Corruption is defined as the illegitimate use of power to benefit a private interest (Morris 1991). That word is second nature to Nigerians. It follows us as a leech wherever we go, well stuck to our necks for all to see. Wherever the name of a Nigerian is mentioned, a silent last name in corruption can be heard. In 2016, Transparency International ranked Nigeria as the 136th least corrupt nation out of 175 countries. On social media and the national dailies, the continuous news about the misappropriation of public funds can be read. It is not even surprising anymore. The citizens have become desensitized to it all. Reports of billions of Naira missing have become the order of the day. I could go on and on about the ridiculousness of it all but I have just one question. Have we always been this way as a country?
The plain and honest answer is no. It would seem that over the years, the level of corruption has increased, one administration after another. There were only minimal cases of corruption during the Pre-Independence Era and the First Republic involving Nnamdi Azikwe, Adegoke Adelabu and other public officials at the time. But as independence dawned upon us and in the years after, the little beast was well groomed with one allegation of corruption and the other. How can we forget the regime of General Babangida, in which the Gulf War windfall of about $12.4 billion would not be given an account for? Several years after the Abacha administration, some of the loot from that era is still being recovered and returned to the country. Many other cases of corruption have since riddled the political system especially after Nigeria re-attained democracy in 1999. From Olusegun Obasanjo to the short-lived tenure of Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, and then to the more recent Goodluck Jonathan administration, cases of bribery, looting, misappropriation, and what not were rampant.
Even this regime of ‘change’ whose fierce campaign against corruption largely led to her victory at the 2015 polls is not free from this cankerworm. There have been allegations of corruption against some office holders and whether this administration really means business will be clear in due course. Charity begins at home, they say. You can’t say you’re clean when rags of filth dangle over the heads of your men.
But haven’t you ever wondered why corruption seems to be in our collective DNA? Can’t Nigerians just be upright and follow the path of integrity? Well, there have been many postulations and hypotheses that offer to probably explain why corruption abounds everywhere.
One of them simply says it is the result of the highly expensive political system our leaders have created. The system is so expensive that those who eventually scale through must have spent so much that their priority in office will be to recover the resources expended. After setting out to achieve this goal, turning back or realising that they’re in the positions to serve the people, and not their pockets, becomes impossible. Some say it’s just the luxurious lifestyle the society expects our leaders to lead. Is he really a Governor, he who cannot throw a week-long party to celebrate an electoral victory at the Supreme Court? How will you save face as a minister at whose ward’s wedding ceremony there were less than 10 private jets? How?
Also, kinsmen and even well-wishers of the political leaders put so much pressure on them that sleaze becomes the only viable means to survive. How do you walk with your head up as ‘a whole Director General’ of a federal agency and you can’t secure juicy employment placements for your in-laws’ distant cousins?
It is also believed in some quarters that the colonialists also contributed to the foundations of corruption in Nigeria. They acquired ostentatious properties with public wealth that nobody could question them about. They drove the latest models of cars, built the loftiest of buildings and enjoyed the sweetest of life. And none of these could be challenged. It’s believed they implicitly passed down this ugly political lifestyle to the earliest Nigerian leaders along with the political authority which came with Independence.
Asides all that, I think human beings, to a large extent, have an innate personal level of control. Despite the societal expectations of sleaze, a political leader who heartily believes in transparency and accountability and is passionate to lead his or her people right will not steal even in the face of temptations. It all boils down to the greediness of the leaders. If it was just survival and not greediness, they could just have stolen what’s enough for them to fulfil their societal and political expectations. That’s apparently not the case. They steal what their unborn children could not exhaust. It’s that bad! You can’t possibly have forgotten so fast that the former NSA is still in court for allegedly syphoning money totalling $2.1 billion that was meant to upgrade the country’s military weaponry against terrorism. What about the chains of properties and monies recovered from the former Petroleum Minister, Diezani Alison Madueke? The figures are truly staggering and mind-boggling.
Corruption has many effects on Nigerians. We don’t need a divine knowledge to know that corruption has hit mostly the poor and vulnerable. The ordinary people suffer the most. They cannot get affordable and quality healthcare, the roads on which they travel are death traps, their children cannot go to good schools for quality education and cannot even eat good food all because of corruption of the people in high places. These people give birth to children who grow up, feel marginalised and carry up arms to protest or even become terrorists who eventually lead the nation to crises and hold us all to ransom.
Broadly, corruption also stifles national development. The overall investments in the country would be low as the funds meant for them are naturally stolen. This puts the nation, among comity of nations, at the lowest rungs of development ladder.
How can we reduce corruption to the lowest?
First of, we need a massive and long-term orientation change as a nation. Opinion leaders, religious mentors, preachers, teachers and practically everybody need to come together and instill the importance of contentment and integrity in our kids. It’s important.
Also, fight against corruption has to be institutionalized to an extent that it doesn’t matter who the president is or where he or she is from. Fight against corruption must not be one-sided and must be thorough. This will go a long way.
Poverty eradication along with massive youth engagement will go a long way to curb corruption. Youth that have quality education, good values, and are gainfully engaged would not likely crave stolen funds except in the case of extreme greed. That’s where the long hand of the law is needed.
I believe if we all ignore our differences and come together to collectively fight this cankerworm that has eaten deep into our society, we all would be better for it. And there’s no other time to start than now!
Ashton Dagana, a Quantity Surveyor writes from Port Harcourt. (firstname.lastname@example.org)