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Corruption in Nigeria

By: Hafsat Abdullahi
 Published December 23rd, 2010

It is a common knowledge that corruption is the bane of Nigeria; Transparency International (TI), the global corruption watchdog, has severally shown that Nigeria is one of the most corrupt countries in the world. But what seems to elude us is how to reduce corruption, and its debilitating impact on our economy to the barest minimum.

The high level of corruption is not a recent trend that permeates the Nigerian society; it has been with us for a very long time. However, the monster actually showed its ugly head with the advent of the oil boom in the 70’s. The easy oil wealth led to the award of contracts in an effort to build infrastructures. That was okay, except that those contracts were awarded without regard for due process, and they were not properly monitored.

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The pumping of so much money by the government into the system with little or no supervision encouraged corruption. This trend, fuelled by greed, continues to this day. Once upon a time, former president Obasanjo attempted to put an end to it by introducing ‘due process’ in the award of contracts, but somehow it persisted.

It is a sad irony that oil wealth which should be a blessing to Nigeria, as its sixth largest producer in the word, has become a curse to the nation. And, except for the recent ‘amnesty’ effort of the government, it is threatening to tear us apart. It has made the government lazy; the government seems comfortable to remain a mono-economy instead of diversifying which is the best thing for us to do. This is worrisome because oil is exhaustible, and a non-renewable resource that is easily affected by market forces. It is not just the government that has become lazy; oil wealth has also made many Nigerians lazy; many of them now want to be rich by partaking in the ‘national cake’ without contributing anything in return.

Corruption in Nigeria is manifested in the form of bribery, graft, fraud and nepotism among others. But perhaps the most destructive form of corruption is the one perpetrated during elections, in which some people bribe their way into offices; because unless we can organise free and fair elections in this country, the wrong kind of people will continue to rule us. We need to be more politically active. Every Nigerian should contribute in one way or the other to her political development. The fire of corruption in Nigeria is, in no small measure, fuelled by self-serving leaders who will rather put aside the yearnings of the masses for parochial gains.

Tackling corruption has always been at the forefront of the mission statement of successive administrations in Nigeria, yet, corruption is still very high. Therefore, many have insinuated that the government is only paying lip service to the matter. And it is difficult to dismiss such talk since many probes, on frauds, looting and other corrupt acts have not yielded anything reasonable. And most of those accused now flaunt their ill-gotten wealth without any remorse.

The judiciary should also share in the blame, as many of the cases involving political leaders who siphoned billions of naira were unnecessarily adjourned because of one spurious legal interpretation or the other until the case dies.

The Obasanjo administration is one of those who promised to rid Nigeria of corruption. Hence, he set up the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offenses Commission (ICPC) and later the more aggressive Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to deal with financial crimes, fraud and 419.

 Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, the young police officer appointed to head the commission took the fight against corruption to a new level. A serving minister, a senate president, and a former police IG among others were some of the casualties. In fact, some states governors become nervous at the mention of his name. He was loyal and did the biddings of his master. But some insist that Obasanjo and his friends were exempted from the scrutiny of EFCC. And since those who come to equity must do so with clean hands, Ribadu’s efforts were rubbished for being selective. Nevertheless, the EFCC under Ribadu received many positive nods from the international community for cleaning up the polity. Therefore, his removal brought us back in the headlines for the wrong reasons.

According to the World Bank, Nigeria has lost a whopping sum of 300 billion dollars over the last few decades due to corruption. One cannot help but wonder how that money could have improved the wellbeing of Nigerians. The money could have being used to build better roads, to improve our health sector, to fund education, for pipe borne water, to improve the supply of electricity, to improve food production and so on. Surely, the money could have saved many lives.

It is therefore a welcomed development that Acting President Goodluck Jonathan has shown renewed commitment towards nipping the menace in the bud. In a letter dated April 8, 2010 he urged the National Assembly to ensure the speedy passage of the anti-corruption bill.

The letter said it is necessary to pass the bill “given this administration’s commitment to combat corruption . . .” Considering the pain that corruption has caused Nigeria, one should expect that anything that has to do with curbing it should be the priority of our representatives; and that they shouldn’t wait until they were prodded.

So far, corruption has indeed eaten deep into the fabric of our nation. With the recent exposure of some banks’ chief executive officers involved in sharp practices, we now know that corruption has its roots in both our public and private sectors. Indeed, corruption can also be found in both the high and lowly places. It is hydra-headed and must be fought from every angle. What we really needed is character re-evaluation; and a return to our old value system.

Be that as it may, any Nigerian leader who is not corrupt is already ahead of very many others. It was Obasanjo who once said that “fighting corruption is like fighting a war in a battlefield”. Therefore, even if Jonathan and his cabinet do not have the time for a full-scale war with corruption, posterity would place them side by side with our nation’s greats if they can resist the temptation of soiling their hands with the oil of corruption.   

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