By Folabi Ogunleye
THE other day, Farida Waziri, the perennially bespectacled Chair of Nigeria’s popular anti-graft agency, announced through the agency’s spokesman, Femi Babafemi, that three governors who served in the previous political
dispensation had been arrested. But Babafemi’s latest announcement on behalf of both the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and his boss failed to generate the kind of general frenzy that some of us observers were used to seeing in the Nigerian commentariat after such announcement – perhaps for obvious reasons. And if you are imagining that this uncommon phenomenon in Nigerians’ reaction to an EFCC action is due to the fact that Waziri’s media-hugging predecessor is out of the picture, you might want to do a rethink.
I don’t know if those gentlemen anticipated their day turning out the way it did, but reports indicate that the trio of Gbenga Daniel of Ogun, Christopher Alao-Akala of Oyo and Aliu Akwe-Doma of Nassarawa, all former governors, were picked up by agents of the anti-corruption body last Thursday. Whenever such happened in the past, the blogosphere usually became alive in an instant, after it must have been invaded by Nigerians of all stripes for and against the move by the EFCC. As others hail the arrest of the former governors for alleged financial crimes, others will pooh-pooh the entire event as mere political games, or stunts, in which the hunted and the hunter already knew the score: zero.
One cannot blame Nigerians for their apathetic response to this latest development. It appears after all that more people in Nigeria are finally coming to the realization that the more you look in Nigeria, the less you see. Manipulative intrigues within the political class are not unique to Nigeria; every society indeed witnesses such to varying degrees. In Nigeria, however, political gamesmanship occurs on a different level entirely, and the stakes involved are of an extra-ordinary type. In many instances in Nigerian politics, everything is expendable – including the credibility of a much-touted anti-corruption campaign by the government of the day. In extreme cases, the life of a politician – somebody’s father, brother, mother or sister – is taken in a deadly hail of gunfire; a sickening tribute to the adage that says “one person’s good fortunes may not materialize if another person’s fortune does not go bad.”
The current operation by the EFCC may be a well-intended one that will be pursued to its logical conclusion. But antecedents involving similar operations reveal otherwise. For too long, the Nigerian population has been treated to everything from the bizarre to the ludicrous in the so-called fight against corruption. Persons, important along with less important ones, have been arrested and charged in well-publicized cases, only for these cases to peter-out in such anti-climactic fashion that leaves optimistic observers within and without Nigeria deflated. It therefore becomes apparent to any keen observer of these events that these acts are more or less staged acts, done either to mesmerize the citizenry or to intimidate political opponents who constitute considerable threat to those in power.
The end result of such is that a huge trust deficit emerges between the political class and the general citizenry, no thanks to those years of deceit and manipulation and exploitation of these long suffering but otherwise vibrant people. Even genuinely conceived and executed efforts are trashed by observers, and cases that need popular support to survive become a cause for ridicule even by the offenders under trial, weakening otherwise strong cases brought against these persons. The youth who are also observers in all of this also miss out on the necessary inspiration that they would otherwise garner from a genuine and passionate fight against corruption. In place of that is a culture that not only survives in corruption, but one that promotes corruption and gyrates to the rhythm of corruption.
It is not only when corruption cases go awry that Nigerians get disillusioned. In many cases, political leaders arrive on the scene full of promise and expectation – and indeed begin to perform in their various leadership capacities – only to turn out the exact opposite of everything they once were thought to be. Gbenga Daniel, one of the arrested governors and whose tenure as governor was one of the more controversial, is a case in point. He emerged as governor on the scene of Ogun politics, if not with great promise, at least by showing the potentials of a leader with vision and purpose – or so we were told. He invested heavily in people-oriented incentives, earning himself the commendation of observers around. It however was a completely different story by his second term in office; the man who was once seen as a confident progressive had turned a paranoid tyrant who shut the state legislature indefinitely.
Another case in point is the recent arrest of the former number four citizen of Nigeria, Speaker of the Federal House of Representative, Dimeji Bankole. While it is yet to be proven in the court of law that Mr. Bankole indeed perpetrated the acts for which he has been charged, there is the impression that the case is going the way of a few other similar cases in Nigeria’s recent memory, conveniently forgotten and joyfully ignored. When such happens, it only leaves one with no choice but to believe that the arrest has more to do with brow-beating amongst political apparatchiks, or an attempt to distract Nigerians from critical issues that have a direct bearing on their daily lives.
Wherever or whenever such behavior occurs, it only helps create an unfortunate atmosphere of cynicism in the society. And in a developing society as Nigeria where the interest of the public is critical to her emerging into her true potentials, the existence of cynicism on such deep levels goes a long way in inhibiting progress or success. It is one’s expectation that those who are in charge of prosecuting cases of corruption, along with relevant political leaders across the board, would want for the country to progress towards her true potential. Attaining this goal requires not for these political leaders or public defenders to use critical issues as prosecuting offenses to intimidate their opponents or to manipulate the citizenry, but instead it requires for them to use these events for the lasting purposes for which they are meant. We wait to see if Farida Waziri’s latest move is another storm in a teacup.