Stealing Is Stealing
Corruption has blighted Nigeria; it is the major cause of our underdevelopment as a nation, and its intractability confounds us all. There are several reasons why corruption thrives and seemingly defies solution, from our over-centralized resource control/allocation system to the lack of transparency in our budgetary and fiscal processes.The StandPoint contends, however, that one foundational problem is that as a people, we have yet to resolve the question of what constitutes corruption - the scope of its definition and the range of practices and conducts that we are ready to designate under the rubric. Resolving this naming conundrum is central to our struggle against corruption. This is no idle semantic game.
Most Nigerians assume that the ubiquity of corruption in our national life lends the subject to easy definition. Ask any Nigerian and he or she will likely reel out the familiar manifestations: bribery, embezzlement, contract inflation, conflict of interest, abuse of office, nepotism, etc. The question of naming has become one of the central problems in the fight against corruption in Nigeria today. What and when is corruption? We have to resolve this naming quagmire.
While Nigerians are fixated, and rightly so, on the familiar forms of corruption, a more insidious kind of sleaze is proliferating. It is the corruption of anticipatory stealing of appropriated and budgeted funds - a practice that permeates all levels of government in Nigeria. Across the country politicians and bureaucrats are fleecing the commonwealth by abusing the notion of democratic accountability, inverting the legislative process that is integral to it, and perverting the accounting procedures that are crucial to modern governance.
Our rulers figure out how much they want and can steal, package it in a budget proposal, and lobby their legislative partners in crime to pass it through the formal processes of law making. Once it is legislated and hence legal, there is only one name appropriate for it: budgeted corruption. And, this is all within the bounds of legitimate political transaction in our serially abused democracy. Democracy was never meant to function this way ÔÇô as an enabler of corruption. But the criminal creativity of our rulers is infinitely elastic.
The practice of budgeted corruption can also be found in the private sector. Banks, companies, and other private entities that deal with the government routinely package inflated contract proposals, complete with built-in illegal payments to approving government officials.
Even international corporate players doing business on our shores have assimilated into what has become tragically normalized as a national bureaucratic and legislative ethos. They now budget huge slush funds for anticipated bribe payments. The Halliburton and Siemens scandals exemplify and dramatize the internationalization of this vice.
The recently approved huge anniversary celebration budget is the latest and perhaps most spectacular illustration of this phenomenon of "legitimized corruption" and its unrecognized threat to Nigeria and Nigerians.
The clear line that used to separate the zone of corruption from that of legality is now blurry at best. We now need to reestablish that line and isolate all acts of corruption for what they are: an added threat to Nigeria's already beleaguered citizens. Corruption has evolved, thanks to the greedy antics of our rulers. So should our legislative, bureaucratic, and law enforcement responses to it.
It is immaterial whether or not the stolen fund is written into the budget bill and passed by our elected Representatives. Stealing is stealing.
In his inaugural address, President Jonathan promised to reinvigorate the war on corruption. We understand this to mean a revitalization of the two decapitated and politicized anti-corruption agencies (the EFCC and the ICPC). We urge him and his advisers to match rhetoric with action. He should go even further and confront the growing menace of budgeted corruption, against which the two agencies are legally helpless.________________
The StandPoint is the consensual position of the NVS editorial board.