A new hue to Nigeria’s corrupt legacy is unraveling. Vast sums of money, apparently proceeds of crime, are now being stored in uninhabited places. And for drama, the ownership of such money is unclaimed. The conventional modes of siphoning illicit funds have become almost impracticable; thanks to President Muhammadu Buhari. A new vocation, whistle-blowing, has emerged. Undoubtedly, the diehards would be back at the famous drawing board to devise new modus operandi in furtherance of the sleaze.
An issue that rightly deserves deeper evaluation is why Nigerians intentionally indulge in corruption. We are probably not the most corrupt nation on earth, although everyone attributes Nigeria’s underdevelopment to corruption. Some stats will help. Amnesty International annually conducts the Corruption Perception Index, which was launched in 1995, and focuses on countries to measure ‘how corrupt their public sectors are seen to be.’ In 2016, Nigerian ranked 136 out of 176 countries, a replication of 2014 and 2015. It was ranked 144th in 2013, 139th in 2012 and 143rd in 2011.
From the foregoing, it could be deduced that virtually every country harbours some level of corruption. But Nigeria belongs in the zone of grand corruption. “Systemic grand corruption”, said AI, “violates human rights, prevents sustainable development and fuels social exclusion.” For emphasis, the report noted that “the lower-ranked countries in our index are plagued by untrustworthy and badly functioning public institutions like the police and judiciary. Even where anti-corruption laws are on the books, in practice they’re often skirted or ignored. People frequently face situations of bribery and extortion, rely on basic services that have been undermined by the misappropriation of funds, and confront official indifference when seeking redress from authorities that are on the take.”
Nonetheless, corruption, to me, is not Nigeria’s biggest problem; neither is it tribalism or Boko Haram. These are symptoms of a malaise. Nigeria’s ‘acidic’ corruption, as Dele Momodu qualifies it, is the fallout of an attitudinal disposition caused by a seeming lack of belief in one nation. Nigeria is not a country for all its citizens. Exclusion is its norm. Without shared interest, there is an inordinate yearning that propels people to grab what they can right now. After all, nobody would cater for them and the country may collapse tomorrow. In the ensuing melee, every aspect of life, even conscience, becomes warped. An annoying paradox is the futile denial of our uncommonness, the failure to reverse course and the upshot it has unleashed.
The seeming lack of belief in one country has clear causes. These are known to everyone, but the common tendency, especially among the elite and those benefiting from the chaos, is indifference and bluster.
Leadership, the sort that has transformed nations, has eluded Nigeria. Due essentially to structural and mental deficit, our country has woefully failed to produce great minds in the political space. Low education is a foremost shortfall here. What we have mostly had were people representing parochial interest-groups: tribal, religious, regional and class. They form collaborations with their ilk across the country to form parasitic and visionless cliques focused on naked power. As small men in big offices, they can hardly grasp the big picture. They misplace their abilities and readily destroy any opposition. The egos of deficient men have never done any society any good; Nigeria has such egos in abundance. When you are ordinary, petty and selfish, true greatness will elude you. People do not become great by force and fear or by flaunting ill-gotten wealth or high office. It requires vision, integrity and purpose. You may wonder why a country so endowed has failed to succeed. The outstanding examples of accomplishment are usually individual efforts. Any appearance of purposeful leadership happened prior to independence and shortly afterwards.
Sickening are the empty rhetoric of people who pass off as leaders. Noises of one indivisible and prosperous nation continue to rent the air, long after the brutish civil war. But who can pinpoint any significant trust-building effort aimed at advancing nationhood. Instead, grabbing and sharing important public offices and situating projects in favoured regions are showcased as nation-building. By locating projects in specific parts of the country, a prosperous country will emerge and its faultlines will disappear, it is believed. How naive? Indisputably, the lopsided location of projects or positions has not substantially developed any region more than the others.
The elite, in pursuit of their self-interest, have kept the people in perpetual poverty in order to remain in control. With grinding poverty and oppression, the people are sufficiently weakened to ask for their rights or accountability from their leaders. Defeated, they resort to self-help and contribute in diversifying corruption.
Lack of education has been deployed to a telling effect in the country, producing a critical mass of docile and brainwashed people who have nothing to live for. Without education, they are denied the civility and knowledge to aspire for success. Instead, violence and aggression are employed as alternatives to reasoning. By deliberately denying people education, they are left at the level of beasts to be unleashed in advancement of narrow interests. Today, these people are mainly destitute and ready tools for sustaining divisions and underdevelopment.
While some people seek distinction and success through education, hardwork and intellect, others flaunt tribe, religion and people as qualifications. What qualifies someone for high office is reference to the office of a dignitary he served, not education or merit. Curiously, those who have laboured to obtain first class education are sidelined. While the ‘favoured’ rarely succeed outside Nigeria, the latter achieve global acclaim that is shamefully cited when referencing Nigeria’s achievements.
The failure and refusal to create a system based on equality, equity and inclusion remains Nigeria’s biggest undoing. It will continue to fuel corruption and instability. Those who abhor education and merit, strengthened by a dysfunctional structure, view power and public office as undisputable entitlements. They apply enslavement, oppression, decimation, persecution, violence and intolerance as tools to sustain political domination. As a result, Nigeria’s development continues to stagnate. Fighting the effect of corruption will not build a great nation. We’ve got to dig deeper down to tackle the malaise and not its symptoms.
Nwachukwu is a Lagos-based communications consultant