There are many unresolved problems in Nigeria, but the issue of the upsurge of corruption is troubling. And the damages it has done to the polity are astronomical. The menace of corruption leads to slow movement of files in offices, police extortion tollgates and slow traffics on the highways, port congestion, queues at passport offices and gas stations, ghost workers syndrome, election irregularities, among others. Even the mad people on the street recognize the havoc caused by corruption – the funds allocated for their welfare disappear into the thin air. Thus, it is believed by many in the society that corruption is the bane of Nigeria.
Some writers say that corruption is endemic in all governments, and that it is not peculiar to any continent, region and ethnic group. It cuts across faiths, religious denominations and political systems and affects both young and old, man and woman alike. Corruption is found in democratic and dictatorial politics; feudal, capitalist and socialist economies. Christian, Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist cultures are equally bedevilled by corruption. And corrupt practices did not begin today; the history is as old as the world. Ancient civilizations have traces of widespread illegality and corruption. Thus, corruption has been ubiquitous in complex societies from ancient Egypt, Israel, Rome, and Greece down to the present. This does not, however, mean that the magnitude of corruption is equal in every society some countries are more corrupt than others! As George Orwell notes in his widely read book, Animal Farm: All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.
Since corruption is not new, and since it is a global phenomenon, it is not peculiar to Nigeria. However, corruption is pandemic in Nigeria the leaders as well as the followers are corrupt. Consequently, it has defied all the necessary medicines. If there is a lack of control of corruption in every sphere in the nation, it is then like the old saying: When water chokes you, what do you take to wash it down?
Let’s x-ray the key term of this topic, “Corruption”. Corruption has broadly been defined as a perversion or a change from good to bad. Specifically, corruption or corrupt behaviour involves the violation of established rules for personal gain and profit. Corruption is efforts to secure wealth or power through illegal means private gain at public expense; or a misuse of public power for private benefit.
In addition, corruption has also been defined as a behaviour which violates rules against the exercise of certain types of duties for private gains – regarding influence. This definition includes such behaviour as bribery (use of a reward to pervert the judgment of a person in a position of trust); nepotism (bestowal of patronage by reason of inscriptive relationship rather than merit); and misappropriation (illegal appropriation of public resources for private uses. To the already crowded landscape adds that corruption is an anti-social behaviour conferring improper benefits contrary to legal and moral norms, and which undermine the authorities to improve the living conditions of the people.
The nature and characteristics of corruption include Political Corruption (grand); Bureaucratic Corruption (petty); and Electoral Corruption. Political corruption takes place at the highest levels of political authority. It occurs when the politicians and political decision-makers, who are entitled to formulate, establish and implement the laws in the name of the people, are themselves corrupt. It also takes place when policy formulation and legislation is tailored to benefit politicians and legislators. Political corruption is sometimes seen as similar to corruption of greed as it affects the manner in which decisions are made, as it manipulates political institutions, rules of procedure, and distorts the institutions of government.
Bureaucratic corruption occurs in the public administration or the implementation end of politics. This kind of corruption has been branded low level and street level. It is the kind of corruption the citizens encounter daily at places like the hospitals, schools, local licensing offices, police, taxing offices and on and on. Bureaucratic petty corruption, which is seen as similar to corruption of need, occurs when one obtains a business from the public sector through inappropriate procedure.
Electoral corruption includes purchase of votes with money, promises of office or special favours, coercion, intimidation, and interference with freedom of election Nigeria is a good example where this practice is common. Votes are bought, people are killed or maimed in the name of election, losers end up as the winners in elections, and votes turn up in areas where votes were not cast]. Corruption in office involves sales of legislative votes, administrative, or judicial decision, or governmental appointment. Disguised payment in the form of gifts, legal fees, employment, favours to relatives, social influence, or any relationship that sacrifices the public interest and welfare, with or without the implied payment of money, is usually considered corrupt.
Other forms of corruption though tend to be mild in the society but have negative effects on every individual in the society included: Bribery which involves the payment in money or kind that is taken or given in a corrupt relationship. These include kickbacks, gratuities, pay-off, sweeteners, greasing palms, etc. Fraud, involves some kind of trickery, swindle and deceit, counterfeiting, racketing, smuggling and forgery. Embezzlement can be seen as theft of public resources by public officials. It is when a state official steals from the public institution in which he/she is employed. In Nigeria the embezzlement of public funds is one of the most common ways of economic accumulation, perhaps, due to lack of strict regulatory systems.
Extortion of money and other resources extracted by the use of coercion, violence or threats to use force. It is often seen as extraction from below. The police and custom officers are the main culprits in Nigeria. Favouritism is a mechanism of power abuse implying a highly biased distribution of state resources. However, this is seen as a natural human proclivity to favour friends, family and anybody close and trusted.
And lastly Nepotism which is a special form of favouritism in which an office holder prefers his/her kinfolk and family members. Nepotism, which is also common in Nigeria, occurs when one is exempted from the application of certain laws or regulations or given undue preference in the allocation of scarce resources. The causes of corruption are myriad; and they have political and cultural variables. Corruption is widespread in most non-democratic countries, and particularly, in countries that have been branded neo-patrimonial, kleptocratic and prebendal. Thus, the political system and the culture of a society could make the citizens more prone to corrupt activities. Some of the factors include: Great inequality in distribution of wealth, political office as the primary means of gaining access to wealth, conflict between changing moral codes, the weakness of social and governmental enforcement mechanisms and the absence of a strong sense of national community.
The causes of corruption in Nigeria cannot deviate significantly, if at all, from the above factors. However, obsession with materialism, compulsion for a shortcut to affluence, glorification and approbation of ill-gotten wealth by the general public, are among the reasons for the persistence of corruption in Nigeria. It has been noted that one of the popular, but unfortunate indices of good life in Nigeria, is flamboyant affluence and conspicuous consumption. Because of this, some people get into dubious activities, including ‘committing ritual murder for money-making.’
The lack of ethical standards throughout the agencies of government and business organizations in Nigeria is a serious drawback. According to Bowman, ethics is action, the way we practice our values; it is a guidance system to be used in making decisions. The issue of ethics in public sector and in private life encompasses a broad range, including a stress on obedience to authority, on the necessity of logic in moral reasoning, and on the necessity of putting moral judgement into practice. Unfortunately, many officeholders in Nigeria appointed or elected do not unfortunately; have clear conceptions of the ethical demands of their position
Other factors are poor reward system and greed; Nigeria’s reward system is, perhaps, the poorest in the world. Nigeria is a society where national priorities are turned upside down; hard work is not rewarded, but rogues are often glorified in Nigeria. The trouble with Nigeria is not that our capabilities are inadequate. It is that our priority – which means our values are wrong. Bad rules and ineffective taxing system, which makes it difficult to track down peoples financial activities, breed corruption. Ineffective taxing system is a serious problem for Nigeria. The lukewarm attitude of those who are supposed to enforce the laws of the land judges, police officers and public officials could lead to people engaging in corrupt behaviour, knowing full well that they would get away with it. Some cultural and institutional factors lead to corruption.
Those going through corrupt means (through the back door, so to say), to achieve their objectives have little or no access to opportunity structure. The hindrance to economic opportunity, according to the study, could be a result of their race, ethnicity, lack of skills, capital, material and other human resources. Many Nigerians are highly achievement oriented, but they have relatively low access to economic opportunities. For example many civil servants work for months without getting paid. Yet, the society expects them to be honest and productive. Many of those civil servants working without pay are parents, who are expected to train their children in schools with empty wallet. How can they do that? Are they magicians? No! Under this condition, many citizens would reject the rule of the game societal norms and criminally innovate to make ends meet.
Many studies have been conducted that show the evils or consequences of corruption. And corruption has taught the Nigeria a dangerous and wrong lesson that it does not pay to be honest, hardworking and law-abiding. Through corrupt means many political office holders acquire wealth and properties in and outside Nigeria; and many display their wealth (which is beyond the means), but the society does not blink. This has made politics a big business in Nigeria, because anything spent to secure a political office is regarded as an investment, which matures immediately one gets into office.
Corruption wastes skills as precious time is often wasted to set up unending committees to fight corruption, and to monitor public projects. It also leads to aid forgone because some foreign donors do not give aid to corrupt nations. Corruption is politically destabilizing, as it leads to social revolution and military takeovers. Most “post-coup rationalizations” in less developed worlds point to corruption. But hiding under the excuse of corruption to topple a legitimate government in Nigeria will seize to be a credible reason for the involvement of the military in Nigerian politics in future. This is because many of the previous military leaders in Nigeria were as corrupt, if not more corrupt than the civilian politicians they replaced. Corruption was even blamed for the first 1966 military coup in Nigeria.
Corruption causes a reduction in quality of goods and services available to the public, as some companies could cut corners to increase profit margins. Corruption effects investment, economic growth, and government expenditure choices. Corruption can also tarnish the image of a country, as we have seen Nigeria suffers a more than most nations from an appalling international image created by its inability to deal with corruption and bribery.
Corruption upsets ethnic balance, and exacerbates problems of national integration in developing countries. For instance, if a corrupt but popular ethnic leader is replaced in his or her position, it ‘may upset ethnic arithmetic’ and the cohorts may revolt. The social brawl that followed the Moshood Abiola’s 1993 elections rebuff is one of the many cases dotting Nigeria’s political landscape. Southerners rioted, as they felt they were mistreated by the northern oligarchy. Similarly, some politicians from the northern part of the country seem to have forgotten the atrocities committed by Generals Buhari, Babangida, and Abubakar during their regime because they are their home boys. Any attempt to bring them to justice would lead their cronies to ethnic and social conflicts and possible loss of innocent lives.
In summary, corruption diverts scarce public resources into private pockets, literally undermines effective governance, endangers democracy and erodes the social and moral fabric of nations. As it has been noted the lust for power and corruption (and dash) as gift known in Nigeria, is not strictly a Nigerian problem. Corruption is a global phenomenon and manifest in both Petty and Grand forms. Will it be possible for Nigeria to effectively tame the scourge of corruption in the society?
Yes just as some human ailments could require many doses of medicines to be treated. Similarly, the menace of corruption, which has eaten deep into the fabric of Nigeria, would require all the necessary medicines to effectively control it. In other words, no single and simple remedies will do it; and the problem cannot be solved overnight, because, as we have noted, corruption has been ingrained into the fabric of the society. Nigeria has, in theory, the solutions in the book to tackle corruption; but like other issues like poverty, etc bedevilling the nation, implementations of the laws are the a vulnerable point of the society.
One of the reasons why the measures against corruption have not been fruitful in Nigeria is that they have operated at a level of mere symbolism. Yes, corruption has defied all measures adopted to combat it in Nigeria, apparently, because those wagging the corruption-wars are themselves corrupt. The nation has experimented with many policies ways of turning Nigeria into a corruption free society such as the judicial commissions of enquiry, the Code of Conduct Bureau and the Public Complaints Commission among others without success.
Some of our leaders are doing everything they can to make the work of the police impossible. Big men are the greatest criminals and except you go after the big criminals and bring them to book, the rate of crime may not reduce. But If you bring three or four of these big men to book, the rate of criminal activities would reduce. He declared, Arrest ministers, arrest [the] big people and others would fear.
To win the war on corruption, adherence to ethical standards in decision-making must be the foundation of the nation’s policies. Without ethics the apparent wars on corruption in Nigeria will not be successful. In other words, without ethics, any money budgeted toward fighting corruption in Nigeria is a thing cast to the wild cat. Nigeria has to make laws and implement them to the letters. And to win the war on corruption Nigeria has to fortify the institutional checks and balances among the country’s major social forces and the separation of powers within the government. The nation has to make sure that those entrusted to execute the war on corruption are men and women of virtue – those who recognize and always do what is right.
Armed with ethics and virtue, the nation should then set out to reduce personal gains to corrupt behaviour with tough penalties on the culprits. Making tough rules with vigorous enforcement can deter corrupt behaviour. One of the reasons for the upsurge of corrupt activities in Nigeria is that many Nigerians have not had the chance to live under the rule of law. The Nigerian police should be upgraded in status, and be well trained, well equipped and well paid and on time too. The police should become an elite profession, which would be open only to those with good moral character. If the police and other security agents, will learn and understand their limits and follow the rules, things might improve in Nigeria.
The mass media has a crucial role to play in the campaign to educate the people of their rights as citizens, and in exposing the rogues. Nothing chills nonsense more than exposure to thin air. The nation should erect permanent structures in the society to constantly tackle corruption, instead of setting up ad-hoc corruption-panels here and there. The citizens have a role to play in the war against corruption: they should always try to resist the temptation to offer bribes to corrupt government officials, as it takes two to tango. News of corruption always oozes out from the National Assembly, but nobody has been prosecuted. And many of them often engage in frivolous overseas trips while civil servants in their states go for months without getting paid their salary.
It is appropriate to emphasise the importance of good and enforceable policies toward controlling corrupt behaviour. And policies should be reviewed periodically to close any loophole and to catch-up with events in the society. The government should Encourage a free press and electronic media to forcefully report to the public on corrupt practices in the society; Organize civil society to address the problems of corruption brought to light by the process of transparency and the activity of the media; Introduce into government watch-dog agencies – anti-corruption bureaus; inspectors general; auditors general and ombudsmen which will identify corruption practices and bring them to public attention; Minimize and simplify government regulations, particularly those involving the issuance of licenses, permits and preferential positions, thereby restricting opportunities for rent seeking by corrupt means. Insert anti-bribery clauses into all major procurement contracts and with the assistance of both international financial institutions and bilateral aid agencies insist that international corporations, bidding on African procurement contracts, accept such clauses and the penalties associated with their violation. Introduce similar anti-bribery clauses into contracts relating to privatization of government enterprises, and the development of natural resources. Ensure that enforcement is predictable and forceful; and To criminalize the acts of bribery; prohibit the deduction of bribes for tax purposes; and erect barriers to transfer to western financial institutions of financial gains derived from corrupt practices. Other steps authorities could take to control corruption include: Declaration of Assets: The state should require that all high-level Nigerian officials such as Presidents, Ministers, Legislative officers, Central bank governors, Police and Customs Chiefs, Military Generals and so on to sign a statement granting permission to banks, both local and foreign, real estate or investment house to disclose any personal assets they may hold. Breaking this veil of secrecy, it has been argued, is crucial if assets declarations are to be verified and accountability enforced; Scrutiny for sources of income: As was pointed out above, scrutinizing individual depositors of huge sum of money, by financial institutions for sources, would go a long way to curbing looting of national treasury by civil servants.
In conclusion, the world cannot be considered secure if human rights are being violated.” And more importantly, the world cannot be considered secure if a many people lack the elementary condition for life worthy of man. Similarly, Nigeria cannot be seen as secure and free until the people’s human rights are respected and protected by the government. If millions of people go hungry do not have a roof over their heads and to be jobless and sick indefinitely, with the most basic human right, the right to life is disregarded… Through it all, to tame corruption, Nigeria has to use words as well as actions.
Finally, good governance, transparency, accountability and the rule of law are the keys to tackling corruption in the society, as corrupt leaders cannot wage an effective war against corruption.