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Futility of fighting corruption without institutions

By Jerome-Mario Utomi
07 December 2020   |   3:25 am
Since the past two decades when democracy re-emerged on the nation’s political space, the country has in the face of varying challenges matched successfully as a democratic nation.


Since the past two decades when democracy re-emerged on the nation’s political space, the country has in the face of varying challenges matched successfully as a democratic nation. Considering this long duration, it will not be an over statement to conclude that the nation has finally and permanently terminated military rule in the country.

However, despite this achievement, there is one major ill that democracy has not been able to terminate. Its name is corruption. Corruption, according to Wikipedia, is a form of dishonesty or criminal offense undertaken by a person or organization entrusted with a position of authority, to acquire illicit benefit or abuse power for one’s private gain. Here in Nigeria, it is generally believed to have nine lives. It has survived all the efforts of the past administrations, military and democratic put together. In the present day, it destroys and breaks that trust which is absolutely essential at the heart of representative democracy.

Unfortunately, neither President Buhari’s threats nor his current declarations against the vice have been able to tame, let alone kill corruption. Nigerians over the years, going by reports witnessed a lot of haze over the Turn Around Maintaince (TAM), of the government-owned refineries in Kaduna, Warri and Port Harcourt. It has been particularly difficult for Nigerians to unravel just what is keeping the refineries from working. This is more so when they (masses) have heard of the huge amount of money periodically budgeted for the TAM without the refineries functioning at optimal capacity. This was a major issue during the fuel subsidy removal protest in January, 2012, under President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan’s administration.

However, he (Buhari), in 2015, promised to stamp it out of the political surface called Nigeria. Many years on, evidence abounds that he has really not done much for Nigerians in this direction as the situation has morphed from bad to worse under his watch. The 2019 report by the Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index (CPI), a flagship research product that measures the glimpse of perceived corruption in the public sector of surveyed countries, which saw Nigeria slip from 144th to 146th on the pecking order. Other corruption incidences include the revelations of July 23, 2020, at the Senate’s probe of the Professor Pondi led Interim Management Committee (IMC) of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), over the N4.923 billion alleged illegal payments made to staff of the commission and contractors in breach of the procurement process. Still fresh in the memories of this piece is the reported diversion of the COVID-19 palliatives by yet to be identified personalities.

The All Progressive Party (APC), going by reports, promised Nigerians that APC in government will muster all political will to wage a strident war against corruption to avoid a disastrous post-oil-economy. It highlighted the action plan to plug all the leakages, accelerate process of recovering looted funds and trim unwarranted allowances to public office holders. It says the Revenue Mobilization, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RAMAFC) will be mandated to review unwarranted perks and allowances in response to ravaging poverty, ensure strict surveillance of unremitted funds to federation account and guide at all time, the fleece of funds in liaison with other non-graft agencies.

Today, those that were earlier deceived have suddenly come to terms that nothing has changed. Nigerians have at different times and places proffered an array of suggestions and recommendations on the factors responsible and the way forward.

To some, corruption is a systemic pointer to the absence of strong institutions in the country. An absence that nourishes impunity and makes politicians and public officers take laws into their hands. There have been cases where public officials acting with impunity in siphoning pensions funds while starving hapless pensioners to their early grave. A nation without strong institutions, they argued, gives free ticket to unreasonable people who do not think through the consequences of their actions.

To others, the widespread corruption in Nigeria partially has something to do with institution/system. However, speaking in absolute terms, it epitomises more of an administration that has no good people among those it parades as leaders.

Indeed, while the first argument remains a globally recognized point; there is however, ingrained truth in the second position. It is in consonance with the belief convassed years ago by another great leader, Lee Kuen Yew, a former/pioneer Prime Minister of Singapore.

To copiously quote him, he in part said: “My experience of developments in Asia has led me to conclude that nations need good people to have good government as no matter how good the system of government may be, bad leaders will bring harm to their people. I have seen several societies well-governed in spite of poor systems of government, because good, strong leaders were in charge. I have also seen so many of the over 80 constitutions drafted by Britain and France for their former colonies come to grief, and not because of flaws in the constitutions. It was simply that the preconditions for a democratic system of government did not exist.”

From the above, if objective analysis can replace emotional discussion, it becomes easy for President Buhari to knit the above together in order to discover that if he is desirous of fighting corruption, the first responsibility before him is to find the right people that will help achieve that purpose.

More important than the above is the new awareness by well foresighted Nigerians that ‘fighting corruption is not about jailing people, it’s about real commitment to respect the boundary between public and private. Anyone who does not respect that boundary is a servant of corruption. It’s a matter of form and time. Serious anti corruption starts with changing institutions that enable corruption; the core principle is that personalized rule is by definition corruption. Whoever shows passion to fight corruption but does not appreciate that the height of corruption is personal rule and disregard of process and rule of law is a criminal and scoundrel’.

Jerome-Mario Utomi is the Programme Cordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos.

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