The Nigerian nation might not be a failed state but it is certainly by all ostensible standards of politics and governance a true kakistocracy. Nigeria’s condition of kakistocracy is a function of corruption and moral decadence. It is a truism to say corruption is a major societal ill in Nigeria blighting its way of life; Nigeria is a certainly bandits’ nation. Hitherto, Transparency International perennially ranked Nigeria as one of the most corrupt nations in the world for a number of years but the recent ranking of the nation as being a much less corrupt from practical experience and common sense appears at best to be dubious. Successive Nigerian governments since independence in 1960 are reputed to have squandered well over $500 billion (and increasing) of public income earned mainly from the export of natural resources. This allegation is supported by the information that a large number of Nigerian (former and current) senior public servants have personal overseas accounts and assets that amount to several billions of dollars in stolen public funds. It appears that there is some obsession on the part of the public servants who loot and bank money compulsively without ever withdrawing any of it for personal use.
What most Nigerians are interested in when it comes to matters of corruption is its cure and elimination often by miraculous means rather than by enlightened and practical human agency. What should concern them is how to suppress corruption. Corruption has been the way ruling classes and peoples everywhere in the world since the beginnings of man and is significantly high in most if not all nations depending on the terms of reference. The difference observed is that the governments of OECD nations provide and continuously improve public services by way of channelling funds into the right projects at the right time with little or no leakages simply because of (a) the existence of strong and well balanced public institutions and (b) a very keen public awareness (buoyed by an effective media) which effectively helps suppress corruption in those nations. In our beloved Nigeria, most of the funds haemorrhage upstream of funding channels so public services and investments tend to be perennially famished. The public institutions are weak because it has never been the interest of successive governments to strengthen them (politics in Nigeria is just another enterprise) and our public awareness is starkly backward because we know no better. I dare say if there is a national referendum to either eliminate or keep corruption as a practice in Nigeria most Nigerians would vote for the former. How do we explain our adulation (regardless of our education, wealth, poverty, religion, morality, civic responsibility etc.) of the corrupt individuals who due to their rapaciousness are responsible for the conditions of no-electricity, no good roads, no tap-water, no health care, no security, unaffordable living, dumbed-down education etc. in the nation? The greater the indulgence in the public adulation of corrupt individuals the greater the incentive for them to be corrupt. Let us call it corruption publicly “legitimised”.
Effective governance can only flourish where corruption is adequately suppressed; looking for cures can be deemed a waste of time. Suppression is the ethos of vigilantly stopping an act before it even occurs; prevention is better than cure and the smaller the scale of the problem the easier it is to manage. Suppression is also an instance of an effective public disciple. Preventing a rape, theft or fire does not mean the potential for their occurrence has been eliminated. Therefore, the suppression of ills in society is a continuous process requiring resources, vigilance and dedication. Considering kinds of corruption that have occurred in Nigeria, it was easier to suppress the stationary banditry of 1957-70 than the contemporary roving banditry we witness. Stationary banditry is a situation whereby leaders and public servants have long-term stable access to power so their incentive to steal is spread over a long period of time necessitating small or “reasonable” thefts or rents at a time. Roving banditry is a situation whereby leaders and the peers have short-term and unstable access to power and therefore steal as much as they can within the short period available to them. Corruption since independence has progressively gotten worse especially after the Civil War. At independence we had stationary bandits in power in the persons of Awolowo, Azikiwe and Bello; these personalities as fathers of independence thought they will have a long time horizon of leadership and possibly their children take over from them. Those were the days of invest 95% chop 5% of the public funds. However, after the civil war, Yakubu Gowon unwittingly though innocuously created a band of roving bandits mainly with the aim of breaking the power the stationary bandits who favoured secession. The quest for “One Nigeria” can be said to have gotten us into this mess. The dynamics of roving banditry is such that if a stationary bandit arises who can suppress corruption, the roving bandits instinctively gang up to overthrow or eliminate him. Now the nation is firmly stuck with a steadily growing but increasingly rapacious class of roving bandits who invest 5 -10% and steal 90-95% of public funds.
Perhaps, corruption does not have a cure and it cannot be eliminated. Power, relationships, poverty, laziness, greed, envy, rivalry all corrupt; opportunities and incentives for corruption surround everybody everywhere but the difference in levels of corruption amongst nation, regions or districts has a direct relationship with the level of its suppression i.e. the higher the level of suppression the lower the level of corruption. Meanwhile, suppression is so difficult to achieve in already corrupt nations where the ethos of suppression is lacking. Why? Look at Nigeria where the masses have to walk ten miles in order to cover three miles in terms of daily economic survival, they are not going to challenge or stop adulating corrupt big wigs even if they truly wanted to. The Nigerian dream, the stuff of miraculous, effortless, or lucky “pure rags to major riches” and by any means is probably more powerful and seductive than to American dream which is aspiring American directly base on hard-work and deferred gratification. A disabling mix of stark poverty, belief in miracles, resort to begging, the need of help of the more privileged, fear of the loss of the little one has and the fear of death, beatings or incarceration has incisively locked-down the will of Nigerian masses to suppress most forms of wrongdoing. Hunger and democratic repression are not conducive for moral uprightness especially when it exacerbates instances of both the former and latter. Helplessness, learned or imposed, is the truest condition of the ordinary man in Nigeria today; it is the unparalleled moribund convention that undermines their very humanity. It must be said the repression most Nigerians experience is not necessarily centralised but emanates from the whims and designs of power elites as they choose; their powers easily exceed and dominate the provisions of formal institutions of governance and regulation of the nation. Politicians in office or seeking to enter office will not adopt and enforce laws of clean governance because it will weaken their chances or election or re-election on the one hand and will reduce or wipe out the entrepreneurial benefits of being in office on the other. The politicians will not suppress corruption and the people are helpless in suppressing corruption. Tragic but true for now. So, do we give up and fold our hands? No!!!
In part two of this essay (forthcoming), I will present a discussion of effective approaches to the issue of suppressing corruption that is available and viable in Nigeria.