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Poopola: Nigerians encourage leaders to loot


Niara. PHOTO: Getty Images

Niara. PHOTO: Getty Images

Dr. Tayo Poopola, a lecturer in the Dept. of Mass Communication, University of Lagos, Akoka, spoke with OMIKO AWA on the attitudes of Nigerian leaders and other issues.

In your opinion, what are the reasons leaders have the tendency to corruptly enrich themselves while in office?
The military used to say they came on a corrective mission to correct the anomalies in the system, as well as save the economy and the nation from imminent collapse. However, recent happenings have proved that to be wrong. There was never a military regime in this country that did not give that excuse each time they seized power. Right from Aguyi Ironsi’s regime of 1966 to Abacha’s, except for Abdulsalami Abubakar’s regime, which was a product of circumstance, it was all the same story. And because of what they always said they had come to do and the alacrity, with which they did them, the citizenry held them in high esteem; they saw them as saints. But going by one of Thomas Hobbe’s sayings that ‘humans are basically selfish creatures, who would do anything to better their positions,’ it is easy to see that it is this selfish agenda that is mainly responsible for our leaders’ tendency, be they in uniform or mufti, to corruptly enrich themselves while in office.

Another reason that could be adduced for this behaviour is the fear of the unknown. Our leaders fear that when they leave office, they would also lose the rights and privileges that go with such positions, hence, the urge to amass wealth that would make them comfortable, when out of power.

Also, in the military, there is this immunity, which protects them from probes. This encourages corruption to reign to high heavens. Now, however, things are changing, especially with the way the Buhari-led administration is fighting corruption. There has never been a time in the political history of Nigeria that a military officer or chairman of a party was made to give account of how he/she spent the money given to him/her, while in office. It is an unfortunate situation that public officers appointed in trust, with the masses expecting them to be honest, only get there to serve their own selfish purposes. Today, Nigerian military officers are no longer the angels or saints they claimed to be. They were just stealing from the public treasury. It is surprising that a military officer should soil his/her hands, because their welfare package within and outside service is enough to keep them and their families comfortable for life. Indeed, it is sheer madness for any of them to want to embezzle public fund.

Is it the same madness that also drives the civilians?
There are various factors responsible for civilians’ attitudes in this regard. Firstly, it is very difficult being a political aspirant in Nigeria, irrespective of the office one is aiming at. From the position of a councilor to state governor or even the president, there is usually a lot of spending. Many of these politicians borrow money, so when they get to office, they steal state money to pay back. Another factor is that of god-fatherism. These people collect money from their godfathers, who install them. These godfathers have to be satisfied for the civilian leaders to have a smooth reign in office. Lastly, once you are a political aspirant or candidate and you do not give out money, people will not come to you or even vote for you. In fact, Nigerians encourage their leaders to loot public treasury with the way they demand for money and other things from them.

How can this be checked?
We need political education to constantly enlighten the citizenry of their duties and obligation, either as a leader or a citizen. This is where the British government is better. The current Nigerian government has failed in this aspect. Many Nigerians still do not know the difference between the immediate past government and the current one; they think it is business as usual. Government should take the responsibility to educate, inform and enlighten the citizenry, with the aim of changing some vices. Again, we do not even have an ideology because some of these things could be routed through state ideology to the grassroots, the state and then practised at the Federal level. Once they are made a state ideology, then anybody that fails to live by it would be dealt with.

What are the impacts on the people?
Fraud has affected Nigerians’ psyche to the extent that they no longer trust politicians; they believe holding public office is going there to loot public treasury. They have forgotten that it is for service. They see public office holders, as opportunists going to government to enrich themselves and any opportunity they get, they also use it to get their portion of the national cake. This attitude is really giving Nigeria a bad image.

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