BACKLASH: Corruption @ 55 (1)
CORRUPTION is not very easy to define in Nigeria. There are as many variants of its definition as there are Nigerians ready to speak on corruption. Former President Goodluck Jonathan had attempted to patent one definition, which says ‘stealing is not corruption.’ His was not successful largely due to its conceptual limitation. The former president tried so hard, almost sweating, to explain while stealing one billion naira from the coffers of the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) for instance, is not corruption.
He could not make himself clear and people had thought the ex-president was issuing a blank permit for the stealing of public funds by public officers. Yet the point that looked so difficult for Jonathan to explain was as simple as saying ‘stealing is not corruption but a symptom or manifestation of a corrupt system.’
Another variant of the definition of corruption was offered recently by President Muhammadu Buhari. He said corruption is best defined by the six years of the Goodluck Jonathan presidency, plus the eight years that Dr. Bukola Saraki, current President of the Senate, was governor of Nigeria’s North Central State of Kwara.
The Buhari’s definition, I am sorry to say, is not founded on any existing notions of corruption. But we cannot sit by and allow one man, even if he is president, to change our notions just like that. Going forward, I agree with Jonathan that corruption is larger than stealing, just as I disagree with Buhari that corruption is six years of Jonathan and eight years of Bukola.
Dr. Okey Ikechukwu, while writing on the back page of This Day Newspaper last Friday came very close to presenting what is on my mind. He said “Jonathan’s description of fraud as ‘stealing’ is correct, as was his description of corruption as having a much wider implication than financial misconduct.” Emphasis is his. He also observed that the “unfortunate thing about these observations of the former president is that neither he, nor his spokespersons could explain this, especially amidst burgeoning indices of a drifting presidency.”
He went ahead to define corruption as “distortion of values.” In that wise, just anything can be corrupted once there is a shift from the core substance. To prove that corruption is not always about monetary transactions involving humans, he brought in the example of the software, which suffers corruption when it comes under virus attack.
My job today is to expand the scope without, in any way, attempting to exhaust the definition of corruption. On a general note, corruption is a state of mind and not necessarily some measurable acts of misconduct by men and women. It flows more from the mind, which is linked to the spirit than it comes from the brain, which controls the senses. It is more of a spiritual malaise than otherwise and any therapy without a strong spiritual content may fail.
I need to be clear here. I am not advocating the building of more churches and mosques or the intensification of evangelism to contain corruption. That has not worked in 55 years in Nigeria, where there are more worship centres per square kilometer than there are schools and hospitals. I am talking of a reawakening to sharpen our understanding of justice and love to create a new song.
Still, what I am saying is different from that fraudulent viewpoint, which requires us to sink our diversity for a beautiful common purpose. For now, that common purpose does not exist, or if it does exist, it has not been properly unveiled to reveal its beauty, 55 years after independence. Not even our founding fathers, great as they were, could adequately frame up this purpose for appreciation. It was the reason the Midwest asked to be cut off from the Western Region in 1963, in spite of the recorded monumental achievements of Chief Obafemi Awolowo as premiere. While Awo remains an all-time great leader in the Oduduwa enclave, his perception in the Midwest where the many landmark achievements of the premiere were not rampant, is different. The Great Awo was a Yoruba leader and not the leader of the old Western Region that included Midwest.
The same can be said of the legendary Sarduana of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello, who had issues with elements from the Middle Belt because his own idea of a strong North didn’t quite give good space to the Benue-Plateau axis of the region. And there wouldn’t have been agitation for the creation of Rivers-Calabar-Ogoja State, if the then Eastern Region under Igbo domination had been fair to all concerned. In all of the cases, justice and love were missing in the leadership chemistry giving a colouration or product that was corrupt at birth.
As an Urhobo man for instance, I do not have to reduce my Urhoboness to become a better Nigerian. Same way, the Yoruba should not aspire to be less or more than himself to remain a patriotic Nigeria. We only need to be guided by the spirit of love to recognize that peace is not the absence of conflict but the presence of justice. If there is equity and justice in the management of the political economy, every building block shall ultimately add up to the common purpose that I talk about. I should not use whatever advantage that I enjoy to unjustly seek to increase the share of my people. If I do, I have sown a seed of corruption that will bear different kind of bad fruits tomorrow, including stealing. This was the point that Jonathan explained rather very badly.
Even now, there is a further degeneration that has made public service something very close to private sector participation. In making political choices, today leaders put themselves before the constituencies they serve. And they are not entirely to blame because politics has become so capital intensive that its language is not different from the language spoken in the investment world.
For instance, we cannot in all sincerity say that Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu settled for Prof. Yemi Osinbajo as vice to Buhari because he, Osinbajo approximated the aspirations of the Southwest geo-political zone in the matter for determination on March 28, 2015. If truth be told, it was first a choice for self preservation before consideration for the Yoruba interest in the ongoing dispensation.
Same way, the Jagabgan’s decision to lead the Southwest into a political partnership that appears reluctant to bring to the table discussion of the vexed issue of the restructuring of the polity cannot be said to be in sync with the mainstream thinking of a region that has always canvassed in formal and informal forums the drastic reworking of Nigeria to reflect the characteristics of a true federal system. From what we know of the Southwest, the forced marriage is a corruption of the region’s original political thought. This is a much bigger problem than stealing.
The degrading of immediate past governors of Lagos and Ekiti States, Babatunde Fashola and Kayode Fayemi to stop them from making the ministerial list of President Buhari is a manifestation of a spirituality that nourishes corruption. I consider both as one-eye men in the city of blind men and if the APC truly desires to fix Nigeria, I cannot see who else in the vast political empire of Senator Tinubu comes before them in qualification. Trying to stop them from becoming ministers because their ascendancy does not nourish a personal interest is corruption.
Today, the leadership mindset is focused on where resources are located and how such locations can be maximally secured for unhindered exploitation of the domiciled resources. In the aftermath of the alleged Jonathan’s financial debauchery, any suggestion to protect resources from marauders is usually applauded. And so, Buhari has had good reason to recall some retirees to secure the resources accruing from ports and allied operations without recourse to other parameters, such as land ownership, that will enthrone justice. This is the true corruption that Jonathan could not define.
Buhari himself is reportedly returning as petroleum minister after being one in the 70s under the military regime of General Olusegun Obasanjo because he thinks he alone can secure for good use the accruals from the hydro-carbon resources located in the Niger Delta, which is more than 1000 kilometres from Daura. This is also the corruption that Jonathan in his ‘cluelessness’ could not put in perspective. The definition continues next week.