Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Corruption And The Rules Of Engagement

By Chuks Iloegbunam

The fight against cor­ruption has been dominating national discourse since the inception of the Buhari ad­ministration. The Rules of Engagement of the Nige­rian Armed Forces recently weighed in as a topic for de­bate. Discussions on corrup­tion have remained central for two reasons: Candidate Buhari indexed his presiden­tial campaign on it. And it is the one topic President Buhari seizes every opportunity to declaim impassioned commit­ment.

*President Buhari

At the annual Osigwe Anyiam-Osigwe Foundation Lecture in Abuja last week, he was at his sanctimonious best: “Without our collective will to resist corrupt acts as a people, it will be difficult to win the war. Nigeria has been brought almost to her knees by decades of corruption and mismanagement of the public treasury. We must come to a point when we must all collec­tively say ‘Enough is Enough.’”

Unfortunately, the Presi­dent’s anti-corruption rheto­ric, and the manner his gov­ernment is prosecuting the war point to duplicity. This is because the fight against entrenched corruption can­not succeed unless it is sys­tematized. But Buhari’s anti-corruption war is bereft of system. It is selective. It is running on the wheels of me­dia hysteria. It is unconcerned with preventive measures. It is overloaded in censure and sanction. It is, therefore, bound to end in tragic failure. Commentators unwilling to acknowledge the foregoing cannot honestly claim to love the man or support his presi­dency.

Since last week the media has been awash with reports of the misapplied billions re­covered from the plunder of the Sani Abacha junta. Yet, President Buhari insists to this day that General Abacha was not corrupt! That’s one! Two – from Femi Aribisala in Fighting corruption with double standards and human rights abuses (Vanguard No­vember 15, 2015): “A judicial commission of enquiry set up by the Rivers State govern­ment maintained that, un­der former governor Rotimi Amaechi, a whopping N53 billion disappeared from the Rivers State Reserve Fund. Similarly, Babatunde Fashola was accused of spending N78 million of government money upgrading his personal web­site. Nevertheless, the EFCC has not picked up the gaunt­let on any of these allegations. Neither have Amaechi and Fashola ever been summoned for questioning.” Rather, they have been rewarded with Cabinet appointments.

*Chuks Iloegbunam 

How does anyone expect concerted national action in a fight that is patently tainted with blatant political partisan­ship and double standards?

This leads to the dubious manner in which corruption has been defined and con­fined to the narrowness of the looting of public funds, a fac­tor militating against the anti-corruption war. Any good dictionary will see corruption as: “lack of integrity or hon­esty; especially susceptibility to bribery; use of a position of trust for dishonest gain.” In this light of the true mean­ing of corruption, Nigerians should examine two recent military/civilian incidents in which the term, Rule of En­gagement, was used to justify anti-democracy. Nearly three weeks ago, pro-Biafra dem­onstrators blocked the Onit­sha end of the Niger Bridge. Although the demonstrators were unarmed, and although claims of violence against them remain unsubstantiated, the number of demonstrators now counted as shot dead at pointblank range by secu­rity men has climbed to nine.

Does the Rule of Engagement in a democracy support such brutality?

Last Saturday the Army re­ported that it clashed with members of the Shiite sect in Zaria. According to the Army spokesman, the sect mem­bers tried to assassinate the Chief of Army Staff. “The sect members, numbering hun­dreds and carrying danger­ous weapons, barricaded the roads with bonfires, heavy stones and tyres. They refused all entreaties to disperse and then started firing and pelt­ing the convoy with danger­ous objects.” The Army’s press release conceals more than it reveals.

What were the Shiites “firing”? “Heavy stones” and “tyres”?

The Army’s response left casualties said to number in the hundreds.
That’s not the way to do it in a democracy. Protesters could be arrested. Teargas could be used to disperse them. Or water cannons. In extreme cases rubber bul­lets could be fired. Some 50,000 protesters occupied Wall Street in New York from September 17, 2011. Days later, security forces removed them without firing a single gunshot. By the end of Oc­tober, Occupy protests had taken place in over 951 cities across 82 countries. The pro­tests were against financial inequalities. In none of these Occupy protests was a single protester killed.

Of course, foreign exam­ples of genuine democratic practice may be too far for comfort. But it is on record that in January 2012, there was Occupy Gani Fawehinmi Park in Lagos by thousands protesting the removal of fuel subsidy. After five days, the Army dislodged the protesters without firing a single shot, without killing anyone. That was when the much-abused and much-maligned Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan was President! 

Under Obasanjo, there were Odi and Zaki Biam in which thousands of peas­ants were shot dead. Buhari is less than seven months in office and he isn’t doing badly so far! It all boils down to the same Army acting different scripts under various Com­manders-in-Chief. People still cheering in the face of this corrupted fight against cor­ruption, and this corrupted interpretation of Rules of En­gagement can be sure of one thing: Theirs cannot be the final word.

*Chuks Iloegbunam, an eminent essayist and author of several books is a columnist with a national newspaper 

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