There is this wave of euphoria washing over the nation as Nigerians, true to their nature and penchant for celebrating the downfall of the once powerful, jubilate over the travails of former public officials who have been indicted for corruption. Before I make my next point, it is appropriate to declare a caveat that indictment does not equal corruption, thus while it is desirable to punish looters of public treasury as a deterrent to corruption it is important that one distinguishes between those who have been convicted and those who are yet to be tried.
The crux of this article however is that we have as a people become fixated on gloating over the disgrace or humiliation of erstwhile “big guns” as they get their oft deserved punishment without thinking of incentives for those who served without soiling their hands by dipping them in the tills. Even more deserving are those who not only resisted the temptation of stealing from the populace but go the extra length to thwart those who are disposed to malfeasance. The prevalence of treasury looters may have conditioned us to think the contrary but persons of this leaning do exist in Nigeria.
Of course, I have always had strong belief in the integrity of Nigerians, even those that occupy positions of influence that go with leverage. But during a recent discussion about the state of affairs in the country, particularly about the penchant for stealing, I was mildly taken aback when a friend asked in response a discussant who held outrightly negative views about public officers “Do you know Mrs Nana Fatima Mede ?”. I didn’t pretend to know her, at least not in the light my friend expected. His subsequent explanation expounded how Mrs Mede is the perfect example of the public office holder we desire in Nigeria.
Subsequent sniffing around on my part gave me more insight into her personality. Mrs Meded was a director in the Accountant General’s Office where she was in charge of the of Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS). Certainly, we can all now attest to how the smooth operation of that system helped reduce corruption as it weeded out the ghost workers that were feeding some fat cats. For the records, as many as 46, 861 names were removed from the payroll in one instance because of the committed way in which she oversaw the exercise. President Muhammadu Buhari must have had this running through his mind when he declared that Ministers in Nigeria are vuvuzelas while the real jobs are done by the civil servants. He thus proved me wrong again that he knows more than a born again democrat.
Now the Permanent Secretary of Ministry of Environment, Mrs Mede stopped Nigeria from losing five billion naira to the now infamous cooking stove project in the twilight of the Jonathan’s administration. The outrage rightly expressed by concerned stakeholders at that time over the wasteful nature of the project was a clear indication that Mrs Mede’s intervention was timely in preventing the country from losing useful funds to “food for the boys” kind of project as the contractor handling the supply was engaged in the kind of foot dragging that could have eventually translated into not meeting contractual obligations. It was quite remarkable that she was categorical in assuring Nigerians that the outstanding money yet to be released to the contractor was safe with the ministry.
Only recently, she halted the electronic transfer of over 800 million naira by fraudsters from her ministry’s account to private pockets. The country is not short of example of public office holders or public servants who would have instead colluded with the fraudsters to the detriment of the nation.
Thus, as President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration pushes ahead with investigating and prosecuting established cases of corruption, it will serve the interest of the nation to recognize that the likes of Mrs Nana Fatima Mede deserves a national honour for her silent crusade against sleaze in her sphere of influence. This is because if we must punish corrupt persons we must also learn to reward some silent achievers in the country. Convicting and jailing criminals would serve as a deterrence to others who may have intent to engage in corrupt practices while identifying and honouring those who block corruption should encourage other office holders to place national interest above personal aggrandisement.
In conclusion, if we must gloat over the punishment meted out to treasury looters and their associates it is only right that we also sing praises of the upright. This is the other facet we are yet to adequately bring on board in fighting corruption and Mrs Mede is the right candidate to begin with.
Agbese is a public affairs commentator and writes from the Middlesex University London, United Kingdom.