On Sunday, the All Progressives Congress National Leader, Bola Tinubu, commended Kano State governor, Abdullahi Ganduje, for his efforts in strengthening anti-corruption institutions. The efforts, of course, were tied to the office building of the Kano State Public Complaints and Anti-Corruption Commission Ganduje renovated. Tinubu went on to state that “in ensuring Nigeria becomes a member of a committed international community that frees us from the burden of corruption, this and similar edifices could play an important role in that.” This comment was repeated across several publications, so it was no misquote that he tied “edifices” like a renovated building to measures of anti-corruption.
First, Tinubu and Ganduje fronting any anti-corruption event is problematic in many ways. Ganduje is not code-named “GanDollar” because he runs a Bureau de Change. In 2018, a video of Ganduje pocketing wads of the US dollars, bribes he allegedly demanded, was leaked. In a sane country, such evidenced crookedness is enough grounds for immediate impeachment and prosecution. Unfortunately, Nigeria is a country where the lunatics run the asylum.
Ganduje not only held on to his position as governor, he also won a re-election. Ironically, he is governor in the same state where religious zealots destroy beer bottles but whose fabric of morality somehow never stretches to the point where they demand that a leader under a cloud of gross malfeasance step aside. In a recent interview, Ganduje claimed that the famous video of him pocketing dollars was deepfake. He said his image was cloned and that he is preparing to disprove it. Come to think of it, almost three years after that video was released, he is only still “preparing” to prove his innocence?
As for Tinubu, the allegations of corruption against him are no longer rousing news. A man who would not answer what bullion vans were doing in his house has nothing to tell us about anti-corruption. The work that anti-corruption demands is not about putting up “edifices” or duplicating bureaucracies. Anti-corruption is about developing autonomous and effectual institutions that can dare scrutinise even the high and mighty, and make them accountable to the public. You can put up fancy multi-billion naira buildings, pursue political opponents and expired politicians to jail, ransack judges’ home, sack the Chief Justice, serially discover cash in office buildings, and even accuse anyone who still manages to eat thrice daily of being corrupt, but you will get nowhere until you get the basics of public accountability right.
When public officers who lack the ethics of public accountability grandstand anti-corruption, they do unquantifiable harm because what they communicate to the public is the futility of all institution-building efforts. Their duplicity does not reassure the public; it just makes them more cynical and distrustful. Over time, people lose faith in the very infrastructure of democracy that is supposed to redress certain ethical imbalances in society. Eventually, they will lose patience in the power of democracy and its institutions to transform their lives and begin to clamour for an authoritarian force that will override democratic processes and just take direct actions. In doing so, they open themselves up to manipulative populist politics and attendant abuse of power. Since 2015, we have seen that situation play out in Nigeria. By ignoring all of that to showboat on anti-corruption, they further consign the country into a remorseless rotation of ridiculousness and despondency. If they genuinely believe in the ethic of anti-corruption, they know where to begin.
One of the many reasons we hardly progress is that we define things wrongly and then proceed to apply chemotherapeutic measures on the misdiagnosis. Instead of the development of a robust system that has enough integrity and independence to ask strongmen leaders to make themselves accountable, they take anti-corruption as putting up “edifices” and then invest in ostentatious offices and photo-ops. During Tinubu’s birthday colloquium, the same celebration that took him to Kano in the first place, you see people displaying the same habit of throwing around ideas that because they are poorly defined, successes are measured by useless metrics.
They relentlessly hammered on “unity” as if it is an ideal that is realised only when a bunch of politicians sits at a table to decide the sharing formula to the nation’s resources. Why should the hordes of Nigerians currently imperilled by the rising level of poverty and fast-disintegrating quality of life care about the nation’s unity? For whom has unity been helpful outside the cabal of people who profit off the lopsided arrangement? Our leaders’ abject lack of reflexivity was evident in how they fetishised unity while ignoring the basis of the disillusionment driving those Nigerians that insist the country must be fractured.
At the occasion, the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), brought out the same old story of how he fought for Nigeria’s unity during the civil war. It has been 50 plus years since the war formally ended. The fact that we are still circling the same issue of whether to break up the country or not should give him pause. He needs to reflect more deeply on whether the war truly ended, and whether his so-called fight for unity was worth the expense of lives taken and the damage incurred. Beyond peddling the tale of his role as a salaried soldier during the war, he needs to reflect more on the recurring clamour for secession. Then, the Chief of Army Staff, Ibrahim Attahiru, reportedly vowed that the Nigerian Army under his watch would deal with anyone who threatens the country’s unity. Again, if they have to punish people to make Nigeria remain an indivisible country, is that really unity or people are just in detention? By the time Vice President Yemi Osinbajo told us that in the event of a Nigerian breakup, we would need a visa to Kano, you could tell that although these people are desperate to keep the country together, they lack compelling ideas on why it should be.
Nigeria is in such a difficult situation, and our leaders have nothing to offer us other than this repeated call for unity and cohesion. The truth is, those that are tired of Nigeria do not have problems with their neighbours from other ethnic groups. They get by with themselves in their daily contacts and social relationships. The frustration causing the clamour for a breakup is the abject lack of leadership bedevilling the country and the resolute blindness to the strangulating terms of collective existence. An effete and thieving leadership class that insists on preaching unity to people fed up with their condition does not inspire confidence; it only aggravates their desires for a balkanised country.
That brings me to the point about leadership itself. Throughout the week, we were fed multiple speeches about Tinubu being a leader of leaders because he has raised the people who have occupied one political position or the other. One only needs to look at the degree of the disintegration of social life in Nigeria to query the worth of a political apprenticeship system that produced such leadership. What the praise singers and hagiographers called “leaders” are mere professional politicians whose bottom line is to occupy juicy political positions. Where are the defining values that distinguished this crop of leaders —either in their approach to Nigeria’s issues or the execution of their public office duties— from their counterparts who did not pass through the same school of governance? True leadership creates value, not drains it.
Each time they come out to the public to backslap one another over their achievements either in anti-corruption, unity, or leadership, they present themselves as a tribe of mediocre administrators that is not only disconnected from collective reality but whose lack of awareness is, in fact, inimical to the destiny of the nation. They make people restless, disenchanted, and worst of all, psychically disconnect from the Nigerian project itself.