Ridding Nigeria of Corruption: Mission Impossible? Part IV

FADE Weekly Column

Congratulations to my fellow Nigerians on the ‘successful’ completion of the presidential, gubernatorial and houses of assembly elections that has ushered in new leaders for the next four years in the country. Leaders, that we hope would perform better than the last set and in the cases of re-election, we hope they would greatly improve on previous performances. The elections weren’t without many flaws, yet I couldn’t help but be impressed with the level of political participation that was displayed during the entire election period. Despite the many reoccurring challenges that affected voter’s turnout in some regions and encouraged apathy in some others, it is becoming obvious that Nigerians are beginning to seriously pay attention to the governance of Nigeria. This is highly imperative now more than ever because we must admit that Nigeria with its many potentials and impressive human resource is a failed state. This is not a derogatory statement, but one based on factual evidences. Many of which I provided in my previous articles. If we are seeking solutions to our problems, we need to first and foremost understand what our problems are. Secondly, we need to recognise that our leaders have no clue on how to proceed. Therefore, how do we proceed to correct our bearings?

You cannot fight a modern war with medieval implements. If we are truly Nigerians that are known to be proud people of Africa, if we still recoil at the thought of being second best, these two statements above ought to be the rallying cry to action; to rise up and fight the scourge of bribery and corruption. It has consumed this nation. What is left is for it to break the nation into pieces. Some people might say: “all well and good, let’s go our separate ways; we will then be better off.” But that cannot be achieved, unless it is a coordinated break up. And if we can coordinate a controlled break-up, then we are capable of modifying a restructuring of the political, economic, and social fabric of our dear nation.

A country with strong democratic institutions will have good governance. Such a nation will also forge a strong economy. Good governance is not unattainable. It is simply doing things the right way, following due process, with transparency of actions for the public good. It is the ultimate practice in excellence that has its roots in patriotism and civics. It ensures that everyone accepts accountability for his or her actions. Good governance ensures that checks, fraud alerts, and robust audits of our financial systems, fiscal policies, and the economy are deployed at all levels. Consumer protection watchdogs will be needed to protect the public from unethical practices and price gouging by the private sector. The good news is that these institutions are largely in place in this country. However, the bad news is that they are completely emasculated by incompetence and poor funding by those intent on their failures to advance their hideous plans.

A lot of hearts must be fluttering at the sight and sound of restructuring, because they are worried at the likely loss of power and privilege to dominate and pillage. But also, a lot more hearts will be beating the drums of support because they can see themselves being in control of the supposed new order where the states regain control of their affairs just in the mold of the Federal Government. These two groups will both be wrong. The solutions to all of the above stated ills and more lie within the core of the problems, in plain sight. Every Nigerian today, in living out his life, is his or her own government. Everyone provides his or her own electricity, water, school supplies and aids, hospital supplies, community roads, security, and housing. When was the last time anyone turned the taps in his home to receive water from the public mains anywhere in Nigeria? Even Lagos State recognised this, but in the most callous decision any government can unleash on its people, it proceeded to cash in on this travesty by imposing a levy on all who have sunk boreholes in their homes. Nigerians will ask their friends, neighbours, and family members to buy sports utility vehicles as the solution to the bad roads they drive on; they don’t see it worthwhile to complain to the government as they are ashamedly aware that government services do not exist in their lives. And it is precisely for this reason that the public servants and politicians are stealing us blind; to be able to provide these services to themselves even in retirements!

I recall that many years ago, the World Bank announced its 25 year target and introduced a model for countries to implement for a sustainable water system by the target date. The system was designed and supervised by the bank. Each country selected received aid in cash and kind from the World Bank to ensure that inaccessibility of portable drinking water became a thing of the past for all its citizens. Nigeria was a beneficiary of this project and I was privilege to be among the committee that was formed under the Obasanjo administration to implement this World Bank project. Unfortunately in the usual fashion, the efforts by the committee made up of both civil servants and non civil servants like myself were marred with bureaucracy, lack of funding (the world bank-provided funds routinely got diverted) and much more.  Decades later, Nigeria still doesn’t have portable drinking water for all instead we rely on our poison water also referred to as pure water and sinking boreholes.

Another issue we seem to have come full circle over is that of Living wages and the role of government. The latter, in Nigeria, must be to create and sustain the enabling environment for secure, economic growth while providing affordable social services to its citizens. In return, the citizens (inclusive of the government) are expected to fund these services through a combination of taxes and bill settlements. To make governments at all levels relevant again, is the restructuring I am talking about here.

Such restructuring of the instruments of governance will involve the strengthening of our democratic structures that are meant to ensure the rule of law, sustain ethics, checks and balances, and above all demonstrate trust, transparency, and confidence in the society. The good news is that these structures already exist. We only need to learn how to make them work for the common good.

We will only fight bribery and corruption with the deployment of a plethora of tools and methods. The age old method of catching a thief is not enough. We must make it difficult for stealing to occur. You cannot steal what you cannot see. Hence the push to a cashless society is both good and must be sustained to fruition. But then we must as well be ready to train our financial inspectors and law enforcers to recognize internet frauds and stay one step ahead of the criminals.

 

The rule of law is pivotal to this fight. No one, not even the President shall be above the laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Everyone has to be held accountable, especially those who provide goods and services. The power of the tax payers must be recognized and respected; they are the electorates for goodness’s sakes. Democratic structures meant to ensure probity and ethics will ensure good governance and institution of excellence in administrations at all levels. Cronyism and nepotism must have no place in our society.

What I call the in-opportune costs of bribery and corruption is so huge that if these sums of money are left in our economy, they will ensure that we pay living wages to hard working Nigerians. This will in turn unleash a vibrant economy that will get us into the league of world top economies. This march will take time, we must understand. If we do understand, then we cannot afford to continue with the politics of tearing down the accomplishments of the past. Rather, we should build on that which is good. The over-arching goal here is to build this nation, regardless of our politics and ideologies. We haven’t got another nation to call ours.

 

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