How the military regime failed to eradicate corruption in our national life

The Third Chapter of a press release issued by Chief Obafemi Awolowo on J 8th August 1975.

WHEN this subject was mentioned to me by General Yakubu Gowon, I immediately thought that the Military regime, which he represented, was not being honest with itself let alone with the people of Nigeria on whom it planned to impose ‘eradication of corruption’ as a condition precedent to the restoration of their political birthright.

It will, I believe, be generally agreed that ERADICATION OF CORRUPTION from any society is not just a difficult task: it is, without dispute, an impossible objective. I, therefore, concluded in my mind, there and then, that the Nigerian Military had no intention of ever handing over power to the civilians.

I must confess that, at the time, I entertained the impression that, whilst General Gowon might be willing to hand over power to civilians, there were powerful elements within and outside the Army who were striving their utmost to persuade him to remain indefinitely at the helm.

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Having said this much, 1 hope that our present rulers will remove ‘ERADICATION OF CORRUPTION IN OUR NATIONAL LIFE’ from whatever conditions precedent they may wish to impose for return to civilian rule.

As far as we all know, it was within the power of the last Military regime to reduce, considerably, the scale and demonstration effect of corruption as it existed under the previous civilian administration.

As a matter of fact, they appeared to have started well: various Tribunals of Inquiry were set up. These Tribunals did their work with competence, thoroughness and despatch. Their reports were submitted and received with fanfare and publicity. Then there was a long lull. The prevailing Civil War was used as a pretext for the undue delay in considering the Reports and taking decisions on them.

Anyway, in the end, the reports were considered by the Federal Executive Council, and White Papers, setting out Government’s decisions, were published, but there the journey ended. Up till today, none of the courses of action ‘contained in the White Papers has been followed. And because of the notorious and unabashed inaction of the Federal Military government in applying the various salutary, corrective, and deterrent sanctions recommended by the Tribunals, and accepted by the ‘Government, corruption had not only flourished, but also had almost become an accepted way of life in our society. Indeed, our country reached a pass, in recent months, when the brazenly corrupt individuals went scot-free and were extolled for their virtue, whilst those who attempted to expose them were ruthlessly suppressed and punished.

There are two things, therefore, which the present Military regime must aim to do with speed, thoroughness and firmness before it hands over power to the civilian in the near future.

Firstly, it must very quickly repair the enormous damage which the Military regime, under its former leadership, had done to its own image by appearing openly to condone corruption in high and medium places. It can do this easily by executing the decisions in the various White Papers already referred to.

Secondly, it can, and must do all in its power to reduce the present scale and brazenness of corruption by means of exemplary deterrents. This also is not going to be a very difficult undertaking. For, fortunately for our present rulers, during the past four years or so, corruption had been indulged in with such openness and undisguised shamelessness that the perpetrators as well as their loots can be easily identified.

A quick look at the Victoria Island; and examination of the processes by which certain Government industrial and commercial projects were negotiated, established or operated; an investigation into the structure of shareholdings in contracting, construction, architectural, engineering and other companies or firms owned by aliens before indigenisation; another quick look at the contracts awarded or in the process of being awarded in connection with the postponed Second World Black Festival of the Arts, especially those concerning the supply of furniture and of victuals said to be worth £N90 million and £N40 million respectively; a hard look at the various activities and operations of the Petroleum and Energy Departments, Divisions, or Corporations of the Government; and an equally hard look at the farms, plantations, poultries, piggries, and other ventures said to have been developed with government resources for the benefit of certain individuals; all these alone, without more, may yield valuable results which will serve as pointers to the manner in which this social malady should be dealt with in the present and effectively deterred in the future.

If the present Military regime can do these exercises with despatch, and relieve anyone who may be found to have abused and misused his office of his ill-gotten wealth and property, it would have done well for the improvement of its image, and for creating an atmosphere conducive to public probity in the next civilian administration.

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