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Why corruption persists in Nigeria



The way corruption has assumed a larger than life posture in the psyche of Nigerians has made the monster appear overwhelming and invincible. The emphasis on corruption has made it seem to be the number one issue of governance to the neglect of the real issues.

While the fight against corruption is worthwhile in order to curtail the monster, the fundamental objective of government, which is the security and welfare of the people, should be given priority. In fighting corruption, however, it is pertinent to ask why the malaise persists and even fights back. Will this war against corruption ever end? Will it ever be won? Why is corruption an intractable monster in Nigeria?

Corruption has been portrayed in Nigeria as a huge elephant, lying firmly on the ground, while the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), doggedly, scratched it expecting it to move. Since I saw the cartoon some years back, I have been asking myself whether it means that the war against corruption can never be won.

Going by that cartoon, I have the feeling that all the actions the EFCC has instituted against corruption since the anti-graft agency was established in 2003, commendable as they are, amount to merely scratching the monster on the surface. The real problem is still huge and solidly rooted in the system. That is why corruption persists and is even getting worse, despite EFCC’s unrelenting effort.

Like the fairy six blind men of Hindustan, who went and touched the elephant from six different angles, with each describing it from his own perspective, without saying exactly what the elephant is like, I tend to agree with the cartoonist that the war on corruption, so far, amounts to scratching the monster, which is why there is little or no change. Something needs to be done to put real heat from underneath the monster to make it move. It could really move if the real heat is put under it.

The elephant is the only land mammal that has no natural predator. No animal confronts the elephant. No animal can kill the elephant. The elephant doesn’t run for any animal, not even the lion. Its size is intimidating and scares every other animal in the forest. It is thick-skinned, such that scratching alone doesn’t affect it. Elephants are wise and intelligent. Aristotle, the legendary Greek philosopher and thinker, described the elephant as the beast which passeth all others in wit and mind.

The cartoonist who used the elephant to depict corruption may not have thought as much about the animal and what it stands for. If corruption in Nigeria is as huge as the elephant, then, like the elephant, you have to find out what can kill corruption. Bearing in mind that no natural predator threatens the elephant, a greater force must be involved before the elephant succumb. From experience, the only force that makes the elephant move is extraneous force engendered by nature or man.

Historically, many genera of elephants have become extinct since the last ice age some 20,000 years ago following extreme climatic condition. The advance and retreat of ice forced some species of elephants to die out while others moved to more favorable environment. The other factor is the destruction of the natural habitat of elephants by man. When the home of the elephant is destroyed for whatever reason, the elephant is compelled to move. This factor made elephants that lived in the rain forests near our villages a little over five decades ago to disappear. Apart from the aforementioned factors, nothing else could move the elephant except it dies naturally from old age.

I have taken time to highlight the nature and ecology of the elephant for the EFCC to appreciate the magnitude of corruption that has been depicted as elephant in Nigeria. Except the EFCC perceives corruption as huge and rugged as the elephant, it will continue to scratch the monster on the surface, while corruption mutates rather than die. The following reasons explain why corruption persists.

First is societal acceptance of corruption. We live in a country where thieves are made kings while good people are regarded as fools (mumu). Those who have stolen public funds are accorded high honours and awarded traditional titles and national honors. Corruption has found conducive environment in Nigeria. Hard work is not regarded as virtue. What is regarded is the culture of get rich quick. The Nigerian society appreciates and recognizes ill-gotten wealth. If you hold public office, there is high expectation from you to become rich. If, maybe, you decide to keep clean hands, your people will hate you. They will call you a fool. What matters once you’re holding public office is how much wealth you can amass.

That explains why many public officers in government can’t resist the temptation to steal. Many do it to please their immediate communities, which in turn, solidly stand behind them. If for any reason they are hunted, it is the kinsmen of the thieves that will barricade the area and prevent EFCC operatives from having access. That is why arrested, corrupt individuals, standing trial in court have strong support even inside the court. The way out is aggressive public education to change the mindset of Nigerians to make them see corruption as evil and a common enemy.

Second is a weak legal system that drags cases of corruption for too long. There would be no effective battle against corruption as long as the judicial system is unprepared for such battle. The criminal code, probably, didn’t envisage the kind of corruption we have today, hence, the system is unprepared. Granted that the EFCC Act, which is relatively new, empowers the anti-graft body to investigate and arrest suspects but the judicial system has not been re-tuned to match with the new system. That is why there are many corruption cases pending in courts without prompt adjudication. The way out is to create special courts to deal with corruption cases separately.

Third is the punishment for corruption. This is related to the weak judicial system. The punishment meted out to convicted corrupt persons is not commensurate with the gravity of the offense. A situation where somebody, who wantonly, looted billions that could have been used to bring succor to millions of Nigerians is handed a paltry jail term on conviction makes corruption attractive. Man has a natural tendency to always do the wrong thing, which only the system can checkmate. The punishment meted out to corruption convicts, so far, is not enough to deter anyone from indulging in the evil practice. Mrs. Farida Waziri, former chairman of EFCC, had suggested death penalty for convicts. It is such stringent punishment that can root out corruption in the country.

Fourth is ethnic sentiment. Nigerians give corruption ethnic coloration or interpretation. When someone is arrested for corruption, rather than join hands to condemn the evil, some Nigerians would be more interested in the ethnic origin of the suspect. It is as if the country is silently being shared. That is why appointments into high offices are ethnic issue because it is believed that whosoever is appointed has the opportunity to partake in the looting of the country on behalf of his ethnic group. The EFCC should ignore primordial sentiments and go ahead to chain whosoever is involved in corruption.

In this article:
EFCCFarida Waziri
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