Wanted: Citizen’s haram against corruption
SEVERAL months ago, a friend of mine was doing his best to convince me about Buhari’s candidacy. He narrated a pathetic story about the wife of an army officer who had been abandoned by the military in spite of her husband having paid the supreme price on behalf of the nation, in far away Sierra Leone. Buhari was then Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF) chairman.
The story goes that this woman travelled to Abuja and struggled unsuccessfully to see Buhari for many days, for her husband had worked under him at some point.
She was never allowed to cross the gate being that she didn’t even come in a car, until one day the woman timed Buhari’s arrival and broke loose and ran towards his car. They still succeeded in dragging her away.
But Buhari had seen the desperate woman, so he stopped and called out to the security men to bring the woman. He took her to his office and listened to her.
And that was how her fortunes changed, because she mentioned her husband’s name and told him the man had died in Sierra Leone and she had been left as a poor widow.
According to my friend, Buhari asked that she be given one contract or the other, and that was how Mother Luck smiled on her.
I was touched by the story, as I saw the simplicity and the compassion of the General. It showed he didn’t forget those he worked with in the past. But I said to my friend, “Do you know that these people would even term that corruption?” He was surprised. “‘How?” he wondered. “Yes now. They will begin to ask, this woman, was she a registered vendor or contractor?” “Was the job properly advertised?” “Did the job go through a bidding process?” and finally it will be said it didn’t follow due process. The spontaneity of kindness is lost because of process.
Obasanjo established the Due Process office. It may have helped save millions of naira initially. But I doubt its functionality now beyond mere bureaucracy. More bureaucracy means more bribe money. This affects the attitude towards the contract, including its monitoring.
In Nigeria, process means nothing without personal integrity. Perhaps, this is why the election of Buhari at this time might do greater good to our corruption perception, as his personality would inspire fear in officials.
What dominated a discussion I had with civil society actors before the election was the desperate need for a new Nigeria. We prayed that Nigerian politicians would draw the lesson of their lives, and learn to respect the electorate.
This election has not meant the end of rigging. Card reader or no card reader, ballot papers were still thump-printed. But what is of essence is that the confidence of Nigerians has been re-established; we no longer have a nominal but a real electorate. This confidence would better be translated also towards engineering a perceptibly corruption -free society.
Corruption exists in nearly all societies. The difference is that in other climes, the state institutions are strong enough to go after those who do not keep to their part of the deal.
Let’s say in many countries, kickbacks are received by government officials, but the contractor is still expected to deliver, and knows that s/he would be sanctioned if s/he did a substandard job.
This is the case whether in China, South Korea or Japan. Bribes still take place, but the briber delivers on the terms and conditions of the job.
Nigeria needs to move from this point where corruption affects the public good to a point of severely punishing those who negatively affect the public good because of their corrupt acts. The best scenario would be to have no corruption at all, but I do not know how this would be really possible in a clime that culturally accommodates gratification.
So, where to spend the most energy seems to me to be on monitoring terms and conditions and bringing to book, including blacklisting those firms and companies and publicly disgracing individuals that do not deliver on them.
If a road is nine inches in the books and it is in reality six inches, the contractor must be severely sanctioned and made to complete the job in its agreed terms.
When I was still back in my state and NGOs had to compete for sanitation projects from UNICEF or the EU-funded programmes, standard costing was made and you couldn’t exceed a certain maximum. Nigerian projects are some of the highest in the world in terms of their costs.
What could a Buhari administration do about this? Is it possible as a nation to subscribe to worldwide standard costing systems that may have slight variations depending on local circumstances? A 200 million dollar train in Ethiopia should not cost 12 billion dollars in Nigeria. And how would Buhari tackle the massive corruption in our states and local government areas, the greatest corruption being the amassment of local government funds by the states?
Nigerian citizens are the greatest promoters and protectors of corruption and corrupt officials. I have had acquaintances call me to assist them with some funds because they needed a job in the civil service and they were asked to pay some amount usually running into a few hundreds of thousands of naira. “And you are calling me, a priest, to give you money for bribe?” I would say. And they would go “Sorry Fr.”
When I enquire further about the office and the person so that I could ‘deal’ with the official most probably through the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related Offences Commission (ICPC), the usual response is ‘No Fr. I don’t want to put anyone in trouble…’ And so corrupt civil servants continue to have their way unchallenged.
What is even more devastating is the lack of awareness of ethical principles. It is one thing to know something is wrong and do it anyway than not even knowing it is wrong.
Present generations are brought up in a culture where parents contribute money to pay for exam malpractice, where lecturers demand payment for grades, where for the policeman to investigate a crime, you must pay ‘mobilisation’.
The lines between what is ethical and what is not are therefore, seriously, blurred for our younger generation. What is also therefore desperately needed is an in-acculturation of sound ethical values.
During his acceptance speech, General Buhari said: “By misdirecting into selfish hands funds intended for the public purpose, corruption distorts the economy and worsens income inequality.
It creates a class of unjustly-enriched people…” This is quite true. A structured approach where leakages in government are closed will be a good place to continue from where the present administration started.
He should extend the leakage closing programme to the military, where Okonjo- Iweala was afraid to go, so that the ghost workers would be rooted out too, as Nigerians are still wondering what happened with the billions the military has been receiving for quite a while now from the federal budget.
Buhari should take a closer look again at the due processes; but more importantly, the onus lies on the Nigerian people to report any public official who solicits kickbacks; makes simple government business complex just because s/he has not been given a bribe.
If the public perception of the outgoing president was that he was not tough on corruption and therefore, the institutions, under him, would do nothing even if you reported corruption cases, now we have someone who is publicly perceived as abhorring corruption. He has said pointedly that corruption would not be tolerated in this administration.
Let us then jointly create another haram, this time a citizen haram against corruption, in which all of us resolve to not give nor receive a bribe, and resolve never to take the easiest routes that trounce laid down procedures. We can become world-class citizens and remove this shame from the black man.
How can we be such a rich country, and yet a nation of so many poor citizens?
Fr. Bassey is Director, Church and Executive Secretary of Caritas Nigeria/JDPC at the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria.