By Tabia Princewill
THE King of Saudi Arabia recently passed away and I must confess that what interested me most in the news reports over the weekend were the images of Saudi streets, infrastructure and people. Saudi Arabia is not a democracy.
In fact, many of the rights and freedoms the modern world has come to take for granted are not guaranteed in Saudi. Yet, the country invests in its people and society. Education is free and the basic health care needs of children are catered for. Here is a country that used its oil wealth creatively and audaciously to prepare its citizens to compete in the global economy.
As Nigeria prepares for its presidential elections, I wonder why more of us are not asking candidates of either party to explain (and not just make vague commitments) exactly how they wish to achieve this country’s urgent developmental goals.
If we agree there can be no peace and security without development, what are both governorship and presidential candidates’ concerted plans for the North? How does each governorship aspirant propose to turn his state into a hub for education, agriculture or financial activity? What exactly are our leaders’ plans for us?
It is no longer enough to say one wants to build universities for instance: we must begin to talk about quality over quantity. If corruption is a major issue discussed during this campaign, Nigerians must ask for more detailed plans or means of tackling this scourge.
In 2012, Singapore was named the world’s fifth least corrupt country according to Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index (CPI). “Corruption [in Singapore] is a fact of life rather than a way of life. Put differently, corruption exists in Singapore, but Singapore is not a corrupt society” (Professor John S.T. Quah, expert on Asian corruption and governance issues). How do we achieve this in Nigeria? It is widely accepted in comparative political studies that low salaries, opportunity (who controls lucrative activity in a state) and policing (probabilities of detection and punishment) clearly affect levels of corruption in any society. Personally, I would have liked to hear how either candidate or party proposes to work with these three norms to restore sanity to our society. But the polity is rich in politicians and poor in policy makers who have actually studied how countries work and how other nations were able to fix certain problems.
I would have expected our lawmakers, from either party, to talk about the fresh set of laws Nigeria needs. How many laws does the National Assembly pass annually? In other climes, the law adapts to the social climate, so with new developments come new laws to tackle new issues.
In Singapore for instance, the penal code is stringent: even littering and spitting can get one arrested! Our now westernized social norms would not allow for such draconian measures but definitely, we need tougher laws and specific sanctions against corruption and wrong-doing. In Singapore, the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau works in tandem with the Prime Minister’s office and arrests individuals (even without a warrant if it is believed that obtaining one could impede the case), therefore, Singapore has one of the lowest crime rates in the world.
This might seem drastic but if we are serious about change, like Singapore, Hong Kong and all developing nations who were able to cross the boarder from third world to first in less than two decades, we are going to need to be both fearless and creative in our search for solutions and in our delivery of our resolutions.
The Singapore government ensures civil servants are well paid in order to stop talented, honest Singaporeans from leaving the system (which must attract the best) and to stifle the economic incentive behind corruption. Therefore, with proper policing and less financial incentives, citizens are forced to think twice: corruption becomes a high-risk activity. So, those selling a would-be “modern”, “soft” approach to corruption would do well to work with students of history and politics: that doesn’t work!
What does work? Incentivizing good behaviour in both the civil service and the society at large. These are more of the actions I am looking to Nigeria’s next president, for. What signals will he (I’d like one day to say she) send to society?
Will he nurture corruption by rewarding unpopular, tainted office-holders and making them part of his inner circle, or have a zero-tolerance approach?
Harassment of past offenders
The key here, if one is to go by the dealings of South Korea in reforming itself in the last 15 years, is not to imprison or harass past offenders but rather, to seduce them into bringing their money back into the Nigerian system and to benefit ordinary Nigerians by investing in public works and infrastructure and building businesses from which, yes, they will profit, but the majority also stands to gain through employment and the modern services provided. I for one refuse to accept that the billions in foreign currency sitting out there somewhere are lost to Nigerians, who will never see this money used to impact their daily lives.
This is a creative, workable and most of all, real, answer to past stolen funds. Then, a mixture of punishment and deterrence can be employed to discourage new cases of corruption.
Most of all, political will to fight corruption is paramount. We must also begin to discuss making anti-corruption agencies totally free from both police and political control, as is done elsewhere to ensure maximum efficacy. A country that doesn’t effectively manage its people and resources, like any business, is destined to fail. Does Nigeria recruit and reward the best? Doubtful and perhaps this in itself is yet another avenue for corruption.
Thinking outside the box
I READ an article recently where it was said that Buhari did not build schools after he left office, that he has never provided a scholarship or supported any charitable causes with financial endowments etc. I smiled. Many of us shout about corruption but do not really understand its causes or how we all help perpetuate it.
We are a society that loves a Jack-of-all-trades, so we look to House of Assembly members to dig boreholes when it is the job of local governments and expect every political office holder to provide scholarships when there are ministries to do this, and forget that whoever disburses money in the polity should be able to account for its source.
Where does a former head of state get the money to build a university? That would mean he was corrupt during his time in office. Tony Blair is yet to build a university and if he did, it would not be with his personal funds because holding public office abroad, does not make you a rich man!
That being said, in view of my previous argument on stopping capital flight by privately urging those who are in possession of state funds to invest in Nigeria, I’ll say that whoever wins these elections must surround himself with intellectually curious minds who base arguments on facts and the desire to bring this country great possibilities, rather than a simplistic wish to do harm.
THEY were a group of 11 US federal law-enforcement agents who went after Al Capone (an infamous gangster in the 1930s)and his criminal organization.
They were creative in their approach: they couldn’t find evidence to convict him of his numerous crimes (murder, bootlegging—selling alcohol was illegal during the Prohibition) but they did find evidence of tax evasion, which was how they got him. Their fearless, incorruptible nature is the stuff of legends.
Whoever comes into power must have these qualities as a fundamental overhaul of the system is necessary to re-establish the balance between production and consumptionwhich our economy and society so desperately need.
Tabia Princewill is a strategic communications consultant and public policy analyst. She is also the co-host and executive producer of a talk show, WALK THE TALK which airs on Channels TV.