The very first coup of 1966 that plunged the nation into military rule and eventually a civil war had corruption as one of the reasons for staging the coup and the various coups that came after. When the democratic dispensation started, the leaders to be chanted phrases like ‘no more business as usual’, making promises to fight corruption. The theatrics were so convincing that some of us believed the infallible corruption that many ‘brave’ men have dared battled but lost might have finally met its match. Alas, we spoke too soon.
The anti-Corruption war in Nigeria has spanned several decades across different regimes and governments. In other words, from the military to civilian governments, every existing power always devises on form of mechanism or the other in the prosecution of this fight against this social menace. This fight in some way even dates back to the pre-colonial era. The various pre-colonial societies had systems in place pre-set to fight corrupt practices. From my research, I am made aware that the Yoruba Alaafin, who was the traditional head of the Yoruba society, stood to commit suicide or be banished on any event of gross abuse of his office. This act was to check the Alaafin from corrupt practices and he himself was to ensure that his officials were not corrupt. In the Igbo societies, for fear of any possible abuse of office, the political system did not repose authority on a single individual.
In the North, the Emir was checked by the collective efforts of his officials and the Sharia Laws against corrupt practices. Agencies like the first military-sponsored anti-corruption campaigns under General Murtala Mohammed called Operation Purge the Nation to Shehu Shagari’s ethical revolution which he felt would be effective in fighting corruption then to Major General Tunde Idiagbon’s “War Against Indiscipline (WAI)” programme under Gen. Muhammadu Buhari’s military regime which was later adjusted to War Against Indiscipline and Corruption (WAIC) by General Sani Abacha had been established to battle corruption before the era of civilian governments with their different mechanisms like Economic and Financial Criminal Commission (EFCC), Independent Corrupt Practices and other related crimes (ICPC) among others.
However, the weaknesses of these institutions following their infection with the same vice they were to fight have made the fight against corruption more long-winded than many hoped. It is mind boggling that after all these; we are still fighting corruption with no clue of how to win the battle that many times, it almost feels like we have decided to live with it or accept peanuts. An example of such is the fact that having some loot returned to Nigeria from outside the country and some returned by private individuals within the country to the government is being lauded as a major success in fighting corruption when instead it is a very shameful situation.
First, let’s try once more to understand what corruption is and I’ll do this by quoting from a previous article entitled “Wasted billions and the economy: Don’t blame Corruption, Nigeria is cursed.’ Globally, evidences abound in literature confirming a strong nexus between corruption and infrastructural decay. It is very glaring from the simple analysis of the history before us that it is not absolute lack of funds that has caused infrastructural decay but outright mismanagement of funds that is principally responsible for the level of infrastructural decay in Nigeria.
Up till 2011, Nigeria has remained among the top ten leading countries on corruption according to transparency international. But as supporters of Nigeria being cursed point out often, Nigeria is not the only corrupt nation in the world. In fact they are quick to opine that many developed nations have corrupt leaders too but have managed to still prosper.
If they are right, how do we then break this curse or is our imminent doom inevitable? I choose to disagree as over my 80 years on earth I have been lucky to see life from different spectrum and one thing holds true, a corrupt system can only produce after its own kind. Until we start holding people accountable for their failures, stop lauding mediocrity in governance and stop blaming unseen forces, our problems will be far from over.
Some social critics will tell us that corruption is responsible for poverty while others will say that poverty is responsible for corruption. Whatever the case may be, allow me briefly describe what harm, corruption causing poverty or poverty causing corruption has done to the nation and the psych of the people all the way down the pyramid.
Western Nigeria for instance over 50 years ago was the first part of the country that started a television network and the slogan adopted for the station was the ‘First in Africa”. This was a few decades before apartheid South Africa established their own television station. Today, South African television networks are all over the continent even Nigeria needs the platform they provide to reach out to other parts of the country and world. Their institutions now employ millions like DSTV. So where is Western Nigeria Television, first in Africa?
Then there was NEC which later became NITEL and was the first to establish a cable network that was the first in Africa. Today, where’s NITEL and not a single land telephone anymore. Another progress that has bitten the dust is Nigeria Airways. Our national carrier started with 28 planes and was the pride of Africa. I recall flying from Bangui to Abidjan in the 80s and feeling very excited as I landed the airport to see three Nigerian Airways planes set to fly to different parts of the world. It was one of my proudest moments as a Nigerian. Today, where is Nigerian Airways? Nigerians are now connecting the rest of the world through Kenyan airways or Ethiopian Airways, institutions that started decades after Nigeria Airways.
I can go on and on to talk about our collapsed refineries and the fact that we are now importing refined products from countries we export the raw materials to and not to forget the pathetic situation with our power supply knowing fully well that those countries enjoying uninterrupted power supply and generating between forty and fifty thousand megawatts did not invest one-tenth of what we did to still just be generating under seven thousand megawatts. To put things into even more damning context, Norway produces 36,000 megawatts of electricity for five million people; Nigeria produces 7,000 megawatts for 200 million people. This means that majority of our power source comes from generators using petrol or diesel which is expensive and does not benefit manufacturing in the country nor the environment.
There are estimates indicating that over 90% of businesses and 30% of homes (I believe the figures are higher) have diesel-powered generators. In Nigeria, diesel emissions from domestic generators surpass those from workplaces, trucks, and buses, and pose greater risks to human health and the environment due to proximity to homes and prolonged duration of use.
There is no way our children and grandchildren will have the kind of developed nation we dreamt of and promised them if we do not kill corruption and bring people to account. Those countries that were in the same underdeveloped bracket with us some fifty years ago have moved on to become part of the emerging economies of the world and have succeeded in taking millions of their people out of poverty. With my very eyes, I saw Dubai and many desert cities transform into world class cities to compete with the West. They did so with oil money as well.
To the new generation of leaders seeking to lead this nation and give it a break from its usual handlers – people like Donald Duke, Oby Ezekwesili, Omoyele Sowore and others, I challenge them that if they want to do better, they would need to find a way to contain corruption – a way of servicing our debts without crashing the economy.
So although it is true that corruption is as old as man but we have seen nations flourish despite corruption by putting in place structures that will deter corrupt practices, prosecute and punish the corrupt.