Priye S. TorulaghaMonday, March 23, 2015
[email protected]
Boston, Massachusetts, USA




ndeed, Corruption has cost Nigeria dearly. Otherwise, the country would have been comparable to South Korea, China and India, in terms of technological and economic development and modernization. The reason is that the country is endowed with natural resources and a vibrant manpower. Nigerians are very industrious and highly motivated. However, despite these noble qualities, the country has not been able to rise up and contribute to the development and advancement of the world's economy. The inability is due to massive corruption that has eaten so deeply into the fabric of Nigerian society. In particular, the embezzlement or the pilfering of public funds by former and current public officials is dragging the country down. In Nigeria, it is no longer unusual for certain individuals to embezzle billions of dollars. Some individuals earn multimillion dollars annually through oil blocks without doing anything. A large proportion of the rich in the country are former public officials. This means that they embezzled public funds massively to accumulate wealth.

The evidence that corruption is dragging the country down is easily perceivable. For example, Nigeria is still unable to manufacture its own arms, after more than fifty years of operating as an independent state. This is why it had to scramble to buy arms from South Africa and other parts of the world to fight Boko Haram. It continues to rely on foreign military technical experts to teach or train its own military personnel. The Nigerian military fumbled for almost two years before being able to mobilize itself for war against the organization. Even that came after Niger, Chad and Cameroon decided to act proactively to contain the group that has been spreading its tentacles like cancer. Despite a burgeoning population, the country has not been able to industrialize and create employment in a manner that is capable of hiring millions of people with livable wages. As a result, the unemployment rate is very high. Despite an increasing population, the health care system is woefully inadequate to provide a decent health management system to the population. The country still struggles with providing basic electrical energy to the citizens. Nigeria is a tale of two countries: one for the super-rich who embezzled massively and the other is for the helpless citizens who have been pauperized by the pilfering super-rich.

The massive corruption has forced many talented Nigerians to go abroad to seek employment or create business ventures. It has also forced a highly educated and professionalized group of individuals to remain overseas as refugees because they do not want to be caught in the cobweb of corruption that is so pervasive. Indeed, corruption is a threat to the national security of the country.

Due to the national security implications of corruption, it is of utmost importance for those who want to rule Nigeria to devise a plan to aggressively contain the psychosocial virus in the country. This is why the March 28, 2015 presidential election is very important. Fighting corruption should be a major goal or agenda of the two major presidential candidates, namely, President Goodluck Jonathan of the Peoples' Democratic Party (PDP) and Maj. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (rtd.) of the All Progressive Congress (APC). The reason is that apart from the national security threat, corruption is causing enormous poverty, suffering and desperation in the midst of plenty and Nigerians are tired of being held back while a selected few feast uncontrollably on the national wealth. Therefore, they want the monster to be tamed so that the country can grow and become prosperous.

Due to the importance of fighting corruption, the two major presidential candidates have spoken and made promises about dealing with the matter. However, Maj. Gen. Buhari is most noted for standing firm and planning to declare war on corruption as one of his cardinal goals for wanting to be the next president of Nigeria. President Jonathan spoke about fighting corruption but not with the zeal displayed by Maj. Gen. Buhari. In fact, it could be said that Gen. Buhari and the sudden rise of the All Progressive Congress (APC) party could be attributed to his promise to wipe out the Boko Haram and corruption.

In the minds of many Nigerians, Gen. Buhari is the no-nonsense candidate who is most likely to fight corruption mercilessly and possibly send those found guilty of embezzlement to prison. Thus, his popularity and the potential for winning the March 28, 2015 presidential election are directly tied to his willingness to deal with the tumor that has turned Nigeria into a patient with a dilapidating disease that needs serious medical intervention to eradicate the problem. Many Nigerians believe that Gen. Buhari is the person who would be able to act decisively to put a death-nail on corruption, particularly the embezzlement of public funds. They do so, based on his past record as a no-nonsense military officer who declared War Against Indiscipline ((WAI) after overthrowing the democratically elected government of Alhaji Shehu Shagari. As a general and a military head of state, Gen. Buhari and his associate, Brig. Gen. Tunde Idiagbon, introduced draconian measures to change Nigeria. Even though some of the measures were harsh, a sizable number of Nigerians respected and appreciated his frankness and decisiveness to deal with pressing matters.


Although Maj. Gen Buhari has vowed to fight corruption uncompromisingly while President Jonathan has not put teeth into his promise to fight corruption, nevertheless, it is argued here that President Jonathan has a better chance of setting in motion policies, procedures and actions that could lead to the reduction of corruption than Maj. Gen. Buhari if he were to prevail in the coming election. The following provides the reasons why President Jonathan is likely to be more effective in setting in motion actions that can lead to the reduction of corruption than Gen. Buhari:

  1. The difference between a military regime and a democratic political system is like the difference between night and day. The military operates in a linear top-down approach where those at the top give the orders and those at the bottom carry out the orders without asking questions. The military operates as a closed system and does not tolerate opposition. The military enacts laws through decrees that are not subject to debate or legal annulment. In a military regime, as soon as the military leader or commander issues an order as a policy statement, the underlings are obligated to carry out the order without debating the efficacy of doing so. Therefore, it is much easier for a military head of state to accomplish any goal at the shortest time possible than a civilian head of state in a democratic political system. Gen. Buhari, as a military head of state, was able to move very swiftly to accomplish goals he enunciated.

    On the other hand, in a democratic system, power is divided and or separated. There are presidential, congressional/legislative and judicial powers. The president can only officially exercise those powers given to him through the Constitution of Nigeria. He cannot draft a bill and pass it by himself to make a law. It is the responsibility of the National Assembly to pass laws. The members of the National Assembly do not have to take orders from the president. Even the House of Representatives and the Senate can disagree on a given legislative item, at any given time. Likewise, even the members of the president's political party can disagree with the president on any national policy issue. Therefore, in a democratic political system, the president is forced to negotiate and make deals in order to carry out any of his or her political agenda. The president cannot impose his or her will on the political parties, National Assembly, governors, traditional political leaders and the citizens. The citizens have a constitutional right to take legal actions to address their grievances, even against the president.

  2. A democratic political system, especially in a country like Nigeria, requires extensive interpersonal communication network in order to persuade and convince the populace. It requires patience, humility and the ability to make deals across the board. It requires building consensus in order to get anything done. It requires negotiating and making deals with members of the National Assembly, regional and state political leaders, as well as traditional Nigerian political leaders. The process is very cumbersome and nerve-cracking.

  3. A democratic political system is an open system that is based on the rule of law. The rule of law implies that no citizen's rights can be trampled upon without giving the individual the right to defend himself or herself in a properly constituted court of law. The rule of law also means that political leaders cannot take actions without justifiable legal basis.

  4. Most importantly, the rule of law is embedded in the moral principle of the golden rule. The golden rule says that do unto others as you might wish others do unto you. Similarly, to ensure fairness, the rule of law is ethically driven. Consequently, to enforce the law against others, the person enforcing the law must make sure that he or she is not in violation of the law while trying to enforce the law against someone else. In the case of Nigeria, in order to fight corruption, the person trying to enforce the law must also not be tainted by corruption in any form or shape. This means that whoever prevails in the coming presidential election, whether it is Gen. Buhari or President Jonathan, can only begin to fight corruption after clearing himself legally of any questionable circumstance dealing with integrity, public funds and abuse of power. Both candidates might have problems satisfying the ethical requirement of the law.

    Having noted the differences between a military regime and a democratic political system, it might be enlightening to examine the circumstances of the two presidential candidates.

Maj. General Muhammadu Buhari

  1. It seems that the factors that catapulted Gen. Buhari to become a competitive presidential candidate are also likely to weaken his ability to fight corruption if he becomes the president. The reason is that by putting so much emphasis on fighting corruption, he sets a high moral tone that could lead to his failure. As an individual who had been part of the governmental system for over three decades, it is a political risk to set a high moral tone on fighting corruption because he could be ensnared by the slightest evidence of corruption during his various associations with governance in Nigeria. In Nigeria, it is strategically more advantageous for someone who had never been entangled with governance to set a high moral tone on fighting corruption. In other words, only an individual who cannot be accused of any form of corruption or questionable circumstance should be able to declare authoritatively about his or her intention to fight corruption. It is quite possible that Gen. Buhari might have some skeletons in his cupboard that could create political problems for him if he becomes the president.

  2. In a typical military style, Gen. Buhari declared without any reservation his intention to fight corruption. Such declaration makes a lot of strategic sense in a military environment but in a democratic political situation, it is a very risky move. The reason is that if he wins the presidential election, the entire Nigerian population, the global media and political leaders of other countries in the world would hold him to the promise he made about fighting corruption. Having made such a declarative statement, he could be politically boxed in a manner where his entire presidency is defined and assessed based on his fighting corruption. If any doubt or suspicion in his background is detected, his credibility would be in serious jeopardy.

  3. Due to the tone in which he declared his intention to fight corruption, he has actually declared a war. This means that powerful elements in society who have embezzled or alleged to have embezzled public funds, are likely to mobilize to fight him in order to frustrate his anticorruption effort. There is a high probability that his opponents would mobilize their resources, including funds, lawyers, political connections, computer experts, accountants, sympathetic investigative journalists and spies to investigate and gather evidence against him. They would leave no stone unturned in an effort to find out whether Gen. Buhari, as a former senior military officer, head of state, Commissioner of Petroleum and the boss of the Petroleum Trust Fund, committed or engaged either by himself or in association with others, directly or indirectly, any act of embezzlement or misappropriation of public funds. Already, Chief Edwin K. Clark has begun to peel away the general's image of incorruptibility when he stated that President Shehu Shagari administration was investigating a scandal involving $2.8 billion when Gen. Buhari launched the military coup that stopped the completion of the investigation of the missing funds. Sooner or later, other Nigerians with critical information might appear to tell the whole world what they know about the general, during various stages of his involvement with governance in Nigeria.

  4. Due to the high moral tone he sets for fighting corruption, he would first have to explain to the Nigerian population, any questionable circumstance concerning his background as a former public official, that could be construed as compromising his incorruptible image or integrity. If he does not clear his background voluntarily, then he would find it ethically impossible to force others suspected to have misappropriated public funds to do so. In other words, charity begins at home. Likewise, it is often said that those who live in a glass house should not throw stones. In other words, to enforce the law, it is important that the person enforcing the law has not sin before. Otherwise, in a democracy, those suspected or alleged to have embezzled, could take legal counteraction to force the general to defend himself in the court of law.

  5. Gen. Buhari is caught between a rock and a hard place. The reason is that there is a high probability that some members of the APC leadership, like those of the Peoples' Democratic Party (PDP), had engaged in embezzlement or misappropriation of public funds while serving as public officials. Assuming that this is the case, it would be exceedingly difficult for Gen. Buhari to fight corruption. The reason is that if he tries to do so, he would have to order the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and other investigative government agencies to arrest and prosecute some of those who financed his political campaign for the presidency. If he does so, he would destroy the APC as a major political party in Nigeria.

    Perhaps, to avoid the potential of having to prosecute his own political associates in the APC, as Chief E. K. Clark alleged, the general might tactically have to draw a line and pardon all those who had engaged in various forms of corruption prior to his becoming the president. If he were to do so, he would automatically forfeit the moral authority to wage an anticorruption war. His credibility would also evaporate. The reason is that Nigerians might be prompted to theorize that he decided to pardon the embezzlers so that he can forgive himself for some of his own transgressions in the past. If a pardon were to take place, it would mean that Gen. Buhari is repeating the military tactics of the past. It should be noted that it was the military which instituted an Immunity Clause in the 1999 Constitution, thereby, making it difficult to deal with certain categories of public officials. The Immunity Clause contributed immensely toward the spreading of corruption.

  6. Corruption exists in many forms in Nigeria. One of the ways in which Nigeria is being corrupted is through the granting of oil blocks to a selected group of Nigerians. If Gen. Buhari becomes the president, he might find it exceedingly difficult to abolish the oil block system. The difficulty could be associated with the fact that many individuals who own oil blocks are closer to him than to President Jonathan. Consequently, it would be much easier for President Jonathan to abolish the oil blocks than Gen. Buhari.

President Jonathan

President Jonathan is likely to be more effective in reducing the incidents of corruption than Gen. Buhari for the following reasons:

  1. Since he became president, he has not been able to pay sufficient attention to the feelings of ordinary Nigerians until he started to campaign for reelection in 2014. Due to the sudden political rise of Gen. Buhari, President Jonathan has been made aware of the fact that Nigerians are really concerned about corruption and want something done to eradicate or reduce it. Therefore, if he wins the election, he is likely to pay a closer attention to the issue of reducing corruption.

  2. Having realized that Nigerians feel strongly about the need to take proactive measures against corruption, the president is going to seriously think about his legacy, in the event that he wins the coming election. Currently, many Nigerians believed that his administration is corrupt and promotes corruption. If he wins the coming election, he knows that he will no longer have the opportunity to rule the country. Therefore, he would have no other choice but to make sure that he does not go down in history as one of the most corrupt Nigerian leaders. The fear of going down in history is most likely to persuade him to set in motion policies, programs and actions that might lead to the reduction of corruption.

  3. Throughout his current campaign for reelection, President Jonathan promises but never declared a frontal war against corruption as Gen. Buhari did. This means that the corrupt elements in society would not react to him as if he had declared war on them the way they would do if Gen. Buhari prevails. Therefore, they would not react by mobilizing all their resources to fight back. The calmness might enable the president to work quietly to establish procedures needed to reduce corruption. If he works quietly, some embezzlers might even want to return some of their looted wealth in order to escape harsher punishment in the future. Knowing full well that the president would be willing to work with them instead of trying to embarrass and humiliate them, incrementally, corruption could be reduced. A parallel could be drawn from the Amnesty Program. For example, if late President Musa Yar'Adua had declared a frontal war against the Niger Delta fighters during the oil war, the situation would have worsened because the fighters would have literally destroyed all the oil facilities in order to pay Nigeria back in kind. However, by calmly negotiating and establishing the amnesty program, demobilizing and rehabilitating the fighters, the Niger Delta situation was stabilized, to a large extent, without an unnecessary bloodbath or legal battles. The same logic could be applied to the war on corruption. A frontal attack is likely to end in a more virulent legal counterattack. A legal counterattack would drag the war and consume much of the president's time and effort. On the other hand, a more subtle approach might likely yield a better result. Apparently, of the two candidates, President Jonathan is more likely to adopt a subtle approach in tackling corruption than Gen. Buhari who has already declared a frontal war.

  4. By not declaring a frontal war against corruption, President Jonathan, if reelected, would be able to have a room to maneuver and deal with the situation in a flexible manner. On the other hand, Gen. Buhari, if elected, would not have a room to maneuver because Nigerians would watch every action he takes to see whether he keeps the promise he made during the campaign. In a democracy, it is crucial for a political leader to be flexible in attempting to resolve problems. Consequently, Gen. Buhari might be frustrated when he does not get his way after promising on his honor to fight corruption. On the other hand, President Jonathan might be able to develop alternative means of dealing with corruption without being accused of failing to keep his word.

    In other words, Gen. Buhari has tremendously raised the expectation of Nigerians and the world community about his willingness to fight corruption, so, if fails, the negative emotional reaction against him would be worse than that directed at President Jonathan.

  5. By not being too specific on fighting corruption, President Jonathan frees himself from creating the impression that he is "holier than thou." In other words, the president concedes that he is a human being and is capable of making mistakes like any other human being. On the other hand, Gen. Buhari either knowingly or unknowingly creates the impression of being "holier than thou", as far as corruption is concerned. His enemies would mobilize uncompromisingly to shatter the image in order to demonstrate to the entire world that he is not an angel among humans if he wins the presidential election, come March 28, 2015. In a democracy, a "holier than thou" attitude that might work very well in a military regime can easily become a political albatross. Although, it could help in winning elections but could be problematic in running the state because democracy requires listening, negotiating, making deals and compromising in order to create consensus on policy, direction of government and the distribution of national resources. Democracy in a multiethnic country like Nigeria must be based on the inclusiveness all parts.


Based on this discussion, it is inferable that running a military regime is quite different from running a democratic regime. The discussion also shows that it is strategically unwise to develop a political agenda in an electoral campaign that is too specific in intention. When a campaign is too specifically directed as a goal, it binds the campaigner directly to the promises made without giving the individual a room to maneuver. This then raises the stakes for the individual if he or she wins an election. It should be recalled that when former President George Bush Sr., of the United States, specifically promised not to raise taxes by telling Americans to read his lips, he was held accountable. As a result, as circumstances changed and he decided to raise taxes, the act contributed to his failure to win a second term because American voters felt that he had betrayed his promise.

Apparently, President Jonathan might have a better chance of actually dealing with corruption much better than Gen. Buhari since the searchlight would not be beamed on him by Nigerians and the world community the way it would be beamed on the general since he has put his honor on tackling corruption. To tackle corruption, Gen. Buhari must ensure that there are no skeletons of any kind in his cupboard since he has taken the high moral ground. If he is able to demonstrate convincingly that there are no skeletons in his cupboard, then, as a president, Gen. Buhari would be very popular. However, any perceivable skeleton would damage his reputation and shipwreck his effort to bring change. On the other hand, if President Jonathan wins the election come March 28, 2015, he must focus his energy in reducing corruption and creating programs to assist ordinary Nigerians who have suffered tremendously. If he is able to do so, he would be considered as a transformative leader who consolidated democracy in Nigeria by being humble and willing to listen to concerns of the people. If he fails, then history would be unkind to him for having blown the opportunity to change Nigeria for the better.

Wishing both presidential candidates good luck in their quest to rule Nigeria.