The Ideology of Corruption

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The country needs to clearly define corruption and understand the ideology that underpins and drives it, writes Agbo Agbo

The will and determination to fight corruption has increased in societies across the world in the last two decades. To this end, the importance of effective anti-corruption measures has expanded into a global political agenda with the World Bank and the UN championing the cause. It was therefore not surprising when the All Progressives Congress (APC) – Nigeria’s ruling party – campaigned under that banner during the 2014/2015 election circle. They anchored their campaign under three major planks: corruption, security and the economy. They promised to root out corruption in the body politics, contain the spiraling insecurity in the country, and set the economy on the right course. As a result, Nigerians gave the party its mandate and President Muhammadu Buhari was sworn in on May 29, 2015. The feat was repeated in 2019 – some say controversially. Five years later, both the president and his party are faltering on all fronts.

If there was any period in our recent history when there was an overwhelming consensus that we needed a radical turnaround, 2015 was it. Most Nigerians were hopeful that we could turn the tide, do a detour and head the right way. But there was a snag. In our mass euphoria, only a very few asked the most fundamental question: where is the roadmap to where we are going? The mass euphoria evaporated gradually when it became clearer that there were no concrete plans to a destination. Insecurity intensified, the economy tanked and most importantly, systemic corruption with impunity blossomed on an unimaginable scale. Recent revelations from the EFCC, NDDC, NSITF and elsewhere in the polity have shown how endemic the problems are. What might happen if the NNPC, for instance, is placed in the spotlight? I wonder. Already there are calls to beam the searchlight on the North East Development Commission (NEDC), This writer believes that the reason for the failure in tackling endemic corruption is because most do not see corruption as an entrenched ideology.

Ideological issues are not addressed with kid gloves; they require a multidisciplinary approach to tackle. Ideology as a concept was first used during the French Revolution in the 18th century to mean the “science of ideas.” And when the term ideology was used it referred to political ideology. It signifies beliefs and doctrines or guiding principles which are either dogmas beyond reach of criticism or cloaks for individuals and group interests. Fundamentalist and militant groups like ISIS, Al-Shabaab, Al-Qaeda and others have used the ideology of religion and terrorism to recruit hundreds of thousands of die-hard followers.

However radical, ethical, liberal or revolutionary the ideology is, it has three major aspects namely; an ideology gives ideas and concepts in order to explain the existing reality; it offers a critique of the existing (popular) ideology and it proposes a path forward – a manifesto to be followed in order to achieve the desired goal in the future that has been identified by the ideology itself.

We shall use these three premises to try and put a handle or grip on the ideology of corruption in Nigeria. In the first instance, corruption is an “idea” and “concept” where you take what isn’t yours by virtue of the position you occupy or through proxies. It becomes an “unwritten ideology” because it triggers a chain reaction of events. Individuals have to be coopted, “foot soldiers” have to be recruited and deployed to reach out to people in the “chain of command” in other to assure them their interests are “factored” into and fully protected in the “deal.” Even if, for whatever reason the bubble bursts, you won’t be seen as a “common thief” because words like maladministration, misappropriation, etc., would be used to tamper the magnitude of your crime instead of out rightly calling you a common “thief.”

Secondly, if you follow the ideology of honesty and forthrightness, how do you drive that car of your dream? How do you build that country home? How do you survive after retirement? How do you send your child/children to universities in Europe or America? How will people see you after spending years in government “without anything to show for it”? The question goes on and on.

Thirdly, it has to have a manifesto to be followed. The “manifesto of corruption” is often unwritten; it is subtly understood by those involved. It can look harmless and laced with “good” intensions, but underneath it wrecks societies and destinies. Monies meant to build schools, hospitals, infrastructure, etc., are compromised and shared.
There is one snag about corruption in Nigeria; most perceive it in the prism of only when money is stolen! But corruption transcends that. Nepotism, favouritism, tribalism, family dysfunctionality, slavery, deceit, ignorance, etc., are all elements of the web of corruption painfully overlooked in the country. The president and his party “overlooked” these vital aspects which is why their fight against the scourge refused to gain traction.

During the Trans-Atlantic slave trade of the 16thcentury following, the slave owners entrenched their ideology to lock their slaves in the vice of perpetual servitude. The code was that no slave owner, for whatever reason, should educate a slave. They targeted education because an educated mind is most likely to be a liberated mind. By entrenching mass illiteracy they were able to keep slaves perpetually locked into the system. Even when slavery was eventually abolished, many of the slaves were not aware of their new rights and continued to work for their masters in perpetuity because of the entrenched ideology of slavery.

So, why is corruption an ideology in Nigeria? For us to understand corruption we must understand its ideology as a system of beliefs, normative values, attitudes and symbols that guide collective action of its adherents – the powerful elites in the society. This ideology advocates a particular pattern of social relationships and arrangements that caters for this elite group. By using the ideology, the group justifies a particular pattern of conduct (which its proponents seek to promote, realise, pursue or maintain). In other to back it up, the source for ordering, defining and evaluating the political reality that underpins it is fully protected. Ideology serves as a blueprint of what to expect from such a country or society. Ideology is the superstructure that carries the weight and gives direction, if its veils are removed, people can have an idea of where they are going and how to get there.
From ongoing revelations in Nigeria, one cannot fault the fact that it starts from the budget. The budget is sponsored and “owned” by powerful individuals, civil servants, national assembly members, etc. The padding of the budget starts from the contractors that initiate projects and take it to bureaucrats in the Ministries, Departments and Agencies. Next, the bureaucrats “factors in” their “interests” and presents to the ministers who also factors in their interests. It passes through the executive and finally it goes to the national assembly. Here they use their “keen and sharp” eyes to go through the “line items/elements” and make their own “recommendations” by inserting their interests as well before the budget is finally approved and sent to the president for signing.

Revelations from the NDDC probe opened a Pandora box following allegations that 60% of the contracts from that strategic agency that is supposed to address past wrongs to the region, went to members of the national assembly as “key beneficiaries” to the detriment of the suffering and diseased citizens. Names of alleged beneficiaries have already been mentioned.

In his worst nightmare, I wonder if President Muhammadu Buhari ever imagined that his “messianic” mandate would degenerate into the ongoing chronicles of serial plunder and mass thievery that are evolving within his government. The big burden for the president must now be that of deciding whether it is the cascade of high levels of corruption among regime high priests or the actual business of governance that should preoccupy the public. Incidentally, both the media and the public feed on this high drama totally helpless, and perhaps oblivious of the implications on present and future generations?

Every ideology has its own terminology and paraphernalia that is unique to itself. The terms which may be plain in ordinary English, acquire different meanings as part of the terminology of that particular ideology. These terms become inherent part of that ideology which is basically certain ideas and concepts used to elaborate the ills or flaws of the present system; decide upon a course of action for its rectification and achieve the desired or celebrated objective and end. During the NDDC probe, plain words like “COVID-19 palliatives” for staff, “stakeholders’ engagement,” “sensitisation exercises,” even “travels” (when the world was supposed to be on lockdown) were the terminologies used by the ideologues of corruption to explain away the disbursement of funds. On face value, they were supposed to be normal exercises, but in its coded form they aren’t because they were mainly used to serve entrenched interests.

There are certain common features in almost all ideologies. For example, whatever consideration an ideology takes as a starting point, that base or foundation of the ideology directs the adherents of the ideology towards an ambitious and aspired target or goal to change that reality. It will also list out the course of action to be taken or followed for attaining that goal. For instance, in the case of the Nazist ideology of Adolf Hitler’s Germany, racial superiority of the Aryans was the base on which the extermination of Jews and other races was called for, in order to cleanse the society. For corruption, it aims at “improving the lives” of its benefactors.

For Nigeria to begin even scratching the surface of genuinely tackling corruption, it will need to clearly and unambiguously define corruption and understand the ideology that underpins and drives it. Isn’t it strange and surprising that with all these revelations there were no coordinated outcry from Nigerians?

––Agbo, a Public Affairs analyst, wrote from Lagos