The ultimate anti-corruption war

SIMON KOLAWOLE LIVE, Email:, sms: 0805 500 1961

Your little daughter is in the room. Your phone rings. It is apparently a call from your business partner whom you have an appointment with. And you pick and say: “Sorry, I’m in Kano.” Your daughter smiles in amusement. You are definitely not in Kano. The phone rings again. It is another business partner. This time, you say: “Sorry, I’m in Abuja.” Your daughter is scandalised. “Daddy! Where exactly are we?” she asks. She goes on to express her surprise at your insincerity and gently lectures you that it is a form of corruption. “Not in my country!” she affirms, in a respectful tone. You are the one that should be teaching her morals, remember.

What I have just described is a skit from the anti-corruption campaign, “Not in My Country”, developed and produced by my friend, Mr. Akin Fadeyi, the CEO of Bufferzone International Ltd. Fadeyi describes his campaign, completely funded by him, as a “bottom-up” approach in the war against corruption. Bottom-up because it is designed to be a citizen-led initiative. Citizen-led because it is not the usual anti-graft homilies from government officials and clerics, but messages preached by citizens themselves to fellow citizens. Fadeyi has produced over 30 skits featuring celebrities such as Bukky Wright, Tina Mba, Hafiz ‘Saka’ Oyetoro and Jude Orhorha.

Why do I like this campaign? When we discuss corruption in Nigeria, we only think of billions of dollars and governors and ministers and commissioners. We hardly see ourselves in the picture. The nurse that takes a bribe to provide a bed space for a patient does not see this as corruption. She would rather say “where you work is where you chop — so this is my workchop”, as a dishonest taxi driver actually put it in another skit. The vendor that fraudulently withholds payments due a newspaper from copy sales does not see corruption in this — it is the minister who has been accused of stealing N2 billion that is corrupt in his own estimation.

Yet, if the truth be told, there is a way we are wired for corruption in Nigeria. When a father blatantly lies in front of his daughter about his location, he is sowing the seeds of dishonesty in her. Corruption will be the end product. When a mechanic teaches his little apprentice to buy fake spare parts, he is sowing corruption into the future. When you pay a carpenter to use mahogany for your furniture and he uses ordinary wood to maximise profit, he has demonstrated what he can do if he eventually gets a big contract. As Jesus puts it, if you are faithful in little, you are faithful in much. If you cheat in a N10,000 deal, you won’t suddenly become upright in a N10m contract.

There seems to be an unwritten understanding that nothing is meant to be done honestly in Nigeria. Study artisans closely and you will discover that they are wired to cut corners. They are trained to tell lies and use substandard materials.  Indeed, there is a mentoring programme for corruption in Nigeria. Unfortunately, we do not see corruption in the things we do in our own corners. Addressing corruption at the retail level is as important as addressing it at the wholesale level. We don’t become corrupt the day we occupy big positions — corruption has already been embedded in us. If you stole as a clerk, you won’t suddenly become upright as a perm sec.

There are various ways of fighting corruption. Right away, I can identity at least five. One is media trial. Nigerians love media trial, or public lynching, a lot. Media trial is basically naming and shaming people through the media. If somebody is invited to EFCC, for instance, we love to have the story splashed all over the newspapers. It wouldn’t matter if the person is eventually cleared. Our first assumption is that anybody who ever served in government or ever did business with government is a thief, so the media trial serves them right. Someone once told me that since the court system is weak, destroying people through the media is the best revenge we can get.

The unfortunate aspect of media trial, however, is that both the guilty and the innocent are messed up. The fact that you are being investigated does not mean you are guilty. How many Nigerians know, for instance, that Mrs Patricia Etteh, the former speaker, did not steal one kobo, and that the house of representatives eventually apologised to her after the whole drama? She was reported to have awarded a fraudulent contract to renovate the speaker’s residence — only for us to learn much later that she had no such powers! She was scandalised in a hire-wire political game. But in the minds of many Nigerians today, Etteh is a thief. That’s the danger of media trial.

A second way is legal trial. In this case, we choose to apply the laws of the land to pursue cases of corruption. In a democratic and civilised society, this is always the preferred option. However, our experience is that the judicial process is very weak, especially when it comes to the big fish. Petty thieves get justice on a daily basis, but the big guys have all the money to slow down or disrupt the system. The process could be very frustrating and very slow, and Nigerians do not generally believe we can tackle corruption using the legal route. The record of convictions of former high-level public officers is not sparkling at all.

A third way is institutional reform. Police used to be charged with handling cases of corruption, but the institution itself has suffered credibility and capacity problems over time, partly because of poor welfare, poor motivation, archaic and inadequate internal systems, and so forth. We had the options of reforming the institution as a whole, breaking it up or creating parallel bodies to discharge some of its functions. We chose to create EFCC and ICPC. These two bodies are better funded, better trained and better supported, and they have at least complemented the work of the police force over the years. These days, people would rather report you to EFCC than to police.

The fourth way is administrative reform. This works better than media trial, legal trial and institutional reform because it offers measures that can drastically cut down or prevent some forms of corruption. For instance, the introduction of treasury single account (TSA) by the federal government has reduced the opaqueness of the accounts operated by ministries, departments and agencies. When former President Olusegun Obasanjo first introduced it in 2004, at the time Prof. Chukwuma Soludo was the CBN governor, he reversed the policy under pressure from the banks. Former President Goodluck Jonathan also toyed with the idea but did not fully implement it.

I hear government officials say they have saved N3 trillion in TSA — but that is not accurate. What TSA has done is to make sure government accounts are no longer scattered all over the banks but domiciled with the CBN, which means they can now be better monitored. The corruption being perpetrated through the opaqueness is now being contained. That is an effective administrative measure. Another effective administrative tool is the use of BVN to verify government workers. Hundreds of billions of naira lost to bogus salaries are being saved with the implementation of BVN. Without firing a bullet, TSA and BVN are taming corruption in their own ways.

The fifth way is moral suasion. This strategy, which works on changing mindsets and engendering a new way of thinking, is the ultimate tool of fighting corruption. We need to get to a level that we are individually and collectively convinced, genuinely, that corruption is unacceptable. We will shun corruption not because we are afraid of media or legal trial, not because of institutional reforms, and not because of BVN and TSA, but because from the bottom of our hearts, we know corruption deserves to be shunned. There are various factors fuelling corrupting in Nigeria — notably poverty and greed. Reforming our thinking is non-negotiable.

Ultimately, attitudinal change/value reorientation is where we need to do the most work. Ironically, that is where we do the least. We spend a lot of energy on media drama (Nigerians really, really love it) as well as reforms but we need to genuinely change from the inside. Our minds must be reformed to see good as good and bad as bad. That is why I love moral suasion. That is why I love “Not in My Country”. It makes us see how we perpetrate corruption in our little ways. It asks us to rend our hearts, not our garments. I should also say that while the bottom-up, citizen-led initiative of Fadeyi is highly commendable, government must still play the lead role in promoting value change.



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