STEALING IS NOT CORRUPTION…
STEALING IS NOT CORRUPTION…
Corruption in all societies is as old as man. It is common in all countries, irrespective of their stages of development. It nature, volume and dimensions differ largely from country to country and from environment to another. Nigeria is not free from the evils of political and bureaucratic corruption.
Classically, corruption is defined as a state of moral degeneration, rot, spoil or depravity, characterized by improper conduct. Stealing on the other hand is defined as the act of unlawfully removing, taking or carrying away something without right permission, or to get for oneself, slyly or by skill and daring. If these definitions are right, then stealing is corruption, under which it subsumes.
Whether by direct misappropriation of money like stealing, diversion of funds, over-invoicing, use of various underhand tactics for treasury looting, or indirectly using”spiritual” oversight as a manipulative tool to receive gratification; corruption and stealing are corruption.
In Nigeria, corruption has become a social phenomenon. It is widespread and it is increasing at an alarming pace. There is hardly any area of activity that has remained wholly free from the impact of corruption. In fact, corruption seems to have been institutionalized and has virtually become a commonly acceptable way of life.
In Nigeria, it is not just that officials are corrupt but that corruption is official. It is more so both in public and private sectors. Anybody who does not do so is seen as a fool. Bribery and gratification are no longer frown upon, and even subtle ways have been devised to legitimize them as part of normal life activities. In fact, societal ethos has ceased to regard these vices as a crime any longer.
Mention Nigeria to an external observer and the dominant image of the country is that of corruption. Corruption has dogged this great country from emergence as a nation, and plagued all attempts to improve the lives of citizens. The sums allegedly stolen through corruption in Nigeria can be mind boggling. This monster pervades all walks of lives, including the police and the judiciary; it abodes in the civil service, aided and abetted by politicians; it lurks in our universities and schools; even the private sector and our religious establishments have not been spared the contagion of corruption.
Sadly, corruption is not just the preserve of politicians and the high and mighty; we are all involved in it, one way or another, either giving or receiving; from security personnel at the gate to the “Oga at the top.” If President Muhammadu Buhari were to lock up every corrupt official in Nigeria, there would be no one left in some ministries. Corruption has become a culture in Nigeria- a way of life. It is that hamper you have under your desk; it is that bag of rice you have in your boot; it is that job you are doing now because some “big men” put your name forward; it is that truckload of rams reportedly rejected by the President as Sallah gift. They all have the label “corruption” on them. This pandemic is now so deep-rooted that it will require nothing short of major surgery to curb it.
Paradoxically, we are all under siege from this monster we invite to dinner.
Fela Anikulapo-Kuti bewailed its menace in his songs in the 1970s; Prof. Ayodele Awojobi of the blessed memory lamented its scourge in the 1980s, and Gani Fawehinmi led a crusade against corruption up until his death in 2009.
Regrettably, the previous administration elevated corruption to pandemic proportions, almost legitimizing it. Former President Goodluck Jonathan even sought to redefine corruption in a pathetic attempt to excuse it. He once said, “Stealing is not corruption”, or better still, “stealing is stealing, while corruption is corruption.”
Another definition came from ex-governor Chibuike Amaechi, at his ministerial screening at the Senate last year. Amaechi widened the scope of corruption to include favouritism, and the Code of Conduct Tribunal is trying to prove that false declaration of assets is a variant of corruption.
Rev. Chris Okotie, in addressing this national malaise, said: “…corruption gave birth to terrorism in Nigeria. It… is a parasite that grows within every political process. It has always been the negative side of development all through the ages. It is the dark side of human nature called greed and avarice, and every political system in history has had to contend with a corrupt elite, be it in feudal, monarchial, totalitarian or authoritarian setting.
“The perpetrators of war crimes and corruption often target political power. They ascend the summit of political power by dubious means, using the promotion of some divisive doctrines that exploit ethnic fears or religious sentiments.”
Corruption has wreaked havoc on this nation. It is responsible for the death of millions of our people that would have lived if hospitals had adequate funding. It is responsible for our lack of power and the poor state of public infrastructure. It is responsible for the flight of thousands of our youths to voluntary servitude in Europe, many of whom have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea. Corruption is responsible for the mass poverty in Nigeria due to lack of opportunities. It is responsible for the abysmal loss of internal revenue that would have gone into providing public services and building vital infrastructure. It has deprived our children of that quality education the rich now seek in Ghana and that hospitals treatment we travel thousands of miles to obtain in India. Notwithstanding the fall in oil prices, corruption has been responsible for the bankruptcy of most state governments and their inability to pay pensions and salaries. In the times of plenty when they would have invested in the development of their states and creation of sustainable jobs, they chose to “share the money.” They were content to leave an impoverished people who scrambled for crumbs from their tables. The collateral effects are the current spate of crime, kidnapping and insecurity in the country.
President Muhammadu Buhari quite rightly identified the scourge of corruption as Nigeria’s number one enemy. Whilst the current drive of going after those who looted the nation’s treasury is commendable, it is important to first address the structures that make this theft possible. The fight against corruption in Nigeria must start with the “game keepers”, those whom we have charged with the responsibility of combating corruption. We need to satisfy ourselves first that these institutions are doing their job.
Beyond dealing with the issue of international cooperation, there are other issues that will determine whether the government will succeed in its asset recovery agenda or follow the failed initiatives of past governments.
To nip corruption in the bud, the following suggestions will help a great deal:
In the first place, the government’s assets recovery initiative must be comprehensive and avoid selective justice, consistent with the percepts of a social and democratic state based on the rule of law. The principle of equality, according to which justice should be administered equally for all, means that Buhari should seek to recover stolen funds even from members of his own party and those that may be involve in his government.
It is equally important to target not only the high-ranking government officials and politicians but also the go-betweens-their families and friends- who may have helped them to stash stolen funds abroad, as well as financial institutions and centres that help to keep and hide ill-gotten wealth.
Similarly, Buhari assets recovery agenda should take a firm stance against corruption in business transactions by establishing mechanisms to impose direct liability on companies and multinational corporation for bribing high ranking government officials.
Furthermore, the government would need to put pressure on financial institutions to generate suspicious transactions reports involving high-ranking public officials (known in money laundering law as Politically Exposed Persons) and share such reports with appropriate authorities. Any financial institutions failing to report or intentionally encouraging PEPs should be severely punished to send a strong message to other banks and financial institutions that it would not be business as usual with this government.
The government can also rely on Article 20 of the UNCAC regarding “illicit enrichment”, which allows for a reversal of burden of proof. The offence of illicit enrichment is defined as a significant increase in the assets of a public official who cannot reasonably or justifiably explain this in relation to his or her lawful income. However, requiring a defendant to bear the burden of establishing the legitimate source of income in question is problematic as it raises serious human rights questions such as the internationally guaranteed rights of presumption of innocence.
Nevertheless, the inclusion of this corrupt practice in several anti-corruption treaties, despite the human rights concerns that have been raised, suggests that it has become an accepted concept in the global fight against corruption. The use of the offence of illicit enrichment may also be one reason Hong Kong has been hailed as one of the few success stories in the fight against corruption.
President Buhari famously said that “If we don’t kill corruption, corruption will kill us.” The truism of the statement and its enforcement must include the separation of state from tribal and religious influences, and ensuring that all “formal and informal” channels of milking the nation by opportunists are plugged.
I want to see Nigeria blooming, with Nigerians not feeling suffocated inside this nation. Another 25 years from now when I will be a senior citizen, I don’t want to be writing this type of article, asking for Nigeria to be restructured so that it can start to grow. Buhari has the opportunity to be the hero to release Nigeria from its 50-year old shackles and let it fly like other great nations. Will he grab the opportunity or make himself just one of the presidents that came, saw but did the regular? Nigerians are watching!
Drop your comments, please.