President Muhammadu Buhari the other day observed with regret that, “there has been abuse of trust by people trusted by previous administration and this administration.”
Speaking against the backdrop of the ongoing investigations of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), he stated some measures of his government against this and acts of corruption that include the recovery of stolen public assets, the introduction of the Treasury Single Account (TSA) and creation of commissions to investigate cases of corruption. These are commendable steps and even more should be taken to checkmate the hydra-headed monster called ‘‘corruption.’’
As Buhari is wont to say, if Nigeria does not kill corruption, corruption may eventually kill Nigeria. In view of its damage to the polity till the present, that is no exaggeration, it is not scaremongering, and it is a real possibility. Every drastic but lawful measure against corruption and the betrayal of public trust receives the support of this newspaper, of well-meaning Nigerians and of friends of this country.
But it cannot be said too often, nor be overemphasized that corruption and the betrayal of public trust is much broader than only the theft of public money. The financial aspect of corruption is more widely reported only because it is more obvious to see. As this newspaper has repeatedly noted, every act of public official that violates the letter or the spirit, or both, of the constitution is corruption and a betrayal of the public trust encapsulated in the provisions of that organic law of the land. This is so for two good reasons.
First, the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), expresses in principle at least, a firm and solemn resolve of “We the People… to live in unity and harmony…for the purpose of promoting the good government and welfare of all persons in our country on the principles of Freedom, Equality and Justice…” Second, because a legal document, no matter how well written, is only as effective as the people charged to act on it. All persons holding public office are on oath, directly or implicitly, to do everything within their respective powers to uphold the provisions of the constitution. Two examples: the president, as holder of the highest public office in the land, swears /affirms to discharge his duties “to the best of my ability, faithfully and in accordance with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the law, and always in the interest of the sovereignty, integrity, solidarity, well-being and prosperity of country and to not allow my personal interest to influence my official conduct or my official decisions.” Elected lawmakers and the appointed judicial officer of the land swear, on their honour, to a similar oath.
To do anything in the course of duty contrary to the stipulations of the constitution is an act of betrayal of both the oath sworn and the trust reposed by the people. It is also a corruption of the letter and spirit of the Constitution. Deriving from these, sectionalism, defined as “an exaggerated devotion to the interests of a region” and nepotism, defined as “favouritism shown to a relative or on the basis of relationship” are both abuses of trust and of corruption of constitutional values. Thus, a failure to adhere in an impeccably transparent manner to the federal character principle as enjoined in Chapter II Section 14(3) (4) of the constitution is an abuse of trust and also a form of corruption.
Sub-section 3 says explicitly at the federal level that, “the composition of the Government of the Federation or any of its agencies and the conduct of its affairs shall be carried out in such a manner as to reflect the federal character of Nigeria and the need to promote national loyalty, thereby ensuring that there shall be no predominance of persons from a few states or from a few ethnic or other sectional groups in that government or any of its agencies.” This provision is also directed at the states in sub-section 4.
A second point to make is that it is a dishonourable breach of oath of office by any public officer empowered to treat with dispatch allegations of betrayal of trust and of corruption, to tolerate or indeed relate with indicted persons in any official capacity. This is to say that persons with question on their integrity must not be retained in or appointed into public office until they clear their names. Third, the subversion of the due process of law with intent to further narrow self-interest or group interest is an act of corruption. It may even be argued that a government that fails to secure the lives and property of the citizens, that implement policies that progressively impoverish the people, betrays their trust and its own promise to Section 14(2) (b) of the Constitution. These are just a few of the many ways that trust can be –and is indeed -abused by public officials in Nigeria.
Buhari is partly right in his reading of an existential problem. But he needs to see beyond financial component to be able to holistically appreciate and confront by example the many dimensions of a pervasive evil that threatens the existence of this country.