Why Corrupt Politicians Are Good For Nigerian Democracy

Why Corrupt Politicians Are Good For Nigerian Democracy

Friday, July 24, 2020 9:35 pm

Ike Okonta

By Ike Okonta

No day passes without the public being regaled with accounts of corruption in high places: the EFCC, NDDC, North East Development Commission…the list goes on. 

Some have thrown up their hands in the air and declared that Nigerian politicians are irredeemable. Others have declared that the best way to stop corruption is to have our corrupt politicians shot as is the practice in China.

My position is that the spectacle of corrupt politicians and other public officials is good for our democracy. I will explain. Politicians and senior civil servants of the First Republic (1960-1966) were very corrupt. Kaduna Nzeogwu and the other young majors intervened with a military coup to put an end to this sordid story.

Even so, the succeeding military government led by General Yakubu Go won did not learn any lesson. Gowon’s military governors and permanent secretaries were even worse than the politicians they had replaced.

One would have expected the politicians of the Second Republic to be chastened by the example of General Murtala Mohammed who had kicked out the Gowon administration. But it was not to be. The politicians and civil servants of the Second Republic (1979-1983) took corruption to new heights. They were in turn kicked out by General Muhammadu Buhari. 

The administration of General Ibrahim Babangida and that of General Sani Abacha which took over from the former turned corruption into an every day affair while claiming to inaugurate a new civilian regime that would make corruption a thing of the past.

Linking this narrative I have just outlined is the ad hoc, stop and go efforts to tackle corruption by various administrations before each was in turn kicked out of office. Consequently, Nigerians have never had the opportunity to look the corrupt amongst them squarely in the eyes for a sustained amount of time before coming up with solutions to the problem.

We have had democratic government now for twenty uninterrupted years – twenty years in which the PDP and APC politicians and their civil servant allies have looted the national and state treasuries to their hearts content. There are no more holier than thou soldiers on horseback to ride to our rescue – not after Babangida and Abacha passed through town.

Nigerians are now stuck with their corrupt politicians and civil servants. Democracy provides the tools and the opportunity with which to tackle problems in the public arena without resorting to guns. They now have to think hard and come up with ingenious solutions to solve the corruption problem which is not going away any time soon.

To put it bluntly, Nigerians will either devise a democratic plan to destroy their corrupt politicians and civil servants or the latter will destroy Nigerian Democracy.

-Dr. Ike Okonta, a policy analyst and writer, fellow of the Open Society Institute, New York, research fellow in Oxford University’s department of politics and international relations, and co-author of Where Vultures Feast: Shell, Human Rights and Oil, writes from Abuja

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