By Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye
VIRTUALLY every Nigerian knows and strongly believes that any day Nigeria is able to make up its mind to end its obscene and ruinous romance with the stubborn monster called â€œcorruptionâ€, this country will automatically witness the kind of prosperity no one had thought was possible in these parts.
Just imagine the amount of public funds being stolen and squandered daily under various guises by too many public officers and their accomplices, and the great transformation that would happen to public infrastructure and the lives of the citizenry if this organised banditry can at least be reduced by 50 percent!
Now, is this monster divorceable? Of course, yes. But are there any signs that anyone in the corridors of power is interested in ending the strong grip it maintains on the very soul of the nation? That is the problem.
It is sheer foolishness to expect any of them to willingly block the very hole from which great goodies also flow to him or her just because some other persons are also benefiting from there.
No, you can neither fight corruption with soiled hands nor retain monopoly of it! It spreads like cancer. And the whole thing has now been horribly compounded by the emergence and empowerment of a very formidable class whose sustenance and longevity solely depend on its ability to continue sustaining the culture of corruption and bleeding the nation pale.
This problem began when public office gradually ceased to be a platform for rendering selfless service to the people and transformed into the easiest route to financial empowerment.
And since then, several generations of public officers have passed through public office, looting the nation blind with utmost impunity, and retired into abundance and incredible plenty, without any fear of anyone ever prying into the clearly unearned wealth they flaunt with utmost abandon.
Thus, an ever-swelling cult of looters has emerged, whose nuisance value and the ruinous culture they are perpetuating, are now the undisputed headaches of the nation.
And since it is now almost impossible to find any former council chairman, governor (military or civilian), minister, president (military of civilian), army general and several other categories of public officers who is not sitting on boundless accumulation of unearned wealth, it has also become impossible to persuade the current rulers to resist the temptation of surpassing their predecessors in the stealing contest â€“ the only thing that qualifies them for the membership of the great cult of corruption.
Indeed, wealth has become everything and no one cares any more about leaving behind sterling legacies and a good name. And so, virtually no Nigerian governor, for instance, would find it ennobling to wake up every morning, after he had left office, to engage in honest labour to earn a living.
That would automatically demean him, and present him as â€œinferiorâ€ to his colleagues; in fact, even his people may begin to call him a big fool for returning from the Government House a â€œpoor manâ€. And, so the desperation to retire into boundless wealth and comfort is the reason for the mindless stealing going on everywhere.
Who now will break this circle? Well, he must be a person with no inclination to steal! And who is that person â€“ who does not want to retire into billions after public office? Is it the president, governors, ministers, or even the chairpersons of the so-called anti-graft bodies set up to battle the monster to the ground? That is one question we need to answer sincerely, because, it is difficult to find any person among those ruling us today who is more interested in acquiring a good name than accumulating unearned riches.
No doubt, the cult of corruption is an attractive assemblage of the nationâ€™s political and economic elite, and the sole qualification for initiation into this elite cult is wealth, boundless wealth, stolen from the public treasury, and ownership of a couple of exquisite mansions in choice areas in Abuja, Lagos, Port Harcourt, Kaduna, London, New York, Paris, Dublin, Dubai and so on. I doubt if the point being made here should in the least sound strange to anyone who has lived in Nigeria.
Now, was it not late Sunday Afolabi, who, while working for the irredeemably corrupt Olusegun Obasanjo regime, told us that those who were offered political appointments were actually invited â€œto come and eatâ€.
At least, the man was sincere about his understanding of the whole thing. Gone were the days when people went into public office to serve the people and make a good name for themselves.Â No, not any more! Today, people go there to serve themselves and make boundless wealth. And they usually end up losing the capacity to feel ashamed, so much so, that even if they are called thieves to their faces, they remain unperturbed.
How then can this monster be tamed? How can anyone make all the past public officers to give up all they had stolen and live normal lives with resources whose sources are explainable, in order to make those currently in office to resist the temptation to steal? Where would any one possibly start?
And who would lead such a campaign? When will Nigeria be made a functional state so that people would not need to go to great lengths to steal in order to provide for themselves the amenities and comforts they were failed to put in place for the entire citizenry when they were in power?
With this dreadful cult in effective command at all our public institutions, including INEC, how then can we possibly hope to have a free and fair election in this country?
Because, having criminally accumulated so much money while in office, these fellows only enthrone themselves as formidable godfathers and kingmakers, and deploy the billions at their disposal to install and remove governments at will. Many of them can single-handedly found and fund political parties without the slightest impact on their bottomless pockets.
They also have all it takes to frustrate any attempt to pry into their slimy and hideous pasts. The very negligible few among them who manage to get â€œmessed-upâ€ in the â€œanti-corruption warâ€ are those foolish enough to find the trouble of those more powerful than they are, or get into some really complicated situation that it would be difficult to extricate them without a serious backlash that mightÂ threaten the peace and stability of the entire cult. So, he is carefully sacrificed to preserve the whole house from going under.
The cult of corruption also has many quiet and more deadly members. These include â€œvery successful and wiseâ€ fronts, errand boys (and girls), thugs whom the â€˜Ogasâ€™ use (or had used) to prosecute their criminal accumulations, and, also, the countless mistresses, concubines and â€œstate prostitutesâ€ who take care of the leisure moments of the Ogas.
Ejinkeonye, a commentator on public issuesÂ writes from Lagos.