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Before we drown in corruption

By Kunle Oyatomi
Is it still possible to look a Nigerian in the face and not think of corruption? Apart from the criminal suspicion with which Nigerians are perceived in most parts of the world, we appear to have added another ugly face of corruption to our putrid image abroad.
Corruption is not new to Nigeria nor is it peculiar to us but we seem to be sinking into its vicious depth remorselessly, like only a few other countries of the world. This is the picture which the latest Transparency International corruption perception index report has painted about Nigeria. We are said to have dropped from the 121st to the 130th position out of 180 countries of the world surveyed.

And that is in spite of the efforts of the anti-corruption agencies about which so much noise is being made throughout the country. Many people had been skeptical about the recent “noises” from these agencies because in spite of their efforts, corruption continues to flourish in Nigeria. Now, this skepticism has been confirmed by the T.I.’s latest report which shows a deterioration in corruption in Nigeria.

And this is coming just when one thought that one has said enough about this corruption stuff. It is a shock reminder that the spectra of corruption still looms so menacingly large, we are likely to go under with it if we do not treble our efforts to pull back from the brink. Corruption is set to destroy us as a people and a country.

So what should we do? We may not be able to fix this cankerworm if we do no get down to its roots to address the fundamental causes before we treat the effects. As things stand, we appear to be looking much more seriously at part of the effect of a larger ailment and mistaking it for the primary cause. Yes, leadership is part of the illness, certainly not the direct cause.

Leadership does not emerge on its own in a “democratic” setting. But from whichever circumstance a leadership emerges, its sustenance depends on the nature and character of the society that gives birth to it!!

So by all conceivable logic, a society cannot produce a leadership that is different from itself. You can only reproduce what you essentially are. So when we are talking about our leadership being crooked, the question to ask is, what is the nature of the Nigerian society? Is it an enlightened  society strong in moral and ethical values? Is Nigeria a country of people endowed with the strength of character to stand up for principle to the death? Can we look up squarely against injustice and fight it to the end? No! No! Certainly not.

As a collective, we are spineless, weak in character, opportunistic in disposition and cowardly against evil. All these and more negative attitudes are the fundamental causes of our collective weakness. It is in this milieu that we produce our leaders.

So if we think our leaders are “deformed” in character, the deformation is in the gene of the society that produce them. It is impossible for an enlightened British or American society to produce an Idi Amin or Abacha or Said Barre. Until we can sit back and think, we would be looking in the wrong direction for the causes of our problem.

Don’t misunderstand this position. You cannot absolve our leaders from blame. Afterall, they are supposed to be in charge of affairs, and they are culpable to the extent of their misadventures in power.

What I am saying is that we have to look deeper into the problem. What manner of people are we in Nigeria when we remain docile and spineless to confront the evils of our leaders even when we are being crush by the effects of misrule? Isn’t something fundamentally wrong with us?

Take the issue of fuel price increase for instance. We know about the corruption in the fuel industry; we know those involved; we have been told virtually the same lies by the same kinds of people as to why fuel price should go up against all reasonable logic.

And when the call comes for us to stand up against the perception, we struggle for a couple of days then accept and begin to rejoice in our misery – “suffering and smiling” as late Fela Anikulapo Kuti would say. We are practically the real cause of our own misery. We allow ourselves to be cheated, to be lied to, to be bamboozled and to be treated as slaves.

Even slaves appear to be better than us for they overpowered the oppressors in Haiti at the height of the slave trade, while Nigerians cannot pull themselves by the straps and force a leadership change.

The only logical conclusion one is forced to arrive at is that the followership itself is too morally corrupt to effect a leadership change. Look around you and think about the level of corruption in this society. Practically, virtually everyone seem to be intent on getting things done the crooked way:

* Parent corrupting examination procedures to make their children pass exams.

* Citizens all rushing to the boarder to “import” banned goods which are destroying the industrial sector of the economy.

* Nigerians, having a taste beyond the normal for things foreign.
* Civil servants robbing the nation blind and living in style much higher than their means.
* Politicians? God save us from their warped leadership.

* The youths? Goodness! Only God knows if Frankenstein will be half as powerful in mischief when they grow out of this corruption to become “leaders of tomorrow”.

The mess is certainly worse than we imagine. We cannot and should not wait to effect change purely from the leadership perspective. The entire fabric of our society is rotten and until we address it from that fundamental premise we will be beating about the bush.

However, I acknowledge that a change in the circumstances is unlikely to evolve. I tremble to think of a revolution out of this couldrom. But can Nigeria produce the kind of revolution that brought Obama to power in the USA? Your guess is a good as mine.

Transparency International thinks that the solution lives, amongst other factors in building strong institutions and anti-corruption agencies to reduce the effect of corruption in a country like Nigeria. Fine. But in whose interest?

Certainly not the leadership who will prefer a lawless situation in which they remain predators of the society they rule. And it is doubtful if the people of  Nigeria who are suffering under this yoke of corruption would like to stand up against it.

The more you try to figure out a solution for the Nigerian mess, the more angry you get because the harder you try the more frustrated the society itself will make you become. It is tragic.


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Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.