Thursday, February 8, 2007

Corruption is the issue that raises its ugly head any time one talks about Nigeria. Regardless, of the context. Want to drive down the road to the market? Corruption - you or the taxi driver must 'grease' the palms of the various police officers at several police checkpoints on the way. Need to start a business? Better know the right people, who know the right people so you can find the right people to bribe. I could present many more examples but the point has been made. All Nigerians can agree that corruption is rampant in practically every sector of society.

Yesterday, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) listed 137 persons that it alleged were too corrupt to run in the upcoming April elections. The current EFCC list mentioned political aspirants from all the main parties and continues to embolden those individuals who argue that the EFCC is simply an attempt by Obasanjo to prevent Atiku and his supporters from winning positions in the upcoming elections.

Contrary to Fela's legendary song, this last point that should give us all 'cause for alarm'. The EFCC should be lauded for playing an important role - investigating graft and corruption and bringing the perpetrators to justice. However, I worry that a process that should be above and beyond repute is being dragged into the mud. Although I am in support of legal and political wrangling, the back and forth between the various factions continues to descend into a mess. As if on cue, Governor Bola Ahmed Tinubu responded by stating,

"I don't know when I was investigated. Nobody has questioned me... How can EFCC indict somebody who was never contacted, formally accused and formally investigated?... It is full-blown dictatorship that we are having in the country... The President is after Atiku. EFCC put other people's names just to make the whole thing credible. We know our lives are in danger because of Atiku." [sic]
This comment represents the thoughts of several people. Such sentiment simply plagues the political process and bogs it down in minutea, wasting precious time that should be spent discussing Nigeria's future and the steps political aspirants will take to take the country forward.

As of today, the PDP, which had 53 individuals on the EFCC graft list, announced that it will replace 52 candidates with others that are not connected to the list. (Why the PDP mentioned 52 individuals and not 53, is anyone's guess). It seems that they are working hard to place the party above repproach. This act of replacing their candidates helps to distance the party from corruption and separate themselves from other parties that are yet to indicate what they will do other than go to court. Above all else, the PDP's action also lends credibility to the EFCC list and again opponents will simply espouse Tinubu's claims that the EFCC is a cover for Obasanjo who is a member of the PDP.

So, here is my question - is all this wrangling really necessary? Can an election be won without political manipulation and maneuvering? I can honestly say that I do not know. At least not at this stage of Nigeria's political development. Consider for a moment the 2000 Presidential election in the U.S. It involved dimples, chads, voter machines and ultimately a decision by the Supreme Court in favor of George W. Bush. I don't think anyone could have foreseen the serious political battle that occur ed, and probably not the conclusion. And this is in a country with over 200 years of voting for Presidents and other elected officials.

The art and business of politics in Nigeria, as in America, is cutthroat and involves serious disputation. Politicians are simply concerned with winning and getting a piece of the pie and not the consequences that their fighting might have for the country's future. Don't get me wrong, I still believe in the use of the law and legal structure to create a history and precedent of a non-violent means of achieving resolution. Nevertheless, the continued descent into madness on the part of Nigeria's 'leaders' has me concerned. I am convinced that corruption, as always, is playing an overly significant role in what should be a period of inspiration and hope for the country. After all, this would be the first time that one democratically elected President has handed power to a democratically elected successor. Despite this, we have managed to turn the quest to expunge corruption into a trifling battle between politicians who in my opinion, care little about the country but care most about their fame and riches.

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