Ekaro Madam (Goodmorning Madam), happy weekend! That was how a gateman greeted me on a visit to the Lagos State Secretariat, Alausa to see a Commissioner, during the 2015 Election campaign period, at the height of the popularity of the ‘change’ mantra.
When did all this happy greetings even begin anyway? Happy Sunday. Happy this and that. Happy anything. Nice Day. What does it mean? It is simply another plan hatched by workers in a little position of authority, to extort money from people.
This type of corruption is what is called ‘petty corruption’. It occurs in poorer countries, with poorly paid staff who need to make ends meet. To get rid of this, Nigeria has to increase its overall productivity, so that per capita income can rise.
I responded to his Ekaro Madam, but I was silent on the happy weekend part. In my mind, I was saying “Haven’t you heard? We are changing from corruption”. Seeing no positive action from my end, he told me that only cars with a specific identification sticker displayed on their windscreens, were allowed into the premises. Of course, from his reaction, I knew that he wanted money. I decided to stand my ground and ask for directions to the building that I was going to. By the time he started, go straight, go left, then right, at the end of that right the building is behind the one at the junction, my driver suggested in Yoruba, “Mummy, ejo, o better ke fun ni nkan ka le wole (Mummy, its better that you give him something so that we can enter)”.
I took my driver’s advice and immediately, the gate was flung open. Thank God I did. The building I was going to was quite a distance and I would certainly have reached the Commissioner’s office after a long trek, sweaty, exhausted and definitely late for the meeting. But it doesn’t seem as if that regulation actually exists, because I have been to Alausa a few times after that, and I didn’t encounter any difficulties in gaining access into the premises.
Some Consequences of Corruption
It is indeed so sad that corruption has eaten so deeply into the fabric of our society, so much so that you can hardly see any traces of the fabric, just corruption. Corruption is the worst disease that can hit a society, especially a developing country like ours. There are too many negative fall outs from it, like inefficient functioning of the economy, unnecessary increase in prices, increase in crime rate and new types of crime, as in Nigeria’s case, like kidnapping, Boko Haram, Avengers and so on.
I guess that the rationale for the lower ranking worker being corrupt may be that, ‘if our leaders are robbing the country blind and getting away with it, what is wrong with me getting a small piece of the action?’ After all, the malaise of corruption and ill-gotten gains should not be the preserve of high ranking officials alone.
I will not bother to go into corruption in higher places, as that will just be stating the obvious. Practically every morning when one switches on any form of media dissemination, one is confronted with news of someone being arrested on some corruption charge or the other.
It is a colossal shame that practically everyone that has been placed in a position of authority in our country, has breached the trust of Nigerians. Lately, the former President, Olusegun Obasanjo asked the Federal Government to extend the anti-corruption fight to the Legislature. In response, the House of Representatives described him as the ‘Grandfather of Corruption!’
Recently, I had to travel to Abuja for a workshop. The day before the trip, I sent someone from my office to the airport to get me on a first flight. I also instructed him to go to every airline, apart from one that is famous for delaying and cancelling flights, and another with a faulty safety record.
Getting a seat on the first flight proved to be a Herculean task, because apparently that is the only flight that is guaranteed will leave on time. After about four hours of back and forth at the airport, I told our staff member not to return to the office without a confirmed seat for me on a first flight. Eventually when he returned hours later, he informed me that he had to pay extra to secure the seat. It seems that airline staff have a juicy scam going, where they keep a few seats and claim that the flight is full. Those that are desperate enough, know what to do, to get to their destinations.
Nigeria Academia Too
The Nigerian academia is also part of the corruption game. There is financial and ‘sexual corruption’ (as Dr Tunji Abayomi stated in respect of the Judiciary) within its ranks. Lecturers are legendary for sexually harassing their students and failing them in their examinations if they don’t play ball. Recently, the Federal Government sacked thirteen and demoted sixteen lecturers for ‘sex-for-marks’ offences. Students are forced to buy ‘hand-outs’ authored by lecturers, which they can ill-afford. Refusal by students to purchase such materials also results in failure of examinations. Others simply pay the lecturers cash, for good marks.
In fact I was shocked to hear that one can pay bribes to gain admission into higher institutions. A friend of mine told me that he was trying to raise three hundred thousand Naira to secure an admission for his daughter (who is not just clever, but extremely hardworking) into a University for the Accounting course she wants to study. He said that he was told that there is a scam going on in the Administrative Office, and if the bribe was paid, it would be smooth sailing.
Solutions: Lee Kuan Yew
One country that was able to successfully fight corruption is Singapore. Lee Kuan Yew, was the first Prime Minister of Singapore. He held that position for over thirty years (1959-1990) and eradicated corruption in Singapore. He adopted a four-pronged approach.
Firstly, the establishment of a strong independent service for the fight against corruption, like the Bureau of Corruption Investigation (BCI) of Singapore, which was inherited from the British Colonial Masters, and strengthened by Lee Kuan Yew. We have the agencies like EFCC and ICPC, but obviously, they have not been that effective, as corruption has spread faster than cancer under their watch. Our agencies need to be sent for courses with agencies like the BCI, to be trained. Some of the methods adopted by BCI are denying officials and their families any immunity from suit and legal process, effective investigation techniques, and the high level integrity of its staff.
Secondly, Singapore adopted a ‘live within your means’ approach. In 1960, Singapore passed a law that allowed the consideration of the fact that an accused person was living above his means or having objects or properties that could clearly not be acquired on his income, as evidence of bribe. The burden of proof was then shifted from innocent to proven guilty to guilty to proven innocent. Most government officials in Nigeria live above their means, ostentatiously. In fact they live better than many successful business people. But it never caused the raising of any eyebrows talk less of investigation, until lately, the DSS stated that this was one of the reasons for the ‘sting’ operation it carried out against the Judiciary, as they had observed that some Judges were living lavishly.
Thirdly, the salaries of government officials and Judges were increased. As the economy of Singapore began to improve, so did the workers’ salaries, so as to avoid the temptation to be corrupt. In Nigeria, apart from the Legislature being overpaid and certain top government officials having fantastic packages, majority of workers are underpaid, owed salaries over long periods of time, all over the country. Even most Judges are underpaid and overworked, especially in comparison to their colleagues in other parts of the world. This is a recipe for disaster.
Fourthly, Lee Kuan Yew allowed for the formation of a vibrant, independent and objective media, where cases of corruption were widely reported. On the contrary, in Nigeria, the NJC does not even want the media to report on petitions against the Judiciary that they may be treating.
It is obvious that whether it is the numerous anti-corruption laws that are in existence, or the system that before now, seemed reluctant to prosecute offenders to the fullest extent of the law, nothing has been an effective deterrent to corruption in Nigeria, as we can all see how, over the years, corruption has become rampant, done with much more impunity and zest.
People, it is time for us to start proffering solutions to the problems of corruption that are plaguing our country. Please, share your meaningful thoughts. Thank you. Is it possible to stamp out this cancer of corruption from Nigeria? What viable steps, like Lee Kuan Yew, can we take achieve this laudable goal? Should Nigeria promulgate a law that provides for the death penalty as the punishment for corruption, like in countries like China? Would the National Assembly even be favourably disposed to introducing such a bill? I think that if it can be done, this is the time to do so, as President Buhari would surely sign the bill into law!