“When the head is rotten, it affects the whole body”
— A popular African proverb
At the inception of President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration in 2011, Nigeria’s first minority president, the man whom much hope had been invested to clean the Aegean Stable shocked the entire nation. It was in the answer he gave to what had seemed to be an innocuous question that had left Nigerian bewildered. Jonathan had been asked why he had not deemed it fit to set a personal example in transparency by declaring his assets. The interviewer sought to know why he had not fulfilled the constitutional obligation. He wanted the President to tell Nigerians when he would submit his assets to public scrutiny as an example to other public officials.
The President’s response hit Nigerians like a thunderbolt. “I don’t give a damn about asset declaration”, he replied. It was shocking. But unknowingly to many Nigerians, the President’s response at the time is predictive of the rot that characterised his government today. It is the reason why corruption has become a raging monster in this administration.
The signs are everywhere.
The first victims of the President’s apathy towards fighting corruption are the anti-corruption agencies. The agencies have all become moribund in the over two years of Jonathan’s administration. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission is dead and buried. Forget its latest muscle flexing. The Independent Corrupt Practices Commission does not exist. The Code of Conduct Bureau exists only in name. The agencies have all been reduced to toothless bulldogs. The EFCC which was once the nemesis of corrupt individuals both in the public and private sectors has not been able to secure any conviction. Looking at the situation critically, It is not a coincidence. if the president of our country who is meant to live by example, who is supposed to be an symbol of transparency does not give a damn; why do Nigerians still expect the agencies to perform their duties? No wonder corruption reigns. It will get worse in 2015 and beyond if this administration continues in power.
As if the inaugural shocker to the nation was not enough, the President lent his name to impunity. In March 2012, the President pardoned his former principal, the former Governor of Bayelsa State, Diepriye Alamieyeseigha, and washed him clean of all corruption charges. Never mind that the former governor had been found guilty and condemned over allegations of corruption as governor. When Nigerians cried foul, the President brushed it off and just carried in his “I don’t give a damn” manner.
Then came the revelations of massive corruption in the oil sector. Billions of funds which were allegedly paid to oil marketers for products not supplied. Nigerians were outraged. Till today, none of the indicted individuals in the sector has been prosecuted. They may never be brought to book because the president does not give a damn. In the years gone by, at least before the inception of this government, the fear of the EFCC was the beginning of wisdom. The agency did not only prosecute public officials, it also made life uncomfortable for big time fraudsters or 419ners. The eagle eyes of the agencies also visited the private sector. It forced corporate players to imbibe accountability. For example, many high ranking bank executives were brought to trial. Alas, those are forgotten years. In President Jonathan era, the agencies have all gone to sleep. They are not even hibernating. They have all shut down. Now all pending cases of corrupt officials die a natural death because our president does not give a damn. A while ago, the EFCC kicked up some dust in the failed Lagos-Ibadan Expressway contract breach. But it was all a ruse. I did predict then on this page that the agency was chasing shadows. It will not be an exercise in hyperbole that the legacy the Jonathan administration may yet bequeath to Nigeria is corruption. How does one explain, for example, the impunity currently going in the Niger Delta where the country is losing billions to oil thieves unchecked? What is responsible for the rise in oil theft in Jonathan administration? Is it not too much of a coincidence that oil theft has risen at a time a Niger Deltan is the president? In the infamous interview Jonathan had with Christine Amanpour early in the year, he blamed the international community for the crime of oil theft. Haba! Mr President! What really has the international community got to do with oil theft in the backwaters of Niger Delta? How about billions spent on the protection of the pipelines? How come oil theft increased when ex-militants have been contracted to protect the vast oil fields of the delta? These are questions that beg for answers.
It fits conveniently into the failure of this government to fight corruption. It will increase in the coming years. Now the entire fabric of this government is corrupt. Every organ of government is left to its on device. The executive is bloated. Our legislators are said to be the highest paid in the world. The respected Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili recently revealed that one trillion had been spent on our National Assembly in eight years. It’s all part of the vicious circle of corruption. No wonder the relationship between the executive and lawmakers is cosy. Everybody is “chopping the national cake’’. No wonder also that the National Assembly is always too quick to acquiesce. The judiciary is also not left out. Judges are being sacked for perverting the course of justice. It does not matter. Our president does not give a damn. Not surprising, this administration’s romance with corruption has caught the attention of international observers. The anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International in its corruption perception index 2012 rated Nigeria as the 35th most corrupt countries in the world. Nigerians thought we were doing much worse.
In the report, Nigeria was 139th out of the 176 countries surveyed. The 2013 Global Survey by the same agency stated that 84 per cent of Nigerians surveyed by TI believed that corruption had increased in the past two years, a higher percentage than almost any other country in the world. Troublingly, 75% of those surveyed also — said the government was, at best, ineffective at fighting corruption. TI says Nigeria is heavily dependent on the oil industry, yet the government refuses to act on accusations that the oil companies are underreporting the value of the resources they extract and the billions of dollars tax they owe. The report adds that “certain transparency groups also blamed politicians for encouraging corruption.
The United States is also worried. The American Ambassador to Nigeria, Terence McCulley, stated this in an editorial published on the U.S. embassy website. McCulley called on President Jonathan to show more sincerity in the fight against corruption; pointing out that corruption causes economic hardship and helps spread violence and other forms of violent criminality. Hear him: “Corruption in Nigeria diverts financial resources from building roads, hospitals, schools, and otherwise investing in infrastructure that would serve businesses, attract foreign investment, and create jobs. Ultimately, corruption serves to promote criminal and extremist activity by creating barriers to legitimate economic endeavours.”
Unfortunately, our President does not give a damn.