Anti-corruption and imperatives of federalism 1
Nigeria is and has been in the throes of social, political and economic crises, which threaten her corporate existence as a country of diverse nationalities and cultures. The desire for change by citizens overburdened by excruciating living conditions found expression in the 2015 presidential election and the emergence of President Muhammadu Buhari. The President, in a round of déjà vu, has correctly identified corruption as the primal monster that must be subdued in the affairs of State, justified, apriori, by its negative effects on society, which according to Mr. Kofi Annan “…undermines democracy and the rule of law; leads to violations of human rights; erodes the quality of life….” Hurts the poor disproportionately by diverting funds intended for development, and undermine a state’s ability to provide basic services”. All these features of corruption are evident in Nigeria, now and as before, with grave consequences for the quality of life of citizens.
Conscious of the manifold dimensions of corruption in Nigeria and the fact that God rules in the affairs of nations, as Catholics we pray: “Father in heaven, you always provide for all your creatures so that all may live as you have willed. You have blessed our country Nigeria with rich human and natural resources to be used to your honour and glory and for the wellbeing of every Nigerian. We are deeply sorry for the wrong use of these your gifts and blessings, through acts of injustice, bribery and corruption, as a result of which many of our people are hungry, sick, ignorant and defenseless. Father, you alone can heal us and our nation of this sickness, we beg you, touch our lives and the lives of our leaders and people so that we may all realise the evil of bribery and corruption and work hard to eliminate it. Raise up for us God-fearing people and leaders who are for us and who will lead us in the path of peace, prosperity and progress. We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen”.
But what is corruption? Citing Dictionary of Criminal Justice, Bobson Gbinijie (Vanguard, August 24, 2015) defined corruption as “evil, depraved, debased and a dishonest act, like taking bribes, cheating, etc. -… an illegal act by a sworn peace officer, including all violations of fiduciary trust and the professional code of conduct and ethics… selling favours, accepting gifts and committing, aiding or abetting criminal behaviours. At the personal level, a perverted character, depraved and putrescent in integrity and honesty and giving to bribery… the systematic manipulation of socio-economic, political, legal, religious and traditional rules for parochial personal, tribal and pietistic interest like taking bribes, inflation of contracts and championing family, personal or tribal myopic interest to the detriment of national interest”. In a recent article, Prof. Akin Oyebode defined corruption as “undue advantage, abuse of office, undeserved favour obtained through manipulation of rules or status; and untoward conduct occasioned by graft or promise of same” (Guardian, December, 2015). From these definitions, it is certain that no country can make progress unless there are effective instruments for dealing with corruption wherever and whenever it is recognized. Here resides the merit in the anti-corruption crusade by the current administration. But issues on corruption have been in the national discourse for a very long time, meaning we have not demonstrated the capacity to deal with it over the years. After all, corruption was one of the reasons adduced for the coup of January 15, 1966 as captured in Major Nzeogwu’s speech, “… Our enemies are the political profiteers, the swindlers, the men in high and low places that seek bribes and demand 10 per cent; …the tribalist the nepotists … Those that have corrupted our society and put Nigerian political calendar back by their words and deeds…”
The revelation of the many forms and depth of corrupt practices in Nigeria is a testament to a phenomenon that is systemic and ingrained in the fabrics of our society, exacerbated by the governance configuration. Thus, how else could one explain the looting and sharing, by politicians, of funds earmarked for arms purchase for prosecution of the war against Boko Haram; the unanswered questions about security vote at various levels of government – for what purpose, how allocated and who audits it to ensure judicious utilization? How are party funds raised? What are the roles of governments and agencies in funding of political party activities? When governments and their agencies make financial contributions toward ceremonies of party leaders – weddings, birthdays, etc, from what source(s)? Clearly, these avenues and processes for corrupt practices have become institutionalized and normative. Beyond this, is the flagrant stealing of public funds, unashamedly, by public officers and often in ways that confront our cultures and pristine values. Unquestionably, the act of stealing is evil, abhorred by every culture worldwide. Yet, the discovery or return of loot by public officers recurs in the media. The question is: how do family members of such persons feel about it?
Notwithstanding the foregoing, the average Nigerian is not pathologically corrupt but is, indisputably, predisposed to it by an impelling governance system that is overly unjust, unfair and unable to meet the basic needs of citizens. For example, when public servants retire without gratuity and regular pension, it creates ripple effects on serving officers who, albeit unjustified, may take measures to stave off economic adversities when they retire – measures, which invariably, are not always wholesome The verdict in this regard is that the Nigerian governance system has fostered injustices in our society and, in the opinion of the Patriots, “an unjust society cannot maintain its unity and coherence, because it cannot arouse in its members a strong enough feeling of loyalty and allegiance” (The Guardian Oct. 2, 2006).
The war against corruption by a central government using the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Related Offences Commission (ICPC) is herculean and expectedly ineffectual because many have sinned and the harvest of thieves, and looters is ‘plenteous but the laborers are few’. This was the case also during President Obasanjo’s administration, which evoked the now hackneyed accusation that his anti-corruption crusade was selective, albeit, without the compelling question: were those so selected guilty of corruption as charged? To be continued tomorrow.
Professor Eromosele is former deputy vice-chancellor (Academic), Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, Ogun State.
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