by Emmanuel Nwachukwu
Mention Nigeria to any casual observer and the dominant image of the country is corruption. “It is the way we do things here”, a public servant once remarked. Sadly, corruption in Nigeria is not just the preserve of politicians and the high and the mighty; we are all involved in it, one way or the other, either giving or receiving. It is that hamper you have under your desk; it is that gift you received or demanded for favours; it is that job you did not get on merit. They all have the label “corruption” on them. This epidemic is now so deep-rooted that it will require nothing short of a major surgery and a huge miracle to reverse the trend.
Corruption has wreaked havoc on this nation. It is responsible for the death of thousands of our people who would have lived if hospitals had adequate funding to purchase that vital medical equipment. It is responsible for our lack of power, the poor state of our infrastructure and the near collapse of our education system. It is responsible for the flight of millions of our fellow citizens to distant lands in search of greener pastures, perhaps never to return.
The impact of corruption on the nation is real, as evident from the huge security challenges we currently face with terrorism, kidnapping, and armed robbery. Businesses are suffering and no one is safe. Even the billionaire’s loot can no longer protect him. He has been imprisoned in his own house with high fences and barbed wires by the wealth that was supposed to buy him freedom. How ironic! The chickens have indeed come home to roost.
Whilst credit is due to the Seventh National Assembly for the way it has responded swiftly to national concerns in the number of public hearings it has conducted in just a year, allegations of its members demanding money from the same people they are supposed to be investigating have persisted, casting a shadow over the investigations.
Only last month, a former president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, was berated by the House of Representatives for his comments about corruption in the National Assembly, the Judiciary and the Police. Of course, only the former president could have put it so bluntly! The Farouk Lawan bribery scandal currently rocking the lower chamber raises many questions that need to be answered. How many more oil marketers were involved in the alleged bribery? If indeed this was a sting operation, why did the police not arrest the suspects at the scene of the crime, so as to secure the evidence? Why did Femi Otedola wait until he was allegedly pressured to pay the balance of $2.5m before he made public the alleged police sting? Why did it take about 40 days for all this to come to light? Is it conceivable that Lawan was acting alone or could the rest of his committee members be culpable? It is regrettable that members seemed to be in a celebratory mood when this matter was discussed in the House recently; they showed no remorse, given that this issue was very pertinent to Nigerians.
The fuel subsidy probe, like other previous probes, revealed monumental levels of corruption and thus far, the executive arm of government has been pussyfooting and has shown no urgency to arraign the individuals implicated in the hearings. All this adds weight to those who believe that President Goodluck Jonathan is not serious about tackling corruption. This is regrettable, given that this is the number one concern of Nigerians only followed by security and power. We seem to have developed a culture of impunity in Nigeria where the law is only for the poor. People are not held accountable for their action. The so-called big man who can buy justice sees himself as above the law. We are governed by a regime of men, not a regime of laws. We see these so-called big men every day on the pages of our newspapers feeding their egos and congratulating one another on their birthdays and perceived achievements. Yet, the British judge, so rightly referred to one of their members, an ex-governor of Delta State, as a “common thief”. This is exactly what they are, common thieves with huge egos. The former prime ministers of Romania and Croatia are currently languishing in prison because of corruption. This is unimaginable in Nigeria, even if they steal the whole budget. At times, it feels as if there is a conspiracy of the elite, at the highest level of government and industry, to defraud the Nigerian people.
One wonders at times who advises the President on these matters. Perhaps, the same people who advised him on the renaming of the University of Lagos, at a time when we had more pressing challenges. Perhaps, the same people who advised him in March to make the ridiculous pronouncement that Boko Haram would be defeated in three months. Perhaps, the same advisers who sent him off to Brazil when Kaduna and Yobe states were in flames, so they can collect their estacode?
It was said of Emperor Nero that he fiddled while Rome burned. Could that be said of the collective leadership of our dear country? Mr. President promised Nigerians in his campaign that he would fight corruption. Sadly, this problem has got worse under his watch. As the captain of this ship, he cannot pass the buck to the National Assembly, the justice system or anyone else for that matter. Any fight against corruption must begin with the reform of the Police and the Judiciary. We need an entire new police force and a massive shake-up of the judiciary to rid the country of corrupt judges. Sadl, we have an Attorney-General of the Federation who many believe is failing Nigeria and must thus be made to now step aside. Nigerians have no confidence whatsoever in the police force and have been calling on Mr President to deliver on a new force. We are still waiting.
Our present challenges with crime and insecurity are collateral effects of corruption. For years, state governors neglected their people. Instead of creating developmental opportunities for sustainable employment for youths, they gave them handouts and ruled by patronage. They were content to lead an impoverished people whilst they lived like lords.
Apart from a few progressive states, corruption continues to thrive in stubborn defiance at both state and local government tiers. Although the Central Bank of Nigeria and the Ministry of Finance have begun to introduce measures to address systemic corruption, much still needs to be done by other Ministries, Departments and Agencies.
We have parastatals and agencies that just exist to siphon money from the treasury with no set deliverables. They have very powerful ministers who run the agencies as their personal estate, not accountable to anyone. The President promised to make an example of ministers who went behind his back to lobby the National Assembly on their budget proposals. Were these just empty words to placate Nigerians?
Mr. President, Nigerians do not believe you’re waging an effective war against corruption, let alone winning it. It is not enough to just make pronouncement about corruption; you must be seen to be leading this fight with the fervour that is reminiscent of Maj.-Gen. Tunde Idiagbon (retd.), of blessed memories. This boat is sinking under the weight of corruption and time is of the essence. Jonathan has the mandate of Nigerians and must begin to address this problem with the seriousness, selflessness, and urgency it deserves. This is not the time to dither.
This piece was written by Emmanuel Nwachukwu and first appeared in The Punch of June 26
Editor’s note: Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.