By Sufuyan Ojeifo
The ‘spoil system’ is part and parcel of Nigeria’s presidential democracy. It is anchored on the quirky winners-take-all principle with the furtherance of the political leadership’s selfish agenda as its primary motivation. Firmly accommodated in this scheme of political and economic patronage are protégés, cronies and apologists. In the process, dispensational nouveaux riches are created through appointments or contract awards.
Successive federal governments had their peculiar records of deliberate empowerment of loyalists through privileged and sometimes, criminal access to public resources. Fingers are always pointed at past military administrations for evolving a culture of unaccountable management of public resources. It is believed that the greatest acts of plundering Nigeria’s commonwealth took place under the military.
Such brazen plunders were traditionally oppressive acts the people could not freely challenge for fear of persecution. Under juntas, the fear of weaponization of decrees was the beginning of wisdom. The totality of the dictatorial ambience was a restraining force against popular opposition. But for the advocacies by human rights groups and other civil society organisations, Nigerians would have been subjugated by absolutism.
But, whereas, in military set-ups, dissent or criticism are muffled, significantly, in democratic dispensations, the people interrogate and hold governments accountable in the execution of the social contract. Although, this is not an antidote to corruption, democracy provides the liberty for citizens’ active engagement with government on governance issues, especially the management of public finance.
Political leaderships in whom legitimate authority is vested superintend, by the force of their characters, over the system. As benefactors, they mollycoddle their beneficiaries in sheer prebendal politics that encourages the creation of avenues to empower supporters and lackeys. Followers service their loyalty to the leaderships. The first victim of such predisposition is the people’s commonwealth that is plundered. The second is the reputation of the government in power, typically in democratic governments. It does not matter the influence of cabals running governments within the government, the President is vicariously liable since the bucks stop with him.
The President takes responsibility. It is to that extent that the Second Republic was rightly referred to as the Shehu Shagari administration and not the administration of the influential Minister of Transport and Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on Rice Importation, Alhaji Umaru Dikko, who became a fugitive from the “law” when the Buhari regime struck in a coup.
Olusegun Obasanjo was wiser after his timid first time in office as a military Head of State, in the shadow of northern oligarchs represented by his powerful second in command, Major General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua. As president from 1999 to 2007, Obasanjo effectively took charge. If there were cabals, they must have existed in the shadow of Obasanjo and could not run rings round him. Certainly, some Obasanjo “boys” were empowered through appointments and government contracts.
The same thing happened under the uncompleted tenure of the late President Umaru Yar’Adua. The cabal(s) in Yar’Adua’s government was(were) also in the shadow of the master until he became terminally incapacitated and died in office. Under the administration of Goodluck Jonathan, cabals of different shapes and shades proliferated in the governance architecture to the extent that virtually every minister was, for instance, tending to the interest of some pseudo-powerful persons in and out of government.
The development supra would later aggravate the allegation of corruption and money laundering against the administration and its officials by the Muhammadu Buhari administration. Whereas, the Economic and Financial Commission (EFCC) is properly in court against many officials of that administration, it is also improperly harassing those who were not in government but were paid for legitimate services rendered with the money allegedly stolen by administration officials, especially for politically-related issues and campaigns.
Buhari had, from the outset, indicated the anti-corruption trajectory he wanted to chart. It was clear he was going to provide an exemplar in financially-prudent and honest leadership to administration officials and Nigerians. Those appointed had his persona to emulate. Even if they were not going to emulate the president’s austere nature, the Buhari effects (integrity and patriotism) should compel them to be disciplined and to sidestep sleazy deals.
Now, what has been evident in the makeup of the Buhari administration is the admixture of men and women of integrity and those with doubtful antecedents. While those with doubtful antecedents pretend to be on the same page with Buhari in his anti-graft war, those with integrity who are incorrigible Buharists continue to live their honest and disciplined conviction seamlessly and effortlessly. Some of them had not previously occupied any public office; yet they have not seen this as an opportunity to get rich quick.
Those are the real Buharists whose whiffs should be escalated in the formation of the new cabinet as the next line of defence to the president. They will help to impart to the parastatals and agencies the anti-corruption spirit. In the quick formation of the new cabinet in his second term, Buhari must therefore look for persons who can courageously and not pretentiously, fly the anti-corruption flag both in the day and in the night; otherwise, the process of cleansing the Augean stables of corruption in government would suffer a setback for another four years.
Importantly, such men that had been in his government are easy to identify through the instrumentality of security reports and other independent mechanisms. As a journalist, I got some unsolicited information from two family friends who executed multi-billion naira contracts in the Buhari administration in the course of a passionate argument on the Buhari administration’s fight against corruption. I had made the point that the fight against corruption was selective and that administration officials are all hypocrites. But they disagreed with me and cited their personal experiences in the processing and receipt of payments for the contracts they executed.
It was interesting to hear from one of them how the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, awarded to him a multi-million naira contract that passed through due process without asking for a percentage cut. The second person said he would have received his payment for a multi-billion naira contract much earlier if not for the former Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, who rendered the process dilatory.
He suggested some implied interest in scaling off 30 percent of the payment, but nobody was courageous enough to raise it with him. The bill consequently suffered administrative delay as it was kept away in a file on some table on the pretext that it was being attended to.
The point the second person made to buttress his claim that integrity has voices in the Buhari administration was that immediately Zainab Shamsuna Ahmed stepped in as Minister of Finance to succeed Adeosun, his bill was promptly treated without any condition for payment of any percentage attached. To him, it was a Nigerian wonder! He said he saw a second leg of the wonder in the office of the Accountant General of the Federation, Ahmed Idris, where no demand was made on him to part with a percentage of the money. He, however, indicted all other desks that the processing of the money travelled through for demanding part of the money as gratification.
To me, the message is quite clear. There is hope for the anti-corruption war to become institutionalized if the President can reappoint and appoint incorrigible Buharists like Abubakar Malami, Zainab Ahmed, Ahmed Idris and identified others countrywide into his cabinet and administration. They will certainly help to galvanize the anti-graft war by renewing public confidence in it towards ownership. This is my pro bono advice.
* Ojeifo, an Abuja-based journalist, contributed this piece via email@example.com