The National Phoenix Called Corruption

Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai

POLSCOPE with Eddy Odivwri

While in secondary school, one of the favourite topics of my teachers of English Language, in measuring the twin skill of writing good English and being updated in Current Affairs, was to ask students to write a letter to the Editor of a National Newspaper (mainly Daily Times at the time) discussing the topic: Bribery and Corruption is the Bane of Nigerian Development.

Thirty-nine years after, the topic is yet as valid as oxygen for all living things. One of the hardest and most chronic battles that every government has had to fight, is the hydra-headed malaise called corruption. I can’t swear any of them had truly succeeded.

The methodology and dynamics of the malaise keep evolving. The tactics of yesterday have become obsolete by the end of today. The perpetrators of the crime seem to have said, like ,Eneke nti oba, (the famous bird in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart) which declared that “since men have learnt how to shoot without missing, I eneke nti Oba has learnt how to fly without perching.”

No matter what government does, the crooks seem to be perpetually a few heads ahead. And that is why the battle is not only long-drawn, but hopeless. Almost.

Were it not so, all the noise and ululation that heralded the birth of the once-dreaded Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), one would have thought that over 20 years after, the corruption index of Nigeria would have very significantly dropped. But no, we are yet struggling between the first and third or so position of the most corrupt country as captured by Transparency International’s Global corruption Index.

Just when we think the menace has been tamed, it re-invents itself, like a phoenix, and starts another life-circle.

What hope of sanity do you ever get when the EFCC officials themselves are neck-deep in the “settlement (modern synonym for bribery) culture”? I had once written about how an EFCC official assigned to probe a friend who was a council Chairman in Akwa-Ibom State, demanded for $10,000 , to write a favourable report on the investigation he carried out on my friend. The deal was smartly sealed in the car park of an eatery in far away Lekki area, Lagos,
Indeed, some of us had avidly supported the election of (then) Gen Muhammadu Buhari believing that he will be the final anti-corruption apostle, armed with long spiky whip to flog all such persons either into line or straight to the gallows) and ultimately usher Nigeria into her economic paradise. But nearly five years after, it is clear that President Buhari has lost the whip and worse still, lost his sight in being able to identify such crooks among us. And so, the beat goes on.

If fire can consume the tortoise with the iron coat, what will it do to the hen with a feathery gown?
If Buhari with all his supposed fierce mien can be this submerged, how much less corruption-friendly leaders?
Last year, I had written a copy I titled, Lest We Should Be the Last, (after Kwesi Brew’s poem) and it was to bemoan how despondent some of us had become.

While growing up, we heard of practices like “kickbacks”, where those who awarded big government contracts expected the contractors to return 10% of the contract sum to them. Despicable as it appeared then, it is like a child’s play when you compare what happens today, where not only the contracts are heftily inflated, sometimes, the entire contract sum is stolen and the contract will, next year, appear again on the budget. Nobody will ask any question.

I recall some of the wild rumours that went viral (without internet) at the time. It was about a certain Bendel State governor who had stolen so much money from government treasury and loaded the cash into cartons of beer, and ordered the driver to go deliver “the cartons of beer” to a certain man in another town. That the beer-thirsty driver had wondered why he would go deliver the many cartons of beer, without the privilege of drinking just one bottle. So, he stopped midway to his destination, opened one of the cartons of the Crystal Beer, and behold, he saw stacks of carefully arranged N20 notes. That was the highest denomination at the time. He nearly fainted. And that was how the story “leaked”. Unconfirmed as it was, everybody thought it was such a heinous crime at the time. Today, the crooks have not only gone digital, they have gone nuclear.

Today, bails of foreign currency in several denominations are abandoned at empty flats, airports lounges, lock up shops, etc.
When I heard of the killing of the three policemen in Ibi, Taraba State by soldiers, my thought did not wander far from corruption as the motivation for the attack.

As it is emerging, my suspicions are being confirmed. Were it not so, how could a kidnap kingpin suddenly become a kidnap victim , so much that his ‘kidnappers’ are killed, just like that, even after the ‘kidnappers’ have been properly identified as policemen on special operation? What is worse, the rescued kidnap victim, Alhaji Hamisu Balla alias Wadume, (who was handcuffed) suddenly vanishes without a trace. That the story is wonky and fishy is beyond doubt.

Without pre-empting investigations and the ultimate denoument, the quest for quid, the illicit quid, is basically responsible for the crime. Nigerians are waiting to see how this will be resolved.

Everywhere you turn in Nigeria, you are hounded by the oodles of corruption. You are lone and dreary if you are not part of the mix.