I will begin this piece definition of the word corruption. One definition of corruption in the Merriam Webster Dictionary is striking. It defines corruption as a dishonest or illegal behaviour especially by powerful people such as government officials or police officers. Going by that definition, all politicians, nay mortals are corrupt. There are no saints on the earth. The saints triumphant are all in Heaven. I believe that when Nigerians talk about corruption that what they are actually referring to is financial corruption. And that is the province of this discourse. Simply, the contextual definition of corruption is the use of state funds or resources to enrich self.
The public perception that every Nigerian politician is corrupt is a myth that has no basis. For starters, there is a difference between personal corruption and government corruption. It is possible to be an island of probity surrounded by a sea of corruption. Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu, who led Nigeria’s first military coup in 1966, accused the Balewa government of corruption and killed the Prime Minister, only for us to discover at his death that the Prime Minister had only 10 pounds in his bank account and owned a mud house. Chief Obafemi Awolowo was accused of corruption by his traducers, and was indicted by the Justice Coker Inquiry. Only for those responsible for his travails to confess many years later that he was innocent of all the allegations against him and asked for his forgiveness. I believe very strongly that we still have politicians in government today, who are not personally corrupt. However, it must be stated that the dynamics of the world in which we live in, has made it virtually impossible for one to occupy a public office, serve meritoriously without stealing public funds, and still retire into poverty as it used to be in times past. Former American President, Bill Clinton, left the White House without owning a house. He moved into his wife’s house in New York while his friends and supporters contributed money to buy him a house of his own. Today, he rakes in millions of dollars annually from paid speeches delivered in conferences and events around the world.
That brings me to the subject of the definition of money in today’s world. Money is not limited to cash alone. Influence is money, Goodwill is money, A good name is money, Fame is money, Talent is money, Even beauty is money. And there are many more definitions of money. Money is anything that can be easily converted to cash. In today’s world, it is extremely easy for a politician to convert any of the listed qualities into cash. There is no law in Nigeria that states explicitly that a politician must be poor while holding public office. Poverty is not a sign of righteousness or incorruptibility. Politicians like the rest of us, have a right to aspire to the good things of life. We must also not mistake the perks and priviledges of office as personal property. That some state governments in Nigeria own private jets does not mean that it is the personal property of the governor.
Rotimi Amaechi, Minister of Transportation, declared sometime ago, that the Buhari government is corrupt but not as corrupt as the Jonathan government. I partially concur with his assertion. The Buhari government is corrupt. Babachir Lawal saga, Mainagate, and $25 billion dollars NNPC contracts allegedly awarded without due process are a few instances of this administration’s romance with corruption. What I do not agree with is the claim that the Buhari administration is less corrupt than the Jonathan administration. The full extent of the corruption in the Buhari administration cannot be known until their tenure in government lapses. Time will tell if Amaechi’s assertion is totally correct or not.
Now to the meat of this discourse. Is President Muhammadu Buhari personally corrupt? The easiest way to identify a corrupt public official is anyone who lives above his means. Former Military President, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, lives in a 50-room hilltop mansion, owns a private jet, several mansions within and outside Nigeria, several multi-billion naira enterprises through fronts, his children live like Arabian Princes, and an international magazine once listed him as the 85th richest man in the world in the late 80’s. However, if you calculate all his salaries and allowances as a military General and as Head of State for one hundred years, it is not enough to enable him afford such a fabulous and fairy tale lifestyle. Similarly, after his release from Abacha’s gulag in 1998, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo told the world that all he had in his bank account at home and abroad was only N20,000. As President of Nigeria, he established a private university, expanded his farm to Cross River State, became a major shareholder in Transcorp, a company he set up and gave significant government patronage, built a multi-billion naira Presidential Library and hilltop mansion, bought banks, hotels, several landed properties in Lagos e.t.c Aside the impropriety of setting up business ventures as a sitting President, his total salaries and allowances cannot be said to be the source of his great wealth. Conversely, President Muhammadu Buhari lived a spartan lifestyle devoid of opulence or luxury before his election in 2015 and no multi-billion naira businesses or investments have been linked to him since he assumed power till date. He also declared his assets publicly which means Nigerians can easily know if he has corruptly enriched himself during his tenure in power. An act, previous Presidents did not do with the exception of Late President Umar Musa Yar’adua. Let me also add for the records, that I personally believe that Former President Goodluck Jonathan is not personally corrupt for similar reasons. Despite Buhari’s predilection towards asceticism, and disavowal of conspicuous consumption, the lifestyle of his wife and children are diametrically opposed to his. This can be explained. His wife hails from the super wealthy royal family of Adamawa state whose kingdom stretches to Cameroun and Chad. Also. two of his female children are married to prominent billionaires in Nigeria. Furthermore, they have benefited immensely from the goodwill and the cult followership that Buhari enjoys in Northern Nigeria, among the talakawas and the bourgeoisie.
The allegation that Buhari was complicit in the $2.5 billion dollars missing oil money scandal in1979, is unfounded and unsubstantiated. Former President Shehu Shagari set up the Justice Ayo Irikefe probe panel in 1980, to investigate the allegation of the missing money in the NNPC accounts during Buhari’s tenure as Petroleum Minister. The verdict of the probe panel was that no funds were missing as those who made the allegations were unable to substantiate their claims when called upon to do so.
Similarly, Former President Olusegun Obasanjo set up a probe panel to investigate corruption allegations in PTF during Buhari’s chairmanship of the body and he was exonerated of any wrongdoing. The Owu Chief, has stated repeatedly in several fora that the PTF investigative probe panel report did not indict Buhari. Though the report of the probe panel was never made public, vintage Obasanjo famed for his vindictive nature, would not have hesitated to use the report against Buhari when he contested against him for the position of President in the 2003 elections, if the report had indicted him.
The fault lines in our nation, in the run up to the 2015 elections, which made many vote along ethnic, tribal, and religious lines, are yet to heal. Instead, it has deepened due to the president’s proclivity towards nepotism, his aloofness towards critical issues in the polity, his style of governance, and some of his utterances either personally or through his spokespersons. Unfortunately, many still interpret issues in the polity according to those fault lines. Which is why no matter how educated or enlightened you are, even when the facts stare at you coldly in the face, as long as you did not vote for Buhari in 2015, you can never see anything good in him or his government. Psychologists call it Cognitive Dissonance. The rejection of the facts of an issue based on an emotional standpoint.
In conclusion, empirical evidence suggests that President Muhammadu Buhari is not personally corrupt though his government is corrupt. It is a fallacy to assume that every politician in Nigeria is corrupt. Also, people react to issues in the news based on their personal bias, from the prism of the political camp they belong to, their religious affiliation, or the part of Nigeria that they come from.