Bob Majirioghene Etemiku

Since the recent release of the Transparency Index rating on Nigeria, so much potopoto has been flying around. I have watched the Federal government pass buck by maligning the index, saying that it is the way it is because certain individuals are unfavourably disposed to the administration. The government has also said that there is no way in hell that corruption in Nigeria can ever be this rampant as portrayed by the TI rating.

Afterall, the EFCC has been up and doing, other advisory bodies daily churns out paper after paper and generally doing their best to rid Nigeria of corruption, and President Buhari and his famous body language clearly showed that he had zero tolerance for corruption. In 2016, Mr. President attended the London Anti-Corruption Summit and signed Nigeria on to the Open Government Partnership. The administration eventually went on to develop a National Action Plan along four thematic areas of fiscal responsibility, access to information, citizen participation and anti-corruption.  Mr. President strengthened our bilateral relations by signing extradition treaties with key countries wherein our monies are stashed.  Just recently, he was crowned Africa’s Anti-corruption champion by the AU. His aides have been doing their best to carry civil society along in the fight against corruption, and as a matter of fact, the Honourable Minister of Justice & AGF, Abubakar Malami (SAN) participated very actively in the first Global Forum on Asset Recovery in Washington DC where he signed an MOU on behalf of Nigeria with the Swiss government for the return of $321million Abacha loot stashed in Switzerland. 

But there is a but. First, why are politically exposed persons on the other side of the political divide who are facing prosecution for stealing us blind suddenly get their charges dropped as soon as they cross the carpet and appear to kiss Mr. President’s feet? Why does it seem that people in his kitchen cabinet and some in his party are sacred cows, and can therefore graze on anyone’s farm and with impunity and immunity? Why does it seem that in spite of the hard work that Mr. President is putting in to tame corruption, his famous body language presented him as a tribal warlord and social collectivist rather than a strong individual seeking to use the instruments of state as pedestal for cleaning our Augean stable of corruption?  What makes the scenario very depressing is the fact that a coterie of commentators has already begun a comparative analysis of the level of corruption between this administration and the one before it. Some civil society groups have called the Index a wakeup call on Mr. President (and rightly so), while others insists that the only way to go, after the index is a paradigm shift in our approach to the fight against corruption.

Let me first of all address the idea that the Buhari administration is not doing much about corruption. It is. The problem that the administration has is that it is yet to apply the same set of rules to all. Let me be very clear. The index is an indicator and most of it is based on the idea which people have concerning the fair or unfair methodology which the government has adopted in fighting corruption. The very first impression we all had that Mr. Buhari will fight and die fighting corruption was with his handling of the Dasukigate affair. He gave us all hope that no matter how big, rich, powerful and politically connected you are, you will go to jail if you dip your fingers in the public purse.  But certain flip flops began to occur. A member of his kitchen cabinet actually dipped his hands in the public purse, and rather than pursue that individual with the same measure of resolve and alacrity as he did the Dasukigate, he appeared to dilly-dally and was slow in wielding his hammer. That was where the disappointment set in.

But we must all understand something about perception. It is usually based on certain precepts like motion, experience and visual projections. It can easily establish or break down prototypes, stereotypes and archetypes. If the Buhari administration had realized that corruption is corruption and must be taken on no matter the political and social considerations which make it an accessory to the fact, then the perception of corruption under his administration would not be subject to such debate.

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Yet it is to those calling for a paradigm shift in the way we fight corruption that I may align with…eventually. Let me tell you why. Last year I attended one of those anti-corruption meetings held in a five star hotel wherein the successes and failures of the Buhari anti-corruption fight was the theme. I’d studied the documents which the organizers gave to us only to find out that they had spent so much money and time churning out paper after paper, held seminar after seminar and had trained group after group on fighting corruption. In spite of that, it didn’t seem as if corruption was reducing, rather it seemed to be growing in leaps and bounds unfortunately. And therefore, when it was my time to speak, I suggested a paradigm shift in the form of a counter imagery to dislodge the positive idea which corruption enjoys among our people. To do that, I suggested using pictures (movies) and Nollywood. Stupid idea isn’t it? Yes, that’s exactly what everyone thought of me and my idea.

Simply put, the forming of a perception or idea of corruption begins with a context. Attack it now it diminishes in value. Attack it later it grows and sticks. But attack that perception now or later and use other methods if you like. Mine is with the use of images of a didactic nature and theme. Send pictures of that message right though the rung of our society – our cities and villages, our schools and institutions, and our public and private establishments. But how did I get this idea? Years ago in Berlin Germany, I ran into a group of Africans – mostly Tanzanians, Ghanaians, Liberians who bunched up in a room watching a Nigerian home video movie depicting  Nigerians as a people with a penchant for juju, witchcraft and voodoo. You know what? They believed everything they saw on that screen, and even though I struggled to disabuse their minds they held fast to that idea on the screen.

Therefore, I want to suggest again that in addition to the good work that the administration is doing to fight corruption, it must first use a member of its team as scapegoat. If Mr. President will do that, corruption will reduce. Then rather than spending all that money in five star hotels on anti-corruption seminars and trainings, the Federal government should activate the National Orientation Agency.

Let it come up with an orientation strategy of using that example of Mr. President’s resolve to fight corruption on our videos or any other video for that matter to build its anti-corruption profile.

Etemiku writes from Abuja