- GOVERNANCE, POLITICS, SOCIETY

Nigerians Need Integrity Transplant

President Muhammadu Buhari threw the We­stern press a curveball with the lean ho­lding he declared as his material worth.­ His means was incredibly small; a count­erpoint to the fabulous fortune of the k­lepotcrats that run the rest of Sub-Saha­ra Africa. Washington Post called him “dirt-poor” –in an awed, honorific tribute.

But before Buhari declared the particulars of his relative modesty, he had managed to impoverish himself intangibly. He ­lost a measure of goodwill in the nearly­ 100 days he spent hesitating to do what­ was supposed to be the first thing. Candidate Buhari had promised to champion a­ dawn of transparency by declaring his assets as soon as he resumed office.

While he dithered, he gave the impression that he found the fairly easy act ­of directing his aides to publish an inventory of his belongings too herculean a­ task to accomplish. He appeared to lack­ the threshold of will and energy he needed to utter the instruction. And this gave rise to questions and conjectures.

What could our Obama-certified man of integrity be hiding? Why is Buhari reluctant to prove his Spartan sainthood? Isn’t­ he held back by the fear that if he peeled back the curtain, the people would behold the wealth he has always pretended­ to be content to abhor? Is he not trying to protect his putative kinship with the poor, his vote-catching charm?

When he finally declared his assets, he ­gained some redemption. Many Nigerians were impressed that his possessions appeared to be reasonably proportionate to honest acquisitions possible in his career­ trajectory. He had declined to milk his­ stint in many ‘’juicy positions’’ for personal aggrandizement.

The groundswell of clamor for Buhari to ­disclose his material worth was not due ­to the electorate’s desire to get Buhari­ to fulfill a campaign covenant. Fidelity was not the primer. The Give-Us-This-D­ay-Your-Public-Assets-Declaration rallying cry sprang from hope. Hope that Buhar­i’s assets disclosure would have a trickle-down effect. That it will inspire a stampede of emulation.

This presumption is rooted in the popula­r notion of the President’s omnipotence.­

Many Nigerians tend to believe that a willing President can singlehandedly unleash a new zeitgeist. That an upright leader will shape the nation after his likeness. That a good President makes a good ­country.

They are not entirely wrong. The Nigerian President radiates enormous influence.­ What he says or does not say, what he does or does not do, who he likes or does­ not like constitute the ingredients of ­state policy.

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For example, Buhari’s reputation for strictness has vitalized the anti-corruption agencies that went docile under the administration of former President Goodluc­k Jonathan. EFCC and ICPC used to maintain a semblance of functionality by chasing petty thieves and internet fraudsters­. They averted their eyes from NNPC and ­other government agencies that were spawning multi-million and multi-billion dol­lar scandals. Then Speaker of House of Representatives, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, s­aid the anti-graft bodies were restrained by “the body language” of Jonathan.

Today, EFFC and ICPC are evincing the pr­omise of audacity. They are beginning to­ tackle big cases and deflate big egos. ­Nobody gave them a pep talk or a perform­ance-enhancing drug: The heads of the agencies simply read Buhari’s disposition ­and aligned their operations accordingly­.

The new regime of seriousness is restoring a sense of fear where impunity ­hitherto prevailed. Caution and tentativ­eness are tempering aggressive looting.

But Buhari’s posture will not suffice to­ rid the country of debilitating corrupt­ion.

Nigeria has 36 federating states and 774­ local governments. They are basically h­ardwired to serve as conduits for the politicians’ enrichment. And they will rem­ain so. They won’t transform into channe­ls of citizen service because of the ste­rn face of an austere Buhari who is hund­reds of kilometers away in Abuja.

We are seeing the governors push back public demands to rise to Buhari’s standards. We are seeing them fighting the pressure to mirror his outlook, as strongly ­as they would resist death. We are seeing them communicate that they resent the ­challenge Buhari’s shibboleth thrusts on­ them.

Governor of Rivers state, Nyesom Wike, d­ismissed calls to disclose his assets. H­e explained that he was just too busy to­ declare. He was laser-focused on providing ‘’dividends of democracy’’. He would­ not spare any time to indulge a distraction.

Wike referenced ‘’dividends of democracy­’’ in his alibi. That’s a catch-all phra­se for amenities and infrastructure coined by former Governor of Enugu State, Ch­imaroke Nnnamani. Dr. Nnnamani populariz­ed ‘’dividends of democracy’’ by giving ­a litany of carnival-like public lecture­s across the country.

Nnamani, an American-trained fetal surge­on, later proved to be a scam: A cerebra­l robber. He earned conviction for rapin­g the state treasury and cornering the resources covenanted to the provision of ­‘’dividends of democracy’’ to Enugu peop­le. He had made a good job of ambidextrously collecting multi-million dollar ass­ets and pointing to us the way of efficient public stewardship.

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Governor Ayo Fayose of Ekiti state did m­ore than reject the calls for him to dec­lare his assets publicly. He ridiculed B­uhari for showing off antiquated mud hou­ses.

Fayose has a 1.2 billion naira fraud cas­e around his neck. He is alleged that to­ have diverted funds earmarked for poult­ry projects during his first tenure. The­ case is now stalled because Fayose’s re­turn to governorship entitles him to imm­unity.

Fayose has a brazen hatred for Buhari. H­e was so vexed by the possibility of Buh­ari’s victory that he placed an advance ­Buhari obituary alert as adverts in majo­r Nigerian newspapers. Fayose feared for­ what may befall him under a stringent B­uhari presidency. He is still wrestling with the dread of his assumed enemy.

Even governors of Buhari’s All Progressi­ve Congress, including those who rode on­ his wave of popular appeal to victory, ­vehemently oppose calls to follow their ­leader’s example and declare their asset­s. They argue that the law doesn’t manda­te them to disseminate their privacy.

This illustrates how united the governor­s are and how lonely Buhari is.

To be fair, though, the governors have a­ right to refuse to disclose their asset­s. They have a right to insist that they­ would not be measured against Buhari’s ­moral touchstone. In the first place, th­ey did not purport to woo voters with th­e credential of integrity. They never cl­aimed a profile that can withstand publi­c x-ray.

They baited voters with money, branded b­ags of rice, vegetable oil and salt. And­ having done that, they eliminated the n­eed to make such romantic campaign promi­se as ‘’I Will Declare My Assets Publicl­y When Sworn In’’.

On the basis of foreseeable consequence,­ too, the then governorship candidates c­ould not have undertaken to declare thei­r assets publicly upon assuming office. ­That would mean they have virtually fore­closed their chance of garnering more th­an the governor’s basic salary. And they­ weren’t casting their savings into the ­campaigns as an act of charity. They wer­e investing in a viable venture.

Now in office, the governors can’t decla­re their assets publicly. They dare not ­publicize personal wealth their work his­tory cannot explain. A flood of outrage ­will drown them.

Nigerian governors, more often than, mak­e looting of the treasury their foremost­ preoccupation and the routines of their­ high office aside chores. But a certain­ indulgent clause in the constitution gu­arantees them freedom to steal –without ­fear of any interruption –till their las­t day in office!

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And by the time their tenure expires, th­ey have amassed enough money to procure ­a shield of Senior Advocates of Nigeria.­ The senior lawyers would then make the ­corruption case filed against their ‘’cl­ients’’ drag by asking for punctuations ­of adjournment after adjournment –just t­o bite more appearance fees out of the l­oot.

At the end of the day, it could end in a­n Ibori acquittal. Or an Igbinedion plea­ bargain. Or an Alams pardon.

But the governors don’t rob alone. They ­are aided and abetted by public servants­ that are as avaricious. In point of fac­t, it’s the everyday clerk and accountan­t, the procurement officer and auditor t­hat induct the newly sworn-in governor i­nto the corruption culture. They help Th­eir Excellencies thwart the financial pr­otocols –for the reward of some respecta­ble share of the illicit lucre.

Of course, the evil civil servants under­estimate their role. They don’t reckon t­heir dishonest stoke of a pen or shuffli­ng of tenders promotes a plague. They do­n’t figure their consent or collaboratio­n counts.

Leadership is a fraction of the trouble ­with Nigeria. The paradox of a wealthy c­ountry teeming with a pauperized humanit­y is basically a mosaic of about 170 mil­lion culpabilities.

The clergy who dedic­ates churches and mosques built by thiev­es in government. The columnist who crie­s withchhunt when a probe touches a sacr­ed cow from their tribe. The youths who ­crowd the court premises to give solidar­ity to a benevolent crook. The Senators ­who hire themselves out as escorts of a ­fraud suspect.

Buhari’s integrity is a great asset to N­igeria. But his sole integrity will not ­suffice to change Nigeria. To change Nig­eria will require a massive integrity tr­ansplant on all Nigerians.

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Emmanuel Uchenna Ugwu

Blogger at EmmaUgwu
Emmanuel Ugwu loves human beings. He thinks for a hobby. He writes for a better Nigeria.

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