On Nigeria’s systemic corruption
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo was absolutely correct when he said that Nigeria’s is ‘a system where the norm is corrupt behaviour across all arms of formal systems of governance (and) the private sector is a strong collaborator’.
Taken together, this and other remarks he has made read like a concise report of the moral condition of the Nigerian elite, and it is not only embarrassing, it is dejecting. Coming as an admission from the highest level of government in the land that, in a country of 170 million , ‘the key issue always is finding the persons for any task ; a tough task indeed in (this) corrupt system,’ every citizen, as well as genuine friends of Nigeria must be deeply concerned because of the wide-reaching implications of a people acknowledged as bereft of integrity in all its ramifications. Alas, if, as some say, the history of a society is a history of its elite, then it is not a surprise that Nigeria has come to this sorry pass.
It is not enough, however, to be merely concerned; nor is it useful to lament. Indeed, there is little that the vice-president has said that is new to Nigerians. The number is simply amazing of high and low government officials currently facing trial, of business persons with cases to answer, of even spiritual leaders involved in shady deals all for the reward of filthy lucre. Once a high-ranking American government official felt no compunction to sweepingly tag this country ‘ a nation of scammers’. He was not totally right, but he was also not absolutely wrong. Indeed, the unenviable reputation of Nigeria, or, more correctly, Nigerians, precedes and, rightly or wrongly, defines them outside the country. Just as Nigerians within consider public officials guilty of corruption until proven innocent, so too foreigners generally presume Nigerians guilty or capable of acts of corruption until they prove otherwise.
If reputation is lost, all is lost. The urgent question then is: what is to be done about this terrible infection that pervades this land?
First, because political leadership is key to the change from the present sad state of things and which the All Progressives Congress Party (APC) and its government promised the electorate, the Nigerian presidency must commit itself to, and be seen to so do, a life of rectitude and an integrity-driven government. The only effective leadership is by example and the presidency, as the pinnacle of authority and power, must earn and claim without an iota of doubt, the moral high ground from which it can prosecute the war against the hydra-headed corruption monster. But good leadership cannot, alone, fix Nigeria. A willing and supportive followership must play its necessary part.
Secondly, that ‘the fight against corruption is a fight against the system’ may be correct; but only partially so. Systems are by, of, and for people. Therefore a system is only as good, or as bad, as the people who institute, operate and sustain it. So, there is no problem with the Nigerian system, only with Nigerians. This then makes the fight against corruption not that of the leadership alone, but of all citizens and friends of Nigeria. And it must be said that most Nigerians have benefited one way or the other from acts of corruption in high places. Many are as guilty by acts of omission or of commission. In this matter, therefore, every man and woman must do his or her duty.
Third, even President Muhammadu Buhari acknowledges that if Nigeria does not kill corruption, corruption may kill the country. An extraordinary problem necessarily requires an extraordinary solution. Having correctly understood the broad base of and the strong tie that binds the motley ‘venal crowd’ of corrupt people, their desperation to stay in business, as well as the immense resources they can muster to fight back, this government needs to employ a wide range of methods, legal, psychological, moral, to engage these forces and subdue them. The press and the Nigerian public can be powerful allies if they are strategically deployed.
A majority of Nigerians have, for so long, been victims of the destructive, rapacious, numerically small elite that thrive on and perpetrate corruption. They would be only too glad to collaborate with a trusted government to take back their fair share of the commonwealth denied them for so long. But there must be no room for a re-looting of recovered loot, only the equitable redistribution and a transparent and judicious use of it for the public good.
Fourth, it needs to be said that corruption is not really a recent phenomenon in the history of this country or indeed, of any country. The point for worry is that corruption has, in the last thirty or so years, assumed a dimension that threatens the authority and power of the state, and the continued existence of the country. The ‘corruption economy’ is arguably bigger, better structured, and more sophisticated in its operations, than the national economy. Corruption has grown more desperate and its corroding influence is more wide-ranging. No country can survive, develop and make progress in such a condition. Something must give and this monster must be forced to give without negotiation.
Government deserves every support to bring corruption to submission by every reasonable and fair means including raising, in the words of Osinbajo, ‘ a new tribe of men and women who are prepared to make the sacrifices and self-constraints that are crucial to building a strong society; who are prepared to stick together, fight corruption side-by-side, and insist on justice even when our friends are on the receiving end’. This, certainly, can be done. The only thing required is that the political leadership walks its talk and leads by example.