Though an archaic and objectionable term that should have been consigned to the garbage heap, corruption still remains a colossus in Nigeria, bestriding and engulfing the entire society with so much gusto and impunity.
To say that corruption has become a native in Nigeria is to euphemise its hideous manifestations and large scale influence which has not only polarised, but also yielded the society as a microcosm or mini-jungle where decency and honest behaviour have become distasteful.
The rate of corruption in the country is so high that it has ambushed public psyche, dispassionate perception of wrong doing, value system and rule of conscience which explain why thieves and those who plunder citizens’ common wealth and patrimony are now celebrated and pampered.
Show angst only when thief is not their kinsman
With the polarisation of the entire country into ethnic and religious enclaves by political demagogues, tribal bigots and religious irredentists, public wealth robbers are seen as such by only those who are not of the same tribe or religion as the robbers, and it is such now that ‘if he is a thief, but is our thief, then he is not one.’
That is the reality of Nigeria as a nation and also as a people. Because he is our man, we should not tell the truth about him even though we know he is a thief, a fraudster or a swindler which is why Agu Onwuzuruoha (Ph.D), a social commentator, believes that “the clan of truth tellers is dwindling by the day as people hitherto thought were contented now bow to Baal.”
Corruption has so crippled Nigeria and its citizens that it has consigned and constricted their lives and life expectations to hope. Unfortunately, hope in Nigeria appears hopelessly hopeless.
Perhaps, Nigeria lost the way somewhere along the line in its fight against corruption and other social vices and that was the beginning of the journey to where we have found ourselves almost irredeemably.
Many proponents of punitive measures against corruption and its perpetrators are of the view that had Nigeria sustained her intolerance for corrupt behaviours by citizens no matter where they come from, the country would have been rid of corruption.
In the 70s and 80s armed robbers were publicly executed to the excitement of all. Lawrence Anini and his co-travellers were executed. Across the country, many proven criminals were executed closed to their parents’ communities to serve as a deterrent.
At that time, parents were in the habit of cautioning their children against joining dangerous gangs. Those whose sources of instant wealth were not known were treated as lepers.
Today, people compare thief with thief. A thief is only condemned if he hails from outside other’s village, community or region. He is treated or seen as a hero if he comes from my village or community.
Nigeria has lost its conscience, hence, the high level of corruption in society.
A senator appeared on a Channel Television programme to defend the choice of 469 pieces of Toyota SUVs against locally assembled/manufactured automobile.
He refused to accept that by that action, the National Assembly was unpatriotic.
There are many Nigerians who are defending the purchase of the multi-billion naira vehicles, purely on ethnic sentiment or their relations are beneficiaries.
The lawmakers, in defence of their action, complicated their case by saying they were more prudent than the Executive arm of government that gives out three vehicles to a minister. They also cited “bad roads” as reason for the SUVs. The question to ask is, why are Nigerian roads bad in the first place with the Petro-dollars that have accrued to the country over the years?
Patrick Lumumba, a Kenyan lawyer and activist, who also served on the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission from July 2010 to August 2017, deplored the high level of corruption in Africa.
He said: “In Japan, a corrupt person kills himself. In China, they will kill him. In Europe, they jail him. In Africa, he will present himself for election.”
While on a trip in Abuja, a guest was disappointed with the poor facilities and services offered by a 100-room boutique hotel.
At the height of the disappointment, the guest forced his way to the general manager’s office, where he incidentally met the hotel owner who arrogantly told him to check-out if he was displeased.
But what infuriated the guest most was the owner’s statement that the hotel was built from his 30 years of hard work in the civil service and that he would not allow anybody to mess with his investment.
At that point, he smelt corruption, considering that no civil servant can pull off such a huge investment with salary, savings or allowances.
The hotel, many houses across the lush estates, fuel stations and shopping malls, across the country are among some of the investments made from ill-gotten wealth, a growing trend that has left Nigeria in an unenviable spot on the Amnesty International’s Corruption Perception Index.
At 150 spot out of 180 countries in the 2022 Corruption Perception Index, and probably sliding further in the soon-to-be-released 2023 index, Nigeria’s story is not pleasing to the ear.
The ugly trend is also a big mockery of the fight against corruption, which Muhammadu Buhari’s administration claimed to champion in its eight years in power.
Of course, with unbelievable stories of snake swallowing money, recovered looted funds growing wings and flying away, and other incredible tales, which Nigerians allowed to pass just like that, corruption is here and has taken preeminence in the country’s affairs, as daily, people pray for opportunity to steal from public coffers.
The case of one NNPC executive who stashed millions of Naira in his grandmother’s hut, the one found at an uncompleted building in Ikoyi, the pension fund embezzlement, the bullion vans, the ones, probably diverted from security fund that bought estates in Dubai, and other countless cases still stare on the faces of Nigerians, and sadly encouraging more people to do same as none of the culprits have been punished. The corruption cases at the end of the day have always been ‘go and sin no more’, while the country suffer for it.
Yet, the government spends huge sums in funding the operations of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) and other anti-graft agencies, with corruption still unabated since the return to democratic rule in 1999.
The irony for many is that petty-thieves, those who do not have the means to engage good lawyers and even the innocent in some cases, suffer while those who do the real stealing are being given chieftaincy titles, honored by religious organisations and highly regarded in the society today.
The country was shocked a few years ago when a onetime governor of Abia State was released from prison after his corruption charges were dropped, while some petty-thievies are still behind the bar, awaiting trial for many years. All that the former governor did was to join the ruling party. That was in line with the boastful plea of Adams Oshiomhole, former chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), who once urged fellow politicians to join his party and their sins would be forgiven, including corruption charges.
Chijioke Umelahi, a former Abia lawmaker, blamed the growing trend of corruption in the country on poor family structure across the country today, with parents unable to institute values and norms that made them, in their own time, to be more responsible Nigerians.
“The father who does not care how his 20-year old son made N20 million, will not care how he spends it, rather he will ask for his share of the money. But his own father would have sent him out of the house or disowned him during his time,” he said.
He insisted that the family is to be blamed first before the society as the society builds from the family.
For Onyewuchi Akagbule, a senior lecturer at Nnamdi Azikiwe University Awka, corruption soared since the abolition of public execution of criminals across the country.
“At 12 years, while growing up in Enugu, I witnessed the execution of five criminals at Abakpanike field in Enugu, I can still recall it and I am always frightened when I do. My parents will always cite instances with it not knowing that I sneaked out to witness the execution. It was a practical way of curbing corruption and stealing. “Today, human right activists and religious organisations will tell you that public execution is bad. But it once worked and can still work again,” Akagbule said.
But Sam Onikoyi, a Nigerian academic in Brussels, thinks that public execution is barbaric. He noted that initiating property and fund confistication laws, stringent punishments and enforcing them will deter Nigerians from being corrupt.
“In some Asian countries, especially China and Malaysia, one will be executed if found guilty in a corruption case, but that has not reduced corruption in these countries because China ranks 65 in the 2022 Corruption Perception Index, while Europeans countries like Denmark and Finland ranked the least corrupt, despite not adopting capital punishment,” he said.
He insisted that Nigeria needs to strengthen the anti-graft laws and empower relevant agencies to work without presidential or political interference.
“I have followed the appointments of the EFCC chairman in the last 10 years and I always see influence and interference from the people who appointed the chairman and part of the deal is using them to fight their political enemies and business competitors.
“Nigeria should take a clue from the FBI, CIA and other global anti-graft agencies. The government is even at their mercy because the law empowers them to do their job without fear or favour,” he said.
There is also a cultural angle to why corruption is thriving in Nigeria.
Juliana Akanji-Morgan, a public and external affairs manager in a multinational company in Port Harcourt, noted that most Nigerian cultures believe that government positions and appointments are like tall iroko trees, which cannot be climbed twice in a lifetime, hence people steal the moment they have such opportunities.
“There is sustained pressure on government appointees and politicians from their people and constituencies to bring their dividends of democracy and they don’t care how the money comes.
“This is why appointees who embezzle public funds and bring them home are celebrated by their people even if they are rubbing their ill-gotten wealth on the faces of the people,” the Akanji-Morgan.
She regretted that half of the funds committed to community development projects by oil companies and even by government in the country often end up in the pockets of traditional rulers, other community leaders and touts, who will go to any length to disrupt development projects in their areas if they were not settled.
“If we do proper auditing of funds expended so far on development in Niger Delta or projects accross the country, you will be shocked of how much corruption we have in the system; from bribing to get the contracts, inflation of contract cost, abandoning projects halfway, poor jobs and payment for projects never executed. It is not just government appointees or politicians, but Nigerians across many spheres are engaged in one form of corruption or another,” she lamented.
The solution, according to her, is the enforcement of the laws and enabling law enforcement and anti-graft agencies to work without interference.
Most multinationals in Nigeria follow global corporate governance in their operations and that has saved them from the corruption mess.
“So, a global company is here, but its work ethics are global and staff members comply because they have seen colleagues punished or even sacked for erring.
“All we need is follow examples. Confisticate the ill-gotten wealth and imprison corrupt persons. Make the judgment and imprisonment public. Keep doing that and in less than five years, corruption will end because people now know the consequence of being corrupt,” she concluded.
Also, Onikoyi noted that the anti-graft should be above board to be able to check corruption, while the judiciary should be queried as often as possible on judgments in favour of corrupt persons.
“In the recent past, there were allegations levelled against some anti-graft agencies for stealing from the loot they recovered from corrupt Nigerians. That is unheard of in a sane society. They should be prosecuted and recovered funds should be used to fund specific projects so that people will believe you.
“The Abacha loot is still being recovered, yet nobody can account for the ones recovered earlier. Whether petty-thieving, corporate fund embezzlement, looting of public fund and even church fund, it is corruption and the culprits must face the law and punished accordingly,” Onikoyi said.
In their conclusion, the pundits warned that as long as those who embezzle public funds are celebrated in the society and law enforcement agencies compromised, corruption will keep thriving, with people becoming more innovative at stealing, leaving the country worse for it.