Jide Akintunde, Managing Editor/CEO, Financial Nigeria International Limited

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  • Fiscal Policy

The lack of political will by the Nigerian state 11 May 2022

In table tennis, which I play as a recreational sport, if a player does not exercise the will to attack when the opportunities present themselves, thereby losing the initiative to his or her opponent, he or she is unlikely to win the match. Without the political will by Nigerian leaders to do the right things, they have kept doing the wrong things, making it impossible for the country to develop.

One of the latest wrongdoings by the Nigerian state was the state pardon granted, last month, to former governors of Plateau and Taraba states, Joshua Dariye and Jolly Nyame, respectively. President Muhammadu Buhari has been derided for this exercise of his prerogative of mercy. Granting state pardon to the two individuals, who were dully convicted for embezzling billions of public funds while in office, doesn’t agree with his pledge to fight corruption.

But putting Buhari on the spot in this case grossly understates the calamity of the state pardon, which was approved by the Nigerian Council of State (CoS). The CoS comprises the President, the Vice President, all former Presidents of the Federation and all former Heads of the Government of the Federation, all former Chief Justices of Nigeria, President of the Senate, Speaker of the House of Representatives, all the Governors of the states of the Federation, and the Attorney-General of the Federation. Such a body of notable citizens who should be role models to the younger people, made the odious decision.

But this should not be surprising. The composition of the CoS itself, is revealing of the lack of political will. Its members referred to as “former Heads of Government of the Federation” are people who had illegally taken over government through coup d’etats. Whereas a coup remains unconstitutional in Nigeria, those who successfully carried it out in the past nevertheless sit in the Council. Indeed, Buhari, who is the current Chairman of the CoS, by virtue of being the incumbent president, overthrew a democratically elected government in 1983. Successful coup plotters can run for president, and the people don’t mind electing them to head a democratic government.

Those who have captured the Nigerian state are above the law; their illegalities are also overlooked, anticipated, and accommodated even in the constitution. But paradoxically, they are also captives of power, unable to use it to solve the country’s myriad challenges. They seem to be afraid of leading the country to success, but they feel at home leading it to ruin.

Many state policies that can unlock Nigeria’s development potentials are well known. They include constitutional restructuring of the country into a true federation in which substantial powers are devolved to the regions for effective governance and local accountability. The country needs to practicalise its secular statehood, which the constitution prescribes. And to enable a demographic transition, which is a necessity in order for the country to harness the dividends of its youthful population, birth control through legislation, incentive or suasion is necessary. But there is no political will to implement any of these.

Ndume and Dariye have joined a list including former Bayelsa State governor, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha (who broke from jail in the UK), that have been granted state pardons after being convicted of monumental corruption they committed while in office. Alamieyeseigha was pardoned by President Goodluck Jonathan who was a deputy governor to the former fugitive and from the same minority Ijaw ethnic group as him. Buhari’s pardon of the duo of Ndume and Dariye is speculated to follow a different logic: both are Christians, and the anticorruption dragnet of the Nigerian state has yet to catch and jail a (Northern) Muslim since 1999.

More insidious is that jailing two former governors for corruption while their former colleagues who probably stole more public funds are free, and when public sector corruption remains rife and bigger in scale, is unjust. Yet, when past corruption can’t be punished because of current graft, future corruption is encouraged.

The ethnic and religious diversity of Nigeria, in the absence of the political will to implement the law and enact good policies, has severely weakened the country. When senior public officials steal public funds, their Muslim or Christian faith becomes their more effective shield from legal accountability. Ethnicity is similarly used to promote impunity.

It appears like holding senior public officials accountable would damage the country. We tend to believe that the country cannot withstand the application of the rule of law. But in actual fact, the reign of impunity is what has held down the progress of the country. But the rule of law serves as a strong deterrent to corruption in the advanced and emerging countries where presidents can be impeached for high crime and misdemeanour (more recently US President Donald Trump), prime ministers ousted from office in a no-confidence vote in parliament (last month in Pakistan), and former presidents jailed for the crimes they committed (former French President Nicolas Sarkozy).

The clear chance to break the reign of impunity in Nigeria is by replacing the current political establishment through the ballot. We need a different kind of leaders, beginning with the president, that can exercise the political will to do the right things for the country.