Ojeifo: Corruption, ethnicity and religion in Nigeria (2)
Continued from yesterday
INTERESTINGLY, the aim of the young army majors who plotted the first coup, as they claimed, was to stamp out corruption in government and public life. In a broadcast from Kaduna on January 15, 1966, Major Chukwuma Nzeogwu, spoke to the nation in the name of the Supreme Council of the Revolution: “Our enemies are the political profiteers, the swindlers, the men in the high and low places that seek bribes and demand 10 per cent; those that seek to keep the country divided permanently so that they can remain in office as ministers and VIPs of waste; the tribalists, the nepotists; those that make the country look big-for-nothing before the international circles; those that have corrupted our society and put the Nigerian political calendar back by their words and deeds.” Sadly, the new government ended up cementing the system and structures of graft, which it claimed it wanted to do away with.
Today, almost 50 years later, Nigerians are still suffering from the wounds inflicted on our collective national psyche by that singular event. And because we have failed to create a working system in which equitable access to national resources is guaranteed regardless of any form of affiliation, people now fall back on their political, ethnic and religious loyalties, either defensively or offensively, to have their own cut of the national cake.
In his revealing book, Why Nigeria is not Working (2013), Paul Irikefe argues from the onset that: “Nigeria is not cursed; Nigeria is only held down by greed and the inability of her leaders to manage her mineral wealth. This is also a way of saying that Nigeria really works, but for one per cent of the population – former Heads of State who are among the richest in the country, business front men and women and family associates who control access to the oil wealth and lucrative contracts, lawmakers who are the highest paid in the world, governors and their godfathers who manage the distributive power of various states like a private fiefdom.” Irikefe concludes that, “If Nigeria has a structure that is dysfunctional and resistant to change, it is because it is immensely beneficial to the elites.”
Today, corruption backed by impunity has eaten deep into the fabric of our national life, so much so that it has become an accepted way of doing business. Rather than make us cringe, corruption is now celebrated. This predicament has turned Nigeria into a paradise for maggots, a distorted space where excellence and hardwork have no positive correlation with success. Whether it is in securing a well-paid job, getting a contract, becoming a minister, gaining admission into university or having the law enforced in a legitimate case, what matters today is not one’s credentials but one’s connections – who one really knows either directly or indirectly on the ladder of Nigeria’s pyramid of power.
Venturing into politics today is now seen a business career. Any politician who does not end up a multi-millionaire is regarded as a fool, and not many Nigerians want to become fools. Year after year, Nigeria appears on top of the list of the world’s most corrupt countries and this has become almost like a prize. From the civil service and the academia to the police and the army, from hospitals and law courts to schools, corruption has become an institution. Over the years, there have been reports of indictments of Nigerians in government and public life for misappropriation of public funds. But there are no such reports of prompt arrests and prosecutions of these corrupt government functionaries by the government. The few that are jailed and disgraced to serve as deterrence to others are soon after their jail terms accorded state pardons with fanfare.
Today, political power in Nigeria has become a tribal zero-sum game. The popular assumption is that if the Hausas are in power, they are eating well while the Yorubas and Igbos are losing out. So, the Yorubas and Igbos simply endure and wait until it is their turn. Little wonder, political positions in Nigeria have become fiercely contested. Since Independence, Nigeria has been ruled by a handful of power-wielding oligarchs who, according to John Campbell, “have held power, lost power, and lived to play again.” Those who aspire to the highest office in the land cultivate the friendships of these oligarchs. Whether from the military, politics or business, these oligarchs seek to protect the parochial interests of their subordinates and clients to ensure their continued access to the spoils of office.
The activities of these oligarchs continue to hamper Nigeria’s progress, and this is part of the reason why Nigeria has earned the infamous sobriquet of “a failed state that works.” In his book, Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracle (2010), Richard Dowden says that “The secret lies in the layers of millions upon millions of networks, personal ties, family links, ethnic loyalties, school fraternities, Church connections and scores of other unrecorded, informally organized bonds of trust that make things happen. Forget the government, the formal structures. What makes Nigeria work is a matrix of social, political and economic connections that ensure most people get food and shelter. The hidden wiring also creates Presidents, makes fortunes… But it also ensures that the vast majority of Nigerians are kept outside the ruler-owner circle, never given the chance to fulfil their – or Nigeria’s – potential.”
Today, being a president of Nigeria is like being the chairman of a massive distribution agency without restraint. When a Christian president is on seat, the general perception is that all Christians are enjoying and all Muslims are shut out of power. When it is the turn of a Muslim president, the general impression is that all Muslims are growing fat on the spoils of office while all Christians are suffering. This situation has immensely contributed in draining religion from its pure ideals as religious leaders refrain from criticizing politicians and senior public officials from their own faith tradition who fail to live up to their responsibilities, for fear of losing political patronage. But even more disturbing is the fact that today, religion has lost its capacity to create a sense of moral revulsion in Nigerians against the ills of society. What we see is that, more often than not, religion is now an ally of politics, a willing and guilty collaborator to the collective oppression of our people. In the midst of this dilemma, ordinary citizens have become totally helpless. The result is that morality and immorality have merged and corrupt citizens have gradually corrupted the paraphernalia of statecraft.
In his Oputa Panel book, Witness to Justice (2011), Matthew Hassan Kukah argues that, “Some of those who have become rich by corrupt means find a moral basis for their corruption by supporting religion. They erect places of worship, they sponsor pilgrimage and keep holy men and women in the holy shrines around the world, and they make large donations in exchange for the holy waters of legitimacy.” However, he says that the greater part of the blame does not lie with those who even may have gotten their wealth through corrupt means or those who do not put their wealth to good use. The sinners are those false prophets who have taken it upon themselves to compromise with Baal, those religious leaders who revere the wealthy and powerful and refuse prophecy about a God who provided for all his children.
• Ojeifo is a Catholic priest of the Archdiocese of Abuja.
But for how long shall we continue like this? I believe that if our country is destined to go anywhere, we all need to wake up from our moral lethargy and stall the further depletion of our moral capital by the rapacious bunch of politicians who have hijacked the ship of state and have continued to monopolise, manipulate and exploit the power and wealth of the Nigerian state for their own personal and family advantage. This is the time to take back our country from the hands of political marauders. If people steal public funds and know that they will be caught and punished severely, they are likely to think twice. But when people steal and know that they will never be punished even when they are caught and that they can enjoy the protective coverage of their patrons in power, they are likely to steal recklessly. And that is why whether it is corruption or lawlessness or poverty or unemployment or crime, Nigeria’s problem lies in bad leadership. The result is a followership that has learned to cope with inefficiency, mediocrity, impunity and injustice, without any desire to hold its leadership accountable.
What Nigeria needs today is a leader who has the courage, the stamina, the vision, the discipline and the will to institute a revolution in ethical leadership that can take on vested interests and challenge anti-democratic practices. Githongo’s verdict on this matter is profoundly true: “If a leader is surrounded by shifty, money-grabbing aides and family members, it’s because he likes it that way. These are the people he feels at ease with, whose working methods he respects. Far from being an aberration, the entourage is a faithful expression of the autocrat’s own proclivities.”
• Ojeifo is a Catholic priest of the Archdiocese of Abuja.