By SKC Ogbonnia
I am one of the millions of masses who yearned and prayed for the change that motivated you to democratic power. Though I have remained overjoyed with President Jonathan’s defeat and the meek manner of his concession, I am finding it difficult to celebrate your victory.
Mr. President-Elect, as you may know, the worldwide interest that greeted your candidacy as well as the very victory is uniquely quaint. The interest is far from your academic, military or democratic credentials. It is not about various other traditional leadership attributes, many of which you may or may not even posses. The simple truth is that the global interest is wholly premised on your legendary track record against corruption. Overall, you did not let the people down during the electoral campaign, always emphasising that one of the major goals of the second coming of Muhammadu “Okechukwu” Buhari is indeed to cure the endemic disease.
At the same time, some conflicting signals within your anti-corruption manifesto bother me immensely. In one instance, you remarked that “the monies we retrieve from corruption will be adequately employed” to better the lives of the common man and woman. Later in the campaign, the mantra was revised, giving the impression that the incoming Buhari government will not “probe any past leader but will allow the judicial process to run its full course in all cases relating to corruption.” Keenly aware that these statements were election snippets, at base, it became necessary to review an expansive interview granted on the issue by your longtime adviser, Tony Momoh. Yet, Momoh’s dutiful efforts to elucidate the true positions also provoked more questions than answers.
Mr. President-Elect, the questions remain: If there is no plan to probe past governments, how then could the new administration retrieve money from corruption? If we are to excuse the misdeeds of the outgoing government, how and why would you imagine that the incoming government will not inherit an empty treasury? How could you possibly deter members of the next administration from corrupt practices when their predecessors are allowed to walk away scot-free? Or, could it be that the non-probe statement was made in the heat of the campaign just to assuage an elitist fear till you win the election proper? Or, could it be a necessary strategy to envelope the word probe so as to avoid stoking the trembling nostalgia of the military-era style of probing?
Of course, these questions were in the minds of many Nigerians before the election. But emboldened by the wisdom of the story of the mat and space, we never wavered heading to the polls.
Now that you have won; where art thou? Where art thou, so we can truly and fully bask in the euphoria of our well deserved victory? Where art thou, so we can deoxidise the anxiety that is beginning to creep into the international community because of a seemingly lack of clarity on the anti-graft manifesto?
Mr. President-elect, it appears you are facing three mundane problems in charting the agenda on corruption. First is where to start and where to end. As complex as this problem may seem, the solution is very simple: The world view is plainly that the last presidential victory was not a coup against Babangida, Shonekan, Abacha, or Abubakar regimes. You did not campaign against Obasanjo, Yar’Adua, or Jonathan as individuals. You campaigned, among other things, against the massive corruption during the 16-year reign of the Peoples Democratic Party. And Nigerians voted for you en masse.
We voted against contractors who collude with their cohorts in the legislature and different ministries to loot funds earmarked for public projects. We voted for a leader who we believe is capable of holding people accountable for the trillions sunk into money-spinners, such as the Enugu-PH Expressway, Enugu-Onitsha Expressway, Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, the never-ending Ajaokuta Steel project, $7 billion Mambilla Power Plant, $1 billion Kashimbila dam, the missing $20 billion from NNPC, the four epileptic refineries, the fuel subsidy scams, and the over $25 billion said to be invested in the power sector, different NDDC projects and defense contracts that usually end up in private bank accounts, to name just a few.
The second problem is the fear of being viewed as overreaching in a period of tense political atmosphere under a weak union. But do not panic. Do not! Fellow Nigerians as well as the international community were and have remained aware of your strong-willed antecedents before backing you over a softer leader in President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. Nigerians made a bold statement on March 28, 2015: Today’s Nigeria prefers democracy—but a democracy steered by a strong leader like Muhammadu Buhari.
The third problem is the view that looking back in the war against corruption is counter productive. This notion is self-defeatist, patently mendacious, and portends big trouble for the future of war against corruption. The objective fact is that Nigeria has adequate human resources to look back and look forward. With an efficient recovery programme, looking back will provide immediate employment for the masses, help to repatriate trillions of Nigerian money stashed in foreign banks; and, more importantly, serve as a deterrent against corrupt practices. The failure to look back while looking forward was the beginning and end of Jonathan’s presidency.
Your Excellency, you have the potential and the excellent opportunity to go down in the annals of history as the greatest African leader. The path requires creating the enabling environment for the accountability and checks and balances essential for a true democratic culture. Now that you have won, whether you choose to use the word probe or not, go forth to do the work you were voted to do. Exercise your mandate from a position of strength. Offer a clear road map that includes accounting for the missing trillions of our common wealth, closing loopholes for corrupt practices, devising consequences for corruption, and investing Nigeria’s huge resources in a prudent manner.
May God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria!
*Dr. Ogbonnia is the Executive Director, Patriots United for Transparency and Accountability in Nigeria (PUTAN) and is based in Texas, United States.