By Fr Celestine Ezemmadubom
The word, 'corruption' is very common now in Nigeria. Every political dispensation that comes up in the country presents the fight against corruption as its priority. From the 1967 coup d'etat till the present dispensation it is recurrent. But one may like to know few issues surrounding the word 'corruption'. What is corruption? What is its cause? Why does it thrive in this country after many efforts to eradicate it? What could be the possible way out of this mess?
According to Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary, corruption could be said to be: 'dishonest or illegal behaviour especially of people in authority'. The issue of dishonesty comes up since man by nature is in a way weak and may tend towards selfishness. Thus, the practice of corruption is an act of selfishness. To checkmate this selfishness in a social setting, there comes up the watchdog. It is called the 'rule of law'. It is the rule of law that helps man either to behave himself or to face the consequences. The concept of the rule of law may be attributed to the Aristotelian maxim, 'the law should govern' (Aristotle, Politics 3,16). Therefore, the rule of law can be seen as “the legal principle that law should govern a nation, as opposed to being governed by arbitrary decisions of individual government officials” (Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia). The absence of the rule of law is that which gives room to corruption. If I am not wrong, it is not a news that in Nigeria the arbitrary decisions of individual government officials and public office holders serve as the modus operandi in the governance of the nation. Thus, every person in any office becomes the law and executes his duties without any fear of accountability. This goes from the president to the least Nigerian. There may be a few exceptions. For this reason, every effort to eradicate corruption proves abortive, instead the endemic problem persists and thrives all the more. We have failed to go to the root cause. The present dispensation in the country seems to have something new to offer in order to surmount this problem.
Those in the helm of affairs have made an open promise to fight corruption and eradicate it for the growth of our nation. This is a welcome idea. For this reason, many people hold this dispensation in high regard. However, having in mind a desire to accomplish a particular act is one thing, choosing the right procedure to accomplish the same act is another. All the past dispensations have embarked on the same act and have failed woefully. What is the direction that the present dispensation in the nation has chosen to go about the war against corruption? It seems it has chosen the path of going after some corrupt people. We are reading on daily basis on the national dailies about those corrupt politicians who were apprehended by the EFCC and are being quizzed, being detained for weeks or months for their corrupt practices. At times, some people seeing all these events, clap, dance and jubilate since for them the time of salvation has come. If wishes were horses beggars would ride. The salvation may still be very far – not in sight. What an ignorance on the part of the ignorant masses who are misled easily by a mirage, taking it for a pool of water.
Analysing the system applied by the present political dispensation, one may be tempted to think that it does not intend really to fight corruption. Also, it could be possible that it has the will to engage in a war against corruption but it does not know how to go about. Lastly, most likely, it could be that this dispensation has the good will to fight corruption and has what it takes to achieve it but some insiders in the government serve as a clog in the wheel in such a way that it may find it difficult to deliver the expected dividends. From whichever way it may be viewed, some nurse the real fear that this dispensation is only going round and round but may not achieve anything meaningful as regards the fight against corruption. At last, it may be like the previous administrations. Much cannot be achieved since the principles are not on the ground. Ex nihilo nihil fit – nothing comes out of nothing. The issue of corruption is like a person who lives in a house built in a forest. This person leaves the windows and doors open for air. He is always having malaria because mosquitoes bite him every day. In order to prevent himself from having malaria, he employed some people to be awake all the night to be killing mosquitoes in his house of about hundred rooms. He was advised to put mosquito nets on the windows and doors so that mosquitoes will not be entering but he chose to be killing the mosquitoes as they enter. How many mosquitoes will they be able to kill? How will he be able to sleep in the night as they go about killing mosquitoes making noise in the process?
In the war against corruption, it seems that the present dispensation in the country may be compared to this man who chose to be killing mosquitoes by employing people to be doing that job instead of putting mosquito nets. In line with this thought, Bishop Kukah is of the view that the present dispensation may be seen as fighting some corrupt people and not corruption. According to him, “Government should begin the fight against corruption from the institution, so that we will not continue to have the same result… there is need for mechanism that will guarantee justice for victim, perpetrator and larger society, likewise seeking God.” That mechanism is the rule of law. The watchword here is that the fight against corruption should begin from the institution. The fight against corruption thrives well and lasts for centuries when any government is able to set up mechanisms that will give room for rule of law – where every citizen is equal before the law.
In reality, to fight corruption there is one 'instrumentum laboris' – the instrument of labour – 'corruption- free'. A government that is not corruption- free may not have the moral status to fight corruption. If it does it may simply be the 'kettle calling the pot black'. Corruption does not mean just embezzling money. Over and above this, it means acting dishonestly for selfish interests. It means acting outside the law. Going through pages of the national dailies, one observes categories of accusations levelled against the present dispensation. May be such accusations are fabrications. However, if they are found to be true, the fight against corruption embarked by the present dispensation may simply be seen as a lips-service. It is on the pages of national dailies that nepotism is the order of the day within this government that decries corruption . It is also alleged that ethnicity has taken the place of national interests. For instance, one of such articles on the dailies goes thus, “NCEF lists discriminatory appointments against non-Muslims, says Buhari has Islamized Nigeria” (Daily Post online 11 August 2016). If the content of this article are found to be true, the present dispensation may find it very difficult to convince well-thinking citizens of this country that it is fighting corruption. Some innocent citizens of this nation are being massacred on regular basis by other citizens(sacred cows) of the same nation under the watch of this present government. Life we know is sacred but under this dispensation it seems that life of some citizens are no longer sacred. This government does not say much about it. The only thing people hear is 'those people who have done this will be brought to book'. It ends that way. Innocent citizens continue to lose their lives. On the part of the government, this dangerous silence may not be corruption. Rather, it may be part of fighting corruption. Who is fooling who?
In fact, some are of the opinion that it is due to nepotism and ethnicity that square pegs are found in round holes in the present dispensation. For this reason, the nation is passing through a severe economic setback and the citizens are undergoing unimaginable and manmade hardship. As if this is not enough, the security of the country is at stake. Only a set of people from a particular ethnic group are in the security sector. The rest of the people are purposely put outside against the nation's constitution. For this, dispensation, this may not be corruption. According to some, it seems that the corruption campaign going on is only a vehicle to silence the opposition. Only people from the opposition are being arrested. May be all those from the ruling party are saints including those who decamped to the ruling party few weeks ago. Under the watch of this dispensation, the budget was padded as it appears on the national dailies. Those who form part of this dispensation who have been indicted seriously for corruption practices seems to have been exonerated by the powers that be whereas those who have not Abraham as their father go in for their corrupt practices. What an exemplary practice of rule of law by a government that fights corruption! The issue of padding in the house of Representatives is going on. May be that one is not corruption so long as it was from members of the ruling party. It was alleged by Dr. Tunji Abayomi that under this dispensation which aims at fighting corruption a senator still earns N29, 479, 749 (almost a 30 million naira) per month while an average Nigerian he represents earns N18,000 (18 thousand naira). If such figures are to be true, the fight against corruption may be highly questionable. That is why Bishop Kukah maintains that the real fight against corruption begins from the institutional restructuring. The genuine fight against corruption which is a patriotic duty has to begin from the government institutions that are very corrupt and are decaying. Let us first of all put mosquito nets on our doors and windows. We shall gradually take care of the mosquitoes that are already inside.