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The corrupt have inherited our country

Is’haq Modibbo Kawu

“The rulers who steal Nigeria’s future and a poor man who steals a yam at the market are judged very differently. Pinch a yam in the market and you will have petrol-soaked tyre jammed round your neck and set alight. Trouser a billion dollars of state funds and everyone fawns on you…. Corruption exists everywhere, not just Africa…. But Nigeria’s hilariously brazen corruption puts it in a different league. Elsewhere it is conducted behind closed doors or by nods and euphemisms. In Nigeria it is open and it is everywhere” - Richard Dowden in AFRICA: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles

At the heart of the political system in Nigeria, since the transition to civilian rule in 1999, has been the declared intention of the various governments at all levels to fight against corruption. No speech can be complete without some tilting against the windmill of corruption. The more corrupt our ruling elite has become, the more pious is the declaration to fight the scourge of corruption to a standstill. Of course, everybody recognizes the body blow that a corrupt process of governance has dealt our country: failed school system; dilapidated health sector; deficient infrastructure; manifestations of a failed state; low level intensity insurgencies in sections of the country; a Hobbesian state of existence for the people, just to mention but a few.

So there is no one who rejects the argument that corruption is gradually sapping Nigeria of its vitality, even when members of the ruling elite swim in the obscene wealth that was procured through very questionable, often corrupt ways. The truth is that we tend to wax emotional, get angry about corruption, without setting modern corruption within a historical ambience; neither do we expose the class root of the processes of corruption. Moral indignation is very useful, but at the end of the day, we do not possess sufficient knowledge which can be the only basis to design very efficient platforms to genuinely fight corruption, as part of a national project of development. We will return to this train of thought later.

Last week, the media reported that former governor of Edo State, Lucky Igbinedion, who had been arraigned to face a 191-count charge by the EFCC, was eventually convicted on a one-count charge of corruption by the Federal High Court in Enugu. Igbinedion will however not be going to jail, because he was fined the small amount of N3.6million only. Lucky had entered into a plea bargaining with the EFCC, and one of the companies he used to fleece his state, Kiva Corporation, was only convicted on a two-count charge out of the 23 proffered against it. It was ordered to pay a fine ofN500million and to forfeit some landed property. The media reported that Lucky Igbinedion paid the fine within minutes of the verdict and was driven away. The prosecution in the case had informed the court that the EFCC had withdrawn the charges against the accused and filed amended charges; Lucky eventually entered the dock and pleaded guilty, thus paving way for the gentle rap on the wrist that went for a conviction.

The Igbinedion verdict does not come as a surprise, as a classical expression of ruling class justice, in a class society. Everyone knows that Lucky Igbinedion presided over the systematic looting of Edo State in his eight year regime, yet the man has been let loose to enjoy the remaining and probably, most substantial part of the loot of his incompetent, thieving regime. If the indignation that trails verdicts like that remains merely moral, we will never get to the root of corruption. The capitalist system itself came into being on the basis of a criminal form of corruption: slavery was the basis of the primitive accumulation which funded the industrial revolution in Europe and the USA; and thereafter, there was the colonial system of imperialism and that was followed by the neo-colonial policies of the past fifty years.

Those who have chosen to build capitalism in developing countries have no heathen lands to colonize nor do they have slaves to force into back breaking toil. This is the reason why they prey on the post-colonial state to loot, instituting mind-boggling forms of corrupt enrichment. In nations like Indonesia, the Suharto dictatorship was venal and corrupt, but at least it invested heavily in developing the productive capacities of Indonesia. The difference in Nigeria is that we have bandits in the driving seat; they plunder the nation and take the resources out of our country. These thieves do not even believe in the country that they fleece with so much rapacity! Richard Dowden in the book that I have quoted at the head of this piece said that “the Nigerian elite did not believe in Africa. They stole whatever they could and shipped the money out of the country, letting schools, universities and hospitals collapse. In a country awash with oil they did not even keep an oil refinery and had to import oil”.

Nigeria is clearly in trouble with verdicts such as was handed out to Lucky Igbinedion. It means the total overthrow of decency and all hope for restitution because those that continue to systematically plunder Nigeria will become emboldened that they will eventually only hand over some of their loot. They have completely taken Nigeria hostage and they have inherited the nation! Dowden said of Nigeria, that “All its institutions- the civil service, the laws, hospitals, schools, the army, police, business, academics- had become so corrupt that, although Nigeria looks like a functioning state, it is just a shell. It still holds the shape of a nation state from the outside, but within, corruption has become the institution.... Corruption does kill in Nigeria”. The Lucky Igbinedion verdict underscores this fact; if we do not build new platforms of politics to use power to rectify Nigeria, we might just as well kiss this country bye; or in the alternative just let the corrupt completely inherit the nation!

Adamawa/Gombe: Pleasures & Pains

The last time I drove on the Gombe to Yola road was in 2001; I was attending the conference of the Broadcasting Organisations of Nigeria (BON) in Yola. I remember that the road was in a pretty bad shape even then; but over the years since 2001, I have read accounts of how bad that road has become. Last weekend, I flew into Yola, and since I was also going to Gombe, I took the opportunity to drive through that road again. To be honest, I think the road is in such an appalling state, that a pregnant woman can literally enter into premature labour in some sections of that road! It is obvious that the state of our roads remains one of the main indictments of the political leadership of Nigeria since 1999. The fact that our leaders don’t even drive on these roads means that they cannot feel the pains the Nigerian people grapple with when they travel. It is significant that the state of that road is also one of the unending sources of anger against Atiku Abubakar amongst the elite of Adamawa State; they argue that he was in charge of Nigeria between 1999 and 2003, and he never used his prominence to influence the reconstruction of that road!

But Adamawa was not all pain for me; I visited the farms of Governor Nyako and that of Awwal Tukur. Of course a lot of people know about Nyako’s Sebore Farm, but I was particularly impressed by the amount of work that has been done by the young men, Awwal and Ibrahim Mai-Bornu. It is an integrated farm which runs as a very modern business and has very useful linkages with agricultural institutions and local farmers around it. For the first time, I found inspiration to give a thought to raising cattle and fish farming as an adjunct to my work in journalism. I hope Nigeria will find more people entering agriculture at levels that can help us ensure abundant food for all our people.

The second aspect of pleasure of the last weekend was my visit in Gombe State; the last time I went there was in 2005. The roads were just being constructed then, and the effort that Governor Danjuma Goje was making to modernize his state had been mired in the controversy surrounding the residence of the previous governor of the state. Let me confess that I was really stunned about just how modern Gombe has become: with its well-paved dual carriage ways that were equally well-lit; the beautiful university campus; the abundant water supply and the new airport! Pilgrims landed the evening that I visited. And it is incredible to state that there was the sense in which the developments reflected the single-minded determination of Governor Goje to pull his state into modernity, not without its controversies as any follower of Gombe politics can attest to.

But I will be the first person to express my happiness that quite a lot of work has been done in Gombe State in the period since 2003; and last weekend, I saw that even a new stadium and a huge hotel were under construction in the state capital. I had lunch in a recently-opened hotel, whose owner is a former banker. He told me that he decided to return to his state to invest, when he found out that an ambience of infrastructural development has been created by the government. I discovered the same theme of trying to turn around long-neglected infrastructure in Adamawa, after the very difficult political process which brought Admiral Murtala Nyako to power. I got a sense that there was a groundswell of hope in the emergence of Nyako, but it has also been very difficult to put to rest the adversarial relationship which the governor has with the legislative arm of government. But how that difficult relationship is managed, will impact on the ability of the government to fulfill the hopes invested in it by the people of the state.

It is the Hausa people who described travel as the key to knowledge; and I felt a lot of happiness during my journey last weekend, especially when I saw how very intrepid young men can bring new life to agricultural practice such as what I saw in Yola. The same feeling of admiration came over me, when I was driven round the commercially vibrant capital city of Gombe State, which is proudly laying a claim to being one of the well-serviced capitals in Northern Nigeria today. It is an achievement which Governor Goje has presented as a fulfillment of his electoral pledge to the people of his state. When basic infrastructure is provided to create the useful ambience for economic development; if schools are constructed and or rehabilitated; where health services are provided in towns and country side and there is potable water supply, I think people can talk of democracy dividends, in the Nigerian manner of describing these things. These were the elements of pleasure that I am talking about from my trip to Adamawa and Gombe last weekend

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