Why Are We So Corrupt?

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By Joseph Ushigiale

It is probably only in Nigeria that you are shocked with a story that a toilet has been built for N60m. This is not a joke. If in doubt, please refer to the ongoing probe of the NDDC Interim Management Committee (IMC) activities being conducted by the senate.

That is why the title of this piece begins with a very intriguing question that almost everyday, right thinking people pose with the hope that someone could somehow manage to find an answer.

When it comes to the issue of corruption, we need to understand that Nigeria is not in isolation.

Indeed corruption exists in all countries from China, Russia, USA, United Kingdom, you name it.

Corruption is endemic and it is recognised as a global menace that undermines development.

However, what differentiates and makes Nigeria stand out like a sore thumb are the frequency and magnitude of corruption and the level of punishment or consequences meted out to culprits.

While countries like China, USA, United Kingdom and several others in recognition of the destructive nature of corruption took constitutional and practical steps to build their institutional structures, strengthening them to nip such activities in the bud, Nigeria’s case is in reverse mode.

In these countries, whenever there are corruption cases and the culprits are caught, the courts ensure they are compelled to face dire consequences of long prison terms, forfeiture of property and whatever proceeds of crime etc to the state.

China took it a step further by prescribing the death sentence for corruption to serve as deterrent. Which is why such countries that have consciously taken steps through the establishment of governance structures to curtail corruption have manifest results as reported by the global corruption watchdog, Transparency International (TI).

In a recent report ranking how Nigeria was perceived by its citizens and some international organisations published by Transparency International (TI) the report noted that “As in previous years, its citizens together with a selection of international organizations perceive Nigeria as one of Africa’s most corrupt countries. Nigeria’s ranking—146 out of 180 countries surveyed worldwide—is little changed from years past.”

Warning strongly of a bleak future ahead if corrupt tendencies are not curtailed the PWC in a recent report predicted that “corruption in Nigeria could cost up to 37% of GDP by 2030 if it’s not dealt with immediately. This cost is equated to around $1,000 per person in 2014 and nearly $2,000 per person that lives in Nigeria by 2030.”

Estimates from the World Economic Forum show that the cost of corruption equals 5 per cent of global GDP ($2.6trn). The African Union, in 2002, revealed that 25 per cent of the GDP of African states, amounting to $148billion, is lost to corruption each year. Countries, where corruption is rife are likely to have 5 per cent less in investment than countries with much less corruption, an IMF research says. One thing these statistics and every right thinking person agrees on, is that the most debilitating force against economic growth, political stability and social development in the world today, is corruption.

The menace of corruption is so pervading in all facets of our society that, hardly would a single day end without a sensational corruption story breaking out in the news outlets. There is hardly a day that the media, including the print, electronic and digital would not publish and telecast at least a breaking story detailing corrupt practices in high places.

In the past, people were arrested and jailed for stealing, embezzling or defrauding their companies or institutions of few thousands and millions. All that has changed with the figures rising from millions to billions and trillions of naira and billions of dollars or hard currencies disappearing into private pockets.

Who are the culprits? The same people to whom the commonwealth is being entrusted to for save keeping have turned around to empty the commonwealth. They are the politicians, civil servants, contractors, advanced fees fraudsters and several low class fraudsters.

In 1999 when the National Assembly was inaugurated, its annual budget for 109 senators and 360 House members was just N2billion. Barely 20 years later, with same number of lawmakers, its annual budget has ballooned to a princely N128billion a difference of N126billion. What do they produce with such humongous sums of money? Your guess is as good as mine. That is not all, budgets are padded with constituency projects, committee connive with the ministry over which they exercise oversight functions to inflate annual budgets etc.

The civil servants on the other hand, who are supposed to guide the politicians and appointees on probity and accountability have proven once more to be the insider who leads the them to loot the treasury. They deliberately circumvent clearly laid down financial rules to suit their whims and caprices conniving with the politicians to loot the treasury.

The contractors on the other hand, acting on their own, as fronts or in cohort with government officials deliberately circumvent due processes and inflate contract sums for project more than 300% over their actual sums with the difference paid as kick backs to government officials. In some cases, as is the current case with the railway under the transportation ministry, the briefcase contractor without any previous proven track record of performance, simply collected mobilization, pocketed it and walked away

It has to be clearly pointed out here that corruption did not start with the present President Muhammadu Buhari administration. In 1966, Major Chukwuma Nzeogwu who led the first coup cited corruption as the reason for the military take over.

Hear him: “Our enemies are the political profiteers, the swindlers, the men in high and low places that seek bribes and demand 10 percent; those that seek to keep the country divided permanently so that they can remain in office as ministers or VIPs at least, the tribalists, the nepotists, those that make the country look big for nothing before international circles, those that have corrupted our society and put the Nigerian political calendar back by their words and deeds.”

While Nzeogwu’s 1966 speech still rings true to this day, the cost of corruption on the people remain quite enormous. It diverts funds intended for development, undermines the ability of governments to provide basic services, feeds inequalities and injustice and discourage foreign aid investment.

Too many people have died as result of entrenched corruption in Nigeria’s public and private life. Too many are poor. Too many are unable to fulfill their potential. Too many families are being destroyed as a result of it.

Several studies show that child mortality rates in countries with high levels of corruption like Nigeria are about one third higher than in other countries, infant mortality rates are almost twice as high and student dropout rates are five times as high.

To be fair, corruption predates this administration and has its origin right from independence. However while it is safe to say Buhari inherited some of it, it is also to be recorded that corruption in spite of his anti corruption thrust, grew exponentially under his very watch.

In the campaigns leading up to the 2015 general elections, Buhari and his party, All Progressives Congress (APC) campaign on a change mantra, promised to end corruption and clean the Augean stable of the menace. Expectations were understandably high and rightly so. The Then President Goodluck Johnathan was perceived as clueless, inept and highly corrupt.

Therefore, the stage was now set for the incoming Buhari administration to inaugurate government quickly and begin the process of cleansing the country of corruption. As soon as the administration came on stream, it relaunched the anti-corruption fight with Ibrahim Magu at the saddle. In one occasion, the President acknowledged that corruption at all levels was the biggest problem impeding Nigeria’s economic growth and development.

“I urge you now to always see corruption in its true colour as a gross violation of human rights.

Corruption is the major reason why millions of our people are in hardship, sick and helpless. Our fight against corruption is, in reality, a struggle for nation-building and the future. Corruption and impunity become widespread when accountability is disregarded.

“Disrespect for accountability also strives when people get away with all manner of questionable things and accountants are unable to check them. Corruption is the major reason why many children cannot go to school, why we have a few equipment and doctors in our hospitals. Corruption diverts public resources thereby causing much suffering, deprivation and unnecessary death in the country.”

However in the last two weeks, high profile corruption scandals akin to the legendary ‘You Tarka Me, I Daboh You’ have surfaced to rubbish all the anti-corruption efforts of the Buhari government.

From the $800m alleged illegal oil sale by some government officials in China to the embezzlement of about N82 billion by the IMC suprintending the NDDC and then the arrest of the Czar of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) over allegations of corruption and several others and to several other pending allegations.

The Buhari anti corruption fight has suddenly become yet another motion without movement, a toothless bulldog and a fight directed at witchunting political opponents as opposition parties accuse the ruling party.

Many observers believe that Magu’s dilemma could be corruption fighting back to rubbish whatever milestones the administration has achieved and to put a wedge to the activities of the commission by causing internal strife within the administration.

To borrow from the words of Rick Van der Ross, a renowned South African professor of philosophy, one of the ways corruption fights back is by creating internal strife to distract the government from its course.

On a personal note and observation, the motivation for corruption is largely borne out of a certain desire to safeguard against want in future. Unfortunately, in this pursuit of saving for the future, those in authority steal even what they and their families have no need for in the next generation. It is this brazenness, impunity and damn the consequence attitude also exhibited by their children that is turning Nigeria gradually into a jungle.

To begin with, corruption is a clear indication of systemic failure. How is it possible that an appointed minister, whose salary is public knowledge can afford to build a $1million house for his son who has just passed out of the National Youth Service Corps Scheme without questions being raised by the authorities?

In spite of the fact that he has never worked for a day in his entire life, he owns such a magnificent house, celebrates a three day long wedding party beginning from Kano to Kebbi during the pandemic without questions being asked. Where is the money coming from if it is not proceeds of corruption?

Government has to provide a leveler by ensuring that these factors that engender social distinction are abrogated. It must provide qualitative public schools that are affordable and accessible to all Nigerians, provide affordable, accessible and quality healthcare to all Nigerians ditto education, transportation systems, access to liquidity, jobs, food security etc to serve as incentives and discourage people from engaging in self help as is the case today where each household struggles to provide virtually all the services listed above all by themselves.

The EFCC should be reorganized with a retired Supreme Court judge as its head and to be populated by seasoned crack detectives and forensically trained lawyers to handle such high profile cases. The commission as it is currently composed is highly politicized with its chairman exposed to highly placed persons who would try to intimidate and as a last resort bring him to disrepute. The present composition presents a banana peel for its chairman, whom, just like those before him, exposes him as a gold fish who can not hide and is exposed to vicious attacks.

In addition, the laws prescribing sentences that are equal to a slap on the wrist for corruption should be repelled and replaced with the death penalty following the path already charted by China.

This position was recently corroborated by Col Hassan Stan Labo who in a recent interview on ChannelsTv advocated death penalty for corruption adding a caveat that the culprits should be executed in their home towns and before family members to sound a note of warning to others that governance has ethics and is a serious business.

It is heartwarming that the Senate recently passed the death sentence for kidnapping, therefore what is good for the gander is equally good for the goose. Kidnapping and corruption are both heinous crimes against humanity and should get the same maximum sentence.