Friday, June 24, 2016

A world without borders.

Do not tell a man who is carrying you that he stinks.
African proverb.
An American man shot and killed nearly 50 people and injured on lot more at a Gay Club in Orlando in the US three weeks ago, and the war eating up Syria and threatening much of the entire region was thrust at the heart of his motive. Another man killed a French policeman and his partner a few days later and reminded the world that ISIS is a major player in global politics and security. A British member of parliament was shot by a man in a sleepy village in England, and the killing reminded the world that Britain was involved in a major decision on its place in Europe. International relations and politics are at the heart of the US Presidential contest, and will be central to the success of either candidates.
The loss through sabotage, of substantial amounts of Nigerian crude in the market affected the global price of the commodity. Football hooliganism in European championship matches in France reminded the world  how stretched its defenses are against violence and terror. Many European nations scrutinize the movements of their Muslim nationals, and agonize over how to shield their citizens and communities from destructive ideologies and influences. Post-killing information reveals how much surveillance nations that cherish civil liberties place their citizens under, and profiles of a young practicing Muslim with strong views over Israel, the war in Syria or the global state of Islam attract intense attention. Security of Europe and the US is now substantially a function of developments in wars involving Muslim countries and communities. A few decades ago, the latter caught cold when the former sneezed.
Throughout the world in this month of intense worship, Muslims are engaged in lamentations and repudiations over the relations of Muslims with a world growing increasingly worried over the appearance of their religion with pronounced symptoms of split personality. Even as they fast, Muslims die in the hands of Muslims, using bombs, bullets, intelligence and motivation supplied by non-Muslim nations.  Eighty thousand Palestinians are locked out by Israel over the killing of four Israelis, an act that will make the Ramadan even more of a difficult month. Iran signals its intention to boycott this year’s Hajj, taking its fight with Saudi Arabia to new levels. Saudi Arabia chastises the US for pampering Iran over its armaments policy. African families lose thousands of relations in the desert and the seas as they scramble to reach lands where they are not welcome.
It is not just a smaller world. It is a world without borders. Values and systems which created grounds for globalization are clashing with those which make it easier to exploit the limitations of globalization. Just about every conflict has deep religious or cultural undertone. Nations in Europe are erecting high walls against illegal migrants, worried that jobs and cultures are severely threatened. They already have millions of citizens who are so alienated that they will trade the relative affluence of European towns and cities to fight for causes that offend their nations' dominant values. China sharpens a vision of a world roughly resembling its character, while Russia asserts itself as the only power in Eastern Europe. A mosquito virus which leaves a terrible affliction threatens to compound the potential damage to the Rio Olympics, after popular discontent over poverty levels, corruption and ambitious politicians wreck havoc on Brazil's papered image.
        Nigerians are in great despair as the price the world is willing to offer on its revenue lifeline takes a dangerous dive. They now pay a lot more for petroleum and rice and a long list of other foreign goods and  basic necessities that other nations sold to them in the past. There is a lot less money to pay for luxuries with a weaker Naira, and even salaries of government workers is now a victim of global impact on the Nigerian economy. Thousands of young Nigerians studying abroad are living with a new phenomenon of living on shoe string budgets or no remittances at all. There  is less money to sustain the elaborate amnesty programme in the Delta, and a host of interests have found this a useful entry point to re-engineer a resurgence of violence in the region. More of scarce resources that may need to be deployed to stop the carnage, or abandoning the retrieval of stolen funds from powerful people from the region will deepen poverty and desperation in other parts of the nation. Widespread and pronounced poverty will swallow investments in critical infrastructure and human development, and alienate the citizen further from the leadership and the state. Crime and violence will assume greater prominence in lives, as citizens and communities resort to self-help.
      The world will not stop going round (or forward) until Nigeria gets its acts together. Bold, disciplined and imaginative policies could chart a course out of our current difficulties, but they will need substantial elite consensus and collaboration on the essentials of the next and future steps. Foreign investment will be a major component in the reconstruction of the Nigerian economy at all stages. It will look hard for an environment that is relatively safe and predictable, policy frameworks that protect and encourage them, and political stability and national security. There are many global centers of influence with resources that will give nations like Nigeria entire packages that will promise to solve their problems. They will also punish nations who choose do-it-yourself strategies. There are also investors from nations who ask no questions on your politics and values, provided their investments are safe and productive. In this small world where choices are difficult to make, those we choose to relate with as partners will say a lot about our own values and our understanding of a world that does not owe us a meal or a break.
        We live in a harsh and punishing world. Friends are those to whom you are useful. No one country's problems are unique, and no one country or region operates entirely as it wishes. Difficult as it is to contemplate, Nigeria's current challenges provide great opportunities to reshape its future. Two key requirements need to be met, however. One is an improvement in engineering elite political cohesion and consensus around key goals and strategies. The other is building a solid popular base for substantial structural changes in the longer term, and a clear understanding of sacrifices that will need to be made. These challenges will need to inform all the decisions and activities of the President and other leaders.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Managing Constituencies

Prefer a leader who comes to you.
Ugandan Proverb.

A mandate is a sovereign authority to exercise power. This was what the Nigerian people gave President Muhammadu Buhari last year. How he manages that mandate is a function of many factors, principal among which is his ability to build and sustain popular support behind his policies. There are many other factors that are substantially conditioned by the manner political, economic and security issues influence perceptions and disposition of major interests in the country. At this stage of his administration, President Buhari ought to be critically assessing the state of his mandate in a context which has made governance decidedly more challenging.
A useful starting point will be to enquire into the state of the President's Nigerian constituency. His election had seen the nation move beyond some of its worst nightmare. This included the possibility that the elections could be rigged or botched, triggering an uprising on an unprecedented scale that would plunge the nation into irretrievable crises. It could also have gone the way of a largely discredited leadership that had run its course, leaving the nation with nothing other than a continuation of a kleptocracy without even the elementary capacities to cover its tracks. A coalition of parties and powerful persons had worked together to assure the nation that its elites can still reach out to each other to bridge gulf and distances which their scramble for its resources very often create. Millions of people desperate to make their votes count towards changing their lives had toiled and kept faith with an electoral process that had a very suspect past. Nigerians cheered as former President Jonathan conceded, making history as the first incumbent president to lose an election and concede defeat. The nation gave itself a new lease of life.
It will be comforting to believe all these. Most of it was true, except the references to the whole nation. Millions who did not vote for Buhari waited to see if they will be part of his political constituency. Voices were raised from these quarters, alledging injustice, marginalization and discrimination. In the East, neo-Biafra agitations took a new life. In the South-South, political resistance against Buhari's APC dug in, with violence scuttling many repeat elections in those few places where other parties did not win. In the last few months, violence by armed groups with patently political goals has wrought massive damage on oil and gas infrastructure in the region, threatening to shut out much of the nation's ability to earn revenue from that source for many months to come. In much of the North, millions of peasants, artisans and young people held up their 'Change Wanted' placards. Boko Haram retreated leaving behind an incredible record of its presence in millions of fractured lives now sheltering in camps. It kept its spoils in the Chibok girls as the nation waits for some definitive signals on its status. Powerful and connected people who had ripped the nation of billions shuddered every time news came that one more in its elite circle was being investigated. The PDP moved from crisis to more crisis as its unfamiliar role  sank in.
President Buhari will be well advised to visit his national constituency and improve his political presence in it. Elites from the East who are available to engage on the remote and immediate causes of some of the seeming hostility to the administration should be encouraged to put these issues on the table. The President's political presence in the East should be reinforced by additional appointments of people who have some grasp of politics from the region. Neo-Biafra agitation and even the anti-'Fulani Herders' sentiments are very likely to be symptoms that a quality and sincere engagement may unravel. The president is quite capable of distinguishing between submitting to blackmail and responding to postures that suggest that some basic needs that will not threaten the nation's health require to be addressed. If there is a current engagement with people who have taken up arms again in the name of resource control, it should be sustained. The president's constituency around security of assets and welfare of local communities needs to be strengthened in the region. The challenge is to be imaginative in establishing the exact nature of the interests behind this latest round of violence, and then taking steps to engage them in a manner that does not sacrifice the core interests of the administration. Voters who put President Buhari in power from the North need constant reminding that he is not taking their continued support for granted. They also want what all other Nigerians want: positions, resources and influence.
The constituency in the fight against corruption is solid, but there is a marked degree of restiveness over concerns that a fight back is registering some success. Improvements in efficiency of investigating agencies and creative collaboration with the judiciary to process cases better and faster will be important if public confidence in the outcome of this important pillar of the administration is to be sustained. Management of information on anti-corruption activities and results also need to be improved. Reforms of public institutions to block leakages and vulnerability to the type of plunder and abuse Nigerians are daily hearing about should also be prioritized. Whispers that petty graft and abuse of basic processes are still prevalent under the administration could become louder if Nigerians do not see a marked improvement in the willingness of public officers not to ask for  or collect bribes. The fight against corruption must enlist States. The President  cannot fight corruption behind a firm and fixed line. He must lean hard on governors and national legislators to walk with him on this issue.
The constituency around creating an economy that works for the people is President Buhari's largest constituency. It is also the one most affected by the crash in crude prices, damaged oil infrastructure, major reforms that make lives a lot more challenging and heighten uncertainties that change for the better will happen in their lifetimes. There is no magic that will transform an economy in recession, but a fair and disciplined management of funds and other opportunities  will reduce the hardship most Nigerians experience. Substantial investment in areas that will transform the structure of the economy in the longer term will keep this constituency in line. Power is a major irritant in citizen-government relations. If the administration cannot improve the quantum of power available, government should make sure that the new owners of this vital utility are not also  ripping Nigerians while they stay in the dark.
There are many other constituencies that need more attention or rebuilding. The security sector needs to be seen to be responding to threats. Young Nigerians waiting for employment or opportunities to be productively engaged need attention and imaginative policies and initiatives before they walk away from expectations that the democratic system can promise and deliver. The President's party is wilting from neglect and internal schisms. A few of those who had walked with him are beginning to ask if they have arrived, or the destination has been changed. These constituencies can be made to feel important by a President who can do a lot more by exercising powers he was given by Nigerians. He can do this better if he scrutinizes his management and political capacities and takes steps to improve them. Nigeria is a large and complex country going through some trying challenges. It trusted Buhari to lead it through thick and thin. In the days ahead, his abilities to expand his assets and reduce his limitations will be contingent on the manner he negotiates with his key constituencies to retain enough control to lead the nation out of these very trying times.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Muhammad Ali

Where you sit when you are old shows where you stood when you were young.
Yoruba proverb.

Muhammad Ali is in the ring for the last time, but he is done fighting. What he will confront now is the record of a life he has left behind, the sum of all the fights he took up or were forced upon him. He had prepared well for this final engagement, mostly by coming to terms with the reality that the final fight has long been chalked off with prolonged illness and the certainty of death. The final judgment on Ali's life will be delivered by the God to Whom Ali had long yielded the title that he had, with some justification, given to himself: The Greatest.

The world has since tallied the points in Ali's life in this world. If our judgments as mortals count, they should see Ali winning the final test with his records, strength and character in his previous life. His life was one of those rare events in human history when particular individuals stand out by defying the limitations of mankind, but not every one of this rare breed will be judged as a benefactor of mankind. It will be a stain on his life to mention Muhammad Ali in the same breadth with those human phenomena at a time the world is mourning one whose existence represents a definite redeeming element of mankind. Humanity will be poorer with the loss of Muhammad Ali, and the world he leaves behind will look back at a time when courage, conviction and compassion pushed a few men to create new frontiers in human history that are not defined by blood, bullets and barricades.

Muhammad Ali was not a boxer. He was a fighter for causes far bigger and nobler than boxing. He was not a black American activist. He was an American who rejected an America that had accepted a stunted character when it could be bigger and better. He was not a civil rights champion. He stood for rights that were as important to white America as they were to black America, and indeed the whole of mankind. He was not a black hero. He was a global citizen who was present in every home;, a reference point in the obstinence and resistance of men, women  and groups who refuse to be bullied and oppressed; in the nightmares of oppressors that the weak can be strengthened to say no; and a metaphor for the enduring human values of reward for hard work and faith over doubt and fear. He was not super human. He was a man full of frailties and weaknesses who taught the world that mankind cannot keep running away because it feared its demons. He showed mankind how demons tremble at a weak mankind that stopped running.

Muhammad Ali died at a period when mankind had lost its bearing. Nations that claim superiority because of the strength and qualities of their values are now in the gutter with much of the rest of mankind. Values and systems they spawned are being trashed by the same nations that conquered others and went to war to defend them. The inherent dignity of the human race, freedom, social justice, equality and progress which people like Muhammad Ali, Nelson Mandela, Dr Martin Luther King, Mahatma Ghandi and Kwame Nkrumah gave or lost their lives to, have lost meaning in the last years of Ali's life. Now strong and weak nations and people fight either to impose their will or to resist in many destructive struggles that no one has powers to stop or mediate. Religion, a major source of personal comfort and inspiration for Muhammad Ali has become a major source of global conflict. Some of Ali's fellow Muslims fight each other and everyone else. Powerful non-Muslim nations make fortunes selling them weapons, or use the fights to strengthen their hands in affairs of Muslims. The world bleeds as Ali's religion of Islam, once the fountain of all that was civilized about humanity is demonized by others, while it struggles to define its essence to itself and defend itself against a world unwilling to scrutinize its prejudices.

Ali's America gave a hint that it can make restitution for history and live in contemporary realities, when it elected a black President in Ali's life. That President recently visited Vietnam, the nation Ali refused to go and fight on grounds that its citizens were not his enemies, losing his championship and being banned from boxing for five years as a consequence. The same America must have worried Ali in the last few weeks of his life when it appears willing to break another new ground by having a woman run for its presidency, and then, in the opposite direction, with its flirtation with Donald Trump, a man who represents all the values and standards that America does not need to assert itself as a leading nation today. There are still flashes of the past in a nation which is notoriously difficult to drag through some its limitations. Young black males are still popular targets for police bullets. Riots which follow shootings of black youth will remind Ali's generation of days they thought will not have a place in today's America. Statistics about black people provide unending sources of dispute over whether their lot is improving with America, or getting worse.

The world changed in many ways in Ali's lifetime, and a few of its turns in a positive direction owed much to people like him who insisted that core principles that gave dignity to people were not negotiable. Africa presented him with a serious challenge. He witnessed a resurgence in the demand and benefits of freedom and progress from Africa, and periodic descent into the lowest levels of existence as leaders led their people to disasters that were completely avoidable. The last few years of Ali's life must have been a mixture of great sources of satisfaction and disappointment. Mandela's freedom and presidency will rank among the most joyful occasions in the life of a man who discovered the value of fighting to win in the ring for name, ego and livelihood, and outside it for justice. But much of Africa has been held back by the absence of visionary leaders and a world that had little room for the weak.

Muhammad Ali's fight is over. Those who see value in preserving and teaching the history of the resilience and triumph of the human spirit will find a very rich source of inspiration in the life and times of Ali. History will record a precocious young man who resisted centuries of debilitating legacy to rise and embody the best in humanity. It will be a tremendous service to that legacy if those who tell Ali's story also say that he was as human as the rest of us, so that many young people today can attempt to meet and even surpass his standards.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Barrel of the gun

If you are not part of the steam-roller, you’re part of the road. Anonymous

        There was good news and bad news at the end of the first year of the Buhari presidency. The good news was that the nation had a fairly good idea of the magnitude of its problems. The bad news was that some citizens did not accept that the nation had enough problems. In the next year, and until 2019, President Buhari will attempt to manage an extremely challenging economic environment, threats to national security and mind-boggling systemic corruption that had stripped the nation bare. These are times that will test the capacity of the administration to engage on multiple fronts and levels. The last few weeks suggest that the administration is coming to terms with key economic management issues that ought to have been taken on earlier. Deregulation and other key reforms in the oil sector, and decisions on devaluation will remove major liabilities on managing an economy that was limping on very slippery grounds. Now Nigerians can live with an economy that is genuinely in recession, and governments can push through policies that are consistent with this reality.

The challenges of rebuilding infrastructure and institutions, sustaining the successful campaign against an insurgency that had the nation on the run and building accountability and integrity into the governance process are being compounded by new threats to national security and an economy already on its knees. Some years ago, the Niger Delta was the major threater of conflict. Peace of sorts was secured through a difficult process of engagement, negotiation and major concessions to people under arms and the communities they claimed to speak for. Guns and bombs then moved north in the name of an insurgency that had a vaguely-defined goal of defeating the Nigerian state. It was fed in part by the failure of leadership and in part by its novelty. Many varieties of breaches of internal security threatened to become permanent features of lives of Nigerians. The electoral process, never far from being hostage to violence, was increasingly becoming swamped to a point where large numbers of Nigerians have virtually given up voting and defending their votes. At this stage, it is safer to bet that a repeat election will end as inconclusive, such is the fear that voters and officials could lose limbs or lives while exercising their rights to choose leaders.

The nation faces the danger of its energy and resources being hijacked by the pursuit of solutions to multiple sources of threats and violence alone. It is important to recognize the potential damage from this danger to the capacities of a leadership that ought to primarily focus on economic reconstruction and rehabilitation. Those who are firing and bombing their ways to recognition, relevance and influence are coldly calculating their chances of tying up this administration around fighting them in much of the country as its sole preoccupation. It is not idle speculation to inquire over timing and motives, although even the most generous analyses will see attempts to frustrate a government that has set vital, strategic goals. These include the imperatives of raising the bar in the quality of governance and ensuring accountability and restitution where it has been made necessary under the law, as well as a commitment to strengthen the state’s capacity to protect citizens.

The neo-Biafra agitation has two levels. Those who believe they can violently excise a huge part of Nigeria on behalf of millions of Nigerians from whom they have no mandate are involved in treason. Many are already facing the laws of the land, and it will make no sense to encourage government to release persons who will promptly mobilize others to commit the same crimes. There is a layer behind the agitators which makes the case that more economic and political concessions to the Eastern States will destroy the case being made for Biafra. This is the layer that will say, for instance, that an additional State in the East will dampen Igbo agitation for equity. It will say more political appointments will assuage grievances over marginalization. It will insist that massive, additional investments in roads and other infrastructure will reinforce Igbo perception that Nigeria has a place for Igbo. It will even make the case that wholesale pardon for Nnamdi Kanu and his comrades will signal a willingness to tolerate and accommodate dissent from a nation that had pardoned Niger Delta militancy.

The President should engage and discuss with leaders and elders from the East who have views on dealing with the neo-Biafra agitation. Similarly, those who feel they can offer suggestions on stopping the destructive carnage going on in parts of the Niger Delta should be granted a hearing. It will be vital to speak only with people who denounce violence as an end to political goals; who believe that changes in the manner the nation is structured and run need to be negotiated; and who recognize that all sections of the country have their own shopping lists of grievances and their solutions. If there are productive alternatives to the use of force in dealing with people who have taken up arms to extract concessions from other Nigerians, they should be explored.

Where most Nigerians will draw the line is around conceding that the fight against corruption must have permanent and insurmountable geo-political barriers. Demands backed by violence which will translate into major political concessions will not be supported by most Nigerians. Cynical manipulation of familiar faultlines by very powerful people running either from the law of their legacies will be resisted. Those who will make the case that every new threat should be tolerated or bought over because the nation has enough on its plate fail to recognize the reality that this is precisely the goals of the people behind these threats.

There are many options to take up in dealing with threats, and the barrel of the gun is a poor option. There are many patriotic Nigerians from the East who recognize the danger behind the neo-Biafra adventure. These are the groups President Buhari should engage to distance mainstream opinion and millions of Igbo people from Kanu and his comrades. No one, however, should underrate the resolve of Nigerians not to yield to the barrel of the gun as the key element in deciding how we live with each other. There are also many people from the Niger Delta with the capacity to mediate and rein-in the elements destroying their communities’ only assets and the nation’s current economic lifeline. These persons need to be encouraged and mobilized by the administration, to the extent that they recognize that the only option to the immediate cessation of destructive action going on in the region is prolonged and pronounced military engagement and destruction of economic assets and the peace and livelihood of local communities.

Barrels of guns are being thrust in the face of Nigerians criminals and people who have political goals to achieve. A barrel can be neutralized by another barrel, or by other means that will render all barrels irrelevant or unnecessary. Nigerians will hope that they are not confronted with more conflicts they have to fight, and they will trust the administration to explore all avenues to resolve both old and new conflicts. The biggest battle ahead is one that involves building an economy and a nation that will address the future of young Nigerians, wherever they are. In this battle, no one should be a spectator.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Sobering triumph

Everyone's in favour of progress. It's just change they don't like. Anon.

A sensitive celebration of the first year anniversary of the inauguration of President Buhari will not roll out  the loudest drums. True, there are good reasons why the anniversary should be loud and noisy, but restraints in the manner a major watershed in Nigeria's history will be celebrated are likely to be placed by a sober recognition of the state of the nation. It is rare for Nigerians to wear long faces on festive occasions, but this is one of those occasions when reflection is best suited.
This time last year, most Nigerians were looking forward to the benefits of the emergence of a new administration that would set new standards and direction for the nation. The fact that this administration emerged at all is a small miracle. There were genuine fears of the consequences of a Buhari on lives and assets at the top echelons of the Jonathan administration. Every trick in the book was employed to frustrate that possibility, and was resisted by a citizenry that had made up its mind to trust the General who was to fight insecurity and corruption. The international community had made it clear that it would welcome a change in leadership that will address the threats to the country and stop the brazen pillaging of the nation's economy. When it became clear that losing will represent an unacceptable option for Jonathan's circle, incredible stores of energy, muscle and goodwill were deployed by Nigerians and foreign friends to persuade both contestants to concede if  they lost, and to seek assurances that there were to be no persecutions.
The combination of a credible electoral process and a productive mediation on possible outcomes saw the nation conduct largely peaceful and credible elections, defying the most frightening, but not altogether baseless projections to the contrary. Nigerians set a new mark on a spectrum with extremes of condemnable and commendable, moving from our traditional role of leading Africa towards the former. A president emerged who had contested and vigorously challenged his loss three times. An electoral system that had been a major liability for the nation's democratic process delivered the will of the people without the usual flow of blood and threats to the nation's survival. An incumbent president was defeated for the first time in Nigeria's history. A party that had grown fat and complacent from patronage and spoils of office was roundly rejected by Nigerians. The results reflected some of the traditional geo-political character of the nation, but on the whole, they showed a nation willing to move beyond its historical comfort zones to create something new.
And so the Buhari presidency was ushered in with very high expectations. Hard-pressed Nigerians running from bombs and bullets or chasing crumbs from vast resources being stolen felt they had created their own government. The world was relieved that Nigeria survived its elections and had a leader it can do business with. The appetite for major improvements in security, management of the economy and integrity of the governance process had been whetted by the reputation and the promises of President Buhari. The opposition was in disarray, and few would question the capacity of the new administration to deliver on its promises.
A year down the road, you will be lynched in many parts of the north if you said that security of lives has not been improved as a result of the successes against Boko Haram. The people in the north-east will still sleep better if there are no lingering threats from suicide bombers and insurgents holed up in forests, as well as over two million fellow citizens living in camps. No one holds President Buhari responsible for this, but parents of the Chibok girls and thousands whose relations are also missing will want them home. As Boko Haram retreated, new and recycled threats emerged, some exploiting weaknesses in our internal security assets, others with more patently political undertones. A neo-Biafra group was making the case with threats and blood that Nigeria and Igbos had no place for each other. Inter-communal violence involving sophisticated weapons assumed uncanny political character and threatens to compound major worries over the state's capacity to secure communities. Then, parts of the Niger Delta exploded with bombs destroying oil and gas assets, and voices behind them demanding major political concessions. The disastrous collapse of crude price is now being made worse by losses of huge quantities of exportable crude to organized violence seeking political goals, the classic definition of terror.
The intimate relationship between security, politics and the economy has been made more prominent in the last few months. The anti-corruption war is likely being resisted by exploiting major weaknesses or links in the Nigerian economic chain. The manner the fight itself is being fought has created massive expectations that could pose problems owing to the fact that it has to be processed and channelled through a problematic judicial process. Impatient Nigerians want assets confiscated, restitutions made and culprits in jail now. Many believe that stolen wealth and retrieved funds can be deployed to cushion the effects of the economic recession that is making life very difficult for them.
Many Nigerians still have faith that President Buhari means well, and will do better if the economic circumstances in which he has had to govern were better. A segment is losing patience and demanding for relief, not apologies. They say they elected President Buhari to fix problems, not remind them that he did not create them. There are also millions who believe that Buhari will find solutions. This group is among the most badly affected by rising prices of food and all other basic commodities, yet they defeated the plans of organized labour to reject the new, higher fuel prices. They will go even further with the President, but crushing poverty and hunger tend to abridge loyalty.
The immediate future will not be a source of great joy to most Nigerians. They could be told it can be a lot worse under another president, but Buhari is the president today. Nigerians will want to see genuine attempts to bring relief to their hardships. They will believe Buhari if he engages them and shares with them the facts of our existence and what can or cannot be done. They will want to see a compassionate government; one that fairly shares the resources meant for the poor and the vulnerable; one in which people with responsibility show discipline and make sacrifices. In spite of their muted celebrations, Nigerians know that they created a source of hope and improvements in their lives. The leaders they elected now have to assure them that that hope is alive.

Friday, May 20, 2016

The deep stains of corruption

If you want to make enemies, try to change something. Woodrow Wilson
President Buhari’s retort to Prime Minister David Cameron’s gaffe on Nigeria’s reputation will rank among the best statesman-like responses to provocations. It reminds one of many of Prime Minister Churchill’s reactions to people he frequently offended. A lady was offended by his drunken behavior at a social event, and told him how she would poison his drink if he were her husband. ‘Madam’, he said, ‘if I were your husband, I will drink that poison’. When the gloss is removed from the quick and matured response of President Buhari, you will see a rather somber, if dignified layer that suggests that taking on the label would have been futile. The President himself had been the chief spokesman against the depth and damage of corruption in Nigeria. On a day the New York Times published it editorial against selling highly advanced fighter jets to Nigeria on grounds that our military cannot be trusted to use them in a manner that satisfies US concerns over human rights abuses, the President himself told a visiting dignitary that corruption was responsible for Nigeria’s failure to defeat Boko Haram earlier. Just give us back our money was a good way to say you have kept proceeds of corruption, but it does, as his subsequent comments made clear, that he accepted that Nigeria is indeed a very corrupt nation.
A year since he came to power on the back of promises to rein-in corruption, fight insecurity and provide jobs, President Buhari’s administration will not be inconsiderably concerned over the speed with which the fight against it is yielding results. Certainly, the case has been made, beyond even the most cynical mindsets, that past administrations have simply plundered the nation’s resources. Nigerians are numb with revelations over huge amounts which literally moved from government to private accounts. The fight against corruption may have become a victim of its own successes, to the degree that the daily parade of suspects and revelations of new discoveries have suggested that massive resources will soon be recovered or have been recovered, and many in the league of the powerful and the wealthy will soon be convicts.
Now the nation is being assured that President Buhari will mention details of recoveries and their sources on May 29th, and EFCC says it has recovered three trillion dollars. My gut instinct is to believe that both are being mis-reported. I also hope I am right, because many Nigerians will stay awake until May 29th to hear from the lips of our President those who are in the league of grand looters. The impression that EFCC is also sitting on three trillion (dollars or naira), will need to be addressed, or hard-pressed citizens will believe that the 2016 budget will end with a massive surplus.
Many Nigerians will be pained that a key strategic partner like the US will be discouraged from selling military assets that should hasten the end of Boko Haram. The reality, however, is that while those who take decisions in many countries appreciate the major strides that President Buhari’s administration had made against Boko Haram and deep-seated corruption in Nigeria, they also know that President Buhari is not reinventing Nigeria. His administration is just coming to terms with a problem that will take a lot of effort and time to deal with. Operating within the challenging margins of the rule of law ought to generate understanding from champions of human rights and protectors of due process. There are no emergency routes to securing a nation, or locating, retrieving unspent stolen wealth, or punishing those who looted the treasury. The interests ranged against the anti-corruption battles are vastly equipped and experienced in manipulating the judicial process. They will exploit its limitations and weaknesses, and highlight them against the expectations raised by an administration leading an impatient nation baying for restitution and punishment.
The concern that the world will not cut President Buhari much more slack than he already has should not discourage efforts to set and meet standards that are indispensible if important doors will be opened further. A few advanced fighter jets from the US will not entirely win the war against Boko Haram. They are likely to tip the scales deeper in the direction of success, and will serve a symbolic purpose of reinforcing the support of the US in our fight against Boko Haram and the globalization of terror. If they come in spite of attempts to generate domestic resistance in the over reported abuses by our armed forces, they will most likely be used to nudge the government towards looking into allegations recently made by Amnesty International and improving the levels of institutional integrity of our armed forces. If they are prevented from being sold, it should serve as an impetus to push on with our own resolve and the equipment we can lay hands on. The war can still be won, but we should not ignore voices that raise concerns over the manner we win it. The jets represent a reminder that in many circles where opinions over Nigeria are important, we are not out of the woods yet.
Then again, the fightback by corruption will have to be resisted even as the President Buhari fights Boko Haram with what may appear as liabilities in the form of views that resonate in key global centers. The damaging resurgence of organized violence in the creeks which has taken a toll of 800,000 barrels a day of crude cannot be divorced from the spreading dragnets of the anti-corruption war. At some point, the administration will have to evaluate all options in dealing with this new threat, particularly in view of its potential to stretch the nation’s defences even further. Will some form of accommodation be required that may involve limiting the scope of investigations and possible prosecution, if powerful interests are found behind both the resurgence of violence in the Niger Delta and the plunder of our resources in the last few years? Will nations that are in receipt of our stolen wealth improve the processes of repatriating what is stolen, or assisting Nigeria with intelligence, repatriating suspects and extending greater levels of understanding in this battle for the soul and survival of Nigeria?
The fight against corruption will not be won easily, and Nigerians should appreciate this and learn to live with a cynical world that we have to relate with. Very high expectations have been raised that the war against corruption will yield dividends in the short time in form of massive amounts recovered and the increasingly longer list of suspects that daily report to EFCC. The time it takes to process suspicion into conviction and restitution will be exploited by interests hostile to the anti-corruption war to raise questions about its fairness and integrity. Not all criticisms against the war against corruption are informed by those whose hands are stained, any more than the case being made for improving the professionalism of our armed forces should be treated as hostile propaganda. We all have agreed that corruption is a worse enemy than Boko Haram. We need to fight it with courage, imagination and an awareness that it will be resisted every inch of the way.