By Mohammed Dahiru Aminu
Nigerians have yet come up with a consensual definition of “Corruption”. This disharmony in our perceptions of the criminal act is even more pronounced between the haves and the have-nots, with the view of the former recently restated by a provocative pronouncement of former president Goodluck Jonathan who, as president addressing a troubled nation, declared, “…stealing is not corruption…” It assaulted the sensibility of the poor and perceptive Nigerians who had blamed corruption for the woes of this mismanaged country, and wondering why diversions of public funds to private purses won’t be termed “stealing.”
The former president’s declaration is a proof of how the leaders elected to kill this monster have only sedated it, giving it a room to devour us and frustrate our march towards a greater national goal. However we play down the dangers of corruption, it remains a living monster that overcomes our sedation and kills us, terrorizes otherwise prosperous communities and institutions, and impedes general societal evolution into a desirably modern one.
The cost of sedating corruption is no longer bearable, and the people, irrespective of their classes, have to come together to confront it. And this cannot be actualized unless we agree that the former president’s definition is a poor excuse for corruption. Even the famous definition of corruption by Chief Obafemi Awolowo, that it is the “abuse, misuse and disuse of power”, which perhaps Jonathan sought to paraphrase, raised the questions of what power is and isn’t in public administration. Awolowo’s definition is a stark explanation for the dysfunctions in our institutions, which a president trivialized in an unfortunate public address.
We have to harmonize our definitions of corruption to either reach a consensus or understand that it involves “taking” and giving to facilitate or fast track “taking”, which is what stealing is. It is this indecision and romantic perception of corruption that gives it the vigor to destroy our lives and institutions.
Our inability to define corruption makes the corrupt wear it like a badge of honor, exhibiting the proceeds of their participation in crime as though such is the way of the honorable. Most times, the argument over who is corrupt and who isn’t, in assessing our society and leaders, is lost in a chaos of our subjective, ignorant and mischievous perceptions: a confident ideologue of Jonathanism would tell you that the person whom you have “accused” is not corrupt because… why not? He only steals public funds. And stealing is not corruption.
Even where the corrupt has owned up to the act, these sycophantic elements still defend him as innocent or, if in politics and in the opposition, the indictment of this evidently corrupt politician would be challenged as witch-hunt. One good example of this tragedy of definition of corruption is the case of Abubakar Atiku Bagudu, a massively corrupt figure in General Sani Abacha’s government and the main actor in the loot recovery scandal.
Bagudu indirectly confessed to being complicit in the looting of our treasury, and thus cooperated with the government in recovering the loot. If this isn’t enough corruption, I wonder what is. He cooperated simply for leniency, for freedom. Yet this money launderer was not only set free by our definition of corruption, he has gone on to become a Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and is now the Governor of Kebbi State.
Sometimes, when you go hard on a marked corrupt figure, you are told, “Is he the only one?” You are told this as though you are compelled to compile a dossier of all the names of corrupt people in the land before the act of corruption you are reporting is valid. Perhaps the most dangerous orientation exhibited by this group is, in their bids to defend the corrupt, the act of corruption itself is described in theologic terms, as a destiny of the guilty, for which the lord’s forgiveness is applicable. And this blackmail makes you rescind in your categorization of the corrupt as such, because of the reminder that you have transgressed by seeking to interrogate the man whose decisions has brought us a communally experienced hardship.
To those who ask for proof of corruption within Nigerian leaderships at all levels, the answers stare us all in the face, thus, visible to all of us—at least to those who are not blinded by hypocrisy. The proof lies in the fact that in my almost three decades of existence, I have never experienced the glory of a functional Nigeria. In all my life, which was mostly spent living in different parts of the country, I was not aware of a Nigeria that was, at any given period, overwhelmed with basic amenities as stable electricity or pipe-borne water.
None amongst my peers has seen a Nigeria of functioning healthcare system, of good public infrastructure, of conducive learning environments, or even of hygienic public toilets. So, it is very disheartening that after all the effects of corruption that confront us, day in, day out, some otherwise enlightened Nigerians still ask you for a proof of the corruption of, say, a certain minister or governor in Nigeria, who has used his office as a means to an end: enriching friends, wives, children, and even infants, in whose names they set up trust funds, with public funds under their care. Most importantly, the proof of corruption lies in people who lead lifestyles that are haughty display of affluences way beyond their legitimate incomes.
It was my friend, Professor Moses Ochonu, of Vanderbilt University, who once said that “Nigeria is the easiest place to do a background check on someone, not the formal background check supported by a database but the background check of visuals and self-advertisement. I mean, Nigerians are very poor at hiding their corruption: they consume conspicuously, accumulate primitively, and announce their new wealth and status with fanfare and ceremony. For corrupt Nigerians, the point of having all that money is to be known and seen to have all that money—otherwise what is the point? Nigerians are poor disguisers of illicit wealth; we cannot live above our legitimate means and hide it.”
To really save this country from the claws of corruption, those of us, who, for now do not have anywhere other than Nigeria to embrace as home, must see the nation’s systemic corruption for what it really is; through the lenses of its exact context, and then condemn it and its benefactors. While in theory, this is easy to proffer; in practice, adopting this attitudinal approach would be hindered by our history of bigotries along the lines of ethnicity, religion and region which we apply exhaustively in manufacturing excuses for the corruption of those dear and close to us. But, still, we have to take that step: we must define corruption as what it is; to understand that it is the reason we are still a generation behind the sane world, that sedation doesn’t kill the monster, and that stealing of public funds is an act of corruption, if indeed we are troubled by this persistence.
The author writes from Milton Keynes, England. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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