NIGERIA is an extremely corrupt country. With the exception of an eccentric few, the generality of Nigerians are corrupt. Corruption has permeated and pervaded every Nigerian institution and every spectrum of her social life.
It has rendered every of her institutions dysfunctional, and it is, in essence, unravelling the social fabric of the society. And consistently, the anti-corruption watchdog, Transparency International, rates Nigeria as one of the most corrupt countries in the world.
Paradoxically, despite the overwhelming proofs of barefaced acts of corruption in Nigeria, Nigerians, especially the Nigerian government, bristle at being characterised as corrupt. They fulminate and seethe whenever foreign observers talk about corruption in Nigeria. They castigate these observers as though they committed a criminal offense. To be disgracefully corrupt, and yet, expect or demand acclamation for incorruptibility is, among other things, denial. Denial is falsehood, an exceedingly dangerous form of falsehood. In denial, the individual lies, not to others, but to himself which is the most deleterious form of lying.
In 1995, the distinguished American public servant, Colin Powell, talked about official corruption in Nigerian, and that scam (419) is part of the Nigerian national culture. Ironically, Nigerians were incensed by that factual statement. Many Nigerians in the United States of America, in anger, besieged him, demanding an apology.
In 2002, the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Dubem Onyia, summoned the British Deputy High Commissioner, Charles Bird, to protest a report, by Britain’s Department of Foreign and International Development, DFID, that stated that more than 55 percent of the corruption in Nigeria is perpetrated in high quarters (of the government). Onyia called the report “embarrassing and absurd” and asked the Deputy High Commissioner to “produce evidence of the said corruption in high quarters in Nigeria”.
Lately, also, the Nigerian government was angered by President Robert Mugabe’s (of Zimbabwe) depiction of Nigerians as “very corrupt people”. The Permanent Secretary of the Nigerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Martin Uhomoibhi, summoned the Zimbabwean Head of Chancery to tell him that Mugabe’s comment was “vitriolic and denigrating on Nigeria and Nigerians” and “does not reflect the reality in Nigeria”.
Onyia demanded evidence of corruption in the upper echelon of the Nigerian government and Uhomonihi wants us to accept that Nigerians are not corrupt. With the shameless level, and mindless acts, of corruption in the highest echelon of the Nigerian governments, there is no need to furnish any evidence of corruption within the circles of the Nigerian power elite.
We are routinely inundated with gaudy evidence and proofs of such corruption. What kind of proof of corruption is needed in a country where $20bn disappeared from the public coffers and it all seems normal? If not that Nigerians have been ruled, for so long, by brigands, and thus, are almost inured to the depredation of the national wealth by the ruling elite, the disappearance of such a staggering amount of the people’s money should have resulted in the immediate firing of some ministers, and even, in the impeachment of a president.
Do you need evidence of corruption in a country where the oil minister allegedly spends more than N10bn of public funds for her private air travels? No evidence of corruption is needed, as it is obvious that oil-rich Nigeria has the social indexes of the poorest and/or war torn countries because a preponderant amount of the country’s wealth is routed into private pockets and not towards the socio-economic betterment of the people.
Mugabe was totally correct when he called Nigerians a very corrupt people. Actually to call Nigerians corrupt understates the fact. The scale of corruption in Nigeria defies the English lexicon. Just as Raphael Lemkin cobbled together a new word, “genocide” to characterise a scale of mass murder that defied the English lexicon, a new word needs to be coined to aptly describe the rate of corruption in Nigeria. In some other very corrupt countries of the world, some institutions, especially the universities and the churches remain bulwarks against encircling, encompassing avarice, bribery and societal sleaze.
But in Nigeria, even these ultimate bastions of morality and probity are corrupt. As such, lecturers/professors steal and share money designated for research and scholarship, and demand sexual favours and bribe from their students for good grades. Pastors use tough arm tactics to coerce money off their congregant. They lie and convolute the Gospel of Jesus Christ so as to sway their members into emptying their pockets into the offering box.
To besiege a man who told the truth about your country demanding a recant and an apology was insincerity. To demand evidence for facts that are intrusively evident was deception. And to deny a fact that is blinding clear, even to the most causal observer, is falsehood.
We have lied to ourselves for so much and for so long. Therefore, it is high time we stopped lying to ourselves. We must stop wallowing in our moral squalor and demanding a splendid international image. We can only change our image and foreigners’ perception of us by changing our ways. It is time we address the problem of corruption in Nigeria and stop fuming at those that told us the truth about ourselves.
If you look into the mirror and see dirt on your face, sanity dictates that you clean your face and leave the mirror alone. For the mirror in revealing the smear on your face did its work and also did you a favour. To ignore the dirt on your face, as revealed by the mirror, and proceed to break the mirror verges on lunacy.
Therefore, we should clean our face, that is, tackle corruption in Nigeria and leave the mirror (the foreign observers) alone.
TOCHUKWU EZUKANMA, a public affairs analyst, wrote from Lagos.