#EndSARS as a precursor of a necessary systematic change in Nigeria
The #EndSARS agitations, which a few months ago, almost engulfed the entire nation, is symptomatic of the widespread disappointment, frustration and anger of ordinary Nigerians irrespective of age, gender, religion or ethnicity; directed at the governing elite whose long standing ineptitude, indiscipline and rapacious corruption have brought this nation to its kneel of abject poverty and unprecedented insecurity. It is perhaps understandable that the struggle was spearheaded by the youths who appear to be the most hard- hit by the socio-economic malaise, which has befallen us.
The most prominent component of this malady, whose effect permeates the entire fabric of our society, is corruption. Police brutality and impunity are just aspects of the numerous manifestations of a state that has fully submitted to corruption. In other words, what our youths are fighting against is a face of a multi-faceted monster, which has seized this nation by the jugular. No piecemeal reform will suffice anymore at this point; rather, an overhaul of the entire governance system, starting with delivering a final fatal blow to corruption. No time is more auspicious for this than now.
Corruption is wide ranging and diverse in scope, with political, institutional, legal, financial and ethical dimensions. However, our concern here is majorly with the financial aspect of political corruption, which is considered to be at the very core of corruption anywhere, including Nigeria.
Our central argument here is that the critical governance challenge that has faced Nigeria and which continues to be her major undoing is corruption and its hydra-headed manifestations. Among all the great ills of our society, corruption stands as a colossus among the giants. No other sickness has plagued us, or any disease so ravaged our body.
We strongly believe that corruption is the main fuel constantly inflaming the fire of most of the afflictions that have befallen us as a nation such as tribalism, marginalisation, nepotism, injustice, inequality, abuse of office/ power, brutality of law enforcement agencies, kidnapping, banditry and insecurity, separatist agitations, massive unemployment and penury. All these troubling challenges have made life in Nigeria to almost be akin to what Thomas Hobbes described as ‘the state of nature’ where there is ‘’war of all against all” and life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”.
It therefore follows that the most effective and meaningful strategy for handling our multifaceted developmental challenges, to guarantee prosperity, equity, unity and peace, must be based on a frontal and unrelenting attack on corruption in all facets and strata of our national life, starting from the public space. This is not an easy task but it is one that must be done if our great nation is to be liberated from its present shackles and opportune to soar to the great heights that destiny has ordained for her.
Quite undeniably, most Nigerians recognise corruption as a big recurrent decimal in our national discourse and do agree that we needed to defeat it or it will destroy us. However, the problem is, who will bell the cat? None of our leaders, thus far, has got sufficient gut to take on the monster and subdue it.
To demonstrate the nation’s collective weariness with corruption, the masses voted massively for General Muhammadu Buhari (Rtd), who was considered capable of leading the fight by virtue of his track record of incorruptibiliy. By this reason alone, people like us repeatedly voted for him until he eventually won in 2015 on an anti-corruption platform. But even today, corruption is still very much alive and well, if not waxing stronger, in Nigeria. Basically nothing gets done in most government offices without greasing the palm of someone or promising some settlement to individuals for doing their job. So many things in government are now for the bargain and only the highest bidders secure the best offers.
Unfortunately, even the Courts and the Judges are not spared. A recent survey conducted by the ICPC, the anti corruption agency, found out that within three years(2018-2020), Lawyers gave #9.4bn in bribes to Nigerian Judges. What appears undeniable is that both petty and grand corruption are endemic, pervasive and omnipresent in Nigeria but the one in the public sector is particularly alarming, nauseating and concerning.
It has since become clear that it takes far more than an individual leader’s personal integrity and commitment to see this kind of fight through. It appears that President Muhammadu Buhari is surrounded by many corruption-friendly individuals who do not share his vision on anti-corruption and have done pretty well in sabotaging the effort . Even his own personal determination to prosecute the war on corruption to its logical conclusion is, to us, now becoming increasingly doubtful. The realities have convinced us that corruption is too entrenched in our national life and only a nationwide anti-corruption mass movement can successfully fight the scourge. It is far beyond President Buhari. It has to become a peoples’ collective moral war of liberation against this public enemy number ONE, led, of course, by the President himself.
That is what one expects to see #EndSARS movement transform into. Its scope should be expanded while it is rebranded #EndBADGOVERNANCE movement. If our leaders are genuine listening leaders, they have no option but to listen to the people and do the needful. We still believe that President Buhari is capable of accomplishing a substantial part of this task, possibly ending up writing his name in gold in the annals of our history, if he is able to muster sufficient courage, seize the moment and implement those necessary, systemic reforms that this country so badly craves for at this time.
What then are those necessary reforms and the path forward for Nigeria at this historical juncture? Our position, as earlier enunciated, is that #EndSARS movement should immediately transform into a mass movement for a meaningful change in the way Nigeria is governed at all levels and spheres. It is not a movement for regime change or whatever, but one that will build up the required momentum and sustained pressure sufficient to compel this government to effectively implement the change agenda that earned it the mandate of the people in 2015 and 2019.
The long overdue change begging for immediate action in Nigeria today, irrespective of the powers that be, is in the following areas, among others. If the change is faithfully implemented, a fatal blow would have been delivered to corruption.
Firstly, all looted funds from at least 1999 to date must be recovered. Government should be made to put this recovery on the front burner of its change agenda. The government is not strong enough on this for now.
Secondly, accelerated action should be taken in the prompt investigation, prosecution and punishment of corrupt practices. At the rate at which these processes are moving today, particularly the prosecution aspect, it will take decades before anything meaningful is achieved.
Thirdly, there should be a comprehensive and drastic reduction in the cost of governance. Nigeria is clearly one of the most ‘over-governed’ countries in the world. The cost of running this clumsy contraption called Nigeria is humongous, certainly scandalous and definitely unsustainable.
In addition to the above, governmental powers in Nigeria should be decentralised. The time has come for the political architecture of the nation to be restructured to stem corruption and inefficiency at the centre and facilitate a more rapid development at the federating unit level. The agitation for restructuring is becoming loud and popular especially from the southern and middle belt regions of the country.
Lastly, the Nigeria Police Force must be immediately taken through a reform process that will boost the morale of its personnel and reduce its proclivity to corrupt practices. In this respect, salaries and allowances of policemen should be enhanced to be at par with what obtains in similar armed services in the nation.
In conclusion therefore, it is our firm conviction that even though the immediate cause of the #EndSARS agitation was police brutality and impunity, it now has all the ingredients and potential to transform into a wider mass movement, #EndBADGOVERNMENT primarily directed at confronting one of the root causes of our multi-dimensional problems, namely corruption. As earlier opined, when corruption is fixed in Nigeria, many of our other problems will fix themselves, more or less. It is therefore urgent for all progressive and patriotic forces all over Nigeria, irrespective of religious, ethnic or political affiliations, to rally around this noble cause that majorly focuses on a total war on corruption in our body politic and society at large. By so doing, a bold step would have been taken to deliver our dear nation from the most vicious and relentless enemy it has had the misfortune of confronting since independence.
Dr Bello, a Public Affairs Analyst and Educationist based in Abuja wrote via firstname.lastname@example.org