“Corruption has pervaded every corner of our polity… We breathe corrupt air, eat corrupt foods and we are surrounded by corrupt elements”
By TUNDUN ADEYEMO
For many of us, corruption need not be defined, as we have become part and parcel of a society where corruption is silently celebrated and deliberately justified. We attend church services where top civil servants and politicians who have inordinately enriched themselves with public money thank God for their time in office. Unfortunately, by condoning and respecting the evidence of sleaze, we perpetuate criminality. Many of us include in our expenses ‘settlement’ money. The sad truth is that we do not see anything wrong with this culture. It is easier to make the illegitimate naira than to starve.
Some of our politicians are perhaps kind enough to spare some of their stolen cash to send their extended family to schools, buy medication and feed hungry relatives. Many of them send the stolen cash to the Western world. There are reports that these politicians buy houses in London’s priciest neighbourhoods. Some of them even go as far as purchasing many houses and other luxurious material items making provisions for the generations unborn whilst the average Nigerian wallows in poverty. For the purposes of argument, it is very clear that there is some complicity on the part of British banks. A cursory research on the Internet reveals that some corrupt Nigerian officials have been able to siphon millions of dollars over the years into British banks; and the biggest culprits in this regard have been HSBC, Natwest, Royal Bank of Scotland and of course the Swiss banks which have succeeded in keeping names of corrupt officials confidential and not even challenging the source of the money under the guise of business-client relationship.
Corruption is defined as lack of integrity or honesty especially susceptibility to bribery; use of a position of trust for dishonest gain. An unfortunate condition that, sad as it may be, is synonymous with our national colours: green, white, green. Obviously, this word is not the promise of Nigeria, but sadly, it is what Nigeria has become; a nation that eats, lives, drinks and breathes the air of corruption. There is a sense of helplessness across the nation from time to time about the costs of this vice, but we lack the political will to annihilate or effect any meaningful change.
Whilst corruption is rampant in Nigeria, there are lots and lots of good attributes that we can be proud of. We’ve just celebrated our 50th year anniversary. Unfortunately several people were killed as two car bombs were detonated near the venue of the celebration during what some people describe as an elaborate display of wealth. On the positive side, we began Nollywood out of nothing and now it is a multimillion-dollar, internationally recognised industry. But, as we all know the world media does well each time by helping us spread our dirty laundry. Just recently, the British media broke the news that Amos Adamu, a Nigerian FIFA executive was willing to accept payment for his vote. Adamu allegedly wanted $800,000 in return for his influence on the outcome of choosing the country to host the 2018 World Cup. According to media reports, he was going to use that money to build artificial pitches. Where? For whom? As FIFA investigates this report, and has suspended the executive, many a Nigerian abroad cringes each time the alleged video recording implicating Adamu is played.
In our defence, we are certainly not the most corrupt nation on the planet, we are just the only nation with incredible potential for greatness but which in 50 years of existence still struggle to get the basics right. Efforts at re-branding the country have not been particularly successful in curbing the problem of corruption. This is particularly worrisome as it appears the re-branding campaign is aimed at ordinary Nigerians who are living on less than a dollar a day rather than the ‘vagabonds in power’ making obscene amounts of money at our expense. Many people speak the anti-corruption lingua, but their core values and attitudes embrace deception and treachery.
Transparency International, TI, the global civil society/organisation leading the world fight against corruption, raises awareness of the damaging effects of corruption and works with partners in government, business and civil society to develop and implement effective measures to tackle the vice on all fronts. On the 2009 Transparency International Index, Nigeria is ranked 130 out of an index of 180 nations ahead of Russia (146), Iraq (176) and Iran (168). New Zealand, Denmark, Sweden, Singapore, Switzerland, Finland, Australia, Canada, Iceland are countries which are leading in the fight against corruption. The United Kingdom and United States come in at numbers 17 and 19 respectively. While we are not the only corrupt nation in the world, corruption in Nigeria has been styled the ‘Nigerian factor’ and it has become a huge deterrent to foreign investment and national economic growth. It has pervaded every corner of our polity: from our religious organisations to, even, the presidency. It is embedded in our universities, state boards, ministries, markets, transport unions, to name but a few. We breathe corrupt air, eat corrupt foods and we are constantly surrounded by corrupt elements. We cannot underestimate the strength of sleaze that has been fuelled by poverty, staggering class differences, social inequalities, lack of opportunities and unemployment. Life is generally tough in Nigeria because the progress is only attained by a culture of ‘who you know’ and not on sheer hard work and merit.
However, it appears the government is aware of the extent and depth of corruption and there have been some positive steps taken towards its eradication. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, is the national sleaze watchdog. On the whole, they seem to be effective, but under their watch a notorious sleaze governor got away. They do a good job in prosecuting little people, but the big players are still in office stealing the nation blind. In all fairness, EFCC staff are overworked and underpaid. They are sometimes threatened and their lives are in constant danger because of the work they do.
What then do we say? Is there a way forward? The suggestion is to individually renew daily our commitment to integrity and truth. One person can make a difference. Borrowing the words from the late mega star: Michael Jackson: Change begins with the man in the mirror. Martin Luther King Jnr. spoke about the fierce urgency of now. We need a Nigeria that will enforce its laws with efficiency and effectiveness that is parallel to none. It is also important to note that corruption wallows majorly in economies that are lacking in infrastructures and social amenities. This is not to say as the TI index has shown that corruption does not exist in first world countries. It is just that it does not fester like it does in Nigeria. For example, it is inappropriate for the police in the UK to collect money from any member of the public. That would be gross misconduct. In Nigeria, it is the name of the game. The argument is that poverty, staggering inequality, and an inactive concept of citizenship are the breeding ground for corruption to strive. There is nothing new under the sun, but positive change does not come about without the application of some measure of force. If we must go the way of Nkrumah’s Ghana, then we must. This is the appointed time for Nigerians to rally together and uproot this incipient evil from amongst our midst.