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The U.S. report on corruption in Nigeria - The Guardian

By The Citizen


Does Nigeria need to be told of how corruption thrives in high places? Or can anything new be said about what a pandemic graft has become in Nigeria? That the answer is an emphatic no illustrates how bad the situation is. But a greater tragedy is that when the matter is raised either by Nigerians or outsiders, the official response is one of denial or combative defence instead of a dignified silence or, better still, a solemn resolve to do something about the cankerworm.

When the United States Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labour, an arm of the State Department made public its annual country report recently, the endemic corruption in Nigeria was again at the centre of the routine report. It painted a picture of the deep-rooted nature of corruption among public officials in the country. Titled, 'Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2012,' the report noted specifically that despite legal provisions against corrupt practices in the country, public officials engaged in them with an unprecedented impunity at all levels of government, including the security forces. It went further to take a swipe at the Nigerian judiciary where it claimed that justice too is for sale. All assertions undisputable.

Typically, the reaction of the government of Nigeria is one of denial of the patently obvious. The presidency warned Nigerians to be wary of the assessment and described the State Department report as 'parachute researches' limited by absence of any knowledge of the country and its affairs. The ruling People's Democratic Party even viewed the report as an insult on the country, but, in contradictory terms, agreed that corruption was everywhere and that the party had been 'fighting' the scourge, obviously with little success. Of course, only PDP knows the tools with which it has done the fighting.

However, it is to be noted that this is not the first indictment of Nigeria over corruption. Not long ago, wife of the former president of the United States, Mrs. Hilary Clinton as Secretary of State also threw barbs at the country over widespread corruption. And indeed, since the inception of the country's fourth republic, the nation has come under scrutiny over corruption. The Transparency International perception index has not spared Nigeria, which is often rated low in its documentations. And the local agencies of corruption, namely, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFFC) and Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) have brought to limelight high profile cases of corruption against public officials, many of which have been inconclusive.

Once again, there is nothing to deny in the State Department report that corruption is widespread in Nigeria. It has not only undermined the country's growth and development but has also aggravated the incapacity of the state to meet the growing needs of the populace. Many of the examples cited in the report, including the oil subsidy scam, the police pension fraud, the trial and conviction of James Ibori in the United Kingdom are common knowledge and irrefutable. Also, the recent glorification of corrupt public officials through indiscriminate state pardons does no good to the image of Nigeria as a very corrupt enclave.

The point must be stressed that the focus on corruption in Nigeria by foreign bodies need not be seen as merely self-serving but on the contrary as a challenge that must be taken up with a view to tackling the problem. Corruption is a serious socio-economic and political issue that should not be treated with kid gloves or trivialized through spinning by hirelings of a government. Pervasive corruption was used in the past as a justification for irresponsible and unacceptable military intervention and therefore has remained a veritable source of instability in the realm.

Government's response to the U.S. searchlight on corruption in Nigeria is indeed unconscionable. The time has come for the government of the day to tackle this challenge headlong. There is need to articulate a national strategy to combat this scourge. That strategy must begin with exemplary conduct of the leadership of the country who must claim the moral high ground through self-purging. Corruption, apart from being systemic, is also partly a question of character failure, and the presidency is pre-eminently a place for moral leadership.

It is a shame that the sixth largest oil producing country has the wellbeing of its citizens ranked among the lowest in the world. The structures for fighting corruption or even preventing it are too weak. An exemplary leadership can breathe life into the sinews of government, cut short the deepening habituation to and tolerance of corruption.

A 'Naming and Shaming' process should form part of the strategy. Corrupt public officials must not only be identified and put on trial, with a view to stigmatising them both internally and externally and keeping them on an Eternal Roll of Dishonour. As the former Malaysian Prime Minister, Mahati Mohamad once remarked, corruption is driven in Nigeria by the absence of a sense of shame.

Restructuring the country in ways that are expressive of fiscal autonomy for the federating components will also help to curb corruption as the over-reliance on oil revenues by all strata of government has fuelled the Dutch disease that has afflicted the country since the discovery of oil.

The grand strategy should also include capacity building for anti-corruption within the bureaucracy of government, especially horizontal accountability, which involves mutual checking, annulling and righting actions and inaction of state institutions.

Above all, the proposed strategy should include remodeling Nigeria's politics, removing its current commercial value and making it attractive only to genuine servants. Now, this is the only business in town and the desperation in the scramble for it fuels corruption in ways unimaginable! Central to this is a drastic reduction in the cost of governance in the executive branch, the legislature and the civil service. The journey may have to begin, for example, with the whittling down of the legislature by making legislative business at all levels a part-time one. This should expunge from the national psyche a mentality in which politics is perceived and practiced today as the only business with the highest returns.

Of course, attitude must change. And the breakdown of values must be addressed through the family system and a nationwide school curriculum that emphasizes ethical re-orientation. This is necessary to keep the future of Nigeria away from the claws of corruption even as the battle goes on to wrest its present from its jaws.