By Kayode Ketefe
When a friend recently asked me to suggest a single most potent way to fight corruption in Nigeria, a number of suggestions flooded my mind. These range from enhanced and severe punishment for corrupt people; comprehensive institutionalisation of foolproof checks and control system, to divestment of the executives of the power to directly award contracts.
I realised, however, that the question did not allow me to give hybrid of suggestions, but rather just a single most important measure to curb the menace, so I paused for a moment of reflection and the answer came out, slowly, audibly, and confidently: “Close the yawning gap between the rich and the poor to a reasonable extent!”
Before I explain why I think this is the single the most potent approach to extirpate or significantly reduced corruption, let us briefly put the problem of corruption ravaging the country in perspective.
There is no gainsaying the fact that corruption percolates every facet of our national life.
In sport, politics, social life, and even religious circle, no matter where you look, fat maggots of corruption are wriggling with euphoria in the putrefying rot of the respective strand. All the facets intertwined to form one steadfast fabric of stinking, graft civilisation.
It is everywhere; officials of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria, through creative billing, slam bills on you that are not reflective of your actual power consumption; the same bills may be re-doctored if you are ready to “settle” the officials.
Many traffic wardens on the streets shamelessly sell the “right” to ply one-way roads to impatient motorists and thus contribute to traffic anarchy.
Many people do not trust the police and police officers do not trust one another- being ever suspicious that members of their establishment may betray them to the operators of the underworld.
You go to the markets; you are short-changed by conmen in the name of merchants. Many religious leaders are simply spiritual highway men who artfully and “piously” milk their followers and dispossess them of earthly resources upon the promises of heavenly ones, while enjoying the same holy loots right here on earth.
Not a few members of the Executive and Legislature are neck deep in corruption while the sacred Judiciary is not totally immune. Many people have accepted this state of affairs as a way of life and would simply resort to ripping off others to offset their own exploitation! The society seems to have settled into some sort of negative equilibrium, thriving on moral bankruptcy.
Yet, there are many good Nigerians, who are honest, hardworking, upright and lovers of virtues; but these are daily being disenchanted by the system; they have become endangered species in the reality of the prevailing culture. Even moral enthusiasts who have managed to be aloof from the bug of corruption are still, daily, in great danger of contagion.
Our governments often shout to high heavens its resolve to fight corruption and emancipate the nation.
But there is ostensible want of synch between what is being preached and practiced, and since Nigerians are not deficient in wits, they see though the hypocrisy. The theatrics of fighting corruption in the face of the unmitigated poverty of the masses and ostentatious profligacy of the ruling class pop up in the mind the risible burlesque of the comedians.
How can a system that claims it cannot afford basic things of life to its impoverished masses still be able to produce the highest-paid legislators in the world? And the most expensive executives too! Let them please spare us this absurdist histrionics.
Our leaders are the ones giving unwitting sanctioning to the spread, growth and consolidation of corruption through the neglect of the masses whom they still love to stun with their stupendous wealth. The link between poverty, deprivation and dysfunctional systems has been well documented by the sociologists and political scientists.
Each time the political leaders spend money like the prodigal son in the midst of and to the consternation of the suffering masses, the seed of corruption is being sown. Each time certain fund is announced to be missing from the nation’s coffers, the embers of corruption is being unwittingly fanned.
Elitist profligacy in the full glare of famished populace breeds distrust, antipathy and anger. Why Nigerian graduates should be dying in stampede to get the jobs that pay remuneration on the basis N18, 000 monthly minimum wages when every legislator (even those without a degree) counts monthly remunerations and allowances in tens of millions of naira.
Even societies more well-organised than ours could be thrown into anarchy when a single mismanaged affair ignites the flammable fumes of social tensions.
While one may not pretend to have one cure-all prescription to extirpate the dreaded poltergeist called corruption, the most sensible way to begin the fight is to ameliorate the harsh conditions of the people induced by poverty and reconfigure the remunerations of our leaders to reflect the general standards of living in the country.
Leaders who live in wasteful opulence would cut the picture of clowns when preaching anti-corruption message to the hungry masses.
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