There is a strong perception that Nigeria is one of the most corrupt countries in the world. Despite the best efforts to fight it through the Economic & Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC), Bureau of Public Procurement and a bureaucratic maze of forms and sign offs, the impression of corruption remains robust. Maybe a lack of agreement and understanding about what Corruption looks like is part of the problem.
Millions were hysterical when former President Jonathan accused Nigerians of mistaking stealing for corruption but it turns out we also have a problem differentiating influence from corruption. Definitions use the words ‘dishonesty’, ‘bribery’, and ‘illegal’ and one emphasizes privileged position i.e., “corruption is dishonest or illegal behavior especially by powerful people such as government officials”.
A hardworking officer in the BPE who has never asked for a bribe gets home to find her husband excited about the holiday she has planned for them. Representatives of a company that recently put in a bid which she has to evaluate have been to their home with a package. The tickets for parents and two children also come with fully paid hotel reservations and $40,000 in cash. Now she is willing to give the company’s bid the careful consideration required to make it the winning bid. Is this corruption? Those who think so will have to defend their position against those who think the company is merely using its influence i.e., its “capacity to be a compelling force on or produce effects on action, behavior or opinion”.
Corruption was one of the key campaign issues for the All Progressive Congress (APC) during the 2015 presidential campaigns.
As a Renaissance Capital analyst put it when explaining a list of ten economic issues Nigerians want the Buhari administration to tackle first, “the lack of delivery on all the issues can be linked to corruption”. In the survey, corruption came in last at 21% after Electricity (68%); Security (58%); Job creation (55%); Roads (49%); Education (42%); Health (31%); Agriculture (29%); Water (26%) and Transportation (24%).
President Buhari’s inaugural speech last week seemed deliberately hedged about anti-corruption activity. Corruption was mentioned a grand total of 3 times, in the context of the onus on the judiciary, state and local government joint accounts and the key issues facing the country. Yet, a large part of the appeal the public has for President Buhari is his reputation for personal integrity and being tough on wrongdoing. People want an end to the effect of corruption on our development and the impunity that accompanies it.
There are structural things that need to be done to strengthen the battle against corruption. Merging the EFCC and ICPC and expanding the new institution’s powers to proactively investigate is one. Funding needs to increase and the eligibility requirements of the chairperson and other key employees should be expanded. The civil and public services also need real reform because they have become the custodians of the corruption culture, passing on traditions to the politicians who come and go.
The Federal Government must consider a winning hearts and minds element to fighting corruption. Expanding the understanding and appreciation of the public should be easy when the ICPC Act is clear on what constitutes acts of corruption and the intent to influence is recognized as part of the act of corrupting a person or process. We can reframe the narrative on corruption by pairing anti corruption messages with pro-developing Nigeria messages and widen – even if only for a limited time, our understanding of corruption. The decay that is a result of corruption is partly because few seem to realize that corruption encompasses parents colluding with teachers to ensure their children pass SSSCE and JME, lawyers should not pay the school fees for judges children and that chiefs of staff and first ladies are not supposed to charge a fee to those who want to meet the president or governors.
The public also has a role to play and it is important to acknowledge two obstacles to embracing that role. One, most humans who can get away with something will try to; the system has to provide deterrence. And two, the fact that corruption exists everywhere in the world does not excuse us. A country where 170m people share less than 2000mw of electricity pays a higher cost for corruption than one with stable electricity supply. If our economy is floundering, our refineries are inoperative and our public health and education sectors are in tatters then we cannot afford the corruption that the UAE or the USA can.
Clichéd or not the change we want is going to have to be driven and embodied by us. Our demand for what is right will force those in government to supply what we need and this will only happen when we remove the rose tints with which we view corruption and the perceived personal, individual successes that are by-products of a corrupt system. Reducing the levels of corruption will take a while but if we are committed to change, it can be done.
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