As David West observed, shame is an important human emotion that enables normal human beings “to recoil from evil and bad behaviour, and so tread the path of rectitude and honour.” Shamelessness immunises one psychologically from the pain of evil conduct: the mental disposition allows so-called eminent Nigerians to “wine and dine” with former dictators who almost ran the country aground.
The obnoxious practice of running Nigeria down instead of running her with patriotism, selflessness, creative vision and imagination is not the exclusive preserve of soldiers, for even in civilian dispensations the evil still rears its ugly head with more devastating consequences.
Shehu Shagari’s corruption-infested government is a case in point. Because it ended thirty years ago, details concerning how politicians of that period squandered the country’s resources have faded in the consciousness of our people.
The civilian administrations that came later have blown Shagari administration’s record on corruption and incompetence to smithereens. Consider, for example, the “second coming” of Olusegun Obasanjo as civilian President from 1999 to 2007
. Despite the modest achievements of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in prosecuting few high profile corrupt public officials and advance fee fraudsters, Obasanjo’s regime failed to reduce corruption to a manageable level.
Corruption was so rampant in the three arms and tiers of government that Transparency International ranked Nigeria one of the most corrupt nations in the world. In addition to the financial rascality of Mr. President, his ministers and state governors, the legislative houses at both the federal and state levels became the Mecca of corruption, frivolity and debauchery.
In fact, “lawmakers” collected (and still collect) millions of naira monthly for doing almost nothing. The judiciary did not escape decay in the system; judges and magistrates dispensed inverted justice on a cash and carry basis.
The ugly trend continued when late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua succeeded Obasanjo. It is very possible that Yar’Adua was a sincere, somewhat ascetic personality who actually wanted to make a positive difference in people’s perception of governance. For instance, his concept of “servant leader” resonated with a broad section of Nigerians, and was hailed as the beginning of a new chapter in our quest for rapid and sustainable development. Unfortunately, the late President could not muster enough gravitas and what the philosopher, G.W.F. Hegel, called “cool passion” to clean up the deadly sludge of corruption in government.
Additionally, the late President was battling with health problems that compromised his ability to perform optimally. Thus, when he finally died in May 2010, Yar’Adua did not leave any tangible legacy for his successor, Goodluck Jonathan, to build upon. Jonathan’s meteoric rise from an obscure lecturer to the pinnacle of political power and wealth is the kind of stuff from which blockbuster stories are crafted.
On the other hand, it is possible, as the President ruefully remarked sometime ago, that he is the most criticised leader in Nigerian history. Several reasons could account for that, such as increase in the number of Nigerians willing to engage with the leadership, greater freedom and outlet for dissent, and tremendous improvement in mass communication.
However, the most important reason why President Jonathan has been criticised so severely is probably because of his mediocre performance vis-a-vis the tremendous goodwill he enjoyed on assumption of office about three years ago.
In my view Ibrahim Babangida is the worst leader the country ever had. But because he democratised corruption nationwide across geopolitical and religious boundaries, those who benefitted from his carcinogenous leadership lack the moral authority to criticise him openly.
That said, it is difficult to exaggerate the gaping failures of the present dispensation at all levels, because Nigerians have been battling the same problems since 1979 – in fact in many areas things have become much worse. Take the case of corruption, the most formidable obstacle in our quest for national development.
Anybody who claims, as Mr. President’s subalterns are wont to do, that the level of corruption has decreased since President Jonathan assumed office is either a liar, a fool or is actually part of the rot in the system. In fact, the way things are, it is as if we are back to the terrible corruption-infested years of Babangida and Sani Abacha, when looting in millions of dollars and pounds was the hobby of top government officials.
The truth is bittersweet, but we have to face it squarely in order to correct our mistakes and forge ahead. Definitely, Goodluck Jonathan has a moral duty to fight corruption with all the weapons available to him as President and Commander-in-Chief. Yet, from his actual pronouncements and conduct, he is not interested in doing that because it will expose him, his political godfathers and benefactors.
Nothing demonstrates Jonathan’s cynical attitude to fighting corruption than the ill advised presidential pardon granted his former boss, Diepriye Alameyeseigha. That singular act, irrespective of the sugary insipidities of Reuben Abati and others who tried to explain away Jonathan’s terrible error of judgment, portrays him as an unserious leader willing to compromise national interest and morality for selfish political advantage.
But Jonathan is just an individual, and despite the enormous powers conferred on him by the 1999 Constitution, he cannot achieve anything without the active cooperation of other Nigerians in charge of different institutions of state.
In that regard, it is unfortunate that the crowd of visionless agbata ekee politicians in the National Assembly now still behave as if Nigeria and corruption are Siamese twins. The idea that Nigerians are inherently corrupt is false, ridiculous and betrays lack of knowledge concerning the profound influence of environment (in the broadest sense) on human behaviour.
The late novelist, Chinua Achebe, correctly observed that “Nigerians are corrupt because the system in which they live today makes corruption easy and profitable; they will cease to be corrupt when corruption is made difficult and inconvenient.”
The question now is, has President Jonathan made corruption more difficult and inconvenient since he assumed office? My candid answer is, no. In fact, a significant percentage of Nigerians strongly believe that is easier now than at any other time in our history for the rich and powerful to dream up, incubate, nurture and perpetrate corruption.
The vast human and material resources in Nigeria provide solid foundation on which visionary leaders conscious of their historical destiny can construct a truly great nation. Specifically, billions of dollars generated from crude oil exportation since its discovery in commercial quantities at Oloibiri in 1958, not to talk of other sources of revenue, would have been enough to propel Nigeria into the orbit of industrialised countries and transformed the lives of the downtrodden.