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Opinion / Editorial

Why Are We So “Corrupt” As A People?

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As mind-boggling revelations of corrupt practices continue to dominate newspaper headlines and more of our stolen resources are being unearthed, I have become indifferent to news about corruption. I have also resolved not to listen to the depressing news of the mindless looting of our commonwealth.

Nowadays, I flip newspaper pages or change TV or radio channels when corruption is mentioned. You can accuse of me of living in denial of the reality of my country, but that is the only way to stay sane these days.

As a citizen, I have always known that corruption is a way of life in this part of the world- a part of our cultural DNA. We are so corrupt that we will need more than the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to remove this cankerworm that is threatening our existence as a nation.

We will have to live with the consequences of our corrupt ways. The tell-tale signs are already visible. With broken institutions and a faltering economy, this monster has come back to haunt to us.

As the Muhammadu Buhari administration continues its fight against corruption, the President must have realised that it will not be a walk in the park, after all. Corruption will not just go away because Buhari is at the helms of the affairs of the country. On the contrary, it will fight back because it has become a part of us.

A Dutch journalist, who worked in Nigeria some years ago, once painted a stark picture of corruption when he was asked to propose a solution to the Nigerian variant of the social evil. The journalist had said that the country could begin anew only if all Nigerians are wiped off this geographical space by a tidal wave. While his solution may be in the extreme or impossible, it portrayed the enormity of the problem and may just as well be the solution to a problem that seems embedded in our gene as a people. That is why I do not envy President Buhari.

As we have seen in the past, corruption fights back in such a way that it even consumes those fighting against it. It deploys different strategies to fight back. First, it uses its foot soldiers to start a campaign of calumny against those who want to dislodge it. If it does not succeed, it whips up primordial sentiments. Corrupt people will always claim that the current anti-corruption war is targeted at them because of where they come from or the religion they practice.

Soon Buhari will discover that he is standing alone in the fight against corruption. In the end, he will realize that the real enemies are those whom he thought were his supporters. Those who have robbed our country blind will not want to be picked up easily, prosecuted and hauled to jail. They won’t allow anyone to separate them from their loot, which they have stashed away in local and foreign bank accounts. But our country can win this war if we resolve to renounce our corrupt ways.

However, the President must begin the purge from his administration. Look at the issue of the budget, for example. The recent scandal around the budget has rudely awakened Nigerians to the reality that bureaucracy is still as corrupt as ever, even with Buhari in power. Will the civil service just change from its old ways overnight? Is the civil service establishment not peopled by the same characters that have supervised some of the worst and corrupt administrations since Independence? Even the Presidency, which should be at the forefront of the anti-corruption crusade, is not left out of the budget padding episode. This shows that corruption is alive and well.

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Needless to say, the scandal has been a major embarrassment to the change mantra of the Buhari administration. I strongly recommend that the President speak to Nigerians about the budget fiasco. We need to know how the padded figures escaped his close scrutiny and were eventually presented to the National Assembly.

The bureaucracy is still enmeshed in corruption, it must be purged. To think that the Presidency also padded its budget, as reflected in its outrageous estimation, leaves a sour taste in the mouth. Civil servants have mastered the art of budget padding and they have survived all governments in power. Even with Buhari in power, they are not willing to change their old ways. Why the estimates were not verified before being packaged as part of proposed budgetary spending for 2016 beats the imagination. And to think that the budget was even presented by the President himself makes the whole drama puzzling.

In Nigeria, old habits die hard. Corruption is not limited to the public sector. The private sector is also incurably corrupt. In spite of the financial regulations guiding monetary transactions, bankers still find a way to collude with politicians to defraud the country.

At a time in this country, almost all the bank executives had corruption charges leveled against them. Many of the cases are still pending today. The question that I have always asked is: Who is not corrupt in our country today? Isn’t it true that the reason why we defend corrupt persons is because we are in one way or another the beneficiaries of their loot? Are we not going to be better off if we all join hands to rid our country of corruption?

In today’s Nigeria, all institutions that should be in the vanguard against corruption are enmeshed in corruption. The judiciary has been accused of aiding corrupt individuals through different legal technicalities employed to block justice. Lawyers are in a dance of shame to procure justice by all means to clients even when they are guilty as charged.

Already, we have seen what the profligacy of the past years has brought us. All our public institutions that used to be enviable are now broken. Nothing demonstrates the impact of corruption on our country than the state of public education. Now Nigerians send their children to schools in neighboring African countries and universities abroad because our public schools are in bad shape. Health care, roads and other infrastructure have fallen to the scourge of corruption.

According to data from 2016 Best Countries ranking, Nigeria is perceived to be the most corrupt among 60 countries evaluated. The rankings are a characterization of 60 countries based on a survey of more than 16,000 people from four regions. How long can we continue when the wealth of the country is in the hand of only a few elite and more than 100 million or 70 percent of the population lives in abject poverty? As a country, we have paid a huge price already and it’s about time that we resolved the curse of corruption or we may just cease to exist as a nation.


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