At the launch of 2018 as the African Anti-Corruption year in July 2017 by the African Union, at its 29th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government at Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the momentum was indeed palpable as there was a feeling that African leaders –known for their alleged historic penchant for corruption and gross impunity had seemingly found a renewed vigor that signaled that this time, things might be different — that this year 2018, the willingness of African leaders in the anti-corruption campaign in Africa was more real than it had ever been in previous years.
One major highlight of that singular event was the unanimous endorsement of Nigerian leader, President Mohammad Buhari as the continent’s anti-corruption czar. By implication, president Buhari was to lead the fight against corruption in Africa, he was to “lead from the front” as was synonymous to his campaign to become president of the most populous black Nation on earth prior to the 2015 general elections in Nigeria. While the news of the Nigerian president’s endorsement was received with mixed feelings back in Nigeria, it was uncertain why the African leaders opted for his choice. Perhaps they had seen a quality inherent in the new leader that was oblivious to majority of Nigerians.
For us at YIAGA Africa, we received the news with cautious optimism as we had hoped that the African leader’s choice was not a product of the apparent “body language” of the president that was a major highpoint prior to his assumption of the highest office in Nigeria. Could they have regarded Nigeria as a true ‘giant’ of Africa to have wanted a feel of this effect? We wondered. We had hoped that the African leaders had not adopted the historic “body language” effect as the continents major anti-corruption policy. It is noteworthy to remind us that upon Buhari’s assumption to office, there was a sense among Nigerian citizens’ that the anti-corruption warfare was no longer just smoke, but rather a raging fire that would be difficult, if not impossible to put out. There was this reassurance that Nigerian government will eventually deal with the menace of corruption fairly and squarely. Even those in doubt were eager to have their doubts cleared as they had believed that it was a farce. Whichever way, the government was faced with lot goodwill and supports to bring corruption to its barest minimum if not eliminate it.
Today, the theme of this year’s African Anti- Corruption day is ‘Winning the Fight Against Corruption: A Sustainable Path to Africa’s Transformation’, and it is important that each country deeply reflect how far they’ve come in this fight. More importantly, to reflect on the kind of leadership Nigeria being the arrow head of this fight had produced, because in truth, like former president Bill Clinton once noted in his speech, we must ensure that “people are more impressed by the power of our example rather than the example of our power”.
In retrospect, what examples have Nigeria set that the continent should live by? Is the disunity among the three arms of government or the president’s lackadaisical displays when a member of his cabinet is being accused of corruption? What role has the citizens played in the scheme of things in ensuring that public officers are held to account? In the long run, citizens are either the biggest losers or gainers should the anticorruption war fails or succeeds. As the continent marks its inaugural anti-corruption day today, Africa, and Nigeria in particular must understand that the most reliable and formidable anti-corruption movement must be citizens driven, not government: not Executive, not legislature, not Judiciary. Africa is littered with an anti-corruption history that couldn’t be won by the government or its leadership — or maybe one that neither the government nor its leadership was desperate and sincere to put out.
From such time tested perspective, it is no wonder why the anticorruption war has never been won, it is why the President Buhari’s government anticorruption “noise” had eventually dwindle down, It is why the country wakes up every passing day and had accepted that the government led anticorruption fights had gone in shambles, past the point of return, and even though we knew it was coming with the shambolic way and manner the Nigerian government had conducted itself over the years, there is still this sense of collective failure/loss we must feel as citizens.
To win this war against corruption, Africa and Nigeria in particular must re-strategize and without fail re-set its priorities’ such that it places much emphasis on citizens in leading the fight against corruption in the continent. Citizens must be united in taking responsibility of the future of Nigerian and Africa at large. This is why YIAGA Africa through its #BounceCorruption project had overtime been engaging in activities that seek to promote zero tolerance for corruption and impunity through effective citizens’ oversight and mobilization for open and accountable governance. The project also aims to build resistance against corruption by exposing corrupt practices and demanding prosecution of indicted suspects. This project also mainstreams young people in the fight against corruption in Nigeria.
At the center of YIAGA Africa’s #BounceCorruption project is the promotion of collaboration and networking with different stakeholders involved in the campaign against corruption and impunity in Nigeria. Embedded in this project is the goal to build a movement of youth engaged in reshaping social norms and leading social change and transformation in the society. YIAGA believes that our collective prosperity will largely depend on addressing the reckless attitude of public officials to economic and political governance, systemic fiscal leakages and impunity through the instrumentality of the rule of law and evolution of new norms, attitudes and behavior that abhors corruption: This will require coherence, consistency and pragmatism on the part citizens and state institutions. The world has come to recognize that no anti-corruption program or campaign succeeds without citizens’ involvement or civil society engagement. This is the approach that we believe can effectively reshape the anti-corruption war in Nigeria and Africa at large, and at such should be the new face of the continent’s anti- corruption war for it to ever have any headway.
In marking the inaugural African Anti-Corruption day, the leadership of the African Union and its member countries must reevaluate its approach and intentionally elevate and empower its citizens, especially youths as well as civil society organizations to the forefront of the continent’s anti-corruption warfare, as the current approach that places too much emphasis on governmental leaders is dysfunctional and this approached must not be prolonged to the point of an even more severe decline, and in the cases of Nigeria and some of Africa largest countries, to the point where much systemic damage must have been done to what is already left of its integrity, to the point where posterity would have no iota of strength and vigor to ever revive a fight against a menace that would have been biologically transferred to them. This wouldn’t be a good image for any African country. Today, more than any other day, the African continent: citizens, leadership, and government alike, must reevaluate its approach and accept that now is the time to begin before getting to that stage of a continental colossal damage.
Samson Itodo, Executive Director, YIAGA AFRICA.