One of the enduring tragedies of post-colonies, especially in Africa, is the tendency to destroy or sideline established institutions in the quest for accelerated development. Early independent leaders, who claimed to be so much in a hurry to develop their countries, were impatient with the workings of the institutions bequeathed by the colonialists and in most cases sidelined or altogether destroyed these institutions and personalised power. Over fifty years down the line, none of these countries has developed. Rather, they have been turned to virtual wastelands, ravaged, as it were, by tyranny, bad governance, impunity, mindless orgies of crime and death, poverty, hunger and diseases. Yes, these countries now have the worst socio-economic indices in the entire world!
One lesson these African countries and leaders ought to have learnt by now is that strong institutions are the best guarantees for sustainable growth and development and not strongmen. Strong institutions are enduring and guarantee societal progress no matter the people inhabiting them. Personal rule, however, is subject to the whims and caprices of rulers and tends to fizzle out when the ruler departs.
But Nigeria, particularly the government of president Buhari doesn’t seem to have learnt any lesson. The government’s penchant for subtly or even openly interfering with independent state institutions to produce favourable political outcomes is worrying and is setting the country back by decades.
Now, everyone, except those who chose to deceive themselves, know that the CBN – an important state institution that should be independent and insulated from political interferences – is everything but independent. The president openly takes monetary policy decisions reserved for the CBN while the apex bank is left to read the body language of the president and fall in line. Ditto the anti-corruption agencies like the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) that have been virtually turned into an agency of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) harassing and persecuting opposition politicians while acting dump to clear cut and credible corruption allegations against the ruling party apparatchiks. Same goes for important state institutions like the police (whose leadership tries to outdo themselves in demonstrating loyalty to the president and harassing the opposition, the armed forces (whose leaders were commandeered to attend political campaigns in support of the president).
Worse is the government and by extension the President’s open contempt and disrespect for the courts. He has consistently ignored valid court orders and judgements and has carried on as if only he is the most patriotic Nigerian and only he can salvage the country.
The president is effectively setting himself as Nigeria’s messiah, under whom all should bow including other coordinate branches or arms of government whose constitutional duty is to perform oversight functions on the executive and prevent it from abusing its awesome powers.
President Buhari does not appear to have learnt any lessons from sub-Saharan Africa’s misadventure with strongmen. He was once a strongman himself. In 1984/85, as military dictator, he attempted to eliminate corruption from Nigeria with military zeal and ruthlessness. But after he was shoved aside by his army chief, he watched helplessly from behind bars as all his efforts or plans were rolled back and the new government continued with ‘business as usual’, as the Nigerian cliché goes.
Institutions, simply defined, are established laws or practices and are a sine qua non for societal progress and sustainable development. In fact, for Francis Fukuyama, the development of a capable state that is accountable and ruled by law is one of the crowning achievements of human civilisation. It is the absence or weakness of institutions or, more appropriately, a capable state that is at the root of corruption. In Nigeria and other developing countries, corruption serves largely to grease the wheels of inefficient bureaucratic government machines leading to efficient outcomes. Common sense therefore dictates that an effective war against corruption must involve the strengthening of state institutions.
This, however, is not the case with Nigeria. Nigeria’s war against corruption necessarily involves the weakening or destruction of state institutions. From Obasanjo to Yar’Adua, to Jonathan and now Buhari, the stories have been the same. But at no time has any government shown absolute contempt for the rule of law and order and state institutions like Buhari is doing now. Like it happened in 1985, he may wake up to realise that all he succeeded in doing was to create the environment for corruption and impunity to thrive in the country.