…Says anti-corruption abjectly corrupted
Professor Chidi Anselm Odinkalu was the former Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, NHRC. He is a human rights activist, lawyer and writer.
He is currently the senior team manager for the Africa Programme of Open Society Justice Initiative. In this interview, he x-rays the fight against corruption by the present administration and gives a damning verdict. He also argues that the damage which the current Service Chiefs have done will take a long time to heal
Establishment of EFCC, ICPC has not deterred corrupt practices in the country, how else can we fight corruption?
Corruption has been a crime that looks like the only people who commit it are those whom the government doesn’t like or who have fallen out of favour with the President. The institutions you mention as well as the Code of Conduct Bureau and Code of Conduct Tribunal have been captured for the most part by government. That is why the CCB will be resistant to access to asset declarations by politicians. And why will the CCT issue an ex-parte order to depose a Chief Justice and appoint his successor? You see, as we speak the former Chair of the Asset Recovery Panel, Okoi Obono Obla, is under trial for allegations of corruption. Ibrahim Magu who was at EFCC has been recommended for prosecution. You will notice that every Chairman of EFCC since Nuhu Ribadu has left under a cloud or been hounded out. I am not even speaking here of inter-agency rivalries as between the Attorney-General and the EFCC Chairman. So, to answer your question briefly, anti-corruption has itself been abjectly corrupted.
Some have suggested traditional means of oath taking as a way to discourage corruption, do you think this can work?
We are too invested in appearances of piety rather than conviction, honesty and accountability. There is nothing in the laws or processes to preclude anyone who wants to swear with a matchete or on coral beads or inside a coven full of witches and wizards, from doing so. That is their problem. But no one can be forced or compelled to take an oath in a manner they don’t necessarily believe in or subscribe to. If we have no rational means of nurturing civic virtue and persuading people to take it seriously, all the shrines in Africa and beyond will be irrelevant to us.
Can we find a Nigerian, whether in public or private sector, who is not corrupt?
Of course there are loads of honest Nigerians, in the millions indeed. I meet them every day. They are in some of the places we call awful too – police, universities, judiciary, armed services. And some quite corrupt people are also in some of the places we regard as virtuous – like churches and mosques and ashrams and temples and places of worship. The country has been arrested, however, by bandits masquerading as politicians.
Is it possible to rid society of corruption?
What is important in my view is to have a country in which people know there will be consequences for corrupt malfeasance. Which part of that is difficult? Nigerians want someone who will do something resolute to diminish corruption, end impunity for it or the selectivity which makes it a crime that only enemies of the President are tarnished with.
What are the challenges of fighting corruption?
You need capable institutions to do it. And you need determined leaders too. You need clear rules and dedicated professionals who will apply the rules with clarity and consistency. In Nigeria, we run a system that is still largely based on affinity rather than rationality and evidence. That requires committed leadership to change it and we have not had that in a long while, surely not under Buhari. The reason this is so galling is because Buhari explicitly made fighting corruption his campaign platform. That turns out to have been a lie. He didn’t believe it.
No place or vocation is immune to corruption. No place is also immune to virtue. The real challenge is creating a system of rational incentives that encourages civic virtue and discourages vice. That requires fidelity to rules and a sense of fair shakes. The problem General Buhari has is that his regime has no regard for rules and fairness for him means sectional partisanship.
In his response to weekend massacre of Borno farmers by insurgents, Buhari said he had given all the needed support to the armed forces to take all necessary steps to protect the country’s population and its territory. What else do you think still need to be done?
Where did you see Gen. Buhari’s response? Or where did you hear him speak? We may never know the number of Nigerians killed in Zabarmari, nor their identities. I have read 43, 45, 78, 110. In a sense the filigree of numbers tells you all you need to know really. In any case, these were scores of Nigerians killed in the most gruesome possible manner: bound, gagged, drawn, quartered, decapitated. All for the heinous crime of going to their farms.
What has the President done? He is MIA, bunkered inside the presidency. No one can see him. Instead, he sends out one of his horde of inebriated spokespersons to say something deranged as usual and to abuse the victims with the idea that they did not get clearance to go to their farms. President Buhari has gone to Ndjamena. He has gone to Bamako. To get to Bamako, he’d have to overfly Southern Kaduna.
To go to Ndjamena, he’d overfly Borno. But he doesn’t have the time to drop in and visit the victims and communities or show he cares. It is evident that as a leader, the man is devoid of empathy or fellow feeling. He cannot say he has given all the necessary support to the armed forces when he has kept the same inept Service Chiefs for over five years while all this death and destruction has unfolded over growing killing field. The consequence is that morale in the officer corps is destroyed. Generations of successor commanders have retired while these Service Chiefs are presiding over a growing despondency in the Armed Forces.
Do you believe sacking the Service Chiefs will have any impact?
Let me ask you: “Do you believe that keeping these Service Chiefs is the answer to our present security crisis? The damage they have done will take a long time to heal (if at all it will heal).