Because we can’t
This country has been more obsessed with fighting corruption than any other country in the world; yet daily, we see a parade of our public officers and others statutorily entrusted with the safe keeping of our common wealth freely, arrogantly and with impunity steal the country blind.
The executive thief stands up with supreme confidence to be seen and talked about. It is difficult to say which is worse: the conscienceless raid on our public treasuries or the celebration of the raiders?
I am sure that if the British police watched the video of the heroic welcome given to the former guest of Her Majesty, Chief James Ibori, last week, they would rue the day they thought they had a moral duty to lend our country a helping hand in apprehending and punishing public officers who abuse our trust.
But to be fair to him, Ibori was not the first of such men and women to be so lavishly celebrated by their own people. After all, corrupt men and women are smart men and women. They may not necessarily act for their tribes in their mindless greed in amassing wealth at our expense, but their tribes recognise them as their heroic sons. They will defend their soiled names. Once you touch them, you bring the wrath of the tribes on your head.
This is what happens when a people loses it sense of shame. This is what happens when family honour counts for nothing. This is what happens when personal honour and integrity count for nothing. This is what happens when tribes believe that those of their members who are caught with their fingers in the public till are victims of tribal jealousy.
It has come to that.
Last week the police displayed 111 million Naira recovered from 13 INEC officials whose hands were generously greased in the Rivers State re-run election. I do not think this came as a shock to other Nigerians. There is no one of voting age in the country who does not know that INEC field officials are on the take. The police wanted to use the money as evidence that in the Rivers re-run election the politicians bought votes and victory. We knew all along that in every election in our country, the Naira invariably determines winners and losers. We hanker after free and fair elections but forget the capacity of the Naira to bend facts to suit those who have more of the precious stuff in their pockets.
I am willing to bet that the police officers deployed to the state and whose duty was to protect the sanctity of the ballot box returned home with their pockets bulging with money given to them to look the other way. If the INEC officials who did not spend their loot before the police got them were allowed to speak, they would tell us the role Naira played in the police watch over the election.
It has come to that.
The court is where those who cheat the public get their comeuppance in the hands of judges who, supposedly, are intolerant of those who seem clever by half. But see just how pathetic our situation is: Some of our judges are before other judges facing charges of mind-boggling corruption. It is not, I would imagine, such a pleasant thing for a judge to be judged. Jesus was right: judge not that ye may not be judged.
The anti-graft war is a total mess because of our apparent ambivalence. We profess our collective hatred for corruption but we tolerate corruption and celebrate the corrupt. It makes the war messy and difficult to win.
I have asked this question before. I ask it again: To whom do we turn for salvation in a confused system that breeds corruption? Not the court, certainly, because we have judges who are tolerant of corruption and the corrupt; not, of course, the so-called men and women of God who exploit the fear of their congregations to fleece them and live in wealth and luxury while those who support their lavish lifestyles live in deprivation and poverty because their pastors promise them mansions in heaven.
Without prejudice to the gallant efforts of the EFCC in battling corruption and the corrupt, I think the battle is lost. When a war lasts this long and the little pockets of success are crowded out by the larger facts of failure, it would seem rather generous on our part to hope for a country in which corruption is no longer a way of life and the corrupt are shamed by their action and the tribes do not defend their corrupt sons and daughters. Can we have a clean Nigeria? No, because a) we can’t b) we can’t and c) we can’t. I rest my case.