Nasir el Rufai: Between Terrorism And Corruption (1)

By IndepthAfrica
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May 7th, 2012
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I was invited by Silver Knights Ibadan to present a paper at their annual May Day Lecture on the topic “Between Terrorism and Corruption – Implications for Nigeria” Considering the topical nature of the title of the discourse, I thought to share it with a wider readership. At the crossroads that we have found ourselves as a nation, where a

sitting government has shown no capacity and competence to confront these two challenges, we must be blunt in evaluating what has gone wrong – perhaps the moral outrage that results will be the basis for action to change things for the better.

There are some preconceived and utterly wrong notions of where we are, how we got to this point and who to hold accountable that need to be questioned. There are narratives that are biased and not serving the nation well that need to be stated openly and neutralized. This is a duty beyond politics and partisanship, founded on respect for facts and logic. I want to state clearly that the views expressed here are mine, and not of the political party I belong to – the CPC. Secondly, my opinions are based on my interpretation of facts on the ground and research done by others, and not driven by politics.

Terrorism and corruption are two words that now dominate our headline news more than any others. Domestic terrorism has now joined corruption as defining characteristics of our nation. It is sad that while other countries grapple with rebuilding their financial systems, upgrading their physical infrastructure and human capital, and adopting leapfrogging technologies to enhance their global competitiveness, our sensibilities are daily affronted by news of stolen trillions, multiple bombings and hapless leaders.

Terrorism is simply the use of violence and intimidation in pursuit of political goals. While to many, it appears to be a recent phenomenon in Nigeria, looking at it closely shows it has been with us in various degrees. What else do most of our political parties do other than use violence and intimidation in pursuit of political goals? Who else exemplifies these characteristics more than the ruling party? In the context of this definition, where would you place what OPC and Egbesu Boys were doing in the 1990s? What have the Niger Delta militants and the umbrella organization called MEND been doing for years? Now there is no dispute as to whether the anarchist Boko Haram is a terrorist organization or not. The truth is that one’s freedom fighter is the terrorist in the eyes of another.

Even with the activities of these fringe ethnic and regional groupings, Nigeria did not enter the map of terrorism-prone nations until recently. Maplecroft, a British risk analysis and mapping firm that publishes the Terrorism Risk Index (TRI) ranked our country 19th and at “extreme risk” of terrorism in 2011, ahead of Israel (20th) but safer than Yemen, South Sudan and India among others. With the escalation of attacks by Boko Haram in the north, and resumption of threats and hostilities by MEND in the Niger Delta, Nigeria is likely to jump to near the top of the TRI soon, unless something concrete is done.

Our nation and citizens are in grave danger. Our unity in diversity is at the highest levels of risk since independence. The possible break-up of Nigeria is being discussed openly not only in the Villa, but in various regional and cultural association meetings. Our democracy is in danger, and its desirable end canvassed by young people in social media. The state no longer has monopoly of violence, and no longer in exclusive control of our maritime borders. We are increasingly resembling a failed state with confused and corrupt persons at the helm of affairs who seem concerned only about enriching themselves and their coteries of choristers. How did we get to this point of near helplessness so fast?

Corruption on the other hand refers to dishonest or fraudulent conduct by people vested with authority, and usually involves bribery or gratification. I think corruption is something we are sufficiently familiar with, do not need to spend a lot of time defining it. We all know it when we see it, and we see it often. For those in public office, I think the best way to determine whether that innocuous end-of-the-year gift amounts to a bribe, the question posed by Islamic jurists is appropriate – “Will this thing of value be offered to me by the person in question if I am not holding this public office?” If the answer to the question is not an immediate and unhesitant “Yes”, then the gift is a bribe, and should therefore be rejected.

You will notice I have carefully avoided referring to legislation, legal maxims and decided cases in defining either terrorism or corruption. It is not just because we have little by way of convictions for terrorism and corruption in our case law, but because many Nigerians have lost confidence in our justice system in its effort to deal with these terrible phenomena. For years, our nation has struggled with the reputation of being one of the world’s most corrupt nations. In 2002 we were amongst the bottom three, but with the emergence of EFCC and the implementation of several governance reforms between 2003 and 2007, we were out of the bottom thirty by the time the Obasanjo administration left office.

Under Nuhu Ribadu, the EFCC charged eleven former governors for corruption and money laundering. With the exception of Lucky Igbinedion’s ‘plea bargain’ arranged by Farida Waziri, none of the cases have moved forward since then. Several of them now sit in the senate and chair powerful committees. Our justice system has been lax and ambivalent about dealing with cases of grand corruption, as evidenced by the recent conviction of James Ibori in London after a federal high court in Asaba had dismissed over 100 counts of money laundering and corruption against him. It is not surprising that we are now back to nearer the bottom of the corruption league table.

According to Human Rights Watch in 2007, the endemic nature of corruption in Nigeria has led to the loss of USD $380 billion between independence and 1999. A Global Financial Integrity Initiative report dated January 2011 estimated that USD $130 billion worth of illicit financial flows occurred between 2000 to 2008. Adding these numbers to the loss of nearly USD $7 billion to the fuel subsidy racket alone brings our national loss due to corruption to something in the region of USD $600 billion from independence to end of 2011!

I am of the view that rigging elections is the foundation of all corruption because it confers power without legitimacy, and without responsibility. And in Nigeria’s fourth republic in particular, it has birthed not only financial corruption, but immorality, violent crimes and terrorism.

The scale and scope of corruption in Nigeria have moved from irritating road-side demands and under-the-table payments worth billions of naira per annum captured by officials to a multi-trillion naira business under Yar’Adua and Jonathan. Everywhere we bother to check, billions and trillions are being wasted or stolen – fuel subsidy, pension funds, inflated and unexecuted contracts, goods and services paid for that are never supplied, taxes collected but not remitted, illegal allowances and benefits collected by officials, and entire budgets for security diverted to private pockets. How did we get to this point of near hopelessness so fast?

Violent crimes, Corruption and Terrorism were referred to as the unholy trinity that would confront citizens and countries in the twenty first century by Shelley in 2005. These constitute Siamese triplets that often go together. Some commentators like Sarup in 2005 insist that corruption increases terrorism. Contributing at a debate about corruption in India, a judge, Justice Santosh Hegde opined that “terrorism is caused by a disease called greed.” He observed that “politics was public service, now it is business.” Do these sound familiar, and apply to us in Nigeria in 2012?

In my humble opinion, our own version of the unholy trinity has roots in toxic politics, rigged elections and bad governance. Political ‘God-Fatherism’, transactional leadership and social injustice are the key manifestations of this trinity. They are a toxic cocktail that would bring down any community, nation or government sooner or later.

Undemocratic politics is based on the deployment of money, violent thugs and coercive powers of state machinery. In many states, politicians and parties have armies of “youths” that are fed with cheap drugs and then armed with machetes, swords and guns to attend political rallies and attack any perceived opponents of the party and candidate. For instance, in Gombe Danjuma Goje had his “Yan Kalare”, Ali Modu Sheriff in Borno had his ECOMOG,in Bauchi, and Isa Yuguda has his ‘sara-suka’ (slash and stab. In Rivers State, Ateke Tom and Asari Dokubo were similarly trained and armed by the PDP initially to ‘win elections’.

What then happens after the elections are won and the supply of cash and drugs end? Society was left with young, bitter and hopeless people that happen to possess some dangerous weapons. The result – kidnappers for cash that metamorphosed into militants in the Niger Delta, kidnappers and armed robbers in the South-East and Area Boys and various thugs in the South-West, and Boko Haram in the North-East.

When ‘elected’ officials know for sure that they were not truly elected, but rigged their way to power, the organic link of accountability between the leadership and the electorate is broken. The ‘elected’ official panders to the interest groups that got his or her into office rather than the people – these could be the party Godfathers, the officials that wrote the results (INEC, Police and the SSS) or the thugs that snatched ballot boxes and so on.

Pandering to these narrow interests cost money with the result that diverting budgets, operating huge security votes and appointing hundreds of ‘aides’ that do nothing becomes the norm. It is after these interests are taken care of that the electorate is remembered. The overall outcome is capricious governance, discretionary application of resources and transactional mindset in governance.

Social and economic injustice result from these decisions and actions by the political leadership. Young people that have worked hard to get an education do not have equal opportunity to compete for jobs, because only those that are politically-connected get jobs even when they are the least qualified. The lazy drop-outs of the last few years have built mansions and drive SUVs because they were ‘youth leaders’ of the ruling party. Gutsy but brainless people that are willing to dance to the tune of the state governors end up as local government chairmen or in national or state assemblies as members earning hefty but illegal allowances for doing next to nothing.

Our young men and women – about 4 million of them added every year to the population – have observed and appeared to internalize these distorted values. There is little or no sense of community in that generation just as the concept of social justice is unknown to them. Generally, there are just two types of young people now. The smart ones that wish to take advantage of the system and the honest but bitter ones that feel short-changed by our generation and the system they think we created.With the exception of a minority of deeply thoughtful ones amongst them that can see through what is going on, most of our children have zero idealism. Many are uncouth, rude and abusive to everyone. They show no respect for their peers and seniors, and using the anonymity of social media, they vent their anger and frustrations on anyone that they believe is remotely responsible for their condition. They take no responsibility to be informed, educated or experienced.

Such youths see everything through ethnic, religious and regional lenses. They only care about sex, expensive cars, music and European soccer leagues. When I compare the idealism with which we viewed the world in our younger days with what I read on Twitter, Facebook and BlackBerry Messenger these days, I am worried about the future of our nation (or more precisely, the absence of it.)

Another unintended consequence of our toxic politics is poverty, unemployment and income inequality. Nigeria boasts of a rapidly-growing economy but has 113 million living below the poverty line of a dollar a day. For an agricultural nation, it is a shame that 41% of Nigerians – nearly 70 million – are classified as “food poor” in 2010 by the National Bureau of Statistics. The zonal distribution tells a deeper story. Nearly 52% of the people living in the North-West and North-East, 39% of the North-Central, 41% of South-East, 36% of South-South and 25% of South-West are hardly able to feed themselves.

Unemployment is the primary target of every sensible nation’s economic policy, but our policy makers seem quite content trumpeting and celebrating our jobless growth. Nationally, at least two in every five able-bodied Nigerians willing and able to work has no job. – To be continued next week…..

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