Our elite and politiciansBy: Dele Agekamehon
Since President Muhammadu Buhari got to office in May last year and declared a fierce war on corruption, it has been revelations galore on a daily basis. We all knew that things were very bad, quite well, but what we probably didn’t know was the degree of rot that had pervaded the system. In truth, from the revelations so far, which, I am sure, is still just a tip of the iceberg, the system reeks of an offensive odour that could make any sane person easily throw up. The figures being reeled out are frightening and the methodology employed by these crooks to fleece the treasury is cheap and unbelievable. Companies are incorporated overnight, bank accounts are opened within the twinkle of an eye and before you can say Jack Robinson, the accounts begin to overflow with huge, mouth-watering cash. The implication is that the system appears too porous and vulnerable to abuse as if there are no safety nets. But safety nets or not, Nigerians are just incredibly criminally intelligent. From the messengers in the ministries to the small, medium and big “ogas at the top”, it is a close-knit web of conspiracy and bare-faced stealing all the way.
It is now clear to Nigerians that the real enemies of the country are the elite. It is the elite who have stolen the country blind that are responsible for our myriad of problems – economic backwardness, lack of infrastructure, appalling health care system, poor educational standard, terrorism, insecurity et al. The reason for this is that the money meant for sustainable development in the country has been embezzled by these smart Alecs. This is not to say that it is everybody up there that is a thief, but the preponderance of our so-called elite is engaged in one shady deal or another. There are those who are involved in the actual stealing, while many more profit from the proceeds of crime and criminality in one way or another.
Now that it seems that there is no more hiding place for these thieves, quite a good number of them are getting increasingly uncomfortable because of the fear of the unknown. That brings us to the recent widely circulated statement credited to one of Nigeria’s former leaders, Olusegun Obasanjo, who was at the helm of affairs as President from 1999 to 2007. The former President recently accused the political class, especially the National Assembly members, of being very corrupt, self-centred and greedy. As usual, his assertion has not gone down well with many people. One of them is Bukola Saraki, the embattled Senate President who is currently enmeshed in a battle for his life at the Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT. Only last Friday, his bid to stave off his trial over certain discrepancies in his assets declaration way back while he was a state governor, was rebuffed by the Supreme Court who ordered him to keep a date with the CCT.
After Obasanjo or Obj’s statement went viral, Saraki quickly replied that “all Nigerian leaders from 1999 were corrupt”. That insinuation means that Obj was also corrupt and that he equally presided over one of the most corrupt governments the nation has ever had. Saraki’s words: “We’ve all been here since 1999 up to the recent past when things were not done right. We are all part of it. I was there, you were there, every other political office holder in different capacities were there as well”. Of course, many Nigerians cannot agree less with Saraki.
In the first instance, from what we all know now, it appears that the lure of public office in Nigeria is not to render anything close to selfless service, but an opportunity to dip one’s fingers into the public till. Perhaps, that is why it is almost impossible to see anybody who has passed through the corridors of power in Nigeria at whatever level and remained poor. If some exist, they may be too infinitesimal to make any difference in a country where people are aggressively desperate to make money even if it means that some other people lose their limbs or lives altogether. Who cares?
After all, those who are involved in the scandalous bazaar now known as armsgate knew quite well that one of the direct consequences of their actions is death and destruction to lives and property in the North-east. But that was not enough to deter them from misappropriating the money meant for procuring arms and ammunition to confront the senseless terrorists and human butchers prowling the North-east. What those people have done is tantamount to committing grievous war crimes which could be visited with death by firing squad. Yet, you still find some people talking about human rights and all that.
Regrettably, the irony of the whole situation is that the human rights that so easily allow these people to steal and create untold hardship in the society, is the first thing they invoke as a defence mechanism when the chips are down. You now have a situation where somebody stole so much and he is manacled and some people are crying to the roofs about presumption of innocence until found guilty. Whereas a common man steals just pepper or some tubers of yam and he is chained hands and feet and dumped in jail. So, that one has no human right? Abi.
It is a good thing that Buhari and his team are desirous to get to the bottom of the rot in this country, but they should know that it is never going to be a tea party. Like the cliché: “When you fight corruption, corruption will certainly fight back,” a statement credited to the Presidency last week indicated that the government had been under severe pressure from some members of the Nigerian elite urging him to take it easy. These people, the statement added, “cut across all tribes and religious differences”. This is not strange at all. It is quite expected. In actual fact, the heat is certainly on and things cannot be the same again.
Nigeria harbours many hypocrites parading as leaders. Tales abound at our police stations especially the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS, and the State Criminal Investigation Department, SCID, formations, of how these same elite, including highly-placed traditional rulers, religious leaders, present and past political office holders and others in that bracket, mount pressure on officers and men of the formations every now and then to let go of hardened criminals in police net. These people shamelessly go to the stations with their regalia and paraphernalia of office to stand bail for armed robbers, murderers, rapists and all such dangerous felons. That is the depth of the rot in the society.
So, ordinarily it is no news that pressure is being mounted on the government to slow down the anti-corruption war. It is because more and more of these so-called elite who are nothing more than common criminals, are daily being dislodged from their comfort zones. The government should continue to appraise its strategy to rid the country of this endemic corruption while also ignoring those interceding on behalf of their thieving friends and relations because this war must be taken to its logical conclusion.
However, my fear is that those who are coming cap-in- hand now to beg for leniency could resort to some sinister plots if all their entreaties fail. In that case, there is need for eternal vigilance. The public too, must help the government to win this war. The bottom line is that Nigerians don’t want all these to end up as circuit shows. They want to see these white-collar thieves in jail. However, what is worrisome is: If Buhari cannot do this conclusively, who else will clean the Augean stables?