No doubt, President Buhari is fighting a battle of his life. It is not clear if he anticipated the kind of bloody, gritty battle he is facing as he tries to clean the egregiously stained Augean stable of fifth and downright rot he inherited on May 29, 2015. It is doubtful if Buhari anticipated the intensity of the fightback he is facing today as he engages deeply-entrenched shibboleths, knights of the rotten order and perpetrators, beneficiaries, minions and menservants of corruption. It is debatable if Buhari saw the near total coalition of critical institutions like the press, the judiciary, the security forces, even religious bodies and in fact, the Nigerian bureaucracy in the determined fightback to ensure the fangs of corruption are not extricated from the country’s body polity. Buhari has done so well to cap the notorious wellheads of corruption which have been responsible for the growth of corruption in Nigeria for several decades. What remains is to battle the mindset of Nigerians, which have been made to accept corruption as a normal and approved way of life for several decades. It is a hard task, as has been shown by the syndicated efforts to arrest the fight against corruption and frustrate it so as to allow for the luxuriating of corruption.
It is not easily discernable if President Buhari anticipated the conscription of an easily impressionable citizenry in the battle to stop the anti-corruption war. It is not possible that Buahri appreciated the simple-minded Nigerian populace, easily mobilized by whiff of bread and butter to turn against those that want to liberate them. It is simply frustrating and says a lot why the fight against corruption flickered so inanimately before Buhari came.
Let us look at it critically. The world knows that, for the first time, Nigeria is making a huge impression in the war against corruption. The world knows the negative impacts of corruption and the world knows that corruption practically hobbled the Nigerian state, destroyed its future and potentials, guzzled hundreds of trillions of Naira oil wealth and left the citizenry abjectly pauperized, sowed dread and want in a country that is blessed with tremendous resources. The world knows that Buhari inherited an unenviable economy that was tottering on the brink of collapse when Buhari came, with the treasury practically emptied despite a long run of oil windfall, all the sectors in a huge mess, the states bankrupt and couldn’t meet minimum obligations to workers, oil, the mainstay of the economy practically going for free, a deliberate sabotage of the oil sector leading to a freeze of output, and with no investment on regenerative capital of the country. The world knew the comprehensive steps Buhari took to wean government from the grandiose, elephantine structure he inherited and run a lean, Spartan government that leaves no room for the kind of corruption that has wrecked this country.
At every point of the tortuous, Spartan journey he had undertaken for the last two years to steer governance away from the destructive paths of corruption, Buhari has drawn raucous applause from the international community that appreciates the collateral damage corruption has done to the country as well as its ruinous effects in the outside world. So, the world has not failed to serenade President Buhari for not only deciding to fight corruption but adopting several means to cap its rampaging wellheads. Recently, the World Bank released a report that showed Nigeria exited the top ten most corruption nations on earth for the first time since the dawn of democracy in 1999! This is no mean feat in a nation where corruption has so ravaged the deep crevices of the state that it had blossomed into a huge industry before Buhari came.
But the diverse interests that have consistently benefited from corruption have refused to give up and with each onslaught dealt by the regime on the heart of corruption, these interests have become hysterical with multi-layered tactics to arrest the fight, mislead and misinform the populace and anchor the resurgence of their sorry political capital on such sly means.
Yes, corruption was the biggest industry before the coming of Buhari and a providential oil boom that saw hundreds of billions of dollars accrue to the country, supervised a blossoming of this decibel. Politicians and civil servants served as the main vortex of this corruption industry and it was not difficult for the torrid aftermaths to seep down to the civil populace who were not even hooked to the formal sector of the economy.
The huge corruption complex powered a life of opulence, vanity and waste for those who fortunately got hooked to the corruption grid while ensuring a total decapitation of the lives of those that were not so fortunate. Pillaging state resources was legit and punishment for corruption existed as a mockery to the state. Those that cornered and stole state resources became lionized and this triggered a rat race to access state resources and power for the purpose they served in enhancing acceptance in the putrid larger society. A life of profligacy and wanton waste boomed for those that have access to the treasury. On the other hand, the masses suffered, even in the face of tremendous oil boom, infrastructures went decrepit, unemployment soared to uncontrollable level, insecurity thrived and the state was soon overran by a leviathan that threatened even those that stole state resources and used same for their selfish benefits. National savings were stolen with reckless impunity.
Because state funds were freely stolen, the masses had to depend on the morsels that trickled down from the tables of those that looted the treasury. Oil was booming and the petro dollars were flowing in so the trickles sufficed for the poor masses that were content with the beggarly leftovers from the table of the corrupt. Because no standards existed for him to measure his life, the citizens were content with what they culled from the corrupt conduct of statecraft. Meanwhile, all the infrastructures in Nigeria; power, roads, hospitals, etc. went down emphatically in an oil boom! Life was tottering on the Hobbesian fringe but the citizenry had no option than to endure their sordid fate.
And then Buhari came! He came on the roller coaster of fighting corruption and this was the popular mantra the parched and famished citizenry bought and railroaded him to power. For any meaningful fight against corruption to take place, Buhari had to dismantle the ramshackle structures that flowered corruption and this was what he did and then bedlam was let loose. That action revealed that the country practically lived on corruption and its trickle down factors. All the hues and cries one hears against the anti-corruption war are anchored by those who were dislocated by the anti-corruption battle. Two years, Buhari has so fumigated the Nigerian public sector that Nigerians are now reticent to carry out the usual corrupt acts that riddled the system before he came. The treasury is now treated as a sacred coven and no more whimsically raided at will by sundry interests that draw legitimacy from the government and party in power.
Today, those political jobbers, apex leaders, godfathers, stakeholders, freeloaders and all manners of sundry politicians who hitherto had free feel of state resources have been chased away and made to adopt other means of livelihood as living off the state treasury has stopped. Those top civil servants who devised several accounts to channel government revenue to their private pockets have lost those fonts of corruption. Those politicians and civil servants who connive each year to share out yearly ministerial budgets have been thrown out of job. Those legislators whose main brief is colluding with politicians and civil servants to pillage the treasury have been forced to devise other means of making money.
Those civil servants who had hundreds of accounts for the purpose of appropriating the salaries of hundreds of thousands of ghost workers, have been busted and those loopholes plugged. The politicians who take night buses to Abuja and return the next day as multi billionaires, those politicians who loiter around the precincts of Aso Rock and corner multi-billion Naira phantom contracts have been chased away. Those who ran lucrative pimping businesses around the various seats of power have been rendered jobless. Those who salt humongous stolen wealth in several foreign bank accounts have been put on perpetual run as the government tries to track them and their loots. The banks have become better policed and the implementation of dormant policies have ensured that those who revel in stealing from the common barn have little hiding spaces.
With the coming of Buhari, politics has ceased to be a lucrative business and many people who spent fortunes running for offices with the hope of recouping from the public treasury as was the fad before May 2015, have realized they made a bad investment. With Buhari’s war against corruption, those who milk parastatals and rendered them huge liabilities and feeding troughs have been put out of business and hitherto dormant parastatals are returning handsome turnovers to the public coffers. It had been literally a scorched earth regime for those who have anchored their lives on living off the state, as well as for their dependents, hirelings and subalterns. Life of vanity and unnecessary ostentation has been curbed and those who depend on the flow of stolen and illicit cash for their livelihood and that of their businesses have been forced to devise more accountable ways of surviving!
With these scenarios, it is easy to understand why Buhari and his government have been so loathed and despised by those who have known no other life than salting public funds to their coded accounts both within and without Nigeria. With the huge war chest they have stolen from Nigeria, they have found it easy to mobilize the poor masses to rebel against their redemption just by deploying the flawed logic of enjoying more from the fruits of corruption. Like the Israelites of old, the hapless masses have found themselves being enticed with the meat of slavery to oppose the fight against corruption and against a government that is even reticent to spend public funds on legitimate demands of government, it is all too easy to mobilize Nigerians around a stinking mess of corrupt porridge. That is the burden Buhari faces today battling forces of rot; hell bent on frustrating the restoration of a decent and vile-free regime.
The mobilization is extensive and covers all facets of Nigerian life and involves numerous strategies and all are aimed towards arresting the fight against corruption. From the distressed politician that watches in awe as the age-old corrupt practices that thrived the game of politics in Nigeria, wither off, to the elected public official that finds out that he no longer takes liberty with the public purse. From the media practitioner that knows no other means of sustenance than the corrupt patronage he receives from politicians to the clergyman who ministers to the corrupt needs of questionably rich money bags and politicians. From the civil servant who had been forced to depend on his legitimate wage to the businessman whose business is tied to illicit patronage from those that stole public fund. From the layabout who feeds from the corrupt politicians and civil servants to the traders whose hopes of making it is anchored on milking those that stole from the treasury, it is all tales of woes. The bottom line is that corruption was intricately webbed to existence in Nigeria and the task of battling it will naturally exert deep bruises on a sizeable chunk of the population that is linked to it for survival. That is why it had been easy to mobilize Nigerians who are collective victims of corruption to fight against Buhari’s battle to end the pestilence.
But the above scenario only reflects the short term effects of a battle against corruption. The long term benefits trump these temporary deficits and this has been the reason President Buhari has remained defiant in the face of the extensive onslaught being waged against his efforts to stymie corruption. That the nation is, for the first time, investing and building durable infrastructures and regenerative capital even in the face of sparse revenue should serve as a pointer that the fight against corruption bodes only positive impacts on the country. That the present government is even clearing age-old huge debts and humongous liabilities incurred by previous governments during periods of boom should inform Nigerians that only a prudent and corruption-free management of the country’s resources holds the key not only to the growth of the country but the sustenance of policies that would power real growth of the economy and not the bubble of an economy that rests squarely on the sale of oil.
The saving grace that gives hope that the war on graft is winnable is the single-mindedness and determination of Buhari not to give up on the war on corruption. The bright light at the end of the Nigerian tunnel is his refusal to be badgered to surrender to the forces of corruption who have spared nothing to wear him down through various means, including propaganda and misinformation. The end result is the array of positive economic indices that are coming from every reputable body on the country’s economy as well as the global show of confidence in the new Nigerian economy. These can only get better to prove that corruption had been the single most portent ennui holding down the growth of the country and its annihilation, as is being done by the present government, holds the key to real and sustainable growth of the country.
Peter Claver Oparah writes from Ikeja, Lagos. You can reach him at [email protected].