Obstacles Before Development in Nigeria

24 Jul 2010

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There are many definitions and descriptions of corruption but the one by the web-based Gemini Greek, seems to me, to capture its basic ingredients: “The word corruption means the destruction, ruining or the spoiling of a society or a nation. A corrupt society stops valuing integrity, virtue or moral principles. It changes for the worse. Such a society begins to decay and sets itself on the road to self destruction. Corruption is an age old phenomenon. Selfishness and greed are the two main causes of corruption.

Political corruption is the abuse of their powers by state officials for their unlawful private gain.” Whatever amplifications or empirical props can be given to the above quotation, it seems to have said enough relative to democracy and development in Nigeria. There is ample evidence of monumental corruption in Nigeria as established by national and international sources and monitoring mechanisms. And the signs and symptoms of the effects of corruption are palpable and visible.

Democracy is essentially about peoples' power in social, economic and political terms. It means that people get their due or what is best for them in their communities, societies or commonwealths. Cultural self-determination and expression are social power. Material well- being, individually or socialized is economic power. Confidence in elected or appointed governing leaders and in the process of electing or appointing them is political power. In a liberal democracy which we practice in Nigeria, and based on universally accepted standards, credible, free and fair election; inalienable human rights; constitutionally guaranteed freedoms; justice and the rule of law;

transparency and accountability; are among the critical pre-requisites for justification of representative governance based on a social contract between the government and the people.
Development is the improvement of any society and the living standards of its peoples, through the organized tapping of the resources, human and material, available in such a society. Despite various definitions and world views, development is rights-based and could be integrated into a dividend or to deliverable of the democratic process.

Having thus far established what corruption, democracy and development mean, we can now discuss how they relate and the implications of their broad relationship. Democracy is largely a politically-driven process based on authoritative allocation of values.
Development is about positive societal organization for the benefit of all. When corruption acts like a debilitative cancer or virus, it is bound to negate both democracy and development. The most bothersome aspect of corruption is that when those who should drive the democracy and development projects become the progenitors and purveyors of corruption, it seems that societal destruction has been put on a speed gear like a vehicle whose brakes have failed and is driving down a steep slope.

It is instructive to note the 2003 Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria study on the leading corrupt institutions in Nigeria consists of the institutions most critical to democracy and development: Nigeria Police, Political Parties, National and State Assemblies, Local and Municipal Governments, Federal and Executive Councils, Traffic Police and Federal Road Safety, and the Power Holding Company of Nigeria. These are front-line governance and development institutions, and they have a high corruption rating. Nigeria itself has been on the list of the top ten most corrupt countries in the world for a number of years. A recent study by the National Bureau of Statistics and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) lists the most corrupt institutions in ranking as: Nigeria Police, Power Holding Company of Nigeria, Water Board, Revenue and Customs, also critical public governance agencies. Very worrisome also is the inclusion in this study of the finding that the judiciary is the highest and collector of graft money.

The emergence of the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB), the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) and EFCC, if they have the proper composition and enablement, and discharge their duties efficiently, will begin to tackle this cankerworm that is destroying Nigeria. These agencies can tackle some basic issues like assets declaration tracking of sources of income of public officers and prosecution.

Former World Bank and Ford Motor Corporation President, Robert McNamara has suggested measures for fighting corruption in Africa as follows: one, clear, direct and forceful support from the head of state or government; two, transparency and accountability in all governmental functions; three, encouragement of a free press that can report on corrupt practices; four, organization of the civil society to fight corruption; five, introduction of watch-dog agencies like auditors, (CCB, ICPC, EFCC) and the like ; six, liberalize government regulations in order to minimize rent-seeking activities; seven, insert transactions for privatization of companies; eight, ensure forceful enforcement ; and nine, criminalize all acts of bribery.

What would be expected from the international community is to block, expose and prosecute all acts of diversion or laundering of monies from corrupt sources. In addition, aid could be withdrawn to put pressure on governments to act against corruption. The international community, through multilateral and bilateral donor mechanisms should give full grants or in-kind support and training or capacity to anti-bribery corruption agencies to enable them battle corruption effectively.
The biggest challenge in Nigeria is that the kingpins of corruption are within the elite, especially the governing elite. This point has been established by the Zaria study of 2003 and the 2010 study both cited above, and by the frustrations expressed by Farida Waziri, Chairman of EFCC, on how the elite steal and do not want to be prosecuted, or use legal processes to frustrate trial.

The anti-corruption revolution in Nigeria which goes by the acronym ANCOR is a properly conceptualized approach to fighting corruption in Nigeria. As a holistic programme, it recognizes the multi-faceted character of the problem and the need for an integrated approach to tackle it. Rather than squabble over the present leadership of the EFCC, both the international community and the President of Nigeria, should fully and strongly support the present EFCC leadership to hastily and fully implement ANCOR, together with all its governmental, non-governmental, local, national, and international and media partners. Corruption in Nigeria requires a total war, not a limited and selective one.
•Sen wrote from Lagos

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