Corruption: Not Anymore A Big Deal in Nigeria


Hakeem Babalola



Who or what is going to curb corruption in a nation where impairment of virtue and moral principles are genuinely considered traditional values? Who or what is going to hold or keep rottenness in the land within limits? Although this question has become a cliché, it is basically to hound all those who have declared war on corruption in the history of Nigeria.


Over the years, I have learnt that whenever some dudes proclaim war on corruption, they actually mean the exact opposite – peace on corruption. They would like to address the nation that corruption should not be regarded as a big deal in the land where everyone encourages it. But these dudes are probably afraid of the consequences of such frankness, hence the need to continue playing games. Corruption, it seems, is part of various turpitudes of modern society. Can it be curbed in Nigeria? No, it’s too late.


Before I go in perspective, I’d like to share a recent experience. I recently visited the Nigeria embassy in Hungary. A senior colleague and one time National Union of Journalists’ President had arranged a meeting between a senior diplomat and I. It was a meeting I appreciated for, ever since I was embarrassed in 2001 when another senior diplomat ran away from an interview he had already agreed, I decided not to “trouble” them again. But when this opportunity came from someone I respect, I took it. It thus helps.


There were many issues in my mind to discuss: immigration, proxy passport, invalid Nigerian document in Hungary, Nigeria’s properties and award of contracts etc. Although the senior diplomat I spoke with on that Wednesday April 23 seemed to be candid and appeared brilliant, I sensed a pattern of thinking peculiar to Nigerians, and unless we recognise, accept and be honest to ourselves, all efforts to tackle issues – especially bribery and corruption – will forever be in vain. The experience has provided a deep insight into how our public officials think. This is unfortunate but perhaps we are all victims – of a pattern.


According to my observation which could be faulty, corruption is not regarded as a crime per se in Nigeria – not anymore. Although Nigerians know that corruption is going from bad to worse, deep down only a few see it as a big deal. Those dudes may preach and preach against corruption, it is now obvious that they can’t live without it. The pressures from family, friends, or relatives are just damn too much. Even ordinary Nigerians are compelled to give or accept bribe in many circumstances beyond their control.    


Those that meet with the public officials on a daily basis, if they want to be honest, know that corruption has become a game of survival among the so-called ruling class; even among the watchdog of the society.  When someone who calls himself the Fourth Estate results to sharing the national cake, then Nigerians are still pounding yam with a needle. Corruption has been elevated to a certain level where anyone who is not corrupt is seen as a fool. Parent who used to preach against corruption in those days is the first to advise their offspring to embrace it in Nigeria’s of today.


It’s now more than three decades that Murtala Ramat Muhammed, the one who succeeded Yakubu GOWON in 1975 in a bloodless coup, started it all. He told the nation that the era of corruption would be the thing of past. He and his khaki boys descended on civil servants and other public officials whom they say lacked honesty and oblivious to what is honourable. They were labelled fraudulent civil servants and they were severely dealt with. Nowadays you hear that a Alam has been arrested for corruption but alas, the next day he becomes the bride of those who had earlier declared him wanted


It’s apparent that Mr. Muhammed lost the war he waged against corrupt politicians, civil servants, directors, mangers, teachers, journalists, the police, market men and women. Since that time immemorial, each administration has used coup as a bastion against corruption. Virtually every succeeding usurper proclaimed corruption as the main reason it overthrew its predecessor. It has been like that since GOWON; Muhammed/Obasanjo; Obasanjo/Shagari; Buhari/Idiagbon; Babangida; Abacha; Abubakar; Obasanjo and up till today under Yar’Adua/Obasanjo. Fighting corruption has been like pounding yam with a needle.


Of course there are Nigerians who sincerely believe that corruption is moving the nation backward, but it’s somehow easy to sway them to the other side. That’s one of the ironies of the matter. There are just too many things that can kill the morale to shun corruption. In order to get things done quickly, many Nigerians are ready to bribe their way.  A Nigerian who for example needs an international passport urgently would definitely bribe her way irrespective of her stand on corruption. She may discuss its consequences from morning till night she just lacks physical and mental energy to shun it in reality.


Telling Nigerians and their leaders to eschew bribery and corruption is telling them to forgo a traditional value. Believe it or not, Nigerians have a peculiar way of doing things. Perhaps we need to realise that bribery and corruption has become our traditional value hence we should legalise it. If we do, at least we won’t be spending billions on probe, or spending lavishly to wage war against it. Invariably our dealers would be able to concentrate and do their job efficiently instead of playing hide and seek with the law. For instance, if a senator goes hiding in order to avoid being prosecuted for corruption, we should accept it as our way of doing things. We should not call her a thief because she is not. Or is she?


Likewise if a plane went missing for months without any clue about its whereabouts, we should not panic and consider it as one of those things in Nigeria. Even if an ex-president refused or could not account for billions of naira during his tenure, we should see it as part of our traditional values. The same applies to a president who prefers travelling abroad for medical treatment to implementing a last solution that would prevent him from travelling to a far away place before he could get medical treatment.


As part of our traditional values, if an “honourable” helped siphon public money abroad, met a Nigerian ambassador with whom he colluded to defraud their government, we should not see their conduct as a crime rather we should treat them as honourables. We should celebrate their conduct as part of our values. A law banning the blocking of roads for any form of social commercial activities and is being disobeyed by the citizens should be seen as part of our celebrated culture. Nigerians should not compromise its traditional values, or let western approach to development enslave them. Even a government that is unable to enforce certain law is our unique way of approach to issues.


A president who is ready to spend billions of naira on international advertisement for the image repackage of her country but fails to provide basic amenities for the citizens should not be prosecuted, for she is following a traditional value unique to Nigerians. Even a celebrated ruffian, who decides to control the state funds from the corner of his bedroom should be accepted and hailed as a role model for upcoming politicians. What matters most is the fact that there’s a consistent pattern in our approach. We should celebrate our values with Alhaji Yar’Adua Obasanjo as he marks one year on the throne on May 29.