Last weekend during a chat with Joe, my 19 year-old nephew who was born in Lagos but mostly raised in Europe, the word bribery quickly slipped into our conversation when we started discussing his trip to Nigeria last April, his first since migrating with his parents about 15 years ago and a journey he had so much look forward to make.
He confessed that he scarcely knew the real meaning of bribery and that he had never seen anyone give or take bribe in his entire life until he visited Nigeria with his dad. He couldn't believe what he saw in Lagos. Absurdity is saying the least.
If it was illegal (as I'd insisted), why was it done everywhere without any decorum? "They must have adopted it as a way of life or at best a passive illegality" he said.
For a young man who didn't grow up in the system, nothing could be stranger than seeing a police officer collecting bribe openly from a commercial driver or an immigration officer plainly asking you at the airport what you had brought for him; for a typical homebred, it was a normal thing.
Is bribery our way of life? Was it always like this? And how can we end it? These are some of the questions I hope to answer here. What you are about to read are just my thoughts and suggestions and I'm sure you have yours, so let's share!
What is bribery?
According to Encyclopedia Britannica, "bribery is the act of promising, giving, receiving, or agreeing to receive money or some other items of value with the corrupt aim of influencing a public official in the discharge of his official duties."
This definition can be expanded to include actions by all sorts of government and private officials, from the local to the national level, and to cover all public and private employees.
Bribery also includes (but not limited to) paying to get government contracts (e.g paying or agreeing to a secret percentage of the profit), giving a bottle of liquor to an officer in order to ignore a violation or grant a permit; giving discount to an official in order to seek a favour, or sleeping with an executive in order to get an employment.
In most cases, bribery constitutes a crime at every level whether offering, giving, receiving, or soliciting.
The Fifth Schedule of Nigeria's Code of Conduct for Public Officers part I, section 8 (Bribery of public officers) states that "no person shall offer a public officer any property, gift or benefit of any kind as an inducement or bribe for the granting of any favour or the discharge in his favour of the public officer's duties."
Regardless of the laws against it, bribery is widespread in the dealings with politicians and officials of government agencies, departments and institutions like the Nigerian Police, Custom, Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN), Local government authority, Immigration office, Military and paramilitary, embassies, consulates and missions, ministries and schools.
I was more than shocked about 2 years ago when I discovered that a professional driver did not renew his driver's licence for at least three (3) years. His reason was that the policemen were more interested in the bribe he would offer than the genuineness of his documents. According to him, "Once you give a bribe, you'll have your way."
Also, the private sector has equally embraced this. Some recent revelations have shown clearly that the private sector is as prone to giving and receiving bribes as much as the public sector.
Events have shown that the situation is far worse than many of us had thought. Bribery has eaten deep into the fabric of the society. It has infiltrated into all the echelons of the government such that no level or any department is excluded. It so sad that we have all accepted this and no one seem to be raising an eyebrow anymore.
In the last PDP presidential primaries at Eagles square, Abuja, there were some strong allegations of bribery against the presidential campaign teams of both President Goodluck Jonathan and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, the consensus candidate for the North in which the two sides were making frantic efforts to out-bribe each other. It was alleged the team with the deeper pocket carried the day and the party delegates all went home with â€˜Ghana-must-go' bag full of US dollars. Both teams trivialized this claim and none considered that bribery was an accusation weighty enough to demand their clarifying or refutation. Both campaign teams have kept mum to date.
Save for the very few who have chosen to be different, bribery now seems an acceptable way of life. From the lowest office to highest office, only a few frown at it. The level of the decadence is such that parents now go the extent of giving bribes on behalf of their children to them gain admission to the tertiary institutions.
While I'm sure no one doubts that the likes Nigeria police, Custom, PHCN and tax offices are enmeshed in bribery, some might still be more doubtful than Thomas in believing that those in high offices are equally drawn into it.
Just when we were almost vouching that the overpaid National Assembly members would be immune to bribery, the scandal of N55m involving Prof. Fabian Osuji, the former Education Minister sacked by former President Olusegun Obasanjo and Sen. Adolphus Wabara led senate broke out and later the scandal of Hon. Ndudi Elumelu, the â€˜no-nonsense' chairman of the House of Representatives' Committee on Power and Steel and then the N10m scandal of Sen. Iyabo Obasanjo led Senate Committee on health.
Just when we were almost agreeing that the judiciary was the last hope of the common man, the news broke out of corruption in the high places in the judiciary involving two most important judicial officers in the country. There were allegations and counter allegations by Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Aloysius Katsina-Alu, and the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Ayo Isa Salami. Through them, we have known that justice goes to the highest bidders.
As if these were not enough, the press that is often seen as the fourth branch of government has not fared any better. Just before we could say Jack Robinson, Steve Ayorinde, the former daily editor of Punch newspaper came out with a bombshell or petition detailing the bribery activities of his former boss, Azubuike Ishiekwene, the former executive director, publications of Punch Newspapers. Bribery in the press has been an open secret to the public and has been widely reported. In a recent video release by Aljazeera (http://muxlim.com/videos/AlJazeeraEng/listening-post-the-medias-role-in-african-elections/), cheque journalism in Nigeria was well reported.
And just when were about thanking God that that bribery is not one of the vices we were known for internationally, the wind blew and the anus of the chicken was exposed. Amos Adamu, the Nigerian representative to FIFA was disgraced and ban because of bribery.
Is the presidency immune to this? NO! Pastor Tunder Bakare and his team told us of the attempt to â€˜buy' them with $50,000 at Aso Rock Villa while Halliburton has a number of our Commandersâ€“In- Chief on its â€˜settlementroll' or payroll.
Was it always like this?
No nation is totally free from bribery and other forms of corruption. There are criminals in every human society. In all great nations, bribery is not visible and acceptable. It goes on underground and it is perpetrated by only a small group that are often regarded as non conformist in the society. These people are brought to book whenever they are caught. Our Nigeria used to be like this.
We were not known for bribery until the last few decades. Before the mid 80s, it was disgraceful to be involved in bribery. While it could not be said that we were free from bribery before then, it was not endemic. It was a rare occurrence that was not acceptable by any standard. Even when the policemen started the â€˜wetin you carry' and bribery in the 80's, they were often very careful about it. They feared being caught and they used to collect bribes through a third party.
It was only during the Shagari era that bribery started raising its ugly head in infiltrating our system. The regime of Generals Muhammadu Buhari (Rtd) and Tunde Idi-agbon (late) tried and successfully reversed the situation but since the epoch of Babangida, the situation has progressively worsened.
It's unfortunate that most citizens under the age of 30 hardly knew the good old days. The only Nigeria they know is the bribery infested country where everything has a price tag and more often than not, they know the prices themselves.
They know the price of a police officer; they know the price of a custom officer; PHCN official has his own tag; immigration officer, licensing officer, local government staff, taxman, bailiff, judge, school principal, class teacher, politician, and others have their price tags.
Why do people give bribe?
There are many reasons why people give bribe but I would like to address the two main reasons. The first is that the people are compelled to give bribe to facilitate legally necessary actions and processes which would have been otherwise deliberately delayed by the officials in charge unless such bribes are given. And the other major reason for bribing is to carry out illegal actions and processes or to receive unwarranted favour.
The cost of bribery
The cost of bribery is enormous on the psyche and the finance of our nation.
Bribery leads to inflation of prices of public works and projects. The extra cost applied to bribing is always factored to the cost.
When bribe is given and received, integrity is compromised and often times, the bribed project supervisors cannot genuinely supervise project. This can lead to either substandard or incomplete project execution. The cost of such is enormous on our government.
In addition to violating legal and moral codes, bribery poses serious problems for economic development and international trade. The price of bribes must be factored into some international transactions, and corporations often find themselves in the difficult position of having to violate anticorruption laws in their own countries. The extra cost also reduces the country's competiveness.
How Not To give bribe
To end this bribery culture, efforts are required from both the government and the citizens.
On the part of the government
There should be a legislation that will stipulate time frame for the processing of all government documents and a provision of law that will make a government official to be liable if he/she deliberately fails to perform without any genuine reason within this stipulated time. This will dissuade people from being pressurized to give bribe in order to facilitate speedy actions.
The government should create an organ that will specialize in cases of bribery. This will make it easy for citizens to report officials who solicit for bribes.
On the part of the citizens
As a citizen who does not want to bribe, you must ensure the following:
You have to seek only legal documents, positions and services such that will not require you to solicit for favour. Anything extralegal will cause you to either beg or bribe.
You have to be firm and assertive in letting the official know that you do not plan and you will not give any bribe under any circumstances and you are only ready to follow the legal route.
You have to demand services accordingly. Read rules, regulations and ensure that that your documents are correct and complete.
Avoid the services of touts, illegal agents and unnecessary middle men in things that you can do by yourself.
You have to ensure and insist that you are given correct receipts for all payments.
Also ensure to demand for written acknowledgement for documents/forms submitted.
Do not enter into any unnecessary or familiar conversation with an official outside the performance of his/her duties; familiarity breeds contempt!
Always ask in writing for justifiable reasons why your request, form, document or application is being rejected and do not accept verbal explanation when not convincing.
Report demands for bribes, unnecessary delays or rudeness to authority or superior officers.
Where possible, record conversations on your mobile or digital recorder, take photographs and attach to your complaints.
Address an official by his/her name if there is a name tag as this naturally brings caution since you have shown you know his/her identity.
Give enough time in whatever you need to do so that you will not need to seek â€˜express' service.
This is just my thought and what do you think?