MUST READ: Lies That We Tell Ourselves About Corruption - by Niran Adedokun

Far more than the touted failure of the Jonathan government to prosecute people suspected of corruption in Nigeria, I hold the humble opinion that the refusal by all of us to accept some degree of culpability is a greater barrier to the eradication of the malaise in our dear country. It is like hoping that a problem would go away when you have not even agreed that it exists in the first place.

Nigerians complain about corruption like it was some imported item which can only be taken away by government fiat. But the problem is far more than that. It is one thing in which a lot of us partake without the honesty to own up to the fact that the other name for our indulgences is corruption.

I agree that official corruption is at an all high in Nigeria but truth be told, the volume of money that is stolen in government is only commensurate to the extant purse of the country. Government officials have always stolen in Nigeria with the same impunity and brazenness that we have at the moment. It will help our situation to understand that we have not just recently invented the boldness with which people steal.

More than that, a first step to curbing the suffocating influence of corruption on our polity will, to my mind, be realising that most Nigerians contribute in some way to the perception and reality of Nigeria as one of the most corrupt countries in the world. To continually situate the plunging of Nigeria into this position in every other person but ourselves amounts to total dishonesty which sometimes equates to corruption

Transparency International, the global civil society organisation that we rely on to gauge Nigeria’s corruption status, classifies corruption under three broad categories namely: Grand corruption which “consists of acts committed at a high level of government that distort policies or the central functioning of the state, enabling leaders to benefit at the expense of the public good”; petty corruption which refers to everyday abuse of entrusted power by low- and mid-level public officials in their interactions with ordinary citizens, who often are trying to access basic goods or services in places like hospitals, schools, police departments and other agencies,”and; political corruption which “is a manipulation of policies, institutions and rules of procedure in the allocation of resources and financing by political decision makers, who abuse their position to sustain their power, status and wealth.” But we limit most of our discussions about corruption to the grand and political.

Of course, we could go ahead and argue that nations suffer most from the effects of political and grand corruption and that the two ultimately breed the third form, it still does not obliterate the fact that petty corruption is as dangerous a form of compromise as the former two. We can extend this argument to say that petty corruption is actually the training ground for perpetrators of grand and political corruption when they are eventually tried with public office. It is therefore expedient to tackle the petty abuse of office.

As a result, all of us – the civil servants who will not move files without a greased palm; the director who will not approve payment for a contract unless 10 per cent is added; the company director who marks up a project budget by 30 per cent; the clergy whose god is money; the doctor in a public facility who demands money for appointments and diverts resources to his private clinic; the immigration officer who manipulates procedures for procurement of passports; the customs officer who allows contraband into the country; the teacher who awards marks after “obtaining” the student; the parent who purchases question papers for his child; the student who cheats in examinations; the reporter who pushes his conscience out of the way and sells his newspaper space to the highest bidder in betrayer of public trust; the traditional ruler who sacrifices the interest of his people for a mess of pottage and so on, all contribute to the sorry state of our country.

Another important reality that Nigerians fail to see about corruption is the subtle cultural permissiveness that attends it. No matter how lowly the public office a Nigerian attains is, there is a pile of family or community members waiting to become his responsibility.

We deceive ourselves that this society frowns on ill-gotten wealth but the communal essence of existence makes mockery of this claim. When we send relatives to our fairly well-placed relatives in the cities, we do not realise that their monthly salaries may never be enough to cater to all the demands that we make from them. It is the same situation when society suddenly mounts pressure of expectations on people who are elected or appointed into political offices.

If we borrow from the research of American psychologist, Abraham Maslow, the esteem needs of most human beings would make them strive to meet the expectations of their families and friends, hence the exploitation of opportunities to appropriate resources that do not belong to them. These are situations that people contend with daily.

This is why I insist that arresting people, trying them and sending them to jail in instalments, even if our judicial system were efficient enough to ensure the speedy disposal of all cases, will do little to solve the problem of corruption in Nigeria.

If we are honest enough to accept that our society puts immense pressure on those who seem to have any little access to resources, we must find more creative ways to forestall corruption than solely rely on the criminal justice system.

One of the things that any government determined to fight corruption in Nigeria must do, in my opinion, is to remove the incentives to engage in these practices, plug the loopholes. When systems make it easy to steal, I bet that the average human being would succumb to temptation even at the risk of a jail term especially when very important needs are at stake. This is the situation we have had in places like the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation where young people dream of careers even before they get matriculated into universities. So, take business out of the hands of government, unbundle unwieldy government and agencies. Digitalise procedures that are manipulable and cut off wastes accruable from manual processes. Back such reforms up with legislation like the Petroleum Industry Bill which has stagnated at the National Assembly for two and a half years.

The second thing to do is to create wealth and reduce poverty. Statistics even from government quarters say that about 70 per cent of Nigerians are poor. So, when one person is promoted or elected into some prominent office, his community swarms on him such that there is nothing he earns that would take care of his needs and that of multitude of hangers-on. He finds himself spending all his earnings on his own subsistence and on supporting others.

Realising that he might leave the office without having done anything remarkable for himself and family, he finds a way to help himself with what doesn’t really belong to him, the first time, again and then again. That is to my mind the anatomy of the endemic corruption in Nigeria.

Of course, there is the kleptomaniac tendencies of a lot of our leaders, but I believe that this parasitic communal livelihood plays no small role in the challenges that we face.

So, a proactive government must provide social security for citizens. Initiate mortgage and health insurance schemes for public and civil servants. Consider social welfare scheme for the elderly and unemployed. Create employment opportunities, let banks support the productive sector especially small businesses, generally increase the capacity of people to take care of their needs with government showing more than a passing interest in the welfare of its people.

Unless government takes steps to redress the depressing level of poverty in the country and we all stop those little compromises that challenge the integrity of our institutions, I do not see how a hundred anti-corruption agencies will impose sanity on us.