by Funke Aboyade
The reports of corruption that continue to filter out on an almost daily basis are not just mind blowing, they are disheartening. The impunity, the sheer brazenness, with which these corrupt acts are done, is aggravating. And worrying. Corruption has permeated the very fabric of our society; we live, breathe and eat it. It is so bad that it makes those who, being principled or just plain honest or God-fearing, are not partakers of these acts of wickedness appear to be ‘dulling’. And for the majority poor who are watching, it surely must seem to them that they are living in an unjust and wicked society. You don’t have to be an Einstein to conclude that clearly, we have an emergency on our hands and something will have to give.
Last week alone, a ‘new’ mind boggling kerosene scam was investigated and blown open by a national newspaper just as an initial 19 suspects in the fuel subsidy scam were arraigned in court by the EFCC.
Last week too, there were media reports that 200 BMW and other vehicles had been purchased for the African First Ladies Peace Mission Summit in Abuja. The presidency vigorously denied the purchase, asserting they had been donated by Coscharis Motors and would be returned after the summit. Really? What’s the catch? What’s the incentive to sell 200 luxury cars at heavily discounted prices having first made them available for use absolutely free for a four-day summit? There were also reports on the other hand that insisted they had been sold. Indeed, given that when the news broke initially the company’s spokesman obfuscated on the issue, the latter reports gained a life of their own. Question: who bought them? With whose funds? Whether those cars were provided or bought (at this point it doesn’t matter which) why the unconscionable extravagance? Did our guests require brand new luxury cars to ferry them around? Most of the visiting First Ladies would dare not flaunt such extravagance in their countries, many of which (like us, let’s not forget) are poor.
There were also reports that our (yes, ‘our’ – it’s after all bought and maintained by the commonwealth) presidential jet was sent to ferry Malawi’s new President, Joyce Banda, to Abuja. Given that she had, on assumption of office, sold off her country’s presidential jet (and 60 Mercedes Benz limousines) as an unnecessary extravagance pray tell, what exactly were we trying to prove? She’d pointed out that Malawi is a poor country; indeed 40% of Malawians live on less than $1/day. Using that index alone, Nigeria would appear to be poorer since a greater percentage, 70.8%, of Nigerians live on less than a dollar a day and 92.4% live on less than $2/day. The supreme irony then of sending a jet to convey the Malawian president to Abuja is probably lost on government.
It was also the week policemen in the Adekunle, Yaba area of Lagos were up and doing, doing what they do best – extorting money from motorists. Their latest scam and the latest crime? Driving whilst your car is tinted. It was so ridiculous that these men in black would lie in wait on Herbert Macaulay Road and then chase after any car with tinted windows, invariably catching up with them in the heavy traffic. There they would proceed to ‘test’ the windows by literally prying the tint off. Any protests that the car was purchased like that would be met by waving a dog-eared copy of a newspaper report of the new Inspector-General’s ‘directive’ that use of tinted windows is restricted. Any attempt to show them a Police Permit for the purpose only aggravated them further. Next, their victim would be hauled to the nearby station, told the fine was N25,000 and given the option of ‘negotiating’ his freedom and that of his vehicle. All this while his car key would have been seized, his tyres deflated and he’d have been ordered to buy a blade to start scraping away at the offending tint! This silliness is no doubt replicated across the land. IGP Abubakar, are you aware of this? Considering that there are greater security issues confronting the Police today and which remain unresolved, I wonder how chasing after such vehicles is burning priority? It would be refreshing to see them chase after armed robbery or terror suspects with similar alacrity and efficiency.
Last week too, the following quote credited to Richard Branson circulated on social media networks. I’m not certain when he made that statement but I recall that when Virgin Atlantic had had to pull out of its partnership with Virgin Nigeria some three years ago he’d also made similar comments.
‘Richard Branson verdict on doing business in Nigeria
‘Richard Branson the chairman of Virgin Atlantic alluded to a number of issues bordering on doing business in Nigeria :
‘…we have Virgin’s ill-fated footsteps by setting up a new airline in Africa in conjunction with the Nigerian government…the details of the doomed attempts to crack the Nigerian market in the 2000s are better imagined…we put …together a very good airline – the first airline in West Africa that was ever IOSA/IATA operational safety audit accredited but unfortunately it got tied down to the politics of the country…we led the airlines for 11 years…we fought daily battles against government agents who wanted to daily make a fortune from us, politicians who saw the government 49% as a meal to seek for all kinds of favour…watchdogs(regulatory body) that didn’t know what to do and persistently asking for bribes at any point…Nigerian people are generally nice but the politicians are very insane…that may be an irony because the people make up the politicians…but those politicians are selfish…we did make N3billion for the federal government of Nigeria during the joint venture…realising that the government didn’t bring anything to the table/partnership except dubious debts by the previous carrier, Nigeria Airways…The joint venture should have been the biggest African carrier by now if the partnership was allowed to grow, but the politicians KILLED it…Nigeria is a country we SHALL NEVER consider doing business in again…’
All that in a typical week in Nigeria. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.
For those who believe that we can somehow survive and even succeed as a nation with this level of corruption, the hard fact is: Nigeria will NOT make meaningful progress if we do not confront corruption head on.
Firstly, we simply lack enough resources to support the scale of reckless theft and plunder by both public and private sector officials. Indeed, no country has those kinds of resources.
Secondly, corruption destroys institutions, and the impact is therefore infinitely magnified given our, at best, fragile institutions.
Thirdly, the causative link between corruption and our poor or non-existent infrastructure is so glaring that I wonder if it really bears restating. But there you have it; perhaps it’s not glaring to everyone.
Finally, as any student of history knows, the threat of revolution is real. Our democracy, as imperfect as it is, is simply imperilled by these monumental acts of corruption.
The president must take decisive and convincing steps to end the free for all the nation’s commonwealth has become. He must plug all avenues for graft in our MDAs. The institutions mandated to investigate and prosecute corruption, as well as economic and financial crimes should be further strengthened. Big fish and small fry alike must be made to face their day in court and sent to jail where found guilty.
He should also lead by example. By now he should have realised that his ‘I don’t give a damn’ outburst about the public declaration of his assets was probably not the smartest thing to say. Giving a damn or two would be a good place to begin. It is not a sign of weakness to revisit that mindset and concede that he misspoke.
Tackling corruption is no longer an option. It’s now a survival issue. Survival of country, survival of democracy. The consequences of leaving it to fester unchecked could be very dire.
This article was first published in Thisday.
Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.