The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation – Declaration of Santiago in November 2004 aptly said, “Corruption is a serious threat to good governance and deters investment. Therefore, fighting corruption is essential to the development of our economies for the benefit of our people.”
Similarly, “The war against corruption cannot have meaning until those at the helm begin to live by example,” Late President Yar’Adua’s spokesman told reporters, while distributing copies of Yar’Adua’s assets declaration form dated May 28, 2007, which was foreign to public officials in Nigeria.
Indubitably, corruption, a perennial problem in Nigeria, has hobbled and stunted the country’s economic and social development with no end in sight. Sadly, it has been a vermin in all sectors of Nigeria’s socio-economic environment and its upsurge among the political elite is quite troubling as the policymakers huddle to come up with policies for economic growth. It is a seeming enigma that stymies the arc of probity while paralyzing all efforts to make public officials accountable. As a consequence, culture of corruption is stubbornly intertwined with popular culture; the acceptance of the phenomenon has allowed corruption to be the norm. This unfortunate view of corruption in Nigeria is buttressed by the 2012 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices submitted to the United States Congress on April 19, 2013 by the former Secretary of State, Secretary John Kerry. The report characterized corruption in Nigerian government as “massive, widespread, and pervasive” affecting all facets of the government as the laws and their applications to fight corruption are virtually ineffectual. Referring to the law enforcement and other government officials, the report said, “…officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Massive, widespread, and pervasive corruption affected all levels of government and the security forces.”
The detailed report, which the Nigerian government objected, further implicated the judiciary in its active participation in corruption. Regrettably, the Nigerian judiciary appears to be an accessory to the systemic corruption problem facing the country. The Human Rights Reports said, “There was a widespread perception that judges were easily bribed and that litigants could not rely on the courts to render impartial judgments. Citizens encountered long delays and alleged requests from judicial officials for bribes to expedite cases or obtain favorable rulings.”
The Human Rights Reports, which could be accessed on www.State.gov and www.HumanRights.gov, is in its 36th year of existence also held, “Police corruption remained rampant, particularly at highway checkpoints. Police routinely stopped drivers who did not commit traffic infractions, refusing to allow them to continue until they paid bribes. The Office of the Inspector General of Police attempted to strengthen the Police Monitoring Unit, which was charged with visiting police stations to search officers for signs of accepting bribes; however, the unit remained ineffective and made no arrests by year’s end. Citizens could report incidents of police corruption to the NHRC; however, the NHRC did not act on such complaints during the year, and no other mechanism existed to investigate security force abuse (see section 5).”
Furthermore, on June 10-11, 2013, U.S. Embassy hosted a two-day anti-corruption program in Abuja, where corruption in Nigeria took the center stage. Speaking in the program, Peter Ainsworth, US Justice Department official alarmed that corruption in Nigerian government is still endemic.
Graft in government was one of the main challenges former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan faced. Undoubtedly, President Buhari is still facing the same challenges. President Buhari’s ardent fight against corruption lurks perfectly behind any other success in his economic programs. In other words, the success in fight against corruption would beget success in other economic development programs. Thus, the imperative of winning the war against corruption in the country is now and it is widely agreed to by well-meaning Nigerians because corruption perpetuates inequality, among other ills..
The two introductory quotes and the foregoing commentary underscore the urgent necessity to wipe out systematic corruption in Nigeria. They aptly capture the imperative of continued genuine fight against corruption, particularly in every nook and corner of both public and private sectors. As a result, the Jonathan administration must work diligently to curb corruption that has permeated the fabric of our society.
Interestingly, the first step in fighting corruption is cleansing leaders of corrupt culture and vestiges of corruption. Leaders must lead by example; they should be devoid of corruption and venal tendencies, especially with the realization of the enormous impact of corrupt culture on governance, education, investment, economy, and development programs. The task then becomes how to cleanse public officials of corrupt tendency. Part of the answer is assets declaration.
Well, knowing that corruption in government is a curse that drains country’s institutions and impedes the economic foundation for sustainable economic growth, it is imperative for the public to demand an immediate action without equivocation. Also, we know too well that corruption warps the crux of rule of law; it undermines the people’s aspirations and commitment to building democratic structures and equitable economy. Therefore, assets declaration is a step in curbing corruption in government. When Late President Yar’Adua declared his assets, it was an idea that was alien to public officials in Nigeria, but a bold step to lead by example. Late Yar’Adua used that action to show that he had nothing to hide and would be accountable to Nigerians who had long salivated for such leadership. That public declaration of his family’s assets was truly commendable; the singular act of public declaration of assets inevitably stood to serve as a catalyst that had the potential to begin to restore people’s confidence in Nigeria’s political system. The decision raised the people’s hope at the time that if public officials were compelled to declare their assets, perhaps a great amount of the country’s resources would be efficiently utilized. However, no one is under the illusion that assets declaration alone is an antidote to corruption. All Nigerians must join President Jonathan to ensure that public officials are accountable for the country’s resources. Fighting corruption is not the job of the president alone; it is the collective responsibility of every Nigerian. The next step should be to expunge the immunity provisions in the Nigerian constitution. Governors engage brazenly in corrupt practices because they are protected by the immunity clause in the Section 308 of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria, which states: “(1) Notwithstanding anything to the contrary in this Constitution, but subject to subsection (2) of this section -(a) No civil or criminal proceedings shall be instituted or continued against a person to whom this section applies during his period of office;
(b) A person to whom this section applies shall not be arrested or imprisoned during that period either in pursuance of the process of any court or otherwise; and (c) No process of any court requiring or compelling the appearance of a person to whom this section applies, shall be applied for or issued: Provided that in ascertaining whether any period of limitation has expired for the purposes of any proceedings against a person to whom this section applies, no account shall be taken of his period of office.”
Declaration of assets by public officials and expunging of the immunity clause are veritable actions that could be taken soon to discourage situations where public officials are living cupidity while the masses seethe in penury.