The plan by PDP’s presidential candidate and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar to grant amnesty to suspected treasury looters if elected President, is, in my opinion, the way to go. At an interview on the platform, ‘The Candidate’, hosted by broadcast journalist Kadaria Ahmed, Atiku was asked if corrupt people would be granted amnesty if he became President. He replied:
“Why not? I give you an example of Turkey. Turkey gave amnesty and all the monies taken abroad were brought back and the government said when you bring the money back, you don’t need to pay taxes. Invest in manufacturing, technology and real estate….And look at Turkey today. It is like any other European country today”.
I have canvassed for this position for years and therefore glad that Atiku has added his powerful voice to it, making it possible for this to now form part of the national conversations on how to fight corruption.
For instance in a piece published in this column on May 28 2015 – the eve of the swearing in of Mr Muhammadu Buhari as President - and entitled ‘The Corruption Discourse’, I called for the resetting of the whole war against corruption by granting conditional amnesty to all accused of being corrupt.
I am reproducing below a substantial portion of that article:
“The fundamental problem of this country, in my opinion, is the crisis in the country’s nation-building processes, not corruption. Largely because of this, ‘government work’ (i.e. being a public official or an employee of the state) is regarded as ‘no man’s work’ – and hence very alienating. Developing any emotive attachment to such work is often regarded as stupidity, not smartness. What is regarded as being really clever is the ability to outsmart the system – whether through foot-dragging, moonlighting, nepotism, theft or outright embezzlement of public funds. With the current crisis in the country’s nation-building project triggering a massive ‘de-Nigerianization’ process (that is, people delinking from the Nigerian state into some primordial identities), it will be difficult to effectively deal with the problem of corruption when an increasing number of people have no emotive attachment to the state and its institutions….
“But beyond the rhetoric and the optics, is EFCC really effective in the fight against corruption? Put differently, is EFCC really doing anything similar institutions before it did not do? I do not think so. Obasanjo’s Jaji Declaration (during his First Coming), Shagari’s Ethical Revolution, Babangida’s MAMSER, Abacha’s Failed Bank Tribunals and Buhari’s War Against Indiscipline (in his First Coming), all did the same ‘gra-gra’ in their days before they closed shop. The truth is that EFCC – just like its predecessors - erroneously treats corruption as a problem of moral lapse rather than an inherently systemic problem that is exacerbated in climes where the nation-building process has manifestly failed – as in Somalia – or engulfed in deep crisis – as in Nigeria and several other African countries….
“Given my belief that the fight against corruption, (which every regime in the country since independence has made a cardinal policy), has failed, I think we need to use the opportunity of the incoming regime in the country to make a new beginning. The first stage in this new beginning is to grant conditional amnesty to those accused of corruption or suspected of having indulged in corrupt practices. Under this arrangement, beneficiaries of the conditional amnesty will only be required to forfeit a significant portion of their loot to the state if they confess their crimes, promise to ‘sin no more’ and agree to do community service in atonement.
“There are several reasons why I believe those currently suspected of corruption or standing trial for corruption should be granted CONDITIONAL amnesty:
“First, with so many challenges facing the incoming administration and the country more polarized than ever before, fighting corruption using the failed systems of the past, will not only be distractive but also not likely to yield much fruit. Additionally, managing the politics of fighting corruption using the failed systems of the past in a society like ours is probably one of the reasons why many corruption cases get stalled in the courts. The incoming regime needs to start on a fresh page.
“Second, a conditional amnesty programme will encourage the repatriation of much needed funds hidden in different parts of the world to help accelerate the economy. Such funds will be extremely helpful to the government in these austere times.
“Third, countries all over the world have used amnesty programmes to deal with problems that appear intractable. In 2004 for instance, George W Bush enacted tax amnesty programme, which allowed US corporations to bring home, tax-free, the billions of dollars they stashed away in tax havens. Just before he became gravely ill and subsequently died, Yaradua also offered amnesty to militants of the Niger Delta in exchange for their laying down their guns. If we can grant amnesty to those with blood on their hands, I see no reason why a similar tool cannot be used to draw a line in the fight against corruption in the country.
“Fourth, a future fight against corruption shall recognise it as a systemic problem that is exacerbated by the crisis in our nation-building processes rather than an issue of moral laxity, which appears to underline the philosophy of the current strategy used in the fight against the malaise. Nigeria simply needs to re-think its strategies for fighting corruption and a general amnesty programme could offer the needed break with the failed, unproductive, selective justice and vendetta-driven strategies of the past.”
If Buhari wins re-election, it may be difficult to convince him that his fight against corruption has not really worked – just as others before it- and has, if anything compounded the problems of his government. But the conversation in that direction has hopefully been boosted with Atiku joining the fray.
But it is not only the fight against corruption that needs to be re-thought. At least two other programmes of the government - Tradermoni and School feeding programme - which I believe are well-intentioned but built on faulty economic premises - also need re-thinking. What precisely is the economic rationale for the school feeding programme in an environment where the various tiers of governments are cash strapped, teachers are poorly remunerated (and often owed months of salary arrears) and where the basic infrastructures for learning are either lacking or dilapidated? Justifying the programme on the grounds that improving the nutrition intake of pupils helps them to learn better omits from the equation other critical factors that impact on the learning process. In fact if pupils go to school because of the food, they are unlikely to be motivated to learn. I believe the huge sums spent on the programme could be better invested in other factors that impact on the learning process, including mounting vigorous social campaigns on the importance of education and also addressing the cultural norms and practices which unwittingly discourage young people from going to school.
Just like the school feeding programme, the official philosophy behind the ‘Tradermoni’ programme – lifting the poorest of petty traders out of poverty - is noble, but based on ‘babalawo economics’. I am not really worried about allegations that it is a form of vote buying. In fact it can be argued that any project by any government in power is a sort of vote-buying since most government projects pander to voters with a view to the party being returned to power. My issue with the Tradermoni programme is the naïve assumption that if you give an extremely poor petty trader N10,000, his first priority will be to expand his petty trade. There is equally the simplistic assumption that lack of capital is the only explanation for the very poor petty trader’s economic status. The truth is that not only is N10,000 too small to make any difference in the economic status of any poor petty trader, experience has shown that with such money, those who have not eaten proper food or meat for some time, or bought needed medications will prioritize such over investments in expanding their trade. It is therefore a waste of money because I cannot see the programme making any impact on the traders’ lives on a sustainable basis or most of the beneficiaries repaying (except as a way of getting higher amounts which won’t be repaid) or even the government being able to sustain it. The huge sum spent on this will certainly have been more usefully invested in better thought-out poverty alleviation programmes.
While I will want the incoming government (whether Atiku or Buhari) to rethink some of the current programmes of the government, I will also encourage Atiku (if he wins the election) to learn one thing from the Buhari government: the continuity of policies. Government is a continuum and I think Buhari deserves credit, not criticisms, for retaining several of the policy initiatives from the Jonathan government.