• Wednesday, April 17, 2024
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BusinessDay

Making our peace with corruption

Corruption still huge drawback in Nigeria despite reforms

I was not going to comment on the new government of Bola Ahmed Tinubu for a while. But I watched the inauguration and couldn’t help it. Besides, some Tinubu supporters and hangers-on who would lose out in the sharing of the spoils of office will shortly join us, the collective children of anger (apologies to Reuben Abati). So, it is better to begin early before those motivated by grievance join us.

Unforced error

For some of us, we knew the fuel subsidy was unsustainable and unaffordable and have been campaigning for its elimination since 2010. In fact, it was its politicization by the then-legacy parties of the All Progressives Party (APC) that forced me to begin public commentary.

We also know that fuel subsidy will officially end in June. No money was budgeted for it beyond June 30th. But subsidy has been paid for the current fuel in supply. We also know that Tinubu promised to remove the fuel subsidy.

However, at his inauguration, Tinubu got excited, deviated from his carefully written speech, and during his ad-lib added that “fuel subsidy is gone”. Well, people took that statement to mean an immediate end to fuel subsidy. His media team tried to minimise the damage done by clarifying that nothing has changed really and that the fuel subsidy will end June 30th.

All to no effect. Immediately after the speech, fuel marketers began adjusting their prices to reflect the new reality. Even the government-owned Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) stations adjusted their prices accordingly. So, on inauguration day, Nigerians went from buying petrol from N185/litre to over N500 or in some cases, over N600.

Thanks to the emergence of Buhari and now Tinubu, we now know that most of those inveighing against corruption were only using it as a code word for identity and other interests

So, whatever Nigerians are suffering currently has nothing to do with subsidy removal but the loud-mouthedness of its president. It also means the government has wasted trillions of Naira paying for subsidy for more than a month that its people won’t enjoy.

It also means the government has abruptly removed the subsidy, leaving Nigerians to bear the full brunt of the fallout without any program or plan to mitigate the impact of high fuel cost on the poor and low wage earners.
What a way to start a presidential term!

The positive angle, however, is that those who built their political careers on opposition to fuel subsidy removal are now furiously writing and defending its removal using the same arguments we used in 2010-2012 – for which they attacked us for being unpatriotic. The only thing that changed, of course, is the party in power and president.

Presidential gait

As hard as I tried to be open-minded towards the new president, I just couldn’t unsee or pretend not to notice his wobbly and staggering gait during the inauguration. I know Nigerians have an uncomfortable relationship with the ‘truth’ and would hide their heads in the sand even when confronted with it; but still, we owe it to our conscience at least to acknowledge that Tinubu’s gait on inauguration day was not the gait of a 71-year-old.

If we concede, even against obvious evidence that it is, then it is not the gait of a healthy man. But who cares? It’s not as if we have a judiciary that can enforce compliance with the law anyway.

Who will be in charge of Nigeria?

I know minds are all made up and there’s no one left to convince. But going by his appearance and gait of the president we saw on inauguration day, Mr Tinubu clearly does not have, at least, the physical capability (I doubt the mental one too) to fulfil the duties of the office he occupies.

But just like with Yar’Adua and Buhari, someone or a powerful click will be running the show in his name. It is inevitable when you have a frail president. We might as well cut to the chase and know those powerful figures behind the throne than wait for a whole year or two to find out.

Tinubu’s fuel-subsidy gaffe would even speed the move to create that shadowy group or cabal as it is called in the Nigerian parlance. On his first day at work, his wife, Oluremi, and vice president, Kashim Shettima, sat-in at his meeting with the GMD of the NNPC and the governor of the central bank.

While Tinubu’s wife and Shettima will play critical roles in his administration, I doubt they will be at the head of the cabal. While Remi may be forceful and even cantankerous, she doesn’t have the sophistication required to play that role.

As for Shettima, Fashola’s words should serve: “Your child cannot surrender her waist for edifying beads, and you will use the bead to decorate another child’s waist.” In any case, welcome to another regime of the cabal where unelected person(s) would wield untrammelled powers without any means of being accountable for the powers they wield.

Making our peace with corruption

Nigerians love to moan about corruption. And the Nigerian academia, especially in the Humanities and social sciences, love to write about corruption and how it has impeded development in Nigeria. It is as if we viscerally hate corruption.

In 2014/2015, the entire presidential election was based on just that one word, corruption. Then, after eight years and with the country’s corruption perception index worsening since then, corruption has almost disappeared from the Nigerian political lexicon.

Read also: Matawalle versus EFCC chairman: Is corruption fighting back?

While for some, corruption became irrelevant in 2015 when their ‘person’ came to power, for others, it became a non-issue the moment Bola Tinubu declared his intention to be president. Suddenly, most of the journalists, academics and so-called commentators that used to inveigh against corruption suddenly found other talking points – including Tinubu’s sagacity, political investments, and “Tinubu’s turn”.

This makes sense because Tinubu is the definition of corruption itself. From allegations of a drug-trafficking past to the total capture, appropriation and personalisation of Lagos state, and the subtle but effective co-optation of many Nigerian institutions even before the contest for the presidency began, the evidence is everywhere.

It was also not surprising that one of the first guests he welcomed in ASO villa was James Ibori, the notorious criminal, who, together with Tinubu, is the only former governor, since 2007, to have successfully maintained a vicious grip over his state, dictating even from his prison cell in the UK, who should hold what office in Delta state.

Thanks to the emergence of Buhari and now Tinubu, we now know that most of those inveighing against corruption were only using it as a code word for identity and other interests. At least we can all now agree we have no problems with corruption or even known criminals being our leaders!