Corruption: How did we get this low? And which way out? – An open letter to a great Nation - by Rufus Kayode Oteniya

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My dear fellow countrymen,
This is the first of what I hope will be a series of regular letters to the 140 million Good People of this Great Nation. Being my first letter, I would like to deal with an issue of utmost concern to all, something that touches every life in the nation. Corruption is a menace that is posing a great challenge to our development, a torn in the flesh of our national conscience compromising the rule of law and becoming an undesirable way of life and governance that is undermining our democratic values. I would spend much energy and time addressing what I think should be lasting solutions to this somewhat incurable disease that is more dangerous than the notorious Swine flu.

Many have talked passionately and elaborately about this problem with only a few suggesting the ways out. Lamentation will not effect any change unless we get to the root cause, cure it and remove all the signs and symptoms. I would be using this space to do exactly that. We have to come together to end this problem even though we did not create it but we have all contributed to project it to the current level.

Very often, when we talk about corruption, we all tend to look at the other side, it something others do. Someone else is corrupt. It's what the politicians do, it's what the bosses do in Aso Rock and all the federal, state and local government houses; and the parliaments. Yes they do but if they are the only corrupt beings, then only an insignificant fraction of our society is corrupt. We are all quick to judge as corrupt, the NNPC and all organizations that have N stuck in them such as PHCN, NERC, NPA, NA, NN, NAF, NPF, NI, NC, NFA, FAAN, CBN, NDIC, NDCC, INEC…. Yes! You are right. They are all corrupt but corruption is not limited to them. If corruption is only limited to what we see in Ibori, Aondoakaa, the hairdresser Etteh, Lucky, Tafa, Alam, Edem, Alaibe, Dariye, Odili, Turaki, Atiku, Yar'Adua, Obasanjo, Abacha, Babangida, Abdulsalam, Siemens, Willbros, Halliburton and African Petroleum, I would be the first to thrown stone at them in the open. No! It is far beyond this.

So what is corruption? Nice question! Who is corrupt? Still a good question!! How did we get there? A better question!!! And how do we get out of this mess? Wow! You've just ask the best question!!!! My letter will deal with all these questions.

According to Oxford English dictionary, corruption is dishonest or illegal behaviour or the willingness to act dishonestly in return for money or personal gain. If I have to expand this and bring it home, then corruption is a dysfunctional system or institution in which government officials, political officials and private employers or employees seek illegitimate personal gains through actions such as bribery, extortion, nepotism, graft, embezzlement and abuse of corporate power by managers against the shareholders or consumers. Corruption usually facilitate organized crime and criminal activities such as money laundering, fraud or 419, drug trafficking and all other forms of trafficking.

A government is susceptible to political corruption where access to politics is organized with limited transparency, limited competition and directed towards promoting narrow interests featuring stuffs like kleptocracy – rule by thieves inflating contracts and electoral process manipulation and rigging.

Who is corrupt?
This is a practical question that I would like to answer practically. In answering this question, I would like to ask you a few personal questions based on your past experiences. You'll need to do some personal appraisal. If you answer YES to any of the questions, it can not be said that your are totally immune to corruption. If you answer is NO to all the question, I may have to bring a lie-detector to run the test on you by myself and if you still get a perfect NO, be sure that I'd recommend you to Transparency International (TI) in Berlin, Germany for a special anti-corruption award.

· Have you ever embezzled i.e. wrongfully taken, stolen or misappropriated a fund or office entrusted in your care. This include sending an official employee e.g. your official driver on a private errand? YES/NO

· Have you ever favoured or received favour from relatives, friends and associates in employment, judgement, award of contract or admission? YES/NO

· Have you ever made an illegitimate gain in employing someone or given a contract to a person other than the most competent candidate? YES/NO

· Have you ever been 'settled', taken a graft or a kickback i.e. a share of misappropriated funds from overpriced purchases or allocated from an organization involved in inflated contract? YES/NO

· Have you ever rigged an election or accepted an elected office through a fraudulent election? YES/NO

· Have you ever inflated the price of an item purchased in your official capacity or inflated the price of a contract?

· Have you ever used your official power illegitimately as means to an end, to punish or promote a person or to trump-up charges against enemies? YES/NO

If your answer is outright NO, congratulation! You have not contributed to corruption in the country but wait! Before you start uncorking the Champagne or giving testimony in your local church of your incorruptibility, let me ask you the last question.

· Have you ever given any form of bribe to any one or taken one. YES/NO

The answer to this may require a real soul-searching. Think of the popular N100 at the checkpoint substituting vehicle documents, N1000 at the airport for easy passage, N10,000 to the Immigration officer for quick passport, N100,000 at Idi-Iroko and Seme border to make the Custom men blind, N1,000,000 at Tin-Can to have a reduced tariff or duty, N10,000,000 to the Senate Committee, N100,000,000 to INEC to change the will of the people, N1,000,000,000 to the Presidency for the Oil block……………. Wow! Everything has a price.

Really, corruption can be graded. Some are more harmful than the others but every bit of it is detrimental to our system. We are where we are today as a result of all the forms of corruption at all level and we are all have to take responsibility and flush it out of our national life.

How did we get this low?
No nation is perfect. No country is 100% protected from corruption. In all great nations, corruption is not visible and acceptable. It goes on underground and perpetrated by only an infinitesimal fraction of the society and who are brought to book whenever they are caught. Nigeria was like this until the mid '60 when we had our first shot at electoral corruption.

In 1965 elections, the Action Group (AG), a party led by late Chief Obafemi Awolowo was outmanoeuvred for control of Nigeria 's Western Region by the Nigerian National Democratic Party, an amalgamation of conservative Yoruba elements backed heavily by the Federal Government amid dubious electoral circumstances. This perceived corruption of the electoral and political process as well as other forms of corruption were cited as the factors leading in 1966 to back-to-back military coups.

Ever since the mid '60s, corruption has been dwelling with us and all successive governments made the fight against corruption a core point of their policies. We never really had a large scale corruption until the civilian regime of Alhaji Shehu Shagari, a grade 2 teacher turned president. The Shagari government was viewed as very corrupt and incompetent by virtually all sectors of Nigerian society. Are teachers incompetent to put their teaching experiences and skills to ruling a nation? Yar'Adua is a former teacher.

Under Shagari's government between 1979 to 1983, politicians like Alhaji Umaru Dikko, the then minister of transport was said to be corruptly making up to a million naira (then a naira was more than a dollar) daily from importation of rice and other commodities; and import duties fraud. The government was also re-elected through a massively fraudulent election that caused a lot of unrest in some south west states.

Most of the Shagari era's deep corrupt practices were reversed by Mohammadu Buhari/Idi-Agbon's government through the War Against Indiscipline programme (WAI). It was the only government on record apart from the short-lived Murtala Mohammed's government that showed seriousness in fighting corruption. Other governments played only lip service. This high-handed government that came in January 1984 was overthrown in 1985 by Ibrahim Babangida to the relieve of many.

Most people believe that the Babangida's government should be credited with institutionalizing corruption in our system. Babangida himself was the architect of the present miserable state of the nation and some call him the author and the finisher of corruption in the country. It can be correctly said that “the seed of corruption was planted by Babangida, watered by Abacha, nurtured to maturity by Abdulsalam, consolidated by Obasanjo and harvested by Yar'Adua”. The successive governments keep building on the brawny foundation of corruption Babangida laid and this explains why the situation progressively get worse. The zenith of this government's corrupt practices was Babangida's annulment of June 12, 1993 election which was adjudged by most people as the most free and fair election in the history of Nigeria and presumably won by Alhaji Moshood Abiola a philanthropic business mogul and government contractor.

So how do we get out of this mess called corruption?

Whatever has a beginning must definitely have an end. Life always present us with choices. We have two choices in ending this endemic vice that has apparently caused us to live a discounted life with an ever diminishing standard of living. It has eroded our national pride and sense of belongingness leaving us with nothing other than a collapsed system with brain drain and unemployment as main features and now threatening to completely mortgage our future.

Much sooner than later, we will be left with a violent change is we fail to make a peaceful change now! Abuja should know that those who make peaceful changes impossible, make violent changes inevitable.

Most Nigerians hope and pray to live in a country that will be free from corruption and many of us believe that a cause worth living for is worth dying for. We will be left with no alternative than this bloody revolution if we fail to act on a peaceful resolution.

The peace resolution will require a collective effort by all and sundry to be spearheaded by the government. Needless to say that with this depth of corruption, no single person or organisation has the moral ability and capability to fight it because when you do a background check, you will find out that those empowered by law to fight corruption are more deeply involved in corruption than those they want to check. The government has to provide an enabling environment by making zero tolerant policies (that must be strictly adhered to) against corruption and by leading through example that will flow down the ladder.

President Yar'Adua must show that he is serious about fighting this corruption and if he succeeds in just only this, posterity will place him on the right side of history.

Everyone has to give up all corrupt practices or be brought to book and whenever we see something, we have to say something as demanded by EFCC.

Nigeria also need to get back all the stolen money and looted treasures especially considering the present economic situation. We thereby need to set up a recovery commission using the South African model of Truth and Reconciliatory Commission (TRC) in order to get the loots back so that we can have a fresh start.

TRC was a court-like body assembled in South Africa after the abolition of apartheid. Anyone who felt that he or she was a victim of its violence was invited to come forward and be heard. Perpetrators of violence could also give testimony and request amnesty from prosecution. Despite some flaws, it is generally thought to have been successful. It was seen by many as a crucial component of the transition to full and free democracy in South Africa .

A recovery commission will enable people to come out voluntary and return back their loots in exchange for amnesty and only those who refuse to cooperate will be brought to justice.

If we fail to act now, the good people of this great nation are becoming impatient and the forceful change is imminent. A word is enough for the wise and the fact remains that “The future will have no pity for those men who have the exceptional privilege of speaking the word of truth to their own oppressors but who have taken attitude of passivity, mute indifference and sometimes of cold complicity”. Frantz Fannon

Rufus Kayode Oteniya is a Milan , Italy based businessman and social affairs commentator.

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