The Nigerian AG Michael Aondoakaa ridiculously threatening to charge Ribadu with treason while clearing Ibori of corruption charges has again brought to the fore the farce that is Yar'Adua's anti-corruption rhetoric. While Babangida institutionalised corruption through a "government of settlement", Yar'Adua and Aondoakaa has trivialised the war against corruption and is making a joke out of it.
This current ludicrous attitude to corruption would explain why the current EFCC chair appreciating the mood of the times is content to mark time on the seat and help herself to whatever portion of the national cake she could lay hands on before the next government gives her the boot?
Which anti-corruption czar witnessing Nuhu Ribadu's current travails will bother to diligently prosecute any war on corruption? That is why I am calling today for the so-called ÔÇśwar on corruption' to be suspended and the national Assembly set in motion processes to legalise corruption in Nigeria.
And why not?
Decades of a ÔÇśwar on drugs' have not yielded result; many western countries are seriously looking at the possibility of legalising drug use- Amsterdam and Sweden are setting the pace in this regard.
Similarly, George Bush's war on terror has not produced an efficient democracy in Afghanistan so Barack Obama and the rest of NATO contemplate negotiating with the Taliban.
It should be clear to any observer that Nigeria's war on corruption is based on revenge and political victimisation. Beneath the exterior of the anti-corruption rhetoric, there appears to be fault-lines and undercurrents of capitalist tensions, political vindictiveness, and socio-economic class imbalances (eg, prosecuting yahoo yahoo boys while clearing ex-governors). This revenge is based on the fallacious logic that "two wrongs make a right".
For instance; Obasanjo anti-corruption efforts; spearheaded by Mallam Nuhu Ribadu was marred by accusations of vindictive and punitive measures against his political enemies. Now that President Yar'Adua is in office, Nuhu Ribadu, El Rufai and others that were at the vanguard of the former regimes anti-corruption measures are now at the receiving end of this present government's anti-corruption expedition. To the extent that the duo have been forced into exile.
In politics, revenge more often than not, becomes the vehicle for damaging an opponent (sometimes) out of personal piques, and for clipping the wings of an opposition party.
However like all human emotions, vindictiveness has its own karma. In effect not only does revenge beget revenge, but equally important, revenge can wreak a great deal of emotional toll on parties at both ends of it.
For instance, in the futuristic movie Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Khan's hatred of Kirk is so palpable and his desire to exact revenge so intense that Khan would lose everything, even his own life in his efforts for revenge. Also, in the Akira Kurosawa classic, ÔÇśThe Bad Sleep Well', the main character Nishi, with Helmetesque predisposition, tries to avenge his father's murder, but ends up getting murdered himself.
You may say these are tales of fantasy but in the real world, we see parallels in our communities all the time.
I am not advocating that we gloss over acts of fraud by past administrations and their henchmen. I am only trying to identify some critical factors in this most difficult problem; how to deal effectively with corruption when it is beginning to become pervasive throughout civil society, not in Nigeria but also other parts of Africa.
If the letters of the law should be followed then let us prosecute all merchants of fraud and all law-breakers. The sword of justice should not be selectively unidirectional. When justice becomes selective, even situations of legitimate prosecutions would be deemed (rightly or wrongly) as pursuits of persecution of political opponents. That is exactly what our political climate in the past 8 years is turning out to be.
It is time for Nigeria to sit back and re-appraise this anti-corruption farce and temporarily freeze the boiling pot of political tensions. If we do not, it is not so clear whether the country could avoid the potential landmines that the politics of vindictiveness may lay on its way.
For as Reinhold Niebuhr wisely observed "democracies are indeed slow to make war, but once embarked upon a martial venture are equally slow to make peace and reluctant to make a tolerable, rather than a vindictive, peace."
Nigeria has been able to suppress the indignations and concerns of class inequalities largely because of the multi-billion Petro-dollars that are used to bribe and settle the divergent vested interests and also because of the non-existence of a real political movement to mobilize the underprivileged class. If the simmering class tension is unleashed, the consequences of the inevitable violence can be deadly and horrific.
In Nigeria, we have to be brave and admit that corruption has pervaded the entire population and is not confined to the political class alone- the judiciary, the banks, the police, the schools, the market, the prison system even the entire family is corrupted.
Neither is corruption restricted to the PDP alone or one party or the other, despite our political allegiances. Corruption has become a battle ground between the parties for "tit for tat" politicking and reaches into every nook and cranny of ordinary people's daily dealings.
No one Nigeria is remotely convinced that Yar'Adua's approach to corruption comes anywhere near dealing with the fundamentals of the problem. Nigerian's have lost confidence in the entire political class and the structures of civil society.
This is a danger US President Barack Obama identified when he addressed Ghanaian Parliament. He pointed out that democracy is not just about elections but more about what happens in between elections. He identified corruption as one of the main hindrances to sustainable and meaningful development.
It is now time to go back to the drawing board. Let us all engage in debates about corruption and allegations of corruption in the political arena.
We would start by setting up a commission to co-ordinate the debate. It would have no judicial authority but would primarily be a Commission of Enquiry with the power to lay old ghosts to rest for the safeguarding of the future polity of Nigeria and of its development.
Such a Commission's terms of reference might be:
Set out clearly what is meant by the term corruption.
Set out clearly the effects that corruption has on development and civil society generally
Decide how best to deal with historic cases of alleged corruption.
Decide how best to deal with current cases of alleged corruption
Set out clear guidelines on how future cases are to be dealt with.
Witnesses would appear by invitation and immunity from prosecution should be considered.
Offers of recompense to the State might be considered in appropriate cases.
The Commission would be able to make recommendations to the National assembly as to whether existing definitions of corruption are suitable for our circumstances; whether the present anti corruption measures require strengthening or whether new legislation and new structures are required; or whether the word corruption should be blotted out of our legal system.
Such recommendations might include for instance that a specialist Court be created to hear only corruption cases.
These are suggestions only and much detail would have to be worked on. What is clear is that the issue of corruption is one that Nigeria now has to deal with in an effective, creative and constructive way.
There is no point in pretending that corruption will go away or that the war against corruption can be won- that has not happened even in the so called Western democracies - but what is clear is that a new way forward has be found which carries the confidence of the majority of the ordinary people so that the future is not damaged irredeemably by this cancer which has overtaken the polity.
This is no doubt a very controversial issue to deal with but neither is there any doubt that with the sophistication of Nigerians, this is the area of law that we could lead the way in the evolution of a particularly appropriate form of African democracy.
Our famed Nigerian ingenuity are qualities we can bring to bear on the issue of corruption, and, as they have done overcoming of multi-faceted problems facing them begin to show Africa and the world that there is a way out of this apparently intractable problem.
Publisher, www.elombah.com, ÔÇśA Nigeria Perspective on World Affairs'