On February 16th, Nigeria will hold a general election. Four years ago, the country experienced its first democratic transfer of power to the opposition since 1999. The vote in a few days will be no less significant.
As president, I have tried to judiciously exercise the trust vested in me to combat the problems of corruption, insecurity and an inequitable economy. All are important. But amongst them, one stands above the others as both a cause and aggravator of the rest. It is, of course, corruption.
A policy programme that does not have fighting corruption at its core is destined to fail. The battle against graft must be the base on which we secure the country, build our economy, provide decent infrastructure and educate the next generation.
This is the challenge of our generation: the variable on which our success as a nation shall be determined. But the vested interests at play can make this fight difficult. By way of their looting, the corrupt have powerful resources at their disposal. And they will use them. For when you fight corruption, you can be sure it will fight back.
It even threatens to undermine February’s poll and – by extension – our democracy. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission has raised concerns over laundered money being funnelled into vote buying. This is the problem of corruption writ large. It illustrates how it lurks in all and every crevice of public life, manipulating due process in pursuit of self-preservation and perpetuation; protecting personal political and economic interests at the expense of the common good.
Indeed, those who have criticised my administration’s anti-corruption drive are those who oppose its mission. And though their lawyers may craft expensive alibis, they cannot escape that which binds them together: a raft of documents and barely legal (some clearly illegal) mechanisms – whether that be the Panama Papers, US Congress reports, shell companies or offshore bank accounts.
Corruption corrodes the trust on which the idea of community is founded, because one rule for the few and another for everyone else is unacceptable to anyone working honestly.
But as we have intensified our war on corruption, so we have found that corruption innovates to resist the law. This is not the sole domain of those Nigerians, but the international corruption industry: the unsavoury fellow-traveler of globalisation.
Once the enablers are let in – as they have been in the past – the greed of those they collude with grows. We have closed the door on them, but unfortunately there still remain individuals who are willing to open windows.
Concrete progress has been made, but there is still much to do. We have repatriated hundreds of millions of dollars stowed away in foreign banks. These funds have been transparently deployed on infrastructural projects and used to directly empower the poorest in society. More is still to come from our international partners in France, the United Kingdom and the United States of America. Yet the hundreds of billions sifted out of the country for the best part of this century promise more.
We have secured high profile convictions, but greater cases remain. Lawyers table endless objections to obstruct court proceedings, whilst their clients hope it lasts until a ‘friendly’ president is voted into office. We must continue to tighten the legal framework and ensure the authorities have the investigative powers at their disposal to secure sentences. Only then will we begin to neutralise the advantages the corrupt have.
More ghost workers must be removed from government payroll (almost $550 million has been saved from identifying phantom employees). More can be recovered through our whistle-blower policy ($370 million has been returned since its launch in 2016). More is still to come. But, together, we shall prevail over corruption.
A Yoruba proverb states that only the patient one can milk a lion. Likewise, victory over corruption is difficult, but not impossible. We must not flounder in our resolve. I know many Nigerians would like to see faster action. So do I. But so too must we follow due process and exercise restraint, ensuring allegation never takes the place of evidence. For that is not the Nigeria we should wish to build.
There is no doubt that this Administration has changed the way we tackle corruption. The choice before voters is this: Do we continue forward on this testing path against corruption? Or do revert to the past, resigned to the falsehood that it is just the-way-things-are-done? Or that it is just too difficult – too pervasive – to fix? I know which one I would choose. It is why I am asking Nigerians for another four years to serve them.
Written by President Muhammadu Buhari.