By Idang Alibi
As a person, I hate corruption utterly and wish that it should be rooted out completely from our society because of the harm it has done and is continuing to do to our country. But as a humble citizen with good conscience and one out for the institution of fairness, justice and honesty as pillars of public conduct so that faith in the system can be maintained, I hate, even more passionately, previous wars ‘waged’ and the current one said to being ‘waged’ against corruption.
I do not think we need a ‘war’ against corruption. Rather, what we urgently require is a mechanism, a process that is politically blind, impartial, impersonal, fair and honest to deal with that social malaise. This process must in turn be driven by men and women of conscience who are unbribeable, unbendable and unusable; persons who hate politics and the ways of politicians utterly and who are only consumed by the passion to restore the moral tone of the nation.
As a commentator and participant-observer of the Nigerian system for the past 31 years, I have come to hate the so-called anti-corruption war because I have come to realize that this war is insincere, ill-motivated, hypocritical, vindictive, half-hearted, selective, distractive, wasteful, persecutorial and ultimately, unproductive. That is why the war is not being won and we stand no chance of ever winning it so long as we fight it in the way and manner we have been engaged in it. Please mark my word: I do not hate any fight against corruption. I only hate the way some of our governments have been ‘fighting’ it.
From my sincere and honest observation over the years, I can report that the so called war against corruption has been more or less a skirmish among disagreeing political elite than the wielding of a spear or the discharge of a bazooka against corruption. The ‘war’ seems comical in parts. It is a circus show, a huge charade staged by political magicians meant to entertain and deceive a gullible audience that there is some serious motion against corruption when in fact there is no real movement in that direction. This explains why each successive deceiving government finds it necessary to declare and launch its own war against corruption. Each takes his own targeted war captive(s), retreats after that is done and nothing is again heard about the war until another deceiver comes to the throne.
The whole process of bringing some men to ‘face justice’ is a gimmick meant to embarrass, harass, intimidate and ultimately humiliate a person or persons that has or have incurred the wrath of current wielders of power. It is never in the public interest at all as it is never intended to deter others or to give a just recompense to wrong doers. In fact, the whole show ends up making a hero out of some persons who deserved rightly to be properly prosecuted and convicted to show public anger against the acts they are accused of.
And I feel that the use of the law to persecute certain citizens, no matter what offence they may have committed, is in itself a grievous form of corruption, more abominable than the alleged acts of corruption such persons may have committed. Corruption, it must be pointed out, is not only the stealing of public funds. Misuse of the law is also a form of corruption and as far as I am concerned is as objectionable, if not more so, than the stealing or looting of public funds.
Let me cite only three examples to justify my hatred of the anti-corruption war as we prosecute it here in Nigeria. The anti-corruption war of modern Nigeria, as distinct from that of the Murtala government which was genuine but misguided, can be said to have been started by, of all persons, General Ibrahim Babangida. And the one and only victim of Babaginda’s war was, of all persons, Prof Tam David West who is without doubt one of the cleanest Nigerians alive or dead. We all knew that at one point, David West was making some noises which IBB did not like and in order to shut him up, every of David West’s cupboard in the world was searched in order to find some ugly skeleton. A certain oil vessel which no one heard of before called M.T. Tuma was made very famous by the Babangida government in the vain effort to sink the reputation of David West in order to more easily hang him. A scandal was made out of that vessel that was sold during David
West’s tenure as Petroleum minister. It was clear that West committed no wrong.
But he must be convicted at all cost in order to silence him. And as one thinker has observed, where there is a will to convict, evidence can always be found. And so enormous state resources, both human and material, had to be deployed in this vile, malicious pursuit to capture, dead or alive, Babangida’s public enemy number one called David West. No effort was spared in the war effort to nail the ‘corrupt’ David West. Good money that would have tarred a road or provided a borehole for some community somewhere, was thrown into the bad war to capture and jail David West in the name of ‘fighting’ corruption. In the end, he was convicted of corruptly receiving a wrist-watch gift in Vienna, Austria worth N5, 000 at the time! West was sent to do time in a harsh Gashua prison and that also ended Babangida’s anti-corruption war! He had gotten his intended captive.
Under Obasanjo there was no doubt that Nuhu Ribadu, who is among very few notable Nigerians to have succeeded in conquering their greed, was genuinely out to fight corruption. But what happened? Along the line, politically wise Nigerians noticed that the only ‘corrupt’ persons that were being caught also happened to be the political enemies of Obasanjo. Many Nigerians with conscience could not live with this very curious coincidence and rose up stoutly to condemn Obasanjo’s anti-corruption war. Were it not for the transparently obvious integrity of Nuhu Ribadu himself, the only genuine attempt to fight corruption by a modern Nigerian government would have been completely dismissed as political vendetta through and through.
The most notable victim of Obasanjo’s own anti-corruption war was former VP Atiku Abubakar whose real sin was that back in 2003 Atiku dared to want to run for the PDP primaries against Obasanjo. This, to Obasanjo, was a cardinal sin of disloyalty. If Atiku did not have money, men and power to fight back, he would have unconstitutionally been removed as VP and may have been jailed also for corruption! I have pointed out in a previous piece that the only victim of Yar’Adua’s version of the anti-corruption war was Mallam Nasir el-Rufia and his sin was being preferred by someone else as a better presidential material than Yar’Adua.
Those who say that we should not question the motive for bringing certain ‘corrupt’ public officials to trial but should rejoice that corrupt people are being dealt with whether fairly or unjustly, are themselves not being honest brokers of public discourse. They are speaking corruptly. I must confess that I used to hold such opinion before that it does not matter what motivation brings certain corrupt persons to face the law provided they are just grounds for doing so. But I have since become wiser because I have realized that justice should not only be done, it should manifestly be seen to have been done fairly, justly and honestly. We should not allow unfair, unjust and dishonest men and women with dark hearts and dark motives to hoodwink us into applauding them. That will be corruption. And the son of Alibi will not be a part of that national hoodwinking.