By Dele Momodu
Fellow Nigerians, the time has come to confront the biggest ailment afflicting Nigeria, and Nigerians, head on. Let me start with my thesis on the recurring decimal of corruption in our beloved country. Corruption is too tempting, irresistible, and ultimately inevitable in a country where citizens have to produce or provide virtually everything they should take for granted. I would love to see any Nigerian who lives strictly on his salary cast the first stone against the so-called corrupt elements in good conscience. It baffles me when Nigerians reduce the scandalous preponderance of corruption to exclusive preserve of political leaders and perhaps civil servants. I make bold to say that our situation is far worse than that.
I will attempt to define and describe the different kinds of corruption we are enmeshed in as vividly as possible. Let’s begin with our political leaders starting from the very top. The President of Nigeria is probably one of the most powerful, if not the most powerful, political figures, on earth. He controls the power of life and death and is practically accountable to no one. I’m not even sure God can control him. He lives like the proverbial Lord of the Manor, a veritable warlord, a Deity who has the power to turn night into day and man into woman. He has the monstrous ability to transform a certified and certificated pauper into a billionaire within the twinkle of an eye and keep a straight poker face as if nothing happened. When a man controls such humongous influence he’s most definitely prone to abuse of power and unbridled corruption.
The President of Nigeria does not ever have to touch or spend his salary. That salary only exists on paper and mostly in the figment of our imagination. His kitchen budget and entertainment allowance yearly would create over a thousand fresh millionaires. That is the truth. His fleet of exotic cars is the longest in the world, and it comprises of grade A bullet proof and anti-ballistic fortifications. Many of the cars in the President’s entourage sometimes travel empty. I once counted almost 100 vehicles on the entourage of the First Lady.
Let me jog my memory and titillate you by trying to recollect the government agencies I witnessed trying to out-do themselves in the service of Her Majesty. I saw members of the Nigeria Police Force, the anti-riot squad, the State Security Service, fully-kitted soldiers, FRSC, anti-bomb squad, an ambulance unit, LASTMA, etcetera, all in the service of one soul. I have been to a few countries in the world, nothing compares to our own paraphernalia of office. We are way over the limit. There is no corruption worse than depriving fellow citizens of their minimum comfort because the leader has appropriated all for himself, his family and cronies. Nothing angers me more than seeing how the President of a nation of chronic sufferers not only shuts down the city but also the airspace everywhere he goes. A popular leader should be comfortable enough among his people and certainly more so in the air. He should cultivate and enjoy their endless love. And Nigerians are not even demanding. They’ve been used to seeing leaders do nothing that they’ll be ready to hero-worship the man who tries to scratch the surface of our dire needs.
No President of Nigeria ever wants to quit power voluntarily. As such, he needs loads of cash to keep himself in power for at least two possible terms. The kind of money required can only emanate from the forest of a thousand demons and are surely, as night follows day, must come from the proceeds of fraud and corruption. Therefore, we don’t need to look too far when fuel subsidy claims suddenly quadruple in an election year. Some of those reckless bills inadvertently paid for the fresh air sold to Nigerians at a premium. If we are sincere and dig very deep, we shall discover that it was impossible to have funded that campaign without resorting to some form of self-help. And we must not forget too that the security vote is never revealed in the public domain.
Contracts are usually awarded as patronage. In most cases, they don’t have to be executed because the culprits are usually connected in high places and not punishable under any law. A leader who wants to win a re-election can’t afford to take on his traditional as well as potential funders. He’s thus compelled not to see or punish any evil. Forget the circus and overhyped drama of arresting, detaining, arraigning and bailing a few dramatis personae, from time to time, to assuage those ready to be fooled, that government is doing something about corruption.
The charade is elaborate and so many layers of abracadabra are engaged. If you must misappropriate government funds in Nigeria, you must ensure you steal more than enough. Some of it will go into instructing the best lawyers money can afford, certainly some senior advocates with requisite experience and pedigree. The prosecutors in the police and invariably the Ministry of justice must be involved. You cannot ignore some smart officers in the courts who possess the talismanic powers of making files disappear and reappear. The seemingly incorruptible judge can always be reached through close friends and family who would be quick to remind him that Nigeria is not his father’s property. And when in Rome, you must learn to behave like, and even act better than, the Romans. They would quote copiously from the long litany of woes that befell recalcitrant Nigerian judges in Nigeria’s chequered history.
This odoriferous scenario can be replicated all the way down in various degrees. It is in the nature of man to copy and regurgitate bad habits. That’s why the first major step towards attacking and defeating corruption must start from the very top. If the head is good, it will affect the whole body. The body language of the numero uno sends a powerful signal to other contiguous organs. Until we find such a leader who’s not pre-occupied with self-preservation and personal aggrandisement we should never hope to reduce or terminate the cancer of corruption in Nigeria. It will always go into hibernating remission and rear its ugly head with vengeful vigour like it did under the Obasanjo administration.
How then can we tackle the menace and mendacity of corruption in Nigeria in order to build a modern and viable nation? It is very simple and complex because there is only one snag. The leader who wants to fight corruption must be ready for everything and anything. He must be willing and ready to step on elephantine toes and rupture a few nerves. He must be selfless because a man asking others to fast must never be caught eating breakfast and lunch. From the day he reads the riot act, he must be ready for the ultimate sacrifice. You must never scorch the snake of corruption, you must kill it. A half-dead snake is always more desperate and deadly. It would unleash its entire venom on the unwary assailant. That is the character of corruption. The determination of the leader is the first armour and protection he needs.
The leader must be ready to advise his friends to sin no more. He must negotiate with them to relinquish most of the proceeds of crime and corruption traceable to them in order to escape prosecution and absolute disgrace. This would save the State some time and resources that would have been expended on extensive and expensive litigation. I totally support plea bargaining in most cases of genuine remorse and substantial reparation. It is simply impossible for a civilian government to spend all its time and energy on prosecuting what may turn out to be a wasteful extravaganza. This is why I always disagree with those feeling nostalgic about the ‘war against indiscipline’ and asking for the return of the army Generals. They fail to understand that times have changed since those days of jack-boots.
The new way to fight corruption is to be systematic and scientific, resourceful and dynamic. It requires a meticulous and psychological understanding of the motive behind, and the reward for, corruption. The first attraction to corruption is the fact that most Nigerians cannot survive on their personal income. The second is the general poverty staring us in the face. A poor man is always hungry and would grab at the slightest available opportunity to kill his hunger. Most people who go into politics in Nigeria often go in as poor as church rats before being overwhelmed by the greed factor when they see the exchequer readily available for plundering with no sentry guarding the loot. That over-bloated greed is what has turned even the few otherwise intelligent men and women into gluttonous pigs who steal what they won’t need in several lifetimes to come.
When government lives up to its responsibilities by providing the basic necessities of life it would ease the pressure and pain of having to constitute ourselves into mini-governments. We must provide an enabling environment for entrepreneurship to thrive. Most Nigerians still live under the illusion that government would one day create enough jobs for our army of unemployed youths but that is a delusion of grandeur. The days of white collar jobs are gone and there is no labour office able to secure jobs for most school leavers. The earlier many of our graduates begin to dream big and see themselves as potential employers of labour the better for all of us. We must redeem our education and thus our youths by investing seriously in the well-being of their teachers.
The solution to that is for our banks to move from petty trading to providing the core banking services of soft loans and long term credit to credible ventures. Those with permanent jobs should also be able to access mortgages and car loans. Indigent but brilliant students should be able to enjoy scholarships and education loans. Inventors must be encouraged with special grants. Let no one tell me Nigeria cannot afford these things. All it takes is for our leaders to tighten their belts and reduce the money they fritter on themselves and useless enjoyment or hide in unimaginable receptacles and foreign shores.
We must employ the best brains and characters in the Nigerian police. A police force that is largely populated and polluted by illiterates and the dregs of society would never be able to fight crime and corruption. Intelligence gathering would go a long way in helping us to tackle the issue of violent crimes and terrorism. In the era of information technology, we must invest heavily in communications gadgets for our Law officers and enforcers. More often than not, criminals are able to escape because our police have no means of communicating with their counterparts at duty posts. The world has moved beyond this backwardness. The atrocious sums we spend on buying unnecessary lethal weapons can be invested in communications.
We have the chance of upgrading our armed forces once and for all by taking advantage of recruiting some of the brightest brains roaming our streets. Our defence budgets should be judiciously used to empower our men and women instead of disbursing it to some irresponsible contractors. The environment they live must be of paramount concern to us in this modern time. The barracks and their offices must be sparkling clean and fully computerised with access to Wi-Fi. They must be up-to-date with events around the world and be knowledgeable in the art and science of modern warfare and espionage in particular.
Our judiciary must be comprehensively overhauled. Our magistrates and judges are too poorly paid to perform their duties to maximum productivity and satisfaction. In modern societies, the judiciary is seen as the last hope of the common man and treated with utmost respect and reverence. They are always among the best paid so as to minimise unholy temptations. Our courtrooms are scruffy and stuffy. We need to make them more conducive and comfortable. Our courts should be availed with Dictaphones and transcribers. This would make life easier for our judges and other court staff and reduce the time and agony of upholding and enforcing law and seeking justice in our country. Once we have upright judges we can begin to feel that we may after all rid ourselves of the scourge of corruption which threatens to be our Armageddon.