t is generally agreed that corruption is a major problem in Nigeria. It has undoubtedly eaten very deeply into the fabric of Nigerian society to the extent that the country is drowning. This is why a total or a comprehensive rather than a partial war is needed to eradicate the cancerous tumor.
While the importance of fighting a total war is recognizable, Nigerians seem divided about the scale of the war and the target of the war. Perhaps, due to ideological differences, ethnic and regional affiliations and partisanship, some Nigerians want the scourge to be totally eradicated from the socioeconomic and political life of the country. Some Nigerians want the war to target anyone who is suspected to have engaged in any embezzlement of public funds, going back to the 1960s. A segment of the population wants the war to be limited to probing the immediate past administration (Jonathan's administration). Some of those who support the All Progressives Congress (APC) party seem to be most interested in probing public officials who are associated with the Peoples' Democratic Party (PDP) while those Nigerians that are associated with the PDP want the searchlight to be focused on those who are connected to the APC. Some Nigerians want the war to be fought only at the federal level while others want the war extended to the federal, state and local levels.
Even before the war begins in earnest, it seems that President Muhammadu Buhari and the APC which concentrated their presidential campaign agenda by promising change and declaring an uncompromising total war against corruption, have increasingly shifted their views to limit the war only to that of former President Goodluck Jonathan's administration. By so doing, they have tactically and symbolically decided to fight a partial war. This seems to dampen the enthusiasm for the war and create doubt among some Nigerians about the sincerity and capability of the president and the APC to really fight an effective war against corruption. It is in light of the change of focus of the target of the war that has prompted the question ""War on Corruption: Is it a Partial or a Total War?" In other words, when President Buhari, the APC and Nigerians talk about a war against corruption, which war are they referring to? Do they want a total or a partial war?
It is strongly believed here that a war against corruption can only be successfully executed by engaging in a comprehensive or a total war and not through a partial war. The reason is that a partial war cannot lead to victory against corruption just like a partial treatment for cancer cannot lead to the eradication of cancerous cells. It should be noted that even before Dr. Goodluck Jonathan became president of Nigeria, corruption had already led to the disappearance of more than $400 billion from the national coffer. Thus, focusing only on Jonathan's administration implies that President Buhari is willing to sacrifice more than $400 billion while working frantically to recover less than one third of the total sums of money that have been embezzled by individuals. A partial war on corruption is merely a symbolic war intended to create impressions without actually doing anything substantive to solve the corruption issue. A partial war is like an Obasanjo-like kind of war intended to punish enemies and reward friends. Nigeria can no longer tolerate a pretentious war of that sort.
If President Buhari and the APC are seriously and sincerely committed to fighting a war against corruption, they should start by first engaging in an internal house cleaning. To do so, the president should lead the effort by taking the following actions:
- Make a public declaration of his assets in the manner that the late President Umaru Yar'Adua did. He should not wait endlessly for the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) to release his asset declarations publicly. Vice President Yemi Osinbajo too must follow suit and declare his assets publicly, without undue delay.
- The president must hold a press conference and clear the air about allegations concerning the $2.8 billion Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation's (NNPC) funds while he was the Commissioner of Petroleum. It should not be forgotten that former President Shehu Shagari had conducted an investigation and compiled a report about the matter before Gen. Buhari overthrew the administration and stopped further action on the matter.
- He needs to make a declarative statement about his management of the Petroleum Trust Fund since there are rumors and allegations of misconduct circulating around.
- The president needs to clear the air about the allegations of 53 boxes of money that were allegedly flown into Nigeria while he was a military head of state.
- The president needs to ask those high-level APC members who financed his presidential campaign to declare their assets publicly and tell Nigerians how they accumulated the huge funds.
- The president should tell Nigerians that the probing of corruption will be elaborate and would cover national, state and local government levels.
- He should change the target of the probing and make it a comprehensive exercise or a war that covers various regime periods.
These actions are necessary for him and the APC to convince Nigerians and the world that they are truly committed to fighting a war against corruption and not merely engaging in witch-hunting of the opposition. So far, there seems to be more political posturing rather than substantive action. Moreover, the mixed messages emanating from the president and members of the APC tend to create confusion and doubt about the sincerity of the war. The APC leadership keeps talking about probing Dr. Jonathan and PDP officials while remaining mute about probing some members of their party who were also in government as either appointed or elected officials. There is no doubt that the leadership of both political parties have financial questions to answer about pilfering of public funds.
In fact, due to the mixed messages, many Nigerians are increasingly believing that the war is only intended at former President Jonathan and the PDP. This impression probably contributes to the reason why many PDP members are jumping ship and joining the APC, believing that only PDP members are most likely to be investigated for corruption.
Indeed, if President Buhari and the APC are truly committed to fighting a winnable war against corruption, they must carry out a wider investigation and allow evidence to lead them to whoever needs to answer questions. It is very easy to know who has embezzled public funds. The following might help to lead the investigation:
- Any former or current public official who becomes suddenly wealthy should be compelled to explain through evidence how he or she acquired the wealth.
- Any former or current public official who owns gigantic buildings and other expensive properties should be made to explain where they got the loans to build and acquire such properties.
- Any former or current official who owns a private primary or a secondary or a university should be asked to explain where he or she got the funds to build such a school. It is not a secret that most private universities in Nigeria are owned by former public officials. It is also not a secret that public schools suffered and continue to suffer due to the pilfering of public funds by individuals to build private schools.
- Any elected and appointed current or former public official who owns a private airplane should be compelled to answer questions. It is exceedingly difficult for a public official to own a private plane anywhere in the world. Yet, in Nigeria, the trend is actually increasing.
- Any contractor who did not complete a project or did a very poor job should be invited to answer questions about the contract.
- The president should continue to work with foreign governments, international organizations and the International Monetary Fund or World Bank to obtain the list of all Nigerians who have exorbitant foreign bank accounts.
- President Buhari should publicly release the names on the list of suspected corrupt elements that was given to him by the United States. It is important for the public to know the individuals so that pressure could be put on them to return the looted funds.
- The president and the public should put pressure on members of the National Assembly (NA) to drastically reduce their unjustifiable salaries and benefits/perks. Indeed, it is a legalized corruption for elected officials to make so much money at the expense of the Nigerian people.
- The president must work with the National Assembly to abolish the oil blocks given to individuals in the country. The oil block system is a form of corruption designed to transfer public wealth into private wealth, thereby, enabling some individuals to become excessively rich while impoverishing the rest of the population.
- There is a need to find out what happened to the so-called "Persian Gulf War Dividend" which some people estimated at $12bn.
- The Halliburton case must be thoroughly investigated and those allegedly involved should be prosecuted.
It is very obvious that a total war and not a tactical partial war is needed if President Buhari and the APC are truly committed to their campaign promises. However, they cannot carry out the war successfully if they do not clear their house of any suspicion of corruption. This is why it is crucial for the president and the APC leadership to declare their assets publicly.
While the need to fight a war against corruption is strongly supported, nevertheless, the president and the APC must be careful and judicious in prosecuting the war based on the rule of law. The reason is that even though former President Jonathan continues to maintain silence about allegations about his administration, he might also have a list of corrupt elements in the APC that are now screaming for war against him. Similarly, former leaders like Alhaji Shehu Shagari, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida (rtd.), Lt. Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar (rtd.) and Chief/Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo (rtd.) might also have incriminating evidences against some of those who are screaming for war on corruption.
Due to the high probability that the former heads of state also have incriminating evidences about corruption, if President Buhari and the APC do not take a preemptive action to clear any doubt about their financial cleanliness before prosecuting the war, the war against corruption can grind to a sudden halt if an incriminating evidence suddenly appears to indicate that some of those calling for war had pilfered public funds to enrich themselves.
Obviously, the war against corruption can only be fought if those leading the effort are clean. Therefore, the quietness of former Nigerian heads of state listed above and many former public officials should not be taken as a sign of their culpability or weakness because they know so much about who did what in the past forty or more years. If they open their mouth to counter any allegation, the war could crumble very quickly since they have extensive information about President Buhari. They are watching and listening in silence to determine how far President Buhari and the APC would go in supposedly fighting corruption. Consequently, anyone whose hands are not clean should drop out of the war effort to save the war from crumbling.
To really bring change to Nigeria, there is no doubt that the war must be total or comprehensive and not limited to only Jonathan's administration. A partial war could be interpreted as a tactical effort to avoid investigating allegations of corruption against some powerful individuals in the country, especially former military heads of state and generals who served during various military regimes. It could also be interpreted as a tactical move to punish a civilian leader from a less influential part of the country while allowing those from the influential parts of the country to go untouched. Therefore, for purpose of national security of the country, the war must be comprehensive.