Beware Of Politics Of Anti-Corruption


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Beware Of Politics Of Anti-Corruption




Kayode Komolafe





culled from THISDAY, October 4, 2006


Nothing brings the politics of anti-corruption campaign into focus sharper than the position of the chief campaigner himself, President Olusegun Obasanjo. If you doubt this proposition, you need to do a text analysis of the President’s pronouncements in the last few days on corruption. These statements and other factors have made the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) the  toast of the moment,

Last Thursday, the President  spoke on the briefings made to the senate the previous day  by the chairman of EFCC, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, in which he said that 31governors were under investigation. The President said inter alia: …I have read one or two of these reports, these are series of allegations, many of them spurious.
“Many of them are worthy of investigation and I asked the EFCC chairman today and he explained that there were allegations going on but no conclusion drawn. How can you say all governors are corrupt?
“So if there is any sensational report, I don’t think anybody should be unduly disturbed about it. When cases are concluded, necessary actions will be taken.”

It is remarkable that the President was addressing the National Executive Council meeting of his party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). It is also believed that prior to the meeting the party’s apparatchiks had been mounting pressure on the President, pointing out to him that Ribadu was out to decimate their organisation by beaming his anti-corruption searchlight into  the activities  of PDP governors and other officials. In the view of these custodians of PDP values (whatever these values are), by making the  symbols of the party  targets of his anti-corruption war, Ribadu is aiming at the jugular of the party itself. The matter becomes more curious when some of the governors that were not given an anti-corruption  clean bill of health by Ribadu happen  to be those perceived to be the good boys  of Aso Rock.  In fact, the curiosity  is more on the part of those who hitherto have been accusing Ribadu of targeting the  political enemies of the President. If those regarded as having political proximity to Aso Rock are now said to be under investigation or have even been indicted as some are wont to say, then Ribadu’s EFCC should be watched closely. The cases of three governors could be used to illustrate this point.  The three governors  are perceived to be close to the President (and therefore expected to be untouchable by EFCC). First is  the  Ekiti state Governor Ayo Fayose.


Earlier this year, he played host to  the President who was on a  state visit. On that occasion, the President acknowledged his “achievements” and ‘execution of  projects”. In fact,  the President adopted him as a political son and asked for forgiveness on his behalf from those he might have offended. In appreciation, Fayose danced than to some tunes of “omo o le jo  baba ka binu omo” ( you don’t quarrel with a son for taking after his father). With this what further insurance would Fayose expect from any federal agency prying into the affairs of Ekiti? However,  if you ask Fayose now what he makes of the  President’s visit in retrospect, he would probably tell you that the seeming presidential endorsement  of governance in Ekiti State has not insulated him from the current storm. It is all politics.

Similarly, the President was effusive with praises as he inspected projects in Enugu  State during his last visit to the state. He even compared the state to other states , which  receive huge amounts from the allocations from the Federation Accounts. He  commended the state governments for projects such as  the Enugu State University Teaching Hospital  and College of Medicine;  Ebeano Underground Tunnel; International Conference, Centre;  Judiciary Headquarters and dualization of roads among others. .Despite all these, the petition against the state government formed the basis of Ribadu’s appearance in the senate last Wednesday. Any one who understands the workings the politics of this dispensation would not classify  the state Governor, Dr. Chimaroke Nnamani among the enemies of Obasanjo. If anything, he can only be accused of being an Aso rock favourite. Pending the legal fireworks in court, the state government seems to be giving a subtle response  to EFCC’ accusations with his media campaigns under the slogan of “Enugu  is Working. To God is  the Glory”. The state government has been highlighting its projects as if to say if the governor embezzled all the money, how were these projects funded?

Thirdly is the case of Governor Peter Odili of Rivers State. He is reputed to be an ally  of the President.  Perhaps, the President had visited and  commissioned projects in Rivers State more than any other since 1999. In reciprocity, Odili is also frequent  caller in Aso Rock. Besides, he could also be called a family friend of the President’s family. The other day, Odili ‘s family was announced as the sponsor of the wedding of Muyiwa, the son of the President and his late wife Stella. So how can you talk of the President’s friends among the governors and Odili’s name would be missing. Yet, if you ask EFCC men, they would tell you that they are investigating the activities of Rivers State.

Not a few must have interpreted the President’s statement last Thursday as being in favour of these governors and a few others. Some people said the President was provoked to talk because Ribadu was not sensitive enough to spare his acolytes.
But such views must have been disproved on Sunday morning when the same Obasanjo said: “ We cannot afford to falter, be diverted, distracted, confused, discouraged, intimidated or reversed. We must remain focussed and resolute.
“In particular,  the war against corruption must be deepened and sustained if appropriate deployment of our scarce resources to the right sectors and eliminate fiscal decay and indiscipline. There will be no relenting on the fight against corruption. We have put our hand  on the plough and there is no looking back, going back or sliding back”.

 The statement was made on a more symbolic  occasion, the Independence Day Broadcast of the President. By the way that was his last broadcast to the nation on the occasion of  46th Anniversary of Independence. Ordinarily, that speech was to  be  the rehearsal  of  his  farewell to the nation, encapsulating the core principles that have governed his administration  in the last  seven years. The speech didn’t quite capture the transitory significance of the moment. But that is a matter eminently suitable for another column.

What do you make of these two seemingly contrasting statements of the President  within four  days? The speechwriters and other apologists of the President would probably argue that there is no contradiction in the two positions. By describing  the reports of Ribadu’s appearance before the senate as “sensational”, Obasanjo has in no way disowned the  anti-corruption activities of EFCC, the official spokesmen are wont to say.

Beyond officialdom, however,  a plausible explanation is that the anti-corruption campaign of this administration risks being enmeshed  in an intractable politics. And this is the  point that the President,  EFCC and the public should be wary of. This is no time to reduce the anti-corruption campaign to politics. The Obasanjo administration cannot afford to play politics with  its anti-corruption policy because it is the best advertisement it has got. Beyond what the administration does or does not do with infrastructural decay, political reforms or job creation, the statement made on corruption would linger more in the collective memory. .It does not, probably, occur to the enthusiasts of this administration that the aspect that captures the popular imagination in what is nebulously dubbed  as reform agenda is the anti-corruption effort.

Ironically, it is the policy that has presented  the government  with the greatest contradiction. It is a different matter whether the administration and its strategists (and who are they by the way?) fully grasp the dialectics of this campaign.

It is not generally known that beyond the surface  criticism  that the EFCC’s activities are selective, there are deeper questions about attempts to fight corruption in this land. To start with, the Nigerian state has not begun to address the structural foundations of corruption that is inherently bolstered by this system. For instance, how many upper and middle class elements can  honestly account for their acquisition within the system?  In this country, we live a lie. The truth of the matter is that no one is ready to own up publicly to the logic of primitive accumulation which governs the system. The character of the Nigerian state at the moment is such that it cannot  address these fundamentals of corruption. We are talking of the political economy of corruption. That is why the system lacks the capacity to  scrutinise its public and private sectors thoroughly for corruption. In the public sector, how many senior civil servants can account for their wealth? In the private sector, how many companies can come out clean if subjected to the same rigour of examination that Enron , Worldcom and others were subjected to in the United States? The point at issue is that the problem is deeper than what sloganeering can tackle. Beyond the surface there are t issues that should task a determined leadership.

Understandably, it may be argued that the challenge of the moment does not permit the luxury of going into the sociology of corruption and other derivatives from it. The job given to Ribadu’s EFCC is to tackle economic and financial crimes under which we can accurately  categorise the havoc being wreaked by the 419 community and the unfathomable graft by political official holders. On the basis of that it can be said  that, so far, it is  hard to accuse EFCC of malicious prosecution. In cases where EFCC has accused state governments of diverting local government funds there has been no state where local governments have said their funds were not diverted. The EFCC also insists that it has not brutalised anyone in the course of investigation or arrest. It is also noteworthy that the prosecution of the cases of fraud against non-political office holders does  not generate as much controversy as  when politicians are the subjects. The EFCC is reputed to have recovered billions of dollars some of which have been returned to foreigners duped by some fraudulent Nigerians, but this has not generated much interest on the part of the larger public. In this regard, the EFCC finds itself in a difficult situation as it is perceived as a mere  tool for whipping political enemies of the powers that be. The other day, in a piece on this page, Ribadu himself admitted there is a deep contradiction between the reality of what  EFCC is doing and the perception out there. The problem is that this perception  remains in some informed and powerful quarters. For instance, in the face-off between the President and his deputy, the camp of Vice President Atiku Abubakar sees the EFCC as nothing but  a tool. To large extent, this is the perception of not a few of the governors.

As a matter of fact, it is little remembered now that another agency, the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) had said earlier that 24 governors have cases to answer. The ICPC said their files had been forwarded to the Chief Justice of the Federation, requesting him to appoint independent counsels to investigate these governors in the light of the constitutional immunity they enjoy. The job of EFCC is more complicated by the fact our political culture has not matured to the extent that  public officials would spare the system of tension by admitting  to misdeeds in their official capacities. Only last week,  John Prescott began his address to the British Labour Party Conference on an apologetic note saying  he was “sorry’ for some misdemeanour while in office.  The former South African Vice President Jacob Zuma admitted wrongdoing  and explained himself in  the course of a judicial process and the court has vindicated him for now. A similar thing could be said of former United States’ President Bill Clinton who was impeached but not removed from office because of his ‘inappropriate relationship” with Monica Lewinsky. In all these cases, public officers admitted wrong doings. But in Nigeria, public officers fight to the finish  claiming innocence of wrong doings regardless of evidence to the otherwise.

Another critique is  that the Obasanjo administration has not addressed the most pernicious form of corruption, which is the corrupt process of getting to power. With power, other forms of corruption are enhanced. The road leading to power in Nigeria is laden with corruption. Corruption cannot be fundamentally tackled until that road is blocked and  a cleaner road is opened.
In sum, the  EFCC should be insulated from the vagaries of contemporary politics of underdevelopment. Apart from   confronting present challenges, Ribadu has a greater task of building EFCC  into an institution that would outlive the Obasanjo administration in its strength and weaknesses. The EFCC  should be developed into a professional institution to  check corruption. Its stature is diminished when it is perceived as a tool of this administration that would expire in seven months time. 


Virile political institutions have sustained the Italian political system. That is why it has been to have characters such as Berlusconi  as prime minister without collapsing. The EFCC may insist on its strategy, but it should do a rethink of its tactics. There should be no political statements from the commission. If the police and the armed forces are not allowed to make political statements, the EFCC cannot be exempted  from the rule as an agency of the state. Currently, the seemingly political statements of EFCC are creating problems for some of the politicians it is bound to  investigate. That also makes EFCC vulnerable to accusations. of political  persecution. That problem would be avoided if EFCC avoids making statements that would make it vulnerable to being drawn into the increasingly messy political fray.

Perhaps, the EFCC should only make its statements in the course of prosecution. That would accord the work of the commission the immunity from politicisation.




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This page was last updated on 10/27/07.