches, and the ability to adapt even in the midst of great crisis.

For several decades, we’ve had crisis of governance and crisis of nationhood. We’ve had crisis of decency and morality. We’ve had so many crises many of us have lost count. We are now at a point where aberrations and abominations have become a central part of our culture and land. This we must reject and denounce and forsake.

Even as we reject, denounce and forsake corruption, we cannot completely eliminate it. There is not a single human society that’s without elements and traces of corruption. None! But we can minimize its occurrence and injurious effects. We can fight it. We can discourage it. We can do the aforementioned through several avenues, i.e. education, awareness and viable institutions. We can make corruption exorbitant and taxing by the types of penalties that are meted out to offenders. There is also social and cultural shaming.

And of course, there is a new approach. I am suggesting a new approach because, quite frankly, Buhari does not want to be bogged down with a forest of corruption and an ocean of malfeasances. He does not want to be a single-narrative or a one-dimensional president. He is gifted. He is talented. He is a visionary. He has a nation to rebuild, to reposition. Given our history, it will take a while before incidences of corruption falls to an acceptable level. For sure, it’s not going to be in four years. But he can stem the rising tide. Stemming the ride of corruption and making it exorbitant would be a victory for him and his administration.

What I am suggesting is akin to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) that was set up by South Africa and numerous other countries such as the Czech Republic, Uganda, Sierra Leone, Chile, Brazil, Canada, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, and Paraguay. Broadly speaking, commissions are set up by countries emerging from civil conflicts, tyranny and repression and unspeakable violence. By going this route, they avoided needless and prolonged periods of misery, pain, and uncertainty.

Furthermore, TRCs allows for a faster and a more orderly rebuilding and a stronger sense of nationhood and belonging. To this end, therefore, the incoming administration should set up a National Commission on Financial and Economic Crimes (NCFEC). Citizens and non-citizens would then be encouraged to go before the commission to confess economic and financial crimes committed between June 1999 and May 2015.

The rules would be simple: If you confessed and returned stolen money and or properties to the government, you will be exempted from prosecution. Absolutely no prosecution! The only penalty would be that confessors would be barred from holding public office for 25 years at the local, state, national and international level. They would also be barred from holding advisory or management positions in, say, banks and other financial institutions.  

In addition to the NCFEC, government should encourage western nations and banks and investment houses to return stolen money that’s in their possession. You may argue that western nations and banks would not cooperate; or that the process of reclaiming such money would be long and cumbersome. Well, this is not necessarily true. Western nations and institutions are likely to cooperate if they detect whiffs of seriousness and honesty of purpose on the part of the new administration.

Appearing before the NCFEC would be strictly voluntary. However, its verdicts would be binding. The process would save us time and money. It would be faster than the snail-speed that our judiciary is known for; and there certainly would be no judicial injunctions against the government. It would be less distracting. It would have no negative effect on our justice system. It would be an open and transparent system. And it would allow the government to concentrate on more important assignments and policies. But those who refuse to appear before the commission would be investigated and prosecuted.

The NCFEC approach is about the only way the in-coming administration can quickly, easily and effectively resolve past corruption accusations. However, this approach does not and should not preclude the government from setting up one or two committees from looking into the affairs of the NNPC, the Central Bank and a few other institutions with real or speculated history of theft, mismanagement and abuse.

The way I envisage it, the entire proceedings can be completed in 3-6 months if, for example, NCFEC-1 sit in Kaduna or Jos and NCFEC-2 sit in Lagos or Ibadan.

In the end, no one and no section of the country would be able to accuse the president of witch-hunt or of being a dictator bent on sending his enemies and critics to jail.

But beginning May 29, 2015 there should be zero-tolerance for corruption, waste and theft. All those caught stealing and or misappropriating public funds should prosecuted, and if found guilty, jailed -- or given the “Chinese Treatment.” From Day One of the new administration, therefore, there should be zero-tolerance for economic and political pervesion and aberrations.

If we have to build more prisons for thieves and political criminals, well then, let’s do the right thing by building more prisons. A related suggestion for the president-elect is that he should work hard not to be seen and remembered as the President who spent his entire presidency fighting corruption and corruption alone.  Oh no! There is a lot to be done.

Besides the obvious, future leaders have to be groomed. Governing institutions have to be rebuilt and strengthened. The economy has to be diversified. Our constitution needs retouching and the issue of federalism has to be addressed. Attention has to be paid to basic human needs. And a robust foreign policy has to be pursued. In essence: govern! Be the leader of the Republic.

 

Sabella Abidde lives in Alabama. He’s on Facebook and can be reached at: [email protected]

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