“At the heart of the problem with corruption in Nigeria is that we are all guilty by association with those who are corrupt or who create the systems for corruption and rent seeking. The same way, all of us who know governors or civil servants or ministers are always defensive about them and their tenure in office. To listen to us, all those we know are protected from the stain of corruption by our friendship/love and this has extended over time to those we don’t even know at all – as long as they represent our demography.”
Corruption is our culture. We live, breath and propagate it. Corruption in Nigeria is not a cancer – a cancer can be fought, with chemotherapy or surgery- instead corruption is our oxygen – we cannot live without it. Ironically, the more corrupt we become, the more desensitized we are to the stories we hear. One in a long line of stories about a civil servant who stashed 2 billion naira in cash from the police pension fund in his house should have caused riots by all Nigerians, or at least by policemen and pensioners. Instead…silence. Our feigned perpetual bewilderment with why successive governments and programs fail to deliver on promises to deal with corruption is because we have all convinced ourselves that we are not part of the problem and those we know and/love are not part of the problem.
Since 1966, battling corruption has remained a theme for those who seize control of power whether through guns or under the cloak of elections. Nzeogwu was concerned about corruption when he gutted the Tafawa Balewa led government. Buhari and Idiagbon were concerned with the corruption of the Shagari administration, described by Ibrahim Babangida in his 1985 coup d’état speech as “The history of our nation had never recorded the degree of indiscipline and corruption as in the period between October 1979 and December 1983”. Then we had more military years which are allegedly responsible for institutionalizing corruption and then Obasanjo cantered in on his white horse with EFCC, ICPC but no-one apart from a few political enemies were prosecuted and now they are all free- walking around and being great ambassadors of why corruption pays. Yar’adua came with rule of law and one of the worst Attorney General’s we have ever had the misfortune to behold and now President Jonathan is also presiding over some of the worst scandals in recent history including the black hole of fuel subsidy funds.
At the heart of the problem with corruption in Nigeria is that we are all guilty by association with those who are corrupt or who create the systems for corruption and rent seeking. The major arteries feeding corruption include the fact that we all exclude ourselves from what is going on and we have devised a way to circumvent logic so that everyone we know is an exception to the corruption and rent seeking around us. As a foreigner who works in Nigeria pointed out – the educated elite/technocrats/professionals – are all adequately vehement against corruption and abuse of power etc. but still see nothing wrong in their individual quest to ensure they compromise themselves and their office and/or contacts to save the
equivalent of 4 years of school fees at an Ivy League school for each of their four children. They justify this by the fact that they are not doing ‘this’ for themselves but for the future of their children. The same way, all of us who know governors or civil servants or ministers are always defensive about them and their tenure in office. To listen to us, all those we know are protected from the stain of corruption by our friendship/love and this has extended over time to those we don’t even know at all – as long as they represent our demography. So there is nothing you can say to a person from Bayelsa to penetrate the super shield of illogical reasoning to get this person to acknowledge that the underdevelopment in their state is
directly linked to successive governors; likewise, it is impossible for the man in Bauchi to find it in his heart to criticize ‘his governor’ for waste, mismanagement and complete lack of good governance regardless of how much evidence is laid before him.
So we continue to moan and wring our hands about the season of corruption laying waste to our land, but we forget that this is how it has always been. Nothing has changed except that gradually, like frogs which can be boiled to death if the heat is increased steadily and slowly, corruption is more brazen and our capacity to absorb it, excuse it, and condone it has expanded.
The republic of Georgia is being feted as the poster child for proving that ‘corruption is culture’ is a myth. In only 10 years, Georgia has moved from being one of the most corrupt (triggering the 2003 non-violent Rose Revolution) to ‘a paragon of transparency’. According to the World Bank, some of the things they did right were to place limits on the role of the state (in our case redefine our federalism and resource control, drastically reduce the money at the center and create a maze of checks to protect the independence of anti-corruption agencies); adopt unconventional methods (non negotiable return of all funds and assets and public executions of people found guilty of corruption would be a nice start); exercise strong political will (sadly those with the will have not been able to make it to driver’s seat but we can keep trying), employ new staff (e.g., mass retirement & prosecution of civil servants) and launch a frontal attack. This last factor in Georgia’s success speaks to the fact that because of the monumental issues, reformers always compromise for small wins. However they found that attacking corruption across many fronts simultaneously was the only way to fight it because as Ribadu put it, ‘corruption fights back’. This is why it is necessary to go Rambo/John Wayne/Chuck Norris on corruption and keep the opposition to reforms unbalanced and weakened.
But we do not really want corruption dealt with in Nigeria and so we will not change the way we deal with or relate with corruption. In fact, like everything else in Nigeria the anticorruption industry has become another business to be exploited. Logic should tell us that there is a connection between our state of underdevelopment, our public sector officials, our politics and corruption but we prefer mental obesity. Next time someone moans about the levels of corruption – let’s all just be honest and say ‘we like it this way’. If we don’t, we know what to do. Others have done it before us: use our collective power as citizens to demand for the change we want.