Reflections on corruption in high places
When President Muhammadu Buhari said Nigeria has to kill corruption before the menace, which already has an upper hand, kills the country, no one could dispute this frighteningly accurate assessment of the moral condition of Nigeria.
At another forum, the two-day anti –corruption international summit in the United Kingdom last year, he said ‘corruption is one of the greatest enemies of our time. It runs completely counter to our values as it rewards those who do not play by the rules and also creates a system of patronage where the resources are shared out by a small elite while the majority are trapped in poverty.’ Certainly, Buhari could not be more accurate.
Corruption in high places may be an ineradicable feature of human society; but its proportion and influence in a polity can, on the one hand, be of tolerable, manageable proportions that infect but neither grounds nor kill it, or on the other hand be so insidious to render the entire system ineffective and terminally ill. The latter is the level of corruption in Nigeria.
This explains why the country has neither developed nor progressed meaningfully to justify its huge natural resources, its age as a self-governing federation and its standing as the most populous black country in the world. And, lest anyone thinks that corruption started in Nigeria just ‘yesterday’, in a manner of speaking, it is worth the while to remember that in one of his prodigious outputs in the 1960s, the late doyen of Nigerian theatre, Chief Hubert Ogunde sang of how just about everyone in position of authority had his or her gratification price : politicians and followers, public servants and private workers, kings and chiefs, judges and law officers, teachers and students, nurses and doctors, wives and husbands, businessmen and artisans, employers and employees.
More than half a century after, Nigeria or, better put, Nigerians have arguably ‘progressed’ in only one direction: more and more audacious corruption. Time there was when stealing from the public till by those in government was worth only a few thousands of naira. Alas, Nigerian public servants and their co-travelers working in the private sector have ‘developed’ a nuclear-level audacity to steal hundreds of millions and billions of naira.
Corrupt men and women in high places have even gone a step further: they have inculcated in their children the depraved values of graft and abuse of privileges, and inducted them into the act of brazenly taking what does not belong to them. Today, along with former holders of high offices are their children, on trial for theft of public funds, and living therefrom, far beyond their honest means. Even some wives have had to join their husbands in the dock for looting.
It used to be argued by some feminists that public office is belter managed and public wealth is safer in the hands of women. This may be so in another place, in another time but, as events have proven, certainly not so in the Nigeria of recent times. Women who have been in the House of Representatives, who were elected senators, served as ministers, as heads of ministries, departments, and agencies of government; women who have headed banks and regulatory agencies in the financial sector, and many who have held just about any position of power and authority, have failed the integrity test as spectacularly as men. Indeed, not a few women have been convicted or are standing trial for acts of corruption.
Three points may be considered salient to this betrayal of trust which has assumed second nature to many men and women entrusted with high office and public resources. One is a lack, ab initio, of self -control with power and money. The other is a lack of a sense of shame of the repercussion of detection. Three, corruption pays handsomely in this clime, with little or no cost to it.
If the punishment is swift and severe enough, a man without self-discipline or a woman who lacks a sense of shame would think again before stealing from the commonwealth Indeed, this might even deter from committing the act at all. It is of the utmost regret and concern that the breaches of public trust are hardly ever met with condign punishment. What sense does it make to fine a man convicted of stealing billions of naira a few hundreds of thousands of naira? How can it be defended that a woman who defrauded her business clients is jailed for a few months, forfeits some of the ill-gotten wealth, and sent home to enjoy the rest? How can anyone reasonably defend a judicial decision to prevent law enforcement agencies from investigating, arresting, in sum, performing their awful duties in respect of a former but well-connected holder of public office.
It is often said that the nation needs more laws to curb corruption. No. There are enough laws in the statute books to do this. But there is a desperate dearth of honourable, courageous, patriotic men and women to do their enforcement duties no matter whose ox is gored. Too many in the entire gamut of law maintenance – the executive, the legislative, and the judicial branches of government are in the public service for self, but not for country. If the spirit and letter of extant laws were implemented today, Nigeria would turn around for the better within only a few years. The thieves would stop stealing and the intending thieves would refrain.
The values of the elite constitute the dominant value that drives the wider society’s values. The Nigerian elite – political, traditional, religious, intellectual, business – has infected the rest of society with selfishness, avarice, and mindless ostentation. In all, the depraved value has been ingrained: greed is good. And to survive, all are tempted to follow. Or die.
No society has ever developed on the greed and wasteful conspicuous consumption of its elite. None. The burden of redirecting Nigerian values and repositioning the country for serious thinking as well as productivity lies squarely upon the leaders of Nigeria. This must start from the political leadership that possesses the allocating, the legislative, and the coercive powers to make things happen for good or for ill.President Buhari has his analysis right on corruption in Nigeria.All other leaders often echo him. The nation cannot wait a moment longer for them to put their powers where their mouths are.