By Felix Nyerhovwo Jarikre
IT CANNOT BE DENIED THAT CORRUPTION has affected Nigeria negatively in the contexts of economic development and efficiency, poverty alleviation, health care delivery, education and national image.
Indeed, the corrosive effects of corruption can be felt in the political process of leadership recruitment at all levels; how law is enforced; and how justice is dispensed.
The much-trumpeted fight against corruption in Nigeria has not been successful because those who should take leadership of the war are themselves embedded in corrupt practices. How can you defeat what you are busy facilitating?
A country can have so many untapped natural resources, and yet find her economic growth and development hampered by corruption. Sadly, we don’t have to look far to find an example. Nigeria provides one. Her lack of infrastructure to utilize the available resources due to misappropriation or barefaced stealing of funds stares painfully at everyone.
When there are no jobs to attract the attention of educated minds and capable hands, taking to crime for some is a ready temptation.
Ajaokuta Steel Mills in Kogi State remains a glaring White Elephant project, despite billions of naira wasted on it since inception many years ago.
Long before President Muhammadu Buhari tried unsuccessfully to make it his personal mantra, the saying, “If Nigeria does not kill corruption, Nigeria will be killed by corruption” had taken deep roots in the minds of concerned citizens.
Nigeria’s image had taken so much battering on the global stage that a British Prime minister once whispered within earshot of the Queen of England that Nigeria was “FANTASTICALLY CORRUPT.”
Needless to say, the concern of how to reduce corruption in our society is not a new one. As many responsible citizens seem to recognize the dangers posed by the ailment of corruption.
In his inaugural speech of 1999, President Olusegun Obasanjo filled the hearts of many Nigerians with fresh hopes when he made it plain that it would not be “BUSINESS AS USUAL” in how corruption is treated. He vowed that in his fight against corruption as President, there would be no “SACRED COWS.”
Concerned citizens were elated that national redemption was at hand. As a commendable follow up, the government of OBJ pushed to establish the ICPC and EFCC.
Since then, new lexicons like “selective prosecutions…political witch-hunt of political adversaries… vindictive prosecutions… corruption fighting back… corruption fighting corruption etc” have crept into the country’s lingo.
President Goodluck Jonathan was tenacious in his conviction that corruption could be arrested through the application of procedures and technology.
Many implacable critics of PMB are unshakably convinced that his anti-graft war is largely a HOAX, all “sound and fury, signifying nothing”.
Understandably this point of view does not find agreement with Buhari’s supporters.
What cannot be disputed though is that Nigeria is barely scratching the surface in her various efforts to reduce corruption.
So for me, what is relatively new in the topic of fighting or reducing corruption is the term: “SINCERE COMMITMENT.”
The term “sincere commitment” dares to embrace the assumption that there will be a massive or unrelenting resistance and opposition to the idea that reducing corruption is necessary. Factoring the prevalent culture whereby corruption is seen to be permissible with the caveat: “Just don’t get caught.”
Sincere commitment to degrade the defensive arsenals of corruption comes with a resolve that the fight will not be waged in a PERFUNCTORY manner but it requires an all out, dugout war where no friend or foe is allowed to get away with crime.
It means those that must champion the anti-graft war should have no skeletons in the cupboard that can be rattled. No P.R. packaging as to how much quantum integrity they possess would suffice.
Their records of performance in office, public or private, must be CLEAN. A taint or whiff of scandal associated with the anti-graft warriors must be thoroughly scrutinised and aired before they are given the chance.
Making a decision to prudently use scarce resources in a transparent manner is crucial.
Professional accountability procedures must be constantly reviewed to PROVE the honesty and integrity of our leaders and administrators.
The war against corruption must be fought not by moral suasion but by the rigorous application of the law.
We must avoid this trap whereby we are constantly being tasked to interrogate or support the motives of our leaders and administrators. The tendency must be discouraged whereby public officers advertise their personal morality in a bid to garner support or loyalty. We don’t want to know what you say you are: we want to know what you do in a manner that is constitutionally transparent.
It helps to realise that people are JUDGED by their ACTIONS, and not by their motives.
This means as concerned citizens, we must push to ENLARGE and strengthen the Law enforcement capabilities of anti-graft agencies. Such that our SACRED COWS would quake and tremble before constituted anti-graft law enforcers.
If the constitution protects the President and Governors from prosecutions while in office, it should not prevent them from being investigated for engaging in corrupt practices while in office. The constitution can be amended to include the appointment of a Special Counsel to investigate the President, for example, if he is accused of corrupt practices like using his office for personal enrichment.
The emphasis on leadership being PROVED to be above board on the stakes of honesty, integrity and transparency cannot be stressed enough.
We have a well known saying in the Holy book that if the “head is sick, the whole body shall be full of wounds.”
It’s no gain saying that Nigerians generally despise corruption – and they say it. Even though it looks like lip service as they are tied to the conundrum of: “Who will bell the cat?”
Another way to reduce corruption is to jealously fight to protect Nigeria’s image as a corrupt-free country. We should not allow it to go unchallenged when Nigeria is labelled “fantastically corrupt.”
We should feel affronted that outsiders see us as Very Corrupt People. It’s not a tag that should be worn as a badge of honour.
This is not just a token gesture at being patriotic, but a realisation of the principle that no man or woman can BEHAVE consistently DIFFERENT from the IMAGE they have of themselves. As it is with the individual, so it has equal application to a nation.
So we must not allow ourselves to fall into the trap of seeing ourselves, being Nigerians, as corrupt people.
Once this faulty image is allowed to gain foothold in our national psyche, it’s hard to fight against corruption without appearing insincere.
We should reject the idea that our value system as Nigerians has a soft spot or latitude for corruption.
We should question the propaganda that paints Nigerians as the epitome of moral failure and the face of evil when it comes to facilitating corruption.
Western countries like U.S.A. and Britain would fight to the teeth to project their respective nations as implacably AVERSE to corruption in both high and low places. They have learned overtime that moral suasion is practically helpless in this projection. Whereas the unwavering enforcement of the law where corruption is detected sends a positive message to the world that corruption has no place in their societies.
This again does not contradict the Holy Book that says: “The law is not made for the righteous but for the lawless and the CORRUPT, the thief etc.”
The law is put in place to STAMP OUT corrupt practices, and punish without bias corrupters so that the rest of the society will not be stained by lawless deeds.
Realising this, the idea of having our leaders pontificating in public places about how corrupt Nigerians are should no longer be tolerated.
The question we should be asking our leaders is: “How are you going to APPLY THE LAW to reduce corruption?”
Our leaders should be encouraged to release the law to enforce its way impartially in dealing with corrupt elements.
While guarding with jealousy and resolve our image as a CORRUPT-FREE society.
In this aspect, the government, as part of its national orientation policy, must involve the movie-making industry otherwise known as Nollywood.
In a welcome break from how people use money-rituals of blood sacrifice to get wealth and command power, government agencies can commission movie-makers to write stories involving how law enforcement agents track, investigate and jail government officers for corrupt practices.
Let the notion be planted through the popular medium of Nollywood that no one can get away or go scot-free with the proceeds of corruption.
Felix Nyerhovwo Jarikre is a writer, publisher, leadership consultant and pastor.
A retired banker with Union Banker of Nigeria Plc, he runs the online Bible teaching and leadership training group, Healing Report Today.