Viewpoint

March 19, 2024

Critical reflections on corruption and the Nigerian society

FRSC, Akin Fadeyi Foundation partner on corruption fight

By UZOMA EGBUONYE& CHINEDU NWADIKE 

Introduction 

Corruption is one of those social phenomena that have existed since human beings began living together in a society and is found in different forms in different sectors of the society. Critics like Cyrille Kouassi and Tochukwu Ezeudu number it among the factors that hinder development in a country. Corruption is in a sense the biggest challenge to national development in Nigeria. It is something that would always draw critical assessment. 

Corruption may now seem to be a requirement before anyone can achieve upward social mobility but this is an evidence that the national psyche is egregiously traumatised. It is now an uncharacteristic admission to say that corruption in postcolonial Nigeria is more like a normal thing, a normal aspect of the nation’s political culture and social norms than a social vice. It is as bad as that but it must be fought against if the country wants to move forward. Just as Niccolo Machiavelli has famously argued that corruption is inevitable in any political system, Peter Nwangwu has described corruption as a potent cancer mercilessly eating Nigeria to a state of stupor. 

Socio-political corruption and its Scourge: Different forms of socio-political corruption have been identified by critics. One form is about government officials and privileged individuals using their access to power to accumulate wealth by extracting it from government agencies, especially those that generate revenue, and from the private sector. Corrupt activities in this regard become a drain on the national economy. Another form is one in which corrupt wealth and the political clout that it attracts are used for power grabbing, tenure preservation and tenure elongation. This often plays out within a socio-political context of favouritism and patronage politics (godfatherism). Machiavellian political thought encourages political leaders to be willing to use even immoral methods to protect their interests. 

Other forms of political corruption include tribalism, religious bigotry, electoral malpractices, and political thuggery. A 2019 report by Transparency International re-echoes the worrisome fact that Nigeria has been performing badly on the global corruption ranking since independence in 1960. Corruption operates at all levels of government, from the Federal Government down to the local government and local councils. One major symptom of this sickness is that a lot of money meant for public services end up in private pockets having been diverted by public leaders. It is also ironical that successive presidents of Nigeria over the last 30 years, for instance, have always declared a commitment to the anti-corruption campaign only to have themselves enmeshed in one form of corruption or the other. 

Obviously, there is lack of political will for a proper anti-corruption crusade and this includes the absence of an enabling environment for strong state institutions that check corruption. Such institutions rather end up as tools in the hands of the ruling party. Indeed, questions about corruption have to be addressed to presidents, state governors, local government chairpersons and every other government official. Same level of concern about corruption should also be addressed to leaders in the private sector. Sanitising one sector while leaving the other will make the ambition fail in the long run. Sanitisation is important, especially now that the economy of the country has been in a sharp downward spiral after the 2023 presidential elections. Some foreign investments have fled the country or are too scared to come in and one of the consequences is a massive damage to the foreign reserves of the country and a high unemployment rate. 

A worsening culture of impunity inevitably generates loss of confidence not only in the government of the day but also in the electoral process. Predictably, there would be a spike in voter apathy while at the same time, there would be a rise in political violence as rival corrupt political camps seek to out-scheme each other in election rigging. The culture of impunity also encourages brain-drain because it becomes more and more unreasonable for people with proven potentials and a bright future to remain in the murk of difficult social lives whereas they could achieve so much with lesser efforts in more organised societies.

The outcome of skilled emigration is the shortage of the same skills in a home environment where they are even highly needed. This phenomenon has a ripple effect which extends to students seeking admission into foreign tertiary institutions in the hope of getting better job opportunities and better living conditions. The conditions of local educational institutions in an environment riddled with corruption is very worrisome.

It is not that the country which is the most populous Black country in the world and the seventh most populous nation on earth with over 230 million people does not also have sufficient human and material resources to provide a high standard of living for its citizens. All these exist in Nigeria – the problem is rather that corruption among public leaders who often work in collusion with foreign bodies or neo-colonial interests continues to wreck these resources with brazen mismanagement and egregious wastage. 

The oil and gas sector which has become a major source of foreign exchange for the country is also where evidence of the worst forms of corruption can be found. Nigeria is the largest oil producer in Africa, according to a recent release by the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, OPEC, and yet has had no fully functional refinery for some decades and heavily depends on the importation of refined fuel. One would have strongly suggested recourse to the judicial system as an effective means of curbing and punishing impunity among government officials but when judges are also part of the web of corruption, even public confidence in democracy would be eroded.

Recommendations for Checking Corruption 

Having a strong political will and strong institutions is always a popular recommendation for putting corruption in check. However, certain local circumstances can become exceptions to the rule. In this wise, corruption can become so heinous that it would strategically scuttle every attempt to generate a political will that could fight it and it would also infiltrate and emasculate any state apparatus that can effectively fight it if left alone.

Even media bodies that could assist the anti-corruption campaign can be tactfully riddled with bias. Nevertheless, if nothing is done against corruption, a country could end up in the pockets of the highest bidder and the most criminally daring. Transparency and accountability are social values that must always be called for at every level of government and these are applicable to both the public sector and the private sector. They function like a compass to sailors navigating the ocean when it is stormy and dark. 

Furthermore, citizens must be courageous enough to vote for people of high credibility and competence rather than voting along the lines of all those biases that only worsen myopic thinking and misguided actions. Another effective method would be to develop legislations that make it illegal for public leaders to travel abroad for services that could be obtained within the country at high standards if the resources of the country were properly utilised. 

Finally, the international community must be made to put in place a legal framework that prohibits and incriminates any foreign country from keeping stolen loot on the same legal basis that anyone who keeps money or property stolen by another person while knowing it was stolen is guilty of collusion and can also be prosecuted for aiding and abetting crime. It is only neo-colonial interests that would support this principle of collusion and aiding and abetting at the level of individual persons but not at the level of countries given that Western countries are popular destination points of money stolen from the developing world. 

Conclusion 

Plato makes the challenging assertion that the human soul has a very strong inclination for corruption and that it is only through education and training in moral virtues that corruption can be overcome. Aristotle and a long tradition of thinkers hold that the pursuit of self-interest is natural to people but that corruption comes from lack of self-discipline. 

It does make sense then for social values like selflessness and integrity in public service to be taught in schools as well as proper moral training in homes. Poverty is sometimes fingered as part of the reason for corruption but when the nation’s resources are properly managed, poverty would go into a hasty retreat. Corruption is a battle that must be won if a country would make progress rather than be taken hostage. 

Egbuonye and Dr Nwadike wrote from Spiritan University Nneochi,  Abia State