Corruption: The Corrupt, The Corrupted; The Co-Opted

BY Uchendu Eugene Chigbu,
Reading, UK

Corruption is simply lack of integrity or honesty (especially susceptibility to bribery) and use of a position of trust for dishonest gain. Corruption (a vice not of Nigerian origin) probably born in the West several millennia ago, must have migrated to Nigeria through the Trans-Atlantic and Trans-Saharan trades of few centuries ago; and finally gained residency during the colonial era. Ever since then, our leaders have contributed immensely to its nurture, growth and modernisation to its present level and stage in Nigeria; and have been and will always remain the big wedge disrupting the movement of Nigeria.

So, corruption is not a Nigerian and did not start with President Obasanjo's government of today or his government of 1976 - 1979. Corruption (going by the above definition) is an age-long trait that has been there before now. Our most revered Nationalists and founding fathers (Chief Awolowo, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Alhaji Ahmadu Bello etc) can never be completely said to be free from this threatening canker worm that has ravished and shredded the threads, tacks and loins of our society (whoever disagrees with this statement should take a solo trip down Nigeria's socio-political memory lane). However, the level, stage and propensity of this menace has risen to popular and legendary level when compared to the times of our founding fathers - at least, they neither consciously worked to corrupt anybody nor worshipped corruption as a ‘virtue' (as it is being idolised today by our leaders and politicians). Corruption has eaten deep into our national image and has forced our Nation to thread-bare poverty. Worst of all is that our society has become so helpless and powerless that we have politically and economically empowered corrupt men to fight our corruption - this itself, is a misfortune that also has to be fought alongside corruption.

That corruption is a wedge disrupting the movement of Nigeria can never be over-emphasised. This country cannot roll forward until this great wedge (corruption) is removed from the way of the wheels of the Nation. To remove the wedge is to move the country forward, to tighten the wedge is to keep the country in a state of standstill or rolling-back forever; to pet or nurture this deadly wedge is to sink the whole country deep into a tilting corrupt position where Nigeria will neither standstill nor move forward. The sinking style seems to be the pattern adopted by our present government - the government has been nurturing corruption, thereby neither moving the nation forward nor at least keep the nation stand-still. This method is best described as a sinking style because it seems sensationalised and politicised just to create an impression (may be of our President or of our nation in the eyes of Nigerians and the International Community), therefore it seem to lack the core motive which should be to sanitise Nigeria. That our President suddenly woke up to fight corruption is quite commendable and should be supported by all and sundry; but that Mr. President's method of the fight against corruption has a knack to sinking this country deeper into the valley of corruption at the moment deserves to be condemned. Nobody should be deceived by the ‘Osuji-Osomo saga' for now. Let us watch and see what becomes of these people involved. Let us listen to them too, after all, we all have been forced to listen to Mr. President in his Broadcast and written letters. These whole scenarios seem to be more of gimmicks being used to deceive the masses from keeping tight-eyes on Mr. President than true spirited corruption fight

Mr. President-of-Nigeria, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, his Peoples' Democratic Party (PDP) of Nigeria and his Executive team constitute self-proclaimed ‘heroes.' today They constitute big-wig macabre minstrels - travelling from time to time and moving from space to space within the socio-politico-economic realms of Nigeria, just to entertain the masses with songs of pains, misery and groans that generate hatred. This has been on and on and on since 29th May 1999 and it may never die away, unless the masses refuse to remain spectators in this administration's theatre of deception

Setting my corruption-fight opinion straight and clearer! The recent ‘exposure' of alleged corrupt practices of Education Minister, Professor Fabian Osuji; and his colleague, Chief (Mrs.) Mobolaji Osomo, the Minister of Housing are good for the nation. The down-stream chain-reaction that has entangled former Senate President, Chief Adolphus Wabara and his colleagues in the senate is even better. However, the best is yet to come! While these revelations are good, it has hitherto exposed this administration's way of fighting corruption. So, in the midst of this ‘good', there lies a hydra-headed ‘bad' that is no good for our nation - President Obasanjo's way (or his new way) of fighting corruption. The whole saga also created a critical peep into the way our Anti-corruption Agencies - Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) function

Yes! fighting corruption is good for our nation. It is a good war that must be fought to revive our dieing Nation. However, how can this war succeed if we fail to fight the worms that cause corruption? The ‘worms of corruption' in Nigeria still remains bad-education, bad-leadership and followership, the cult of mediocrity of our elites; and poverty and lack of provision of basic infrastructures by government. The worms of corruption are not Osomo, Wabara, Osuji etc. Succinctly put, lack of social security and ill-provision of infrastructure constitute ‘worms of corruption' and are the causes of corruption in Nigeria; and that is where the real fight should be concentrated. The fight against corruption cannot be won with more than 70% of Nigerians living below poverty line. It cannot be won with Nigerians living in insecurity, poverty, and diseases. It can only be won by tackling and nursing the roots of National economic development (that is provision of mass incentives, amenities and infrastructures that cure poverty) while cutting off the over-grown branches (that is the corrupt elites and officials) of our population tree.

Over-publicising corruption the way Mr. President is doing now simply is a product of self-aggrandisement on the part of our President who may be too eager to impress the International Community - this is good for our National image but it is simply a short-cut that appeases only the International Community without solving any problem at home. This is because what the President seems to be doing is to have chosen a research-style approach to fighting corruption in order to impress our creditors. Professor Osuji, Osomo and others constitute his chosen case-studies and he may have reasons other than those he voiced in his national broadcast. Mallam El-Rufai, Tony Anenih, Senator Arthur Nzeribe, Chief Chris Ubah, former governor Mbadinuju of Anambra State etc still remain his unchosen case studies. Former President Ibrahim Babangida and his likes still remain sacred cows (at least they should be made to answer questions). This case-study approach has a tendency to inclining towards selectiveness (and it really is).

President Obasanjo's anti-graft campaign appears truly highly selective and may be either a tool for silencing his opposition in government or a gimmick to distracting Nigerians from his woeful failure in leadership; while propelling his selfish profile in the International scene as a ‘righteous' leader. The whole scenario lacks sincerity of purpose on the part of the President and sincerity of action on the part of the Anti-graft Agencies. This corruption agenda of Mr. Obasanjo seems at best suspicious - if not, why does he constitute an ‘entity of the accuser, the defender and the judge' in the eyes of the masses without allowing the affected persons speak out? Why are these men condemned before they are given an opportunity to face the law? Why is it only Obasanjo's voice that is being heard on the alter of our masses' judgment floor? Since when did we know (as he claimed in his National broadcast) that ‘the issue of transparency, accountability and eradication of corruption assumed a central place in the policies and programmes of this administration from its inception?' What about the Auditor-general's report of 2004 which indicted him and his cohorts? Our President may even be cooking up ethnic sentiments in the war against corruption without really knowing it. Let us not forget that Osuji was treated differently from Osomo and Tafa Balogun. Let us not forget that the Eastern politicians are now being tongue-lashed by many of their ethnic counter-parts corruption-wise. Let us always remember that most of these sentiments sprang up from the way the President handled the issue. In fact, many seem to believe that Osomo's issue was created and Tafa Balogun's issue revoked in order to kill the ethnic sentiments the President is being accused of by the Easterners. Whatever the President's intention was, what seems clear is that his method of fighting corruption may be corrupting the mentality of Nigerians right now. That tells why the broadcast threw deluge of polarised reactions into our political and social scenes. While some people are hailing the action, others either dismiss it or accuse the president of insincerity. For the sake of ethnicity, it is worrying to note that the President undertook to broadcast to a nation about a bribery scandal involving N55 million, while it took ages for him to voice out against the billions of dollars believed to be looted by Tafa Balogun. There also lies a great difference between sack and resignation as witnessed in these cases respectively

The big question which many people run away from and which looks us in the face and troubles us in the mind is ‘who is corrupt and who is not?' Is it only the Osujis, Osomos, the Wabaras, Baloguns etc that are corrupt in the government of Nigeria? Who are those involved in corruption in Nigeria? They sure include givers and takers of bribe and the suborners of corruption - going by this, we will have an endless list of corrupt Nigerians; but it will be unfair to say all Nigerians are corrupt in this context. We have great and incorruptible Nigerians both in high and low places but (whether we like it not) we all are hibernating in a country saddled with a very corrupt system of governance. This then calls for caution in the way the anti-corruption war is being fought. The anti-graft war cannot be effectively fought without core stratification and understanding of ‘corruption' and its associated norms in the practical context of Nigeria. While supporting this war against corruption, it is important to understand the ‘who is who' in the corruption circle of Nigeria in order that (according to President Obasanjo in his National broadcast) we must match our words with sincere, honest, transparent and serious action. Categorising the corruption ladder is very important. To fully buttress this issue in this piece, the writer has chosen to categorise the Nigerian population in the light of three categories namely, the corrupt, the corrupted and the co-opted

Firstly, the ‘corrupt' in Nigerian are the politicians, our leaders and elites who constitute conduits for the monetary exploitation and general marketing of dishonesty in the dealing with the Nigerian challenges. They lack integrity or honesty (especially susceptibility to bribery) and use positions of trust for dishonest gain. They encourage moral perversion; impairment of virtue and moral principles. They induce the masses, individuals, public official and corporate bodies by improper means (as bribery) to violate their moral and civil duties. They constitute conduits of corruption. These set of group are the ‘true corrupt persons' who practice corruption as a religion; worship the social menace (corruption) and project it to heights of pride in our system

Our leaders and elites belong to the corrupt group. They use corruption as a way of survival, climbing to power and staying on top. They adopted and advanced and propelled corruption to high places. They used the power at their disposal to institutionalise corruption as common practice. Many of past leaders belong to the corruption circle. They are simply the true clique of corrupt Nigerians. Most of our past and present leaders and some of our public officials, politicians, private corporations and government agencies etc.

The dishonesty of our leaders and their public officials and political colleagues accounts to why more than £1.5bn of Nigerian leaders' ill-gotten gains has been found in British bank accounts; and even more are lodged in the super-secret Swiss bank (although the Bank has promised to return almost $500m). Already almost £1m is currently frozen as a result of investigations into the governor Joshua Dariye. These accounts to our top rank in the committee of corrupt nations - out of the 146 countries, only Bangladesh was rated more corrupt than Nigeria. Anti-corruption campaign group Transparency International (TI) researched and concluded that oil wealth is often a breeding ground for corruption. According to Peter Eigen, the chairman of Transparency International, in oil-rich countries (including Nigeria), public contracting in the oil sector is plagued by revenues vanishing into the pockets of Western oil executives, middlemen and local officials. Our politicians, oil companies, the banks and churches constitute notable institutions of corruption today. These individuals and institutions are notable places of functional bribery where the greasing-of-one's-palms have become a normal norm. The Presidency is no exception and has always been indicted in many reports from home and abroad.

Secondly, the ‘corrupted' Nigerians are the general masses who in their quest to survive, have to tow the line of corruption as exemplified by our leaders. With little or no basic amenities and infrastructure provided for the masses, our masses seem to embark on corrupt practices in order not to feel too cheated in the Nigerian project. This explains why the taxi-driver, the government worker, the market men and women and many of our population resort to bribery and other corrupt practices in other to gain ‘fair' ground. Poverty is what has driven the masses (including the police, the custom, corporate agencies and military officials) to go scouting for other means of getting along with the bad economy. The police, army and custom officials take bribes and extort on our high-ways and within towns in order to strike even with their pockets. Our masses have been ‘corrupted' against their will by our corrupt leaders. Our leaders appoint innocent men for political positions and such people end up joining the corruption train.

Thirdly, the ‘co-opted' in the corruption circle are our innocent youths who were born and had to succumb to corruption as a way-of-life. These kids were born and they innocently grew up to copy our corrupt society. They learned corruption through the everyday life of our society (in schools, churches, mosques, at home etc). To them, this is normal because they were born into it. They are forced to bribe lecturers and teachers in school. They were born to copy their society and learn the popular get-rich-quick ideology which is a norm in our Nigeria of today. They therefore cook up corrupt ambitions that can lead them on to wealth. They copy their parents and our leaders and are therefore co-opted into the corruption circle through assimilation into established group or culture, politics etc. They are bribed to play thuggery during electioneering, they are taught short-cuts in the course of their growing-up; hence, they grow up to passionately accepting corrupt practices as a way of getting along with life.

President Obasanjo's war against corruption will constitute one of the greatest wars ever fought on the soil of Nigeria. If well fought, things may get better. However things may never get better if President Obasanjo does not go about it in the fairest and most transparent manner. The self-aggrandising path he seems to have chosen (for the corruption war) may fail our country. Our President need to clean up his hands first before the real fight begins; because he that comes to equity must come with clean hands. President Obasanjo needs to make the corruption war a very serious issue by declaring his own asset and getting his colleagues to do same. Until he does this, his fight against corruption will be viewed as ethnic and political fight against those he hates. To truly go into real and realistic fight against corruption, the government need to work hard in the provision of basic amenities and infrastructure for Nigerians. Nigeria deserves to move beyond poverty-line for our masses to probably see little or no reason to give bribes and break laws and order. If only this government can afford honesty and hard work with its dealings with the Nigerian masses; if only our children and youths are provided with the best of education, health and leisure facilities; if only our politicians and public officials do their works with discipline; if only the President will learn to follow issues constitutionally, only then will this fight create its major objectives. The corrupt, the corrupted and the co-opted all need to unlearn their corrupt lives because corruption is the major sickness our country needs to get away from

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