Monday Column By Emmanuel Yawe
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Not too long ago, I had a discussion with an American who is rather well informed about Nigerian affairs. I told him Nigeria was a much better country than it is today and also tried to give him my understanding of when we lost the road to the great country we were destined to be at independence in 1960. Then I sought to know from him what he thought of my country, Nigeria. After some momentary silence came his reply.
“Honestly we do not understand Nigeria. It is like a sealed box. You put your fingers inside trying to figure out what is there. Something stings you and you withdraw your fingers immediately thinking it is a scorpion in there. Then you stick your fingers again and something bites you. Then you know it is not a scorpion but a snake in there. It is all very confusing”, he said.
It all reminds me of Charles Darwin’s famous opening lines in his 1859 book “A Tale of Two Cities” in which he wrote: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way….”
The Nigeria of today seems very much like the England of the times Charles Dickens penned down these words that were published in 1859. Just when you think we are going to make an earthshaking breakthrough, something just happens to dampen all hopes of the miraculous breakthrough.
Those who rejoiced at the time of the first military intervention did so because of the pronouncements of Major Chukwuma Nzeogwu on corruption in Nigeria. He spoke vehemently against those who were taking 10 percent bribes on contracts awarded, the nepotists and those who wanted to be in the corridors of power by all means. All these ills he promised were going to be eradicated by his revolutionary band. Whereas the inventor of coup making in Nigeria was complaining of 10% bribe in Nigeria in 1966, by the time we went through more coups, counter coups, romours of coups and failed coups, corruption was something else in Nigeria. It was no longer a matter of percentage. If you were lucky to find yourself in a juicy office, you did not only steal it blind, you looted it.
When the military left the political scene in 1999 it was so bad that Nigeria was a pariah state. Very few countries wanted to do business with Nigeria citing rampant corruption in both public and private life of country. It was in a way to pacify the international community that something was being done to get rid of corruption in Nigeria that President Olusegun Obasanjo set up the Independent Corruption Practices Commission ICPC. When the Commission seemed laid back, and inactive, he set up the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, the EFCC, which did not only bark but was capable of biting too. Sadly, Obasanjo soon turned the EFCC into his political battle axe cutting down all his political foes. The EFCC soon lost its credibility as it metamorphosed from an anti-corruption Czar to a political journeyman.
As his eight years as president came to a close, he embarked on a clumsy and juvenile project to extend his tenure in a constitutional manipulation called the third term. The EFCC was used to clobber opponents of the scheme into line. The EFCC which was set up to fight corruption became a veritable tool for corruption. Sadly for him, the National Assembly shot down the scheme. Obasanjo was forced to leave office ingloriously.
The whole grand idea of purging Nigeria of corruption became a victim of political opportunism and brinkmanship. One form of corruption was substituted by another. From economic and financial corruption to political corruption. And the trend has continued with his successors – Umaru Yar’adua and Goodluck Jonathan taking their turns to use the anti-corruption agencies in the same Obasanjo style.
Muhammadu Buhari campaigned to be President on the grounds that he was going to fight corruption and insurgency. Given his track record as an accomplished, war tested military general whose record as a military Head of State was hailed as anti-corruption focused, he had an easy sail, almost. He made history as the first challenger to defeat an incumbent President in Nigerian history.
But implementing the program which won him the election has been trickier for him. Insurgency and corruption are hard nuts. Insurgency has multiplied into banditry and spread from North East to North West. The President resisted pressures to change the service chiefs before he caved in to change all of them. We are still waiting eagerly to see an improved security situation.
Kidnapping and 419 still remain prime criminal acts in Nigeria. Much hope was raised with the emergence of Abba Kyari as the Commander of the Intelligence Response Team IRT set up by the Inspector General of Police. The IRT was able to unravel a lot of kidnapping and robbery cases particularly the cases of kidnap kingpins Evans and Wadume. The commander became an instant celebrity.
And then came this Huspuppi case which has cast a lot of doubts on the character of the policeman we all had come to accept as the man to clean up the tattered image of the police. Was he the master clean we thought he was or just another man from Nigeria, the country General Collin Powell, the former US Secretary of state once described as a place for marvelous scammers?