The Greek mythological hero Hercules was given twelve tasks to perform and one of the most important was to clean the stables of Augeas, King of Elis. The Augean Stables were filled with a large number of cattle, which produced an unimaginably huge quantity of dung, having remained uncleaned for 30 years. Hercules diverted the River Alpheus through the stables and succeeded in cleaning them in one day. Like the Augean Stables, the filth of corruption has continued unabated in Nigeria over the years and requires Herculean wisdom urgently. Corruption is the abuse of bestowed power, position of authority or any trust for personal benefit. It is a term that is most often associated with government officials who misappropriate funds or demand and accept kickbacks in the course of performing their duties. However, it is important to note that corruption cuts through various facets of society and therefore is not limited to public officials. Corruption starts in the mind – conditioning the mind to accept wrong as right and placing self-interest above all. Unfortunately, our society now celebrates wealth over wisdom, riches over values and prestige over hard-work, making it the norm for most people to aspire to make money at any cost.
How did our stables get so Filthy?
The colonial era ushered in a period of societal imbalance with unequal terms of governance and trade. This era bestowed power, resources and wealth to Europeans while Nigerians carried out the menial jobs of peasant farming, petty trading and subordinate white-collar tasks. Following the end of the Second World War and a process of decolonization, power shifted to a few Nigerians, who suddenly found themselves in authority and control of resources and opportunities. The unpreparedness of this group to manage the state, brought forth misappropriation and their thirst for wealth, led to the phenomenon of demanding an inducement or bribe for favors and contracts. The new ruling class wanted a portion of the spoil, at the expense of the people. Deep corruption can be traced to Military rule in Nigeria. With each successive Military administration, corruption worsened and impunity became more prevalent. Starting from the Gowon administration, to Babangida, Abacha and then Abdulsalam, public looting successively deepened. Of the Military dictators, not much was recorded stolen under Aguiyi Ironsi and only the Buhari-Idiagbon administration openly declared war against corruption. However, democratic rule thus far has towed the line of the military and corruption has become even more wide-spread and entrenched. Unlike the Military era, politicians spend obscene amounts of money campaigning towards elections and in turn feel the need to recoup this investment by looting the public till or extorting businesses. Gradually, institutions that were established to safe-guard the integrity of the country, have been weakened and corruption has crept into almost all facets of this society. Corruption has been perpetuated by a decline in moral standards, a failure in parenting, a substitution of values with wealth and a warped cultural doctrine that seeking accountability from elders equates disrespect. Corruption is propagated by nepotism, poor access to information, poor systems of control and weak measurement standards. It is propelled by poverty which ignites fear and need-based corruption, and greed which puts self above all. Corruption is fueled by a reliance on manual inefficient systems without controls and a failure to punish acts of corruption decisively and consistently. For instance, the Federal Government and many states, expend huge sums of money on salary payments, which get misappropriated. Attempts by prior administrations to implement an (electronic) integrated personnel and payroll information system as well as effective budgeting frameworks for MDAs were met with significant resistance and remain inconclusive. No one has been prosecuted for inflating MDA wage bills or for sabotaging systems.
How filthy are the stables?
Transparency International in its 2014 corruption perception index ranked Nigeria 136 of 176 countries. It revealed that, based on a survey, 85 percent of Nigerians believed that corruption increased from 2011 to 2013. Furthermore, Global Financial Integrity estimates that more than USD157 billion has been siphoned from the country illicitly over the past decade. The status of most sectors of our economy depict the filth of corruption that has ravaged so deep. A case in point is the education sector. It is plagued with weak human capital and decrepit infrastructure. Investments that should have been made to the sector were been looted and a neglect of this sector has fueled sharp practices. Lecturers and professors sell teaching materials to students, and accept bribes or demand sexual favors in exchange for grades. In turn, many whom our education system turn out today are uncompetitive and unemployable.
Another example is the power sector, funds which should have been invested in the power sector were stolen by prior governments and investments were not made in generating power and upgrading infrastructure. The result today is the country’s inability to produce competitively and a heavy reliance on imports. Manufacturers and businesses spend a significant amount on generating power and running their operations, thus reducing productivity. Consequently, we are unable to provide sufficient employment opportunities to the teaming youthful population, crime is on the increase and the value of the Naira is declining. Beyond the government, corruption is all around and we accept it without realizing. When security guards greet politely, you can be certain that the greeting is intended to induce a tip. When the aviation handlers, government officials and security personnel at airports smile familiarly and wish you a safe journey, you can expect them to add ‘anything for your sister/brother?’ A request for you to drop some cash. When people want to renew their international passports, drivers’ licenses and other permits, they do not even know the official prices for such applications. The systems are designed to be completely opaque in order for the officials to make a certain amount of money on every application. Processes that work in most parts of the world are rigged to fail here, simply to create bottlenecks that justify corruption and loopholes that give the appearance that one has been helped and therefore owes a debt of gratitude to the official.
Failed attempts at curbing corruption
There is an absence of key anti-corruption tools to deter and reduce corruption. Many of the institutions that should prevent corruption are weak. Our religious institutions have failed to preach truth over convenience. They shy away from preaching that all corrupt men shall face the consequences of their actions here on earth and beyond. The emphasis being on money rather than integrity. People pursue religion, the act of going to a place of worship, but not a relationship with their maker and religion has failed to re-orient the hearts and minds of men. Other institutions such as the Police Force, EFCC and ICPC have not exactly lived up to their mandates, and their existence has done little to discourage corrupt practices. Some of their officials are accused of the same vices, which these institutions were established to fight. Thus far, these institutions hardly inspire change and people do not believe that they can effectively rid the country of corruption. Our judicial system has failed to uphold the law in its entirety, applying different weights of justice to different social-classes and categories of individuals. The courts do not inspire much confidence as contracts are wantonly broken by parties and justice is most frequently delayed. International businesses which are serious about operating in Nigeria usually execute contracts with foreign jurisdictions or international arbitration clauses, to ensure that their businesses are better protected. Our court systems are largely manual and too dependent on the presiding judge. This means that when a judge is transferred, he either takes the case with him to a new post or the case starts from scratch under a new judge. Such practices delay justice and the inefficiencies fuel corruption.
What needs to be Done?
1. We all have a part to play in curbing corruption. We must return to a place of truth and of promoting honesty. The war against corruption cannot be won by the President alone but must be cascaded to everyone as our shared responsibility. We must all become faithful stewards of assigned resources, time and talent, and must all work with revolutionary wisdom like Hercules, in cleaning Nigeria. There is a need for moral re-orientation on values and the commitment of all Nigerians to stand by what is right and demand higher standards and accountability from each other and from our leaders.
2. Institutions that should promote good conscience and uphold moral standards must live up to expectation. The home must once again be the primary training ground for distinguishing right from wrong. Parents must set good examples and do right so that children have a model to follow. Schools should return to teaching civic studies that expound on the values in our constitution and the meaning of our national pledge. Places of worship must preach the truth and pursue integrity as well as stop raising funds from and celebrating corrupt people. Traditional institutions should stop conferring titles on men of questionable means. The police force and other government agencies interacting with the public must be equipped to work effectively and stop demanding bribes. Check points should be replaced with effective patrol, to eliminate discretion from the system. The EFCC, ICPC and courts must pursue justice in a timely manner, irrespective of the perpetrator.
3. The Government should move from speech to action. Various reports have been put together on corruption and such report should be made publicly available. The Government should provide people with information and not shield corrupt men and women. People need to see corrupt officials prosecuted and convicted. The punishment for corruption must be very steep to serve as a deterrent to all. The scales of justice must be balanced and the processes refined to ensure that the proceeds of corruption cannot offer protection to anyone. Lastly, the government must enforce policies, automate its payment processes and implement efficient and effective controls to prevent leakages from its coffers. The war against corruption cannot be won until we all get involved with the process of governance – self-governance, accountability of leaders and performance measurement that demands results.
Angela G. Attah for Alegna Global partnerships Ltd