Corruption, insurgency and the challenges of development
While addressing participants at the meeting of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in Paris, the other day, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo observed that corruption was responsible for the insurgency that had seized and troubled the North Eastern part of Nigeria.
While it could not also be contended that there were and are other factors that triggered off the Boko Haram insurgency, the scourge of official corruption in Nigeria is not only alarming, it has distorted all the values Nigerians cherish as a people.
It is, indeed, correct to assert that if corruption is not radically and firmly checked it could kill the Nigerian dream fostered by the founding fathers of the country. The image of the country in the comity of nations is that of a patently corrupt country. In the Transparency International ratings for 2016, Nigeria was 136 on the ladder of 176 with a 28 per cent score. It has not improved much ever since. Of course, not all Nigerians are corrupt and there are some persons who have stuck to their ideals even if they have never gained national prominence.
Corruption has become virtually endemic in the Nigerian polity as persons of all shades of character and religion often abandon the tenets of moral integrity and good governance while in office. The private sector has not been spared of this scourge. This has brought hopelessness and despair in the land. Unexplained and stupendous wealth no longer shocks the people. Both government officials and private citizens have made wealth acquisition at all costs a way of life. Civil servants, hitherto considered the fulcrum of government, have also fallen into this cesspit. They are in some cases worse than political appointees. Some own substantial property in the Federal and state capitals, the value of which cannot be said to have sourced from their legitimate income. They also connive with elected officials to defraud the state at all levels. They award contracts to their cronies using all forms of subterfuge. How did Nigeria descend into this valley of filth?
To be sure, indications are that corruption is rife in all the states of the federation, with the Federal Government and its agencies at the top of the ladder. It would seem that the greater access public officials have to public funds, the greater their propensity to steal from the treasury. The startling revelations of billions of dollars that have been misappropriated in the last 10 years are shaking the nation to its foundations. Some former state officials, including ex-governors now serving in various other elective or appointive offices, former ministers, and even Supreme Court justices, to mention but a few, have been fingered in the massive looting of the Nigerian treasury. While some have been charged to court, others are undergoing investigations.
The truth is that insurgency in Nigeria is fueled by both internal and external sources. The unfortunate fact that people in the wards, local government areas, and states of the federation do not feel the impact of government has fueled insurgency. Insurgents may have their warped beliefs but they have gained ascendancy as a result of poor governance and a dearth of sincere leadership. Some elected state officials have criminally betrayed the trust of the people by brazenly looting funds meant for the common good.
Corruption not only depletes the national treasury, it erodes faith in the leadership class. While it enriches a few, it impoverishes the nation. It accounts for the huge infrastructure deficit which the nation currently suffers. Corruption accounts for the poor health facilities in the country. The inability of the nation to efficiently generate and distribute power can be traced to corruption. In the end, the people are the worse for it.
Sadly, no institution has been spared of corruption. The Nigeria Police, Nigeria Customs, Nigeria Immigration Service and some other quasi-military agencies have meekly acquiesced to debauchery and plundering. The men and women who work in these organisations often seek ‘juicy’ postings in order to exploit the inherent weakness of the nation’s system. Policemen who ought to enforce the law brazenly collect bribes while performing their duties. Some of the Customs officers who stop smugglers and law breakers unabashedly provide private accounts into which bribe sums should be paid. At the borders, with the right amount of cash, the camel can pass through the eyes of the proverbial needle. As a result, arms and ammunition and other illegal goods freely enter Nigeria.
In the name of God, some religious leaders, men and women have joined the fray. After praying for prosperity for their adherents, they solicit and reap unhealthy donations. Some own expensive private jets, while some own schools that charge outrageous fees without regard for the poor who are invariably in the majority. One of the tenets of all religions is scant regard for the material things of life. But the current attitude to wealth in the faith-based movements is one of creating a paradise here on earth at the expense of the poor.
Across the land, Nigerians are disenchanted with the political class. In the midst of a biting economic recession, the people’s sensibilities are daily offended by mouth-watering sums being appropriated and stolen from the coffers of the nation. President Muhammadu Buhari’s war on corruption now appears to be hobbled by the seemingly selective nature of its targets and less than holistic pattern of its approach. The reason for this poses a challenge to the very fabric of the nation. It is also mindboggling that a former governor who was convicted of corrupt practices was not only asked to choose a prison where he would serve his sentence, was even granted bail and ferried out of the jail house without proper documentation.
In the 1960s, Nigerians were shocked when it came to light that politicians inserted 10 per cent bribes into routine contract awards. From the military years in office, particularly from 1985 till date, it seems no percentage is attached to looting. It has become a free-for-all party of exploitation and insane thievery. Corruption would seem to have become second skin to the leaders of the land. This is a tragedy.
Some private citizens have also been sucked into the vortex of fraud, looting and money laundering. They are also often willing to offer bribes in order to subvert due process. The levels of breach of trust between business partners have risen as well.
The executive and legislative arms of government should strengthen the public institutions. The era of depending on a ‘strong man’ to enforce the laws of the land is gone. The institutions of justice and law enforcement should be strengthened with a view to making them function effectively. Diligent investigation and prosecution of cases are crucial and newspaper trials which are later punctured in the courts of law should be avoided. All reported cases of corruption should be brought to a logical conclusion.
As integrity is sadly becoming a scarce virtue in the land, there is a need for a revolution of the mind to change the course of things in Nigeria.