Legalise it, don’t criminalise it!! trouble
And this is not talking about ganja or marijuana. It is about the processes going on in Romania to pass a bill making corruption legal. It is about the rumours that the Nigerian National Assembly and Senate are contemplating making corruption legal. It is about learning that corruption and democracy live side by side comfortably in India. After all, as the ancient Chinese saying has it, if everything is absurd, nothing is absurd: if everything is corrupt, nothing is corrupt.
To come across two books in a period of twenty-four hours dealing with the subject of organised crime, the intimate relationship of politics to corruption and how corruption is an advantage to politicians in India is scary. The first book is entitled WHEN CRIME PAYS: Money and Muscle in Indian Politics by Milan Vaishnav. The book is described as “the first study of the co-existence of crime and democratic processes in Indian politics…” The second book is called THIS PRESENT DARKNESS: A History of Nigerian Organised Crime by Stephen Ellis. This book is said to look at the “political origins of organised crime in Nigeria. Should the two books be read to their ends before writing this Trouble piece?
The first suggestion that politically inspired corruption could be made legal started recently in Romania. Members of parliament proposed a bill that would free some of their members, accused of corruptly enriching themselves through their political positions, from the punishment that the country’s laws prescribe for criminals. They had had some readings in parliament when public anger began to organise demonstrations against the parliamentarians. The members of parliament seemed to have listened to the people’s cries and heard what they were saying. This is because they stopped the progress of the bill and found other things to talk about in parliament.
In spite of this decision on the part of the parliamentarians the people went on with their demonstrations, out of accumulated disgust with the people they voted into parliament. Romania had pointed the way to look at corruption in the universities, given the way the academics were handling the high incidence of corruption in their ivory towers. They were going to begin a grading process that would award marks for the least corrupt universities and publish such gradings nationally. The hope was that universities would begin to compete for the least corrupt in the country. How then could their members of parliament pass a bill to make corruption legal?
The challenge of political corruption is not restricted to one country. The challenge exists in all countries of the world. Over the last couple of years the crime novels of Qiu Xiaolong about the management of criminal activities of the Chinese political elite has made instructive reading. From time to time the central character Chief Inspector Chen Cao speaks of a Judge Bao of the Song Dynasty. This judge was determined to fight corruption to a stand still. In order to do this, he procured one hundred coffins. Ninety-nine coffins were for the corrupt political elite while the last coffin was for himself. Which teaches that you cannot fight corruption with consequences for the corrupt and no consequences for the corruption fighter. If your fighting corruption is a case of crime without punishment, then both the fighter and the corrupt go scot-free. Fighting corruption in Nigeria has no consequences for the corrupt. And so corruption keeps matching on.
When Crime Pays: Money and Muscle in Indian Politics narrates a frightening story in an academic language. In July 2008 the government of India was facing a vote of no confidence. It was obvious that they could lose the vote and have to call a new election, a massive task involving 880 million voters over thousands and thousands of terrain of forest, mountains, deserts and rivers. But they remembered six of their members were in prison awaiting trial for murder, blackmail, theft, kidnapping and other serious offences. They got these members out, got them into parliament to cast their votes and then returned them to their prisons. The government won the no confidence vote. The author traces with meticulous care, the process in which at first criminals ran to politicians for protection. He traces how the Congress Party began to lose credibility and criminals started to put themselves up as candidates for election to both state and federal houses. “Of the 543 members elected to the Lok Sabha (parliament) in 2004, nearly one-quarter faced pending criminal cases before the courts.”
Reasons are provided for what is going on in Indian politics, some of them familiar to us here in Nigeria. The decline of the Congress Party has led to hundreds of small parties and co-allusion governments. There is the under-development of institutions making it impossible for the government to deliver on its responsibilities to the people. Here, strong criminal big men offer themselves to solve the problems of the people. There is the general poverty which makes every voter available to be bought. There is the unbearable back-log of cases in the judicial system. This ensures that these criminal charges hang on year after year after year. Lastly, there is the heavy cost of electioneering campaigns and the fact that party organisations have atrophied and unable to command the financing of politics.
THIS PRESENT DARKNESS: A History of Nigerian Organised Crime goes back to the colonial period of Nigerian history to establish the criminal beginnings of the country called Nigeria. “Most Nigerian practices of organised crime, including document fraud, embezzlement and large-scale smuggling, originate in politics and the state itself, or at least have important and durable connections to the state.” Professor Ellis traces the first four-one-nine incident to 1920. And he also links money making to all manner of spiritualism and the power of cults. In his “Political Order in Changing Societies” Samuel Huntington claims: “The primary problem of politics is the lag in the development of political institutions behind social and economic change. The by-product of this mismatch is corruption.” So, what do we do with corruption? LEGALIZE it?