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On Nigeria’s systemic corruption


Yemi Osinbajo

Yemi Osinbajo

Vice President Yemi Osinbajo was absolutely correct when he said that Nigeria’s is ‘a system where the norm is corrupt behaviour across all arms of formal systems of governance (and) the private sector is a strong collaborator’.

Taken together, this and other remarks he has made read like a concise report of the moral condition of the Nigerian elite, and it is not only embarrassing, it is dejecting.  Coming as an admission from the highest  level of government in the land that, in a  country of  170 million , ‘the key issue  always is  finding the  persons for any task ; a tough  task indeed in (this) corrupt system,’ every  citizen, as well as  genuine friends of  Nigeria  must  be  deeply concerned because  of the  wide-reaching  implications  of a  people  acknowledged as  bereft of  integrity in all its  ramifications.  Alas, if, as some say, the history of a society is a history of its elite, then it is not a surprise that Nigeria has come to this sorry pass.

It is not enough, however, to be merely concerned; nor is it useful to lament. Indeed, there is little that the vice-president has said that is new to Nigerians. The number is  simply amazing of  high and low government officials currently facing trial, of business persons  with cases to answer,  of even  spiritual  leaders involved in shady deals all for  the reward of filthy lucre. Once a high-ranking American  government official  felt no  compunction to  sweepingly  tag  this  country  ‘ a nation of scammers’.   He was not totally right, but he was also not absolutely wrong.  Indeed, the unenviable reputation of Nigeria, or, more correctly, Nigerians, precedes and, rightly or wrongly, defines them outside the country. Just as Nigerians within consider public officials guilty of corruption until proven innocent, so too foreigners generally presume Nigerians guilty or capable of acts of corruption until they prove otherwise.

If reputation is lost, all is lost.  The urgent question then is: what is to be done about this terrible infection that pervades this land?

First, because  political leadership is  key to  the change  from the present  sad state of things and which the All Progressives Congress  Party (APC)  and its government promised the  electorate,  the Nigerian presidency must  commit itself to, and be seen to so do, a life of rectitude and  an  integrity-driven government. The only effective leadership is by example and the presidency, as the pinnacle of authority and power, must earn and claim without an iota of doubt, the moral high ground from which it can prosecute the war against the hydra-headed corruption monster. But good leadership cannot, alone, fix Nigeria.  A willing and supportive followership must play its necessary part.

Secondly, that ‘the fight against corruption is a fight against the system’ may be correct; but only partially so.  Systems are by, of, and for people. Therefore a system is only as good, or as bad, as the people who institute, operate and sustain it. So, there is no problem with   the Nigerian system, only with Nigerians. This then makes the fight against corruption not that of the leadership alone, but of all citizens and friends of Nigeria. And it must be said that most Nigerians have benefited one way or the other from acts of corruption in high places. Many are as guilty by acts of omission or of commission. In this matter, therefore, every man and woman must do his or her duty.

Third, even President Muhammadu Buhari acknowledges that if Nigeria does not kill corruption, corruption may kill the country. An extraordinary problem necessarily requires an extraordinary solution.  Having correctly  understood the  broad base of and the  strong  tie that binds the  motley ‘venal crowd’ of  corrupt people, their desperation to  stay in business, as well as the  immense  resources  they  can  muster to  fight back,  this government  needs to  employ  a  wide range of   methods, legal, psychological,  moral, to  engage  these forces  and  subdue them.  The press and the Nigerian public can be powerful allies if they are strategically deployed.

A majority of Nigerians have, for so long, been victims of the destructive, rapacious, numerically small elite that thrive on and perpetrate corruption.  They would be only too glad to collaborate with a trusted government to take back their fair share of the commonwealth denied them for so long.  But there must be no room for a re-looting of recovered loot, only the equitable redistribution and a transparent and judicious use of it for the public good.

Fourth, it needs to be said that corruption is not really a recent phenomenon in the history of this country or indeed, of any country.  The point for worry is that corruption has, in the last thirty or so years, assumed a dimension that threatens the authority and power of the state, and the continued existence of the country. The ‘corruption economy’ is arguably bigger, better structured, and more sophisticated in its operations, than the national economy.  Corruption has grown more desperate and its corroding influence is more wide-ranging. No country can survive, develop and make progress in such a condition.  Something must give and this monster must be forced to give without negotiation.

Government deserves every support to bring corruption to submission by every reasonable and fair means including  raising, in the words of  Osinbajo, ‘ a new tribe of  men and women who are prepared  to make the sacrifices and self-constraints  that are crucial to building a strong society;  who are  prepared to stick together, fight corruption  side-by-side, and insist  on justice  even when our  friends are on the receiving end’.  This, certainly, can be done. The only thing required is that the political leadership walks its talk and leads by example.

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  • Uchenna Ugokwe

    Even our solutions to this issue is defeatist. For us to think that only a new ‘tribe’of Nigerians will fight corruption is catching the wind. The will of leadership is the most vital.
    It is a well known maxim that INJUSTICE ANYWHERE IS INJUSTICE EVERYWHERE. Sstealing money is just a percentage of the problem. We do not need angels to fight corruption, we need a strong unbiased system. Corruption is not a Nigerian thing but a human thing. The British pm Canadian pm etc will embezzle money if their system is weak. They don’t seem to do that now because it is very clear that their system makes it unattractive to commit fraud. The British SFU is their own efcc set up to deal with fraud.
    Our own system is weakened by cronyism tribalism etc. Fighting corruption is not just tracking money but dealing with issues that water the ground for stealing.
    INJUSTICE can I sue the relative of any senator etc and win based on the merit of the case?
    SENTIMENTS How do you in government service treat gifts you receive while in office? The American president will be impeached today if he allows his daughter to wear a necklace given to her by the Saudi monarch. Such gifts are confiscated by the government. If the government functionary desire it he or she must buy it from the state. Question is how far are we willing to go?

    FEDERAL CHARACTER /QUOTA SYSTEM if a position is zoned to say Jigawa, is there no way of making sure that the very best from jigawa is selected not just because he is brother to this or son of that.
    If a ministerial position is zoned to imo state, let all qualified imo citizens send their application professionalism be applied in the selection process. How does shell or mobil recruit their staff. Extraordinary problem extraordinary solution.
    ETHNICITY /RELIGIOUS BIAS Somebody should tell me please the Nigerian law that puts an ak47 in the hands of cattle rearer.
    Simply put corruption is made up of a conglomeration of factors and in dealing with it, the approach must be multi-faceted.

    • Patrick Nrialike

      Na Waoh. I seamoh. A cattle rearer carrying an AK47 riffle with impunity.This can only happen in Nigeria. Where is the rule of law.This may be all we need to control corruption in Nigeria


    “A new tribe of men and women” may be farfetched & hence won’t enjoy my subscription.The campaign against corruption is yet to exploit more potentially efficacious strategies capable of institutionalising anti-corruption in a clime of our peculiarity.The UAE recently birthed The Ministry of Enjoyment,The Ministry of Anti-Corruption to oversee & work in tandem with EFCC & the likes won’t be out of place in Nigeria!