Although corruption is a relative concept, being a function of specific normative, social, historical, cultural, economic and political circumstances as well as legal instruments, it is generally understood to entail deliberate malpractices that violate due process and are aimed at personal gain or advantage and selfish-enrichment, in violation of the law and at the expense of the common good. The term corruption covers a broad range of wrongdoings or corrupt practices that are basically unethical and morally reprehensible, ranging from the giving and taking of bribe, to the use of public office for the advancement of purely private interests, and from the misapplication or misappropriation of public funds to outright fraud and embezzlement.
The giving and taking of bribe is the most widely known form of corruption in Nigeria, referred to by such euphemisms as kickback, egunje, cola, ten percent, family support and settlement. But corruption manifests itself in such other widespread practices as the various forms of election rigging, falsification of census figures, examination malpractice, “sorting,” certificate racketeering, visa racketeering, extortion by public officials, nepotism, Advance Fee Fraud (“419”), the forging of, or issuance of fake medical certificates without medical tests, yellow cards without necessary inoculation, drivers license without driving tests, false affidavits, false age declarations, multiple international passports, inflated contracts, over-invoicing, under-invoicing, etc.
What is common to all forms of corruption is that they threaten and, if not checked, destroy the social order and the common good. Corruption has aggravated poverty, fuelled conflict, brought about misery, sustained injustice, and promoted bad governance and underdevelopment. For this season, corruption is to be seen as a deadly cancer which must be reduced to the barest minimum if it cannot be completely eliminated in the society.
Corruption as a Soft State Variable
Corruption has been described as a soft state variable, a soft state being one that is steeped in amoral politics; crippled by serious problems of credibility; one that is generally not able
to enforce its will especially in matters that have ethical and moral considerations. As analyzed in Edward Banfield’s study of the Southern Italian community in his classic book, The Moral basis of a Backward Society, the soft state is the product of a corrupt political culture or what he calls amoral familism, in which governance is non-accountable, public office is used for private gain, compliance is exacted by force rather than achievement or merit.
With regard to Nigeria to Africa, the variants of what Banfield called amoral familism include patrimonialism, prebendalism, clientelism, and the “politics of the belly”. This sorry state of affairs is a recipe for chaos, anarchy and doom, and is therefore antithetical to wholesome development. It has its foundation in certain (undesirable) cultural practices, in a total lack of appreciation of the concept of the common good, in the remnants of primitive feudalism, in the absence of many nationally recognised and accepted role models in probity and accountability, in the absence of democratic structures that promote accountability and ensure checks and balances in the ordering of the state, and finally in the absence of clearly articulated core national values and a sense of national cohesion.
Some commentators would locate some of these problems to the colonial disjuncture and distortions that set state apart from society, produced pathological social formations, and engendered an endemic legitimacy crisis of the state, whereby there is a widespread sense of alienation from the state, and the joined ownership of the state by the civic public has somehow remained a remote concept. That is why in Nigeria government’s business is seen as nobody’s business. Government funds, government property or public infrastructure is seen as belonging to “no one,” and could therefore be appropriated by smart individuals and groups without any qualms of conscience, because it is not often seen as stealing. This is the tragedy of the state and the alienated civic public in Nigeria.
Secondly, while the traditional African society was governed by the abiding social morality that, amongst others emphasized the obligations of the individual to kith and kin and expected the individual to be an agent of community development and defender of community interests, the modern civic public in Nigeria seems to be operating in a moral vacuum. It is terrible for a society to operate with a naked public square, a public square devoid of higher values. But this is the reality of our country today. This moral vacuum permits is manifested in behaviours that would have been considered unacceptable and morally reprehensible in the traditional society. For instance, while it is perfectly alright for the individual in government service to steal from public coffers to enrich himself, family and kin, any attempt to steal from what is commonly owned by the traditional (kinship) society is viewed as a serious crime that is punished ruthlessly. Thus the failure to integrate the concept of the common good in the traditional society with the modern civic public is responsible in part for several manifestations of corruption, including embezzlement, misappropriation, favouritism, and electoral fraud.
The Dynamics of Corruption in Nigeria
Corruption in Nigeria today almost passes for state policy. A situation where corruption in its varied forms, shapes and sizes is so institutionalized that the socio-economic and political system can almost not function without it is lamentable. On the whole corruption has bred gross inefficiency in public institutions. It has diminished productivity in both public and private sectors of the economy. It has discouraged investment. It has fuelled capital flight, increased unemployment and inflation, creating an acute degree of poverty, and bringing about a severe decline in the quality of life and life expectancy in Nigeria. And in addition, corruption has given Nigeria and Nigerians a terribly bad image in the eyes of the international community. Thus, corruption is an affront on human dignity, an assault on the human conscience, and a negation of the fundamental human orientation towards truth, justice and fair play.
Corruption is responsible in large measure for the broken promises, the dashed hopes and the shallow dreams that have characterised the existence of the multitude of Nigerians in the last few years. Corruption can be cited as prominent among the causes of our many failed attempts at democracy or representative government in Nigeria. It is the most commonly cited reasons for the country’s status of a crippled giant. Corruption is thus a malignant tumour, a cancer that eats its hosts to death. In Nigeria it has brought about too much blood and tears. The struggle against corruption in our national landscape is one for the survival of the nation itself. The choice before Nigerians is very clear: We either go to war against corruption in all its ramifications, or we shall be consumed by this hydra-headed dragon.
.Yet, no serious concerted effort was made to deal with the ‘evil’ until recently. Indeed, apart the state-driven sermon-laced anti-corruption crusades (ethical revolution, Jaji declaration, War Against Indiscipline, WAI, and MAMSER), statutory regulations of professional regulatory bodies such as the Council of Legal Education, Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria, Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria which aim at protecting the integrity of the professions and, to some extent, the short-lived ‘military action’ under General Murtala Mohammed, corruption and corrupt practices had free rein in Nigeria. Under such setting, it could not have been surprising that attempts at oversight and regulatory interventions like the Code of Conduct Bureau and the declaration of assets by the public officials had little or no effect.
The situation has however somewhat changed since the turn of the twenty-first century and especially the return to civil rile. Several institutions especially aimed at curbing corruption have been created. The most notable of these are the Independent Corrupt Practices Investigation Commission, ICPC and Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC. The National Assembly and state and local assemblies have also joined the crusade in terms of their statutory oversight functions, though the integrity of these bodies has been questioned on several occasions. The state-led initiatives are being complemented by a few strong anti-corruption coalitions in civil society, along with the press which has historically been a rallying point for corrective mobilization.
In a real sense, what is happening in Nigeria is an integral part of the global movement against corruption. Perhaps it is correct to say that the ongoing anti-corruption crusade in many African countries is a product of the zero tolerance regime of the international community for corrupt public officials, and the conditions accompanying such initiatives as the Millennium Development Goals of the United Nations, which led to the formation of the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD) and the African Pear Review Mechanism, as well as the conditions accompanying the recent debt relief for Highly Indepted Poor Nations. This is why some critics argue that the current anti-corruption crusade is only cosmetic, and is only designed to satisfy donor institutions. Yet, many Nigerians stakeholders in the Nigerian project would agree that corruption is an obstacle to good governance, democracy and wholesome development, and therefore it must be fully tackled if poverty, disease and conflict are to be conquered.
The Challenge Before Civil Society
The struggle against corruption in our national landscape is one for the survival of the nation itself. The choice before Nigerians is clear: We either go to war against corruption in all its ramifications, or we shall be consumed by this hydra-headed dragon. Yet we cannot leave the struggle against corruption to government bodies alone, because by its history as the primary site of corruption, the state is often unable to sustain any meaningful crusade against corruption. Civil society groups and various non-governmental constituencies, including youth and student groups, must join the crusade. Committed individuals and groups must make efforts to develop the capacity to source for, and put crucial information at the disposal of relevant anti-corruption agencies and legislative assemblies. The press in particular should devote more energy to effectuating its watchdog function through rigorous investigative journalism.
Quite obviously, the Nigerian State has to be supported and rescued by civil society to transform from a soft state to a strong country. Corruption and corrupt practices currently stand in the way of this transformation. It is the responsibility of Civil Society Organisations, working at all levels of governance - Federal, State and Local Government - to research into, advocate and build capacity of the citizens on transparency and good governance issues, mobilizing the people towards popular participation in governance, and highlighting the import and impact of policies, practices and attitudes of public officers on the society.
A commendable step towards concretizing the perception of corruption’s debilitating effect on society was recently taken by a Non governmental organization called WANGONET. This NGO has developed and activated what it labels the ‘corruption calculator’ which has proven to be a handy, effective and reliable tool for converting into easily digestible terms the negative effects of corruption on society. Put in simple terms, the corruption calculator seeks to convey to the ordinary mind the deprivations occasioned by the insensate acts of fraudulent leaders like Tafa Balogun and Dieprieye Alaiyemesiegha. With the calculator we can demonstrate for instance how many kilometres of roads could have been tarred, or how many village clinics could have been built and equipped with Tafa Balogun’s 16.7 billion loot, and how many creeks and canals would have been dredged with Alaiyemesiegha’s alleged N246 million loot.
In spite of the recent jailing of former Inspector General of Police, Mr. Tafa Balogun and the on-going melodrama over the arrest and trial in London for money laundering of Governor Alaiyemeiegha, the present leadership of the Nigerian state has in my view failed woefully in its much touted fight against corruption, to the extent that the fight has been half-hearted and in the opinion of many Nigerians rather selective. What Nigeria requires is an all-out war against this number one enemy of our nation, and not some token gestures that are simply meant to appease friends in the international community, or even to punish political opponents. But the next generation of Nigerian leaders shall have to make the war against corruption a number one priority if it is to carve an enviable place for itself in the history of this nation. Public officers and politicians in Nigeria must begin to reject the politics of the belly, and be prepared to make the necessary sacrifices towards building a new Nigeria. The old breed politicians that are still angling for power shall have to renounce their accustomed flirtation with the agent of decay, if their current preoccupation is not to end up in shame.
There is work to be done by all of us who belong to the adult society in Nigeria, if we are not to kill tomorrow before today's sun sets. We must own up before our young people (who can no longer distinguish right from wrong, and good from evil) that we have betrayed our fatherland and failed to lay the necessary foundation for a prosperous future. We must own up to the fact that we have often stolen food off the hands of our children. Each one of us is guilty to the extent that we have contributed in some way to the mess of the moment directly or indirectly, and as perpetrators and accomplices in various forms of corruption. As parents, teachers, community leaders, politicians, preachers and elders, we have often failed to inspire young people to live a life of righteousness. Instead we have often been a source of scandal to our own children and the children of our country.
The situation in our country today calls for a communal cleansing, or more appropriately, a communal exorcism to get rid of the demon of greed and avarice whose offsprings are a legion. We need a spiritual cure of the chronic malady which is sucking the life of the lowly poor in our land, and choking those on the ivory tower. When the scales fall off our eyes, we shall have to make a radical shift in our worldview and our thought pattern. Yes, we shall need to engage in a process of social engineering towards a national re-orientation. We shall need a wholesale doctoring of our individual and collective consciences to make them more sensitive to the concept of right and wrong and of good and evil. We shall need a reconstruction of our damaged corporate psyche in order to find our bearing in the global community of the twenty-first century. We shall need a fundamental re-visioning, and that will involve a re-definition of our communal ethos, a re-appreciation of our social habits and a re-prioritization of our national values. True, we shall need an ethical and moral revolution in these climes if all the elements of our national existence that have fallen apart must be brought together.
Strategies for Fighting the War Against Corruption
We need a multi-pronged, multi-faceted, multi-sectoral and multi-dimensional approach to the fight against corruption in Nigeria since the disease itself comes in many shapes and forms. I propose the following strategies:
1. Nigerians must work hard to strengthen democratic structures in the country, for our fight against corruption will not succeed under the present system that is only one step away from military dictatorship. Civil society must be on the alert to ensure that our elected representatives operate with the highest standards accountability and stewardship. Even those who rig their way into power, those who find their way to the presidency, the state house or the parliament, by corrupt means, can be forced to be accountable by a morally sensitive nation. It is indeed the responsibility of civil society groups to constantly drag the feet of those in the corridors of power to the fire of democracy.
2. Nigerians should get familiar with the provisions of the Criminal Code against the various shades of corruption, especially those involving public servants. Civil society groups should ensure that these provisions are rigorously applied to all and sundry without fear or favour.
3. The judicial system must be strengthened and the rule of law must be entrenched. We cannot make progress with the fight against corruption as long as there is so much impunity in the land, with many seemingly operating above the law.
4. The law enforcement agencies must be thoroughly cleansed, re-structured, re-orientated and highly motivated to make them more efficient in detecting, investigating and prosecuting cases of corruption. There should be no room in the modern Nigeria for barely literate young men to be recruited into the police force. It is time to raise the entry qualification for recruitment into the Nigerian Police Force to first degree graduates. We turn out more than enough graduates each year to take care of this.
4. We must insist that the Freedom of Information Bill be signed into law, no society can truly fight corruption when there is very limited access to information, and when whistle blowers are not protected by law.
5. Employers of labour should be constantly encouraged to pay adequate salaries and wages to workers, and make provision for their retirement benefits. Workers should not be paid such slave wage as to make them easily susceptible temptation. Government and corporate organisations should do more towards making Nigeria a welfare state where basic infrastructures are in place that will make life tolerable for even the least paid worker and his family.
6. Nigerians in general should device the means of rewarding hard work, honesty and probity and desist from conferring honours to people whose wealth is questionable. The country does not lack good people, but the system we are operating today is such that it throws up rogues, 419ers and fugitives for public office, chieftaincy titles and national honours. Civil society agencies can help to seek out men and women of character with good track records, and encourage them to go into politics, or even sponsor them financially.
7. The antecedents of those who present themselves for public office must be thoroughly investigated “to the third and fourth generations!” Thus even if a young man has never held public office and never been known to steal or misappropriate public fund, he should still be disqualified from public office if his parents or grandparents are discovered to have amassed wealth illegally, or if he is discovered to have evaded legitimate tax, forged any documents, or done anything dishonourable at some point in his life.
8. Civil Society groups need to insist that the declaration of assets by public officers should be a public thing. The present practice of secret declaration of assets is of no use in our fight against corruption.
9. The feudal structures that we still have in place all over this country (based as they are on the notion of inequality) will not help our fight against corruption. For example, the concept of “ka bi esi” in Yoruba culture and tradition cannot survive simultaneously with accountable democratic governance, to the extent that the “Chief” by his very title, cannot be held to account by anyone. Civil Society Organisations must mount a campaign for the dislodgement of the “Kabiyesi” syndrome.
10. Next to be dismantled is the “big man syndrome,” by which thieves, crooks and looters of the commonwealth are adulated in the society because they are “big men” or children of “big men.” The people at the grassroots who are always flocking around these “big men” should be helped to see the cause and effect relationship between the corruption and profligacy of these big men and their ever worsening economic and social fortunes. Civil society groups must work towards dismantling the big man syndrome in the Nigerian society, and ensure the equality of all citizens before the law if we must root out executive profligacy and ensure transparency and accountability in the society.
11. The section 308 of the 1999 Constitution which guarantees immunity from prosecution for our President, Vice President, Governors and their Deputies, even on account of criminal charges, must be expunged from our law books, if we are serious about the fight against corruption.
10. We must start calling a spade a spade. Corruption is stealing. Nigerian languages all have words for “stealing,” but they often lack adequate expressions for “corruption.
11. Unexamined ethnic loyalty is an obstacle on our way to a truly transparent society with accountable leadership. Right thinking Nigerian individuals and groups must work hard against that form of ethnic bigotry by which acts of corruption are condoned or tolerated if committed by an individual from one’s ethnic group. Corrupt officials have often used the ethnic card when their atrocities are exposed, and in many instances their kith and kin have rallied round to defend them.
12. a. Religious bodies should see it as their principal role to inculcate the fear of God and the values of honesty, probity, hard work, accountability and concern for the common good in their members. Nigerians are notorious for their religiosity, and no religion encourages corruption, so religious leaders must demonstrate to their members that vibrant religiosity and rampant corruption cannot exist side by side.
b. Religious leaders should help identify the many faces of corruption in the society. They should exercise utmost caution in conferring honours on people, because such people automatically become role models for the younger generation.
c. Religious bodies they should compose general prayers against bribery and corruption, such as the Prayer Against Bribery and Corruption that the members of the Catholic Church have been saying since September 1998.
d. Religious leaders should challenge their members to take oaths or make pledges publicly (in the Church or in the Mosque, before the worshiping community) against all acts of corruption, in the following or similar words: “God our heavenly father, I thank you for the good things that you have given to Nigeria for the good of all. I stand (or kneel) before you today to make a personal commitment to fight corruption. I will not ask for and not take a bribe. I will not misuse my position for private or selfish gain. I will not misappropriate public funds. I will not inflate contracts or be a beneficiary of inflated contracts. I will not procure or conspire with others to procure fake documents….”
e. Our new Churches should be de-emphasize the prosperity gospel at this time, for the gospel of success and prosperity at this time of distress in our country tends to aggravate, rather than abate corruption, because it often makes people believe that without hard work you can become rich simply by worshipping God correctly, and since the earth and its resources come from God (and I am a child of God), it doesn’t seem to matter how the money comes! All right thinking Christians must challenge this misrepresentation of the Christian message.
Conclusion: Need for a New National Pledge!
Finally, our circumstances in Nigeria call for the formulation and adoption of a new National Pledge, to drive home the painful lessons of the years of debauchery, years eaten away by the locusts of corruption. I propose that Nigerians in public and private life recite the following or similar lines daily, until corruption is totally wiped out of the surface of our land:
1. I pledge my commitment to the emergence of a new Nigeria, recognising that corruption is a cancer that eats its own host to death; that corruption ultimately kills not only the victims, but also the perpetrators; and that unless we change our course we are bound to end up where we are headed.
2. I pledge my commitment to the emergence of a new Nigeria, recognising that that thievery, robbery and roguery, by whatever name else it is called, when it becomes king in a land, that land rots; and that when hooliganism and banditry get into high places, the superstructure soon comes crashing down.
3. I pledge my commitment to the emergence of a new Nigeria, recognising that where lawlessness becomes the norm, and illegality becomes the rule, the nation collapses.
4. I pledge my commitment to the emergence of a new Nigeria, recognising that righteousness exalts a nation, but that sin is a reproach to a people; and that where there is no vision the people soon perish.
So help me God to resist these evils in myself, and to fight them in Nigeria with all the resources you have bestowed upon me!