Are We Losing The Was Against Corruption?


“Corruption is worse than prostitution. The latter might endanger the morals of an individual, the former invariably endangers the morals of the entire country”- Karl Kraus

On a recent trip to Dubai, UAE, I had an interest conversation with my Pakistani cab driver. The theme of the conversation was the endless deaths of African and Asian refugees in the Mediterranean and the potential impact of brain drain on the economic development of their host nations. At the end of our conversation, we both agreed on one point which was beyond dispute, in our opinion.

We both agreed that there was a direct correlation between the absolute rule of law, good governance, and the accelerated economic development of nations. Our impromptu analysis revealed that almost all the nations that made the transition from the Third World to fully developed economies in the past three or four decades had almost identical attributes in their metamorphoses.

A simple roll call of countries we discussed confirmed the obvious. China, Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea, and the United Arab Emirates have all benefitted from the preponderance of the absolute enforcement of the rule of law and good governance which enabled the greater majority of their citizens to escape the ravages of extreme poverty of the type that has become commonplace in most of sub-Saharan Africa and beyond.

Our analysis also revealed the reverse scenario in the case of countries afflicted with extreme corruption, paucity of good governance and the absence of the rule of law. We mulled over the situations in his own country Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, South Sudan, Zimbabwe, and yes, Nigeria, along with numerous other Asian and African countries.

The situation in those countries explains why individuals like my cabbie - who happened to be a graduate - ended up with jobs citizens of the UAE, and the other well-governed nations considered to be beneath their dignity.  It is also a matter for deeper lamentation that the cabbie believed he was lucky. Thousands of other less fortunate Africans and Asians who departed their homes in the search for greener pastures ended up at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea, or are still languishing in refugee camps scattered across Europe.

Corruption, like the former Georgian Eduard Shevardnadze once noted, has its own motivations.  The societies in which corruption thrives he warned, must perfect the art of fighting the scourge, or else it becomes a losing battle. The responsibility is to thoroughly study and understand the corruption phenomenon itself. The second is to identify and isolate the foundations that allow corruption to exist. The third and last phase in Shevardnadze’s order of battle against the scourge of corruption is to launch a relentless assault against the pillars on which it rests and is nourished.

To our collective shame, we know that in Nigeria corruption is sustained on multiple platforms of our national firmament. It is now purely academic to recall that in the military era, Nigerians naively believed the sort of corruption experienced under military rule derived in the main from the absence of democratic governance or values.  Our experience, since the return of democracy in 1999, tells an entirely different story.  

To our chagrin, we now know, for certain, that democracy is not necessarily a precondition for the economic prosperity anywhere. In Nigeria’s case, the presence of democratic rule in fact appears to have accelerated the scourge of corruption. From the numerous pending cases of graft in our courts, it is abundantly clear that the monumental greed, ineffectiveness and the inaction of the principal actors in the three arms of government has elevated corruption to heights never before experienced on these shores.

Nigerians must also come to the painful realization that among the three arms of government of our presidential system of democracy, the indictment of senior judges and lawyers in recent times has become the most troubling manifestation of corruption in the land. In the ideal presidential system, it is the judiciary which is universally acknowledged to be the last hope of the common man in the arbitration of knotty or contentious issues. In spite of the damning indictments of some members of the bench last year, in the past two weeks alone, the state has lost no fewer than four high profile cases of corruption in the law courts. All were attributed to questionable judgments of the trial judges.

Everywhere we look today in Nigeria, we see structures and systems that sustain high profile corruption. The present administration’s readiness to move against the corrupt judges and complicit senior lawyers is an indication of the judiciary’s high ranking among the pillars that sustain corruption in Nigeria. 

The judiciary’s action and inaction on the cases brought before it is important. They determine whether there are consequences for proven cases or not! The corrupt elements in the arms including the media, simply take their cues from the outcomes of court judgments on such cases. In many instances serial treasury looters of billions of public funds escaped justice with laughable sentences. Other cases lingered for eternity before they were dismissed outright.   

Corruption thrives best were it is repeatedly proven that there can be no consequences for its manifestation. A nation can tolerate the rogue lawmakers and bureaucrats for their serial acts of perfidy, but if the long arms of law eventually fails in its vital responsibility to apprehend and bring them to justice in the long run, it is generally considered to be a hopeless case!

Since 1999, there have been uncountable probes in the National Assembly over several allegations of corruption but I can hardly recall any that was conducted conclusively. In August 2015, the Senate embarked on the probe of the massive investments in the power sector since 1999. Nigerians are still waiting for the outcome of the probe even with allegations that over 16 billion dollars was expended in the period with no tangible improvements in either electricity generation or distribution. As I write this, the total power generation capacity in the nation stands at less than three thousand megawatts which is less than what it was in 1999!

On a recent trip to Morocco, I experienced first-hand, just how much a nation could achieve with tolerable levels of corruption. For the entire four-day duration of my stay in Rabat, I did not experience power outage for a single day. Morocco, which is under a monarchy, provides yet another proof that economic prosperity is not necessarily synonymous with democracy. It commenced the gradual privatization of selected sectors of it economy in 1993 and with the strict observance of the rule of law under which the only the King is exempted from paying toll fees for instance, it is now the 5th largest economy in Africa.

Morocco is not an oil economy. It has transited from the heavy dependence on the export of phosphates to that of agricultural products to Europe. The World Economic Forum placed Morocco as the 1st most competitive economy in North Africa, in its African Competitiveness Report 2014-2015. The state of its social infrastructure is first class. Theirs is not a case of a wasted generation or opportunities like ours.

That brings me to the issue of morality in the fight against corruption. In Nigeria, corruption appears to be winning because it is actually celebrated. Not only that, it also has proven sanctuaries or ‘safe-houses’ in our churches, mosques, tribes, clans, and even social associations.

That way, a proven treasury looter in Sokoto or Jos, completely transforms into a saint or prophet in Warri or Port Harcourt. Nigeria is perhaps the only country in the world with multiple standards for judging corruption.

The recent celebration of the return of the convicted felon, and former Governor of Delta State, James Ibori, revealed all that the entire world needed to know about us and our inclination to fight corruption to a logical conclusion! It is only in Nigeria that some people will openly pray for the death of the leader the greater majority elected to fight corruption.

It is now abundantly clear that the anti-corruption burden is not for President Buhari alone to carry. We all must do our bit to prop up his frail shoulders as he battles to confront the obvious counter-attack from corruption experienced lately.