Monday, April 18, 2016

The Danger Of A Single Corruption Story

By Moses E. Ochonu

There is a danger in equating corruption in Nigeria with the infractions of a single corrupt individual. At different moments of our national life, we tend to narrowly and naively unload our anti-corruption angst on one individual politician. We then pummel this individual like a piñata while seemingly forgetting that Nigeria’s political corruption is a group act, an orgy of theft involving whole groups of politicians and bureaucrats.
*Buhari and Saraki
We inculpate some politicians while inadvertently exculpating others. We do so to assuage our emotional exhaustion at corruption’s stubborn persistence, and its devastating consequences.
In the second republic the individual stand-in for corruption was Umaru Dikko. In the Peoples Democratic Peoples Party (PDP) era, it was James Ibori. In the unfolding All Progressives Congress (APC) period, that personification of Nigeria’s corruption is Bukola Saraki.
To hear some people talk about Bukola Saraki one would think that the Senate President is the very embodiment of Nigeria’s corruption problem and that his removal from office and/or conviction would magically banish graft and restore probity in the polity.
Reading and listening to some of these folks one would think that Nigeria’s corruption virus originated with Saraki and would end with his conviction. You’d think that Saraki’s ongoing trial was some seminal event in a revolution against corruption and that the reclamation of Nigeria hangs on its outcome alone.
Never mind that Asiwaju Bola Tinubu was charged with exactly the same offense as Saraki in a similarly politically charged atmosphere and that over 70 lawyers invaded the courtroom to defend him and eventually succeeded in intimidating the judge into acquitting him. Mr. Saraki is rightly berated for trying to wriggle out of an actual trial, for seeking to have the charges corruptly dismissed. But it’s now a distant, rarely revisited memory that Tinubu, the architect and champion of change, if you believe the hype, had used a mix of legal maneuvers, bully tactics, and other shady shenanigans to evade justice on multiple occasions when the late social crusader, Gani Fawehinmi, sought to subject him to an open court process. He, too, was afraid of a trial. Today, he issues periodic sermons about how corruption has hobbled Nigeria and needs to be defeated. Depressingly, many Nigerians cheer these sanctimonious pronouncements.

*Tinubu and Buhari 
On our part, we sheepishly and unthinkingly follow them to pour all our anti-corruption outrage into this individual. We then pretend that this person alone is corrupt among the political class or that he is the most corrupt member of that collective. We do it over and over again.
There was a time when this individuated symbol of Nigerian corruption was James Ibori. We created the fiction that Nigeria’s corruption malaise inheres only in the corrupt former governor. He became the avatar of corruption in Nigeria, and his name became interchangeable with graft. That obsession lasted for about five years.
Ibori was eventually nabbed by the British judicial system and put away. One expected corruption to end with the removal of the godfather of corruption. Logically, if our narrative was correct, Ibori’s demise should have signaled the demise of our corruption monster. Instead corruption ballooned in his absence, reaching its stratospheric peak during the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan. Corruption in the post-Ibori era threatened to beatify the former Delta State governor.
Then and now, the obsession with single corruption stories, with individual representative figures of corruption has the effect of shielding other equally corrupt and more corrupt members of the political class from scrutiny and recompense. The larger cult of corrupt officials obtains exculpation by cunningly redirecting our outrage from the entire corrupt political elite to a momentarily disfavoured politician. We then soon discover that corruption does not begin and end with this individual. But we don’t learn from this realisation. We keep repeating the same error.
Saraki’s “anointing” as a symbol of all that is wrong with Nigeria is shielding many of the corrupt people in the APC, including Tinubu, from justice. What’s more, it is allowing them to position themselves hypocritically as champions of transparency and probity.
Earlier, our obsession with Ibori had the effect of displacing responsibility and culpability from the father of corruption in modern Nigeria, former president Olusegun Obasanjo.
We must be wary of single corruption stories that unwittingly give a pass to corrupt people and allow them to further afflict us with insultingly hypocritical and self-serving preachments about fighting corruption.
Moses E. Ochonu can be reached at

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