By Garba Shehu
Africa’s bid to stem widespread corruption took a decisive turn on Sunday in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia when the African Union, AU placed on President Muhammadu Buhari, the task of championing the war throughout continent.
Obviously, the choice is not for nothing as the opposition Peoples Democratic Party back at home claimed in their deeply disappointing reaction to the inauguration of President Buhari as the continental anti-corruption Champion for the year 2018.
As a matter of fact, a section of politicians and some economists have been quick to pronounce the war against corruption in Nigeria a failure because those people are the greatest losers wherever the ordinary citizens make a gain.
The PDP in particular has come to signify the face of corruption in Nigeria and they have not hidden their efforts to shrink the achievements of the Buhari Administration. They are bent, as it clearly seems, on crushing all hopes of ridding this country of the scourge of corruption.
As the President keeps saying, in 16 years that the party held sway, we solely relied on oil, the price of which was as high as US$140 per barrel. Government simply squandered oil revenue through personal spending by corrupt leaders, wasteful expenses and salaries.
This was done rather than growing the economy through capital investment in assets like seaports, airports, power plants, railways, roads and housing as this administration is currently doing.
Nigeria did not record a single major infrastructural project in the 10 years preceding the Buhari administration. In short, the money was mismanaged, spent largely on what was not needed and no savings were made. They compounded the problem by borrowing heavily and failed woefully to pay contractors and international oil companies.
The last two years of this administration have revealed the massive and unrivalled level of corruption in which the PDP and its leaders at the highest level thrived so it mustn’t surprise anyone really that they have chosen their obstructionist role rather than lending a helping hand in the fight against corruption.
By a rough estimate, the amount of money including the value of estates recovered (or in the process of being recovered) from a single woman (Madam), by virtue of being close to power can pay for the construction and equipping a cancer treatment hospital for each of the six geopolitical the Federation, and still counting.
So, if you have noticed, the barbs came out in the last few weeks ostensibly to cast a pall on this continental honour to President Buhari and to Nigeria which, in terms of added significance had the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Anthony Gutierrez at hand giving full support.
Indeed, it is both a tragedy and an opportunity that this honour on Nigeria and our leader is in its timing, is coming amid heightened criticism of his well-recognized efforts to purge the country of bribery, corruption and illicit cash outflows that have become so entrenched to the point of forming a strong a normative social practice.
To help Africa lead this fight, leaders of the 55 countries making up the African Union, AU leaned on President Muhammadu Buhari who swept to power in 2015 vowing to get to grips with graft and unbridled looting of public resources which is undermining the Nigerian economy.
In its two-and-a-half years in office, the administration has made significant strides in its efforts to identify and block loopholes through which oil revenues are stolen; payrolls are populated with ghost and non-existent workers and devised ways of blocking criminals as well as corrupt businessmen and officials from laundering illicit wealth.
As aptly captured by retired Ambassador Usman Sarki, the former Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN: “This well-deserved laurel on Mr. President’s brow demonstrates the close affinity between domestic policy and foreign policy, particularly in matters that have transnational and global significance like fighting corruption.
“Through concerted advocacy and demonstrable leadership shown by Mr. President, the world and Africa have now come to accept the fact that Nigeria is making progress in the anti-corruption front. This positive achievement is now acknowledged as an example of best practice for others in Africa.
“The African Union’s selection of this subject as the theme for this year’s summit meeting is not only of symbolic significance. The AU has come to recognize that corruption is an egregious problem that has fostered many ills all over the Continent.
“Appointing an Anti-corruption Champion is appropriate and timely, and an indication of the prioritization of the fight against the scourge by all of Africa. This is the logical outcome of many previous initiatives by the AU, such as its high-level panel (jointly with UNECA) on illicit financial flows (IFF) from Africa that was chaired by H.E. Thabo Mbeki.
“Giving this honourable task to President Buhari is therefore, recognition of his mettle and reinforcing the evident commitment that he has shown to eradicating this evil in Nigeria. While Mr. President can be trusted to guide by example and provide the needed leadership, it is also important for others to support his efforts.”
As widely-reported in his speech on the launch of the African Anti-Corruption Year dubbed Project 2018 on the theme: “Winning the Fight against Corruption: A sustainable path to Africa’s Transformation,” the President showed a clear understanding of what the task entails and showed a readiness of the rare type to take on the assignment diligently. In his words: “I promise that I and my government shall do our very best to ensure that the anti-corruption agenda receives the attention it deserves.”
He made it clear that corruption is indeed one of the greatest enemies of our time; that it runs completely counter to our shared values as Africans of justice, the sense of fairness, law and order and equity and equality. Corruption, he said, rewards those who do not play by the rules and also creates a system of patronage where the resources are shared out by a small elite, while the majority are trapped in poverty.
When it comes to tackling corruption, President Buhari noted that the Continent has made significant strides in putting in place legal and policy frameworks, notably the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption (AUCPCC).
However, the adoption of legal and policy frameworks on their own have not had the desired success in tackling this evil. This, he noted, is one of the driving reasons why the AU has designated 2018 the African Anti-Corruption Year. The idea is to scale up the efforts during 2018.
Notably, 15 years after the adoption of the AUCPCC, 2018 provides a good opportunity to take stock of the progress made so far, assess what still needs to be done and devise new strategies that appropriately address new corruption challenges.
While the continent has seen sustained socio-economic growth over the past two decades, public confidence has been corroded by a concentration on near-term priorities and payoffs, propelled by corruption. We see the negative impacts of corruption in governance through the creation of political and business cartels that serve narrow interests.
The President noted: “Let us not view the fight against corruption as an end in itself, but rather as an instrument in the fight to eliminate poverty and restore justice, order and dignity to our societies.”
In particular, he recognized the leading role that the media can play in this fight: “You the media have a strong role to play in public sensitization and awareness and requesting and publishing information to increase transparency to hold public institutions and governments to account.”
In expounding on the theme, he expressed the view that corruption has an especially devastating impact on marginalized communities notably youth, women and children. “The effects of corruption breed unequal societies that render vulnerable groups susceptible to human trafficking and displacement, recruitment into armed groups and militia and it deprives them of opportunities to develop their livelihoods.”
To this end, he announced that the AU would organize a Youth Congress on Corruption to address the specific challenges and impacts that corruption has on our emerging leaders. Engaging young leaders is especially important in developing a new attitude to transparency and accountability.
According to President Buhari, the manifestation of corruption in Africa is also a reflection of the need for stronger leadership and oversight institutions. “Tackling corrupt acts and greed require a reorientation of our attitudes and perceptions to corrupt practices. Changing the state of play requires retraining and education as a means to instil better and more transparent values,” he said.
He then announced that as part of the activities during the year his leadership would bring about engagements with key actors in the fight against corruption including parliamentarians, the media, the business community and faith based groups. “As corruption cuts across every sector in society, we should continue to support consultative dialogue among all actors to forge joint solutions to this menace and we look forward to your support and ideas.”
As we indicated in an earlier statement, the Buhari Administration has so far done very well in asset recovery, asset return and transparent management of returned assets. The government has achieved the highest amounts in the recovery of stolen assets and achieved the highest number of convictions by any administration in the country so far.
To this extent, several measures have been initiated for the strengthening of our asset recovery legislation, investigating agencies and the Auditor-General’s office, including through non-conviction based confiscation powers and the introduction of unexplained wealth orders.
The results Nigeria achieved came about as a result of these and other efforts and these are essential steps to initiation of sister African nations in the fight against corruption.
Happily, the anti-corruption Champion, President Muhammadu Buhari says he is ready and available to give tutorials. This gives the continent a good starting point.
Garba Shehu is the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity.