The Real Name Of Corruption
IT’s called corruption. But its real name is lawlessness, child of immorality, mortal enemy of civility. No patriotic Nigerian would deny that the war against corruption must be vigorously prosecuted. But prevention is better than cure. No right thinking person would tolerate theft of our wealth. But it would be dangerous to limit our notion of corruption to graft. The magnitude and depth of the problem challenge us to see a picture larger than our common understanding.
Corruption includes and transcends petty stealing. It even transcends stealing billions of dollars. Fighting corruption includes but may not be limited to arresting and jailing thieves. It is imperative, therefore, that we go to the root of the matter, that we diagnose, lest we act like quack doctors who treat symptoms and neglect the cause. Corruption is lawlessness. It is widespread in Nigeria. It is found within government and among the governed. That is why our wealth is in the hands of thieves.
President Umaru Yar’Adua began his short-lived presidency using respect for the rule of law as mantra. That was an improvement. His noble intention was necessary but insufficient. Our problems will not be solved by simply being law-abiding. The law must itself be subject to morality. It is immoral to make unjust laws. Obedience to such laws is not a virtue but a vice. We have an obligation to make good laws for our country. That is the sacred duty of the legislature in a polity where lawmakers are not lawbreakers.
A just law is not an ordinance of the will but an ordinance of reason. It is promulgated for the attainment of the common good. Society descends into tyranny where and when law is mistaken for an ordinance of the will. She labors under a despotic oligarchy where and when the law is made for the attainment of the personal fortunes of its leader or leaders. What we need, therefore, is not just respect for the rule of law but respect for the rule of just laws.
A tripodal stove, so goes a Yoruba dictum, secures the pot and the soup being prepared in it. Both will suffer combustion and destruction if the tripodal stove were to be reduced to a bipod. A society stands on a tripod. She suffers ruin when anything untoward happens to any of the three legs.
The societal tripod comprises education, law-enforcement and adjudication of justice, in simple terms, the school, the police and the judiciary. Education forms the citizen to work for the common good by working for his own good, and to work for his own good by working for the common good. Education inculcates civility. It is acquired in the family, in the school, and in religious communities. The second leg of the tripod, law-enforcement, exists to prevent the citizen from acting in ways that are inimical to the common good; and, if the citizen so acts, apprehend him and make him appear before the judiciary, the third leg of the tripod. Credible and admissible evidence is tendered before the judiciary by law-enforcement agencies to show that the citizen in question has really acted against the common good. It smacks of incivility to accuse and to try anyone in the media, in “the court of public opinion” where the onus of proof is almost nil.
If, on the strength of credible evidence tendered in court, the accused is found guilty, it is the sacred duty of the judiciary to apply appropriate and lawfully prescribed sanctions. Sanctions are applied, not because the accused looks like one who has committed a crime, but because, on the strength of credible evidence tendered and admitted in court, he has been found, to have really acted against the common good. Sanctions are applied, not because he looks guilty. but because he has been found guilty.
Education too stands on a tripod whose three legs are intellectual formation, moral formation, and technical formation, standing on the ground of spiritual formation, that is, on the grounds of religious beliefs that the person espouses. One might ask: why spirituality and
why religion? Would that not exclude atheists?
As I once said in a conversation with my friend Douglas Anene, an atheist philosopher, the difference between the theist and the atheist is not that one is a believer while the other is not, but that one believes there is God while the other believes there is no God. Both are believers. Education forms the human person to think well, to act well, and to be productive. Education forms men and women of intellectual, moral, and administrative competence. In the war against corruption, each of the three is necessary, none is of itself sufficient.
What I have described as societal tripod are three critical institutions in every society. Where any of them is lacking the society is sick. Where any of them is unhealthy it becomes impossible to prevent or sanction acts of incivility. That is the origin of what we call corruption in Nigeria, what I have called lawlessness, the offspring of immorality.
Let us examine the societal tripod in Nigeria. Then we shall know where this rain called corruption began to beat us. Not to do so is to reduce this noble war to a propaganda war between the ruling party and the opposition party, the party in government today and the party in government yesterday. It is to gloss over the bipartisan character of corruption in Nigeria.
There was corruption in Nigeria before the two coups of 1966. The politicians who were in office before the coups were not saints. But, sequel to the utterly lawless and mindlessly bloody military interventions and prolonged military dictatorship, what was a headache deteriorated and became a cancer. Our soldiers violently institutionalized lawlessness through decimation of institutions critical to the enthronement and maintenance of civility. Consistent with the logic of tyranny, military regimes coopt or attack academics, use law-enforcement agencies for self-perpetuation, intimidate and deform the judiciary. In the military onslaught on the academia in Nigeria, schools were “taken over”, universities were headed by “sole administrators” and guided by “visitors”, soldiers who might not have qualified for admission into those universities in the first instance.
Education was bastardised, civility banished, the press muzzled, the police rendered impotent, the judiciary’s independence eroded, and the quality of the bench suffered greatly in the hands of military appointed judges. The three legs of our societal tripod were paralysed when the three institutions I have been referring to—the school, the police and the courts were trashed by “corrective” military regimes. Now that we need to fight corruption we are handicapped. Schools cannot inculcate civility, the police cannot apprehend incivility, the judiciary cannot sanction incivility. We cannot fight corruption when education, law-enforcement and adjudication of justice are in distress.
But while the military is to be largely blamed, the military is not to be solely blamed. For civilians invited them, welcomed them, applauded and serenaded them each time they rolled out the tanks. Our soldiers would not have suspended democratic institutions if they did not have civilian supporters, academics and jurists who provided intellectual justification for tyranny. Tyranny thrives in sycophancy.
Beyond lamentation, there are at least two things we must do in order to win the war against corruption. First, we must understand what corruption is. It is bigger than graft. It must not be narrowed to graft. Graft is only one of its symptoms. Corruption is the destruction of the spiritual, intellectual and moral fabric of a society. In this respect, we and our leaders, past and present, have a moral obligation to make an individual and collective mea culpa. All those who staged coups, all those who rigged elections, all those who have violated fundamental human rights, all those who, in the history of our country, aided and abetted the paralysis and amputation of our societal tripod, all must admit their guilt. In fact, those at the helm of affairs have a greater obligation to lead the mea culpa. We cannot win this war by being sanctimonious.
Secondly, we must recognize the antidote to corruption. It is respect for the rule of just laws enforced by strong institutions in the hands of intellectually, morally and administratively competent public officials. This war is just. It must not be fought with unjust means. Those who stole acted outside the law. We must apprehend them and sanction them within the ambit of just laws. For if we act unjustly towards the unjust, we will one day act unjustly to the just. And that will announce our country’s descent into fascism. Let truth, justice and civility not be the first casualties in this war.
Father Akinwale teaches Thomistic Philosophy and Systematic Theology at the Dominican Institute Ibadan.