Manifestations of Corruption and Societal Indiscipline: The Challenge for Nigeria’s 2019 Presidential Candidates

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By Bola A. Akinterinwa

Corruption, defined in legal terms, is simply an abuse of office, in the sense of using public office for private gain. Shumaker and Longsdorf defined corruption in their 1910 Law Dictionary as ‘an act done with intent to give some advantage inconsistent with official duty and the rights of others.’ It is further noted here that corruption includes bribery, ‘but is more comprehensive because an act may be corruptly done, though the advantage to be derived from it may be offered by another.’

From the foregoing, the definition of corruption is operationally limited to the public domain. Secondly, an act of corruption must have been deliberately conceived and executed. Thirdly, the act must also have an objective that is illegal, that is, inconsistent with established rules. Fourthly, the illegal advantage sought must also infringe on the rights of other Nigerians. Fifthly, a distinction is made between the agent of corruption and the recipients of gains of corruption.

Corruption, in whichever way it is looked at, is an act of, and a resultant from, dishonesty on which the polity is largely predicated in Nigeria. Again, corruption has been given different typologies. Huther and Shahl have distinguished between bureaucratic or petty corruption in which bribes and small favours are sought; grand corruption involving theft, embezzlement or misuse of public funds by a relatively small number of public officials, and state capture or regulatory capture involving officials extracting favours for private gains.

Regardless of the categorisation, corruption is driven by dishonesty. Besides, political governance is characterised by impunity, unfairness and injustice. It is largely the perception of engagement of highly-placed people in sharp practices and corruption with impunity that attracts attention of others in acts of corruption. It will be useful, in this regard, to seek to listen to motorists, transporters, traders etc, in the various motor parks. What people say about government officials and politicians are not in any way encouraging and complimentary.

But true enough again, many Nigerians are dishonest, and for that matter, to themselves. Whoever is dishonest with himself or herself should not be expected to be honest with or to others. Even when some people are found guilty of gross misconduct, they are allowed to walk freely in an atmosphere of braggadocio to the dislike of those who are criticising them for their misbehaviours. Most unfortunately too, the foundation of both public governance and professional politics in Nigeria is built with cement and sand of corruption and sustainably watered with policies of self-deceit and ethnic jingoism, especially as from the end of the country’s civil war in 1970. But who is to blame and be blamed?

Put differently, how do we explain the fact that indiscipline in the Nigerian society was not a big deal under the British colonial rule but remains the bane of the Nigerian society on attainment of independence? Professor J.S. Cookey noted in his Political Bureau’s Report in 1987 that corruption was first identified as the bane of the Nigerian society in 1967. How do we explain the recidivist or inability to come to terms with it since then? Rather than have it nipped in the bud, it has been allowed to develop into official culture, acquiesced to by the generality of the people of Nigeria.

Before explication of the manifestations of corruption and indiscipline in Nigeria, it is useful to put the understanding of corruption in context, as this Column simply believes that corruption is nothing more than an expression of indiscipline and dishonesty. For instance, dishonesty is considered as both a misconduct and a serious misconduct under the Public Service Rules (PSR) of Nigeria. Under Section 3 on Misconduct, sub-section 030301 identified 16 types of acts of misconduct. They include scandalous conduct (immoral behaviour, unruly behaviour, drunkenness, foul language, assault and battery), habitual lateness to work, deliberate delay in treating official document, failure to keep records, sleeping on duty, improper dressing while on duty, insubordination, discourteous behaviour to the public, and perhaps more importantly, dishonesty, which is the seventh on the list.

If we take a cursory look at the various types of misconduct, how many of the public and civil servants can lay claim to freedom from them? Are public servants not generally discourteous to the public, especially Nigerians that are underprivileged or without contacts or who are not well connected? What about deliberate delay in treating official documents and non-keeping of records? One truism here is that the conscious delay in treating official letters and documents precisely and largely serves as the first dynamic of corruption. The delay necessarily sends a message to the public, rightly or wrongly, that there is the need for ‘settlement,’ often interpreted as a ‘bribe,’ before any prompt action could be taken. Government is not on record to be replying to letters from the public unless compelled to, how much less replying to them.

Perhaps more interestingly, when do public servants resume duty in Abuja? What is the percentage of people resuming for work at 8 am? Where are the Nigerians sincerely interested in efficiency of the public service? Is the main preoccupation not a priori self-survival and that of Nigeria thereafter?

Let us espy the case of serious misconduct at this juncture. There are 23 categories of serious misconduct. Bribery and corruption are listed as numbers 10 (j) and 11 (k) under Section 4, sub-section 030402 of the PSR. Other types include divided loyalty, sabotage, sexual harassment Advance Fee Fraud (Criminal Code 419), embezzlement, misappropriation, nepotism or any other form of preferential treatment, false claims against Government Officials, suppression or falsification of records, unauthorised disclosure of official information, any action prejudicial to the security of the State, as well as violation of Oath of Secrecy. Holding more than one full-time paid job and conviction on a criminal charge (other than a minor traffic offence) are also acts of serious misconduct.

In this regard, again, is suppression and falsification of records not rampant in the public Service, and particularly among politicians? Why is it that it is precisely the very senior-level Government officials and public position-seeking politicians that are having problems of NYSC certificates of discharge? Why is it that ordinary level certificates cannot be joyfully presented when allegations are levied? What should we understand by divided loyalty in the public Service?

Serving as an employee of Government and at the same time working against the attainment of the objectives of the same Government constitutes a divided loyalty per excellence. At the non-governmental level, there is no disputing the fact that divided loyalty is at its crescendo at the level of party politics and politicians. Many are the politicians who are PDP in the morning, APC in the afternoon, SDP in the evening, APGA at mid-night, and yet will be defending their own individual selfish interests on the altar of corruption he following day. This is the current environmental conditioning of presidential campaigns in Nigeria.

Without scintilla of doubt, the APC Standard Bearer, President Muhamadu Buhari, incumbent president, and the main opposition party contender, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar have been trading blames on who has better integrity than the other. Arguments for and against, on both sides, have been offered. It is the position of Vie Internationale that whenever there is the need to make a choice between two evils or devils, one must take the better evil or devil. In this case, neither of Muhammadu Buhari nor Atiku Abubakar is devilish, but for many obvious reasons, Atiku Abubakar is preferable to Muhammadu Buhari. This is why the analysis of the manifestations and their implications for the 2019 presidential elections should be located at the level of the general societal indiscipline and corruption.

This column observes that most Nigerians are corrupt by way of commission, acquiescence, aiding and abetting, and perversion of justice. If we admit of the foregoing legal definition of corruption, which is the deliberate abuse of public office to have private gains to the detriment of the interests of others, and if we also admit that such favours and gains may not be financial, many of political decisions cannot but therefore be corrupt. Consequently, the tune and direction of debate on corruption should not be simply tailored along a holier-than-thou attitude but more along the articulation of how best the presidential candidates are prepared to address the corruption issues, all of which border on manifestations of dishonesty.

Manifestations of Corruption in Nigeria

Corruption in Nigeria is manifested institutionally and multi-dimensionally in national life. At the institutional level, the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria lays the foundation in its preamble. It says ‘We the People of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, having firmly and solemnly resolved to live in unity and harmony as one indivisible Sovereign Nation under God…do hereby make, enact and give to ourselves the following Constitution…’

The interpretation of this particular provision has sharply divided the polity. One school of thought posits that ‘We the People…’ has a manu militari character and therefore not democratic. In the eyes of this school, the 1999 Constitution is not only undemocratic, but particularly fraudulent. In other words, there has not been any democratic basis for the claim of firm and solemn resolution to live in unity, or to give ourselves the Constitution.

The other school of thought believes that the Government in power has the necessary locus standi to act on behalf of the generality of the people of Nigeria, and therefore does not see anything fraudulent, dishonest or corrupt about it. The problem with the constitutional provision is that it has prompted agitations and calls for a review of the Constitution. In terms of categorisation, constitutional corruption falls under category 3, regulatory capture.

As reported in The Punch of Friday, December 28, 2018 some politicians in Oyo State had been pressurising the Independent National Electoral Commission to sell the unclaimed 914,529 PVCs to them. As noted by Mr. Agboke in online journalism and Media Integrity in Nigeria, there is the need ‘to tell those who are looking for PVCs to buy that there is none to buy in Oyo State…[N]o INEC employee will sell PVCs to any politician.’

Perhaps more disturbingly, Mr. Agboke also declared as follows: ‘those who are looking for PVCs to buy, I won’t give you their names. I don’t have their names. But that is the security report I got and the report did not specify the party and the individuals that are involved. They want us to give them PVCs but we can’t give it to them. They want to buy PVCs but there is none to sell in Oyo State.’

The import of this report is to suggest the extent to which politicians are corrupt and are better prepared intentionally to win the elections by all means. It also clearly shows the extent of party indiscipline and dishonesty. The mere fact that the INEC is promising its non-preparedness to sell any PVC to any politicians is also politics. If not, why is it difficult to give the names of those seeking to buy electoral materials when the Buhari administration is said to be fighting tooth and nail corruption? The position of the INEC is nothing more than another expression of dishonesty, and therefore of corruption.

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) announced on Thursday, December 27, 2018 that it had secured 312 convictions between January and December 2018, which is a considerable improvement on that of 2017 which was put at 189 convictions. According to The Nation of Friday, December 28, ‘the record of convictions cuts across the various offices of the EFCC with Lagos securing 85 convictions, Abuja (53), followed by Kano with 36. Port Harcourt secured 33 convictions, Gombe recorded 28, Benin had 27, Enugu (15), Maiduguri (11), Ibadan (10), Uyo (8), and Kaduna (6).’

Considering the number of convictions, it can be rightly argued that the anti-corruption war is succeeding. If we consider the environmental conditioning of the convictions, especially in terms of the political parties to which the convicted people belong, it can also be argued that, true, prosecution of corruption suspects is done on the basis of discriminatory selection. For instance, the EFCC report has it that two Politically Exposed Persons (Jolly Nyame, former Governor of Taraba State and Joshua Dariye, former Governor of Plateau State and a serving Senator) were among those convicted.

What is interesting about them is that Joshua Dariye, while serving a jail term of 14 years, but reduced to 12 years with a fine, has managed, while still cooling down in Kuje prison, to take the APC senatorial nomination form, with the objective of contesting. He has filled the form. Why was he given a nomination form bearing in mind that he is still serving a jail term? As provided by Mr. Chindo Dafat, the APC Publicity Secretary in Plateau State, Senator Dariye has picked a nomination form to seek a third term’ and has submitted the form. Dariye’s Ward secretary had signed the form on his behalf. And perhaps more importantly, APC officials are saying that Dariye is ‘still very popular and relevant in Plateau Central in spite of his current ideals.

It is useful to note the arguments of the APC school of thought on this matter: ‘somebody could be in the hospital or prison and pick a nomination form from there. We have no right to deny anyone a nomination form. Even INEC cannot stop Dariye from contesting the 2019 elections.’ More important, it is argued that ‘there is no law that stops him from buying the form… If Dariye wins elections from prison, he will not be the first Nigerian to do that. Iyiola Omisore, from Osun, once won a Senate seat while in prison.’

Omisore’s case is a truism but raises the issue of systemic and institutional corruption as well. It also buttresses our observation that the people of Nigeria aid and abet corruption even when they rhetorically condemn it. In other words, because of the relevance of Joshua Dariye to the APC victory in his constituency, his jail term is not taken as a big deal, whereas, in the PSR, subsection 030412 provides that ‘an officer convicted of criminal offence (other than a minor traffic or sanitary offence and the like) shall be suspended with effect from the date of conviction, pending determination of his/her case by the Commission.’

Again, is President Muhammadu Buhari directly or indirectly linked to the ownership of the Etisalat and Keystone Bank? On Wednesday, December 26, Presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar alleged that Buhari’s family members had bought substantial shares in the two institutions while the APC had responded by suggesting that, in actual life, the two institutions actually belong to Atiku Abubakar.

As put by Kola Ologbondiyan, the PDP spokesperson, ‘the PDP presidential campaign challenges President Buhari to explain how his family members came about N1.032 trillion. The APC has also provided counter arguments that, indeed, it is the families of Atiku Abubakar that have the alleged substantial shares. Who really is telling the truth does not matter here. What is important is that there is corruption that is sanctioned and there is another one that is encouraged.

Above all, it should be said that most Nigerians are corrupt by acquiescing to or aiding and abetting corruption. The constitutive States of Nigeria are more corrupt through political chicanery and recklessness. The Federal Government is the most corrupt and is not better than an armed or pen robber and kidnapper. In April 1994, the Federal Government collected deposits from Nigerians for houses that were to be built and allocated by December 1994. As at 2018, no house has been built. No refund of deposit and no one is talking about it. This is another form of official corruption by excellence.

Houses were sold to occupants of government houses in Abuja, following President Olusegun Obasanjo’s Monetisation Policy in 2004. The Certificates of Occupancy are yet to be given. Even in Lagos State, lands allocated on the basis of full payment under the Isheri North project and started by Governor Buba Marwa, in the mid-1990s, are yet to be finally allocated and documented. I have referred to the many cases of serious misconduct at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs.

In all the aforementioned cases, Government has only kept quiet. It is a conspiratorial silence and yet, Nigerians are told that Government is fighting corruption. Which corruption is Government trying to fight? Government should first fight corruption within itself, as corruption thrives more because of official inefficiency. How does the Government want to explain more than 20 years of official remissness?

Additionally, Government signed an agreement with a consortium of international companies, led by Interinfra in France, to construct the Lagos Metroline in the early 1980s. After paying more than N75 million for feasibility and take-off, the Buhari military government that ousted Shehu Shagari said the costs of the contract were too prohibitive and therefore cancelled the project. The Interinfra took the matter to an Arbitration Court in Brussels and Nigeria was found guilty. Nigeria was severely sanctioned as she was asked to pay twice the contract sum in compensation. Nigeria pleaded for leniency and was allowed to pay only the contract sum, which the then Government of Nigeria said was inflated or prohibitive. In other words, Nigeria fully paid for a Lagos Metroline she never had. This is another form of institutional corruption in Nigeria.

Presidential debates should therefore focus greater attention on solutions to societal indiscipline as a starting point for rebuilding Nigeria. Debates should resolve complaints of unfairness and injustice in order to restore confidence and public support. More important, there is the need to depoliticise the Federal Character Principle. By so doing, combating boko haramism and providing a more propitious environment for economic growth and development will be quite easier. This is one major challenge that the 2019 presidential election organisers will need to address.