Obviously, the anti-corruption stance of President Muhammadu Buhari is catching some fire among many citizens. Suddenly, many Nigerians are getting interested in an all-out war against corruption and are offering their open support and suggestions on how best the government should go about it. The joke is that, ‘Now, stealing is corruption’. It is an apparent attempt to throw a punch at immediate past president, Goodluck Jonathan, who notoriously asserted that ‘stealing is different from corruption’.
During the week, I listened to the publicity secretary of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Olisa Metuh, speak on a radio programme called ‘Buharimetre’ where he stressed that by all means, the new government should go after all the looters of our common wealth and get them punished as appropriate. He was quick to add, though, that the president seemed to be using the corruption fight as witch-hunt of political the opposition. So, apparently, there is a common ground between the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the party it dislodged from government.
The above calls for cooperation of all to ensuring that, even if we cannot kill corruption, we can, at least, give it a near-fatal blow. The greatest boost so far to Nigeria’s fresh onslaught on corruption has come from the Labour movement and this happened during the week. In syndicated rallies across major Nigerian cities, the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) affirmed their support to the Buhari administration to attack corruption. In the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), the groups marched to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in solidarity. Apparently concerned about the seeming failure of the prosecuting agencies to achieve so many convictions, NLC leader, Ayuba Wabba, said of the EFCC: “They should not only bark, but they should be seen to be biting.” They later went to the National Assembly Complex to register their demand for the federal legislators to act fast against corruption.
I am all excited about this trend and I truly hope we can sustain this tempo and get it right this time. But I am also concerned that we don’t get too giddy about this anti-corruption war. My concern stems from the open declaration of the Labour movements for the death penalty for those who loot the common wealth. It wasn’t a one-off thing. Everywhere the rally went to, the same sentiment was echoed by the workers and perhaps other citizens who joined them. Now there is a problem here that is akin to mob action and jungle justice.
It is understandable that a people whose rights have been thoroughly abused and their common wealth despoiled, any opportunity to get back at the perpetrators would be done with much vengeance. Many people are therefore hot-headed and blood-thirsty. That is what happens when we get very emotional. I recall the discussions that characterised the Ibrahim Babangida Political Bureau in 1986 when they went around requesting information on the nature of government best suitable for Nigeria and when. I recall how many citizens, angry at how the civilian government had messed up the country, suggested we should continue with military rule for at least 50 years.
I am still trying to understand what the Labour group means by death penalty for corruption. Pray what nature of corruption are we talking about here? My suspicion is that we are so focused on ‘other people’s corruption’ and are quick to throw the stone that we fail to see our own corruption. Interestingly, within the same week, President Buhari, speaking through Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, accused civil servants (who belong to the Labour movement) of corruption and inefficiency. Are those corrupt and inefficient civil servants going to be sent to the gallows, based on this suggestion of Wabba?
Maybe the proponents of death penalty for corruption should go further to start the differentiation and classification of corruption. What is the evidence anyway that death penalty is enough deterrence against crime, especially corruption. This explains why there is global trend against the death penalty. Tackling corruption requires much more work at different levels. This includes information, reorientation, prevention and punishment. The punishment need not be death. Let the work of identifying, investigating, prosecuting and jailing the corrupt begin and let the Labour fix its house by urging its members to act according to law, rather than get giddy about who should face the death sentence.