Are All Nigerians Corrupt?


nigerian-currency-ks8350.jpgNigeria is internationally famous for three things: oil, its Super Eagles football team, and its spectacular government corruption.  However, contrary to popular belief it is quite simply a myth that corruption is perpetrated mostly by the government.  Most Nigerians are paradoxically and simultaneously, accomplices, active participants, victims and agents provocateurs of corruption in their society. 

LEGAL IMPEDIMENTS: Section 308 of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution

The first step to understanding corruption in Nigeria is the acknowledgment that corruption is the norm rather than the exception.  Corruption is part of the system and has even been inadvertently sanctioned by the Constitution.  Section 308 of the Constitution shields the President, Vice-President, Governors and Deputy Governors from civil or criminal proceedings, arrest and imprisonment during their term of office.  This Section was intended to prevent frivolous lawsuits from being brought against public officers which might impede their management of their official duties.  However in a country as notoriously corrupt as Nigeria, it has been a legal cloak for embezzlement, and has placed many public officers above the law.  The result has been that several Governors have been able to loot state treasuries at will with no fear of arrest or prosecution.

However, corruption is not the exclusive preserve of the government.  Although most Nigerians condemn corruption as a practice of the “Big Men” and government officials, most of the population are willing accomplices.  There is an inherent hypocrisy among Nigerians about corruption.  Most citizens acknowledge that corruption is an impediment to Nigeria’s economic development and reputation, yet the ordinary Nigerian’s unquenchable thirst for the acquisition of material wealth, possessions, fame and power fuels corruption by others.  Even those that disapprove of corruption by government officials freely admit that they would do the same if they were in government, and they simultaneously participate in practices that are inappropriate.  The fuel industry is an excellent illustrative example of how corruption and dishonesty flows from the top all the way down to the lower rungs of Nigerian society.  The oil industry is rightly or wrongly perceived as the epicentre of government corruption and abuse in Nigeria.  Is the government alone in its abuse of the oil industry?  During fuel strikes and shortages petrol stations have frequently been accused of surreptitiously hoarding fuel in order to deliberately amplify shortages and drive prices even higher.  In other words they exploit and deteriorate the misery of the already hyper-extended fuel consumer.  Malpractice is not limited to petrol station proprietors.  Black market street sellers of fuel in such circumstances are also distrusted by some motorists.  Motorists often accuse them of diluting the petrol they sell with other chemicals.  In the “food chain” of the oil industry, private citizens also dangerously “tap” oil from pipelines in order to sell on the black market.  We should avoid using benign words like “tap” and call the practice what it is: theft.  This theft is carried out with no remorse for the fact that the oil being stolen is a national resource, or any thought of the explosive danger caused by damage to pipelines.  Thousands of lives have been lost in pipeline fires caused by “tapping”.

SOCIETAL PRESSURE

Once an individual lands a government job, (s)he will be inundated with near irresistible requests for ‘assistance’, finance, contracts and material benefits from members of his or her society.  To resist such requests would be to risk being ostracised by their own kinfolk.  The community expects and encourages the selective and disproportionate distribution of the “benefits” of government finances to the relatives and community of the government official.  The African extended family and patronage system ensures that a government official finds it culturally difficult to resist.  If a government official condemns corruption and refuses to use government finances to enrich them self and their community, such an official would be denounced as foolish and would be derided for having nothing to show for their time in government.  Negative comparisons would be drawn with other officials who (corruptly) enriched themselves, and the official would be asked why he was still living in the same one house while his colleagues in government have acquired ostentatious status symbols of their time in government such as cars and expensive houses at home and abroad. The current generation of Nigerians do not desire governments or institutions which seek to inhibit their ability to illegally acquire wealth.  Nigerians have become accustomed to the culture of corruption around them, and are very quick to condemn and dispense with governments that push the elimination of corruption as a major policy platform.  The regime of Major-Generals Buhari and Idiagbon launched a severe and unprecedented anti-corruption campaign for over a year and a half between January 1984 and August 1985.  They tried and imprisoned politicians that embezzled state funds.  Before long, Nigerians were unhappy with the duo.  Disapproval of their anti-corruption campaign was not explicit, but was subtly cotton wooled into ostensibly academic and sober critiques of their “high handed” and “repressive” nature.  Nigerians celebrated when Buhari and Idiagbon were overthrown and replaced by a gap toothed armoured corps General from Minna named Ibrahim Babangida.  Readers should not delude themselves into believing that General Abacha ran the most corrupt regime in Nigeria’s history.  Abacha was the most openly and brazenly corrupt, but before him came his mentor and role model Babangida.  Nigeria’s moral fibre was destroyed under the regime of General Babangida.  That is not to say that corruption was non-existent before him, but under Babangida, corruption was systematised, institutionalised and brought home as a fact of life to the doorstep of every Nigerian.  Babangida allowed Nigerians to see the ugly mirror reflection of their morality.  He recognized many Nigerians for what they are: commodities whose loyalty and soul is on sale to the highest bidder.  Many “pro democracy activists” denounced the corruption that took place under military rulers but were silenced by the financial “settlement” culture that was so pervasive under Generals Babangida and Abacha.   The current anti-corruption efforts of the EFCC and ICPC are derided for being “selective” and for not catching every corrupt individual.  These unsophisticated criticisms are the moral equivalent of a bank robber objecting to his arrest by the police on the grounds that other bank robbers whom the police have not arrested are still on the loose.  The author is of the opinion that most Nigerians should be grateful for this “selective” prosecution by the EFCC because if every corrupt Nigerian adult was arrested: (i) there would not be enough prisons and detention space to hold them, and (ii) a great deal of the workforce would be behind bars.  Nigeria has bred something far more sinister and sophisticated than petty graft and bribery.  The still unaccounted $12 billion dollar gulf war oil windfall, the Okigbo report that has never been acted upon and the absence of public outrage at these events is symbolic of the tacit acceptance of corrupt practices as “The Nigerian Way”.  Corruption in Nigeria is not just an offshoot of collapsed social and governmental institutions, nor is it the result of a hostile economic environment.  The roots go much deeper and are symptomatic of the gradual but residual breakdown of Nigerian societal values and morality.  It is the result of Nigerians’ failure to distinguish right from wrong, and of a nationwide refusal to condemn dishonesty.  Nigerians only condemn corruption when they are not the beneficiaries of it. 

A WAY FORWARD?

Western nations have lower levels of corruption not only because their law enforcement authorities are more zealous.  The psyche of their citizens is different from that of the Nigerian.  The UK and New Zealand are two countries with the lowest levels of official corruption in the world.  The overwhelming majority of citizens in those countries reflexively obey the law as a matter of their nature and inner will.  They do not have to be coerced into obedience.  This is due to the attitudinal and societal rejection of corruption in these countries.  There is a moral consensus in these countries that corruption is degenerative for their society.What can be done for Nigeria?  I propose two approaches that might be a god start.  The first step is the elimination of the systemic procedure which inhibits measures aimed at eliminating corruption.   Section 308 of the Constitution should be amended (not deleted) so that the President, Vice-President, Governors and Deputy Governors should be immune from civil, but not criminal proceedings.  The semantic difference is that such officials would be immune from being sued in vexatious civil litigation (with apologies to Gani Fawehinmi) but would not be immune from investigation, arrest or imprisonment for the commission of crimes (including those involving corrupt practices and financial impropriety).  However such a constitutional amendment is unlikely to occur anytime in the near future.  The prerequisites for a constitutional amendment are formidable.  Constitutional amendments in Nigeria require a two-thirds majority approval vote in the federal Senate and House of Representatives, and further approval by two-thirds of the 36 State House of Assemblies in Nigeria.  To reach such a degree of consensus in a country as large and fractious as Nigeria would be near miraculous.  Other methods are required. Nigeria needs a moral revolution.  That moral revolution cannot be accomplished while the present generation remains.  Many members of the present generation have been so utterly corrupted that they are beyond redemption.  Nigeria cannot and will not progress until they expire.  Hope lies in the young and unborn who have not yet been tainted by the society around them.  By inculcating from a young age, the destructive social effects of corruption, a new more honest generation may emerge in future.  The teaching of values should be compulsorily incorporated into academic syllabi from primary school until the completion of university.  I will not deny that this sounds like a subtle form of indoctrination, but it might be the only way to save Nigeria from itself.  Corruption in Nigeria will be brought down to manageable levels only when a national consensus is reached that corruption is a corrosive impediment, and when it is rejected by the majority of the population.

maxsiollun@yahoo.com 

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2 responses

  1. Aniesi O'Daniels | Reply

    It must not be questions, one could also make a statement of fact. What if the topic here is “All Nigerians are not corrupt”

  2. CHARLES KING | Reply

    Nigeria is well corrupted Nation even before their independent of 1960.
    For instance, Our authorities,Forces and government officials were very greedy and desperate to stole public money, while the world is watching.They can do any thing posible to get rich, they encourage bribery, armed robbery, killings, OBT(419),kidnappings, Money laundry etc. to the society which made Nigeria to be lawless and most distrusted and isolated Nation on Earth today.The only person you could trust in Nigeria today is the “Dead person” believe it or not. The custom officers at the seaports and airports makes money fifty times double ahead of the Federal government, because they have to settle their bosses who assigned them to the duty, same as their police and millitary officers.A common person had little or no hope of surviving in Nigeria. The sellfish wicked rulers of Nigeria( both in high and low places ) were all about their pockets and not for the people, their by encouraging the masses to do anything to survive.
    Truly speaking, some of the people were not born to be croock but they are victim of circumstances due to the system by which the country is governed.
    Nigerians should not be surprised why their images are dented abroad because every nation has their ambassador to Nigeria that observes their government and individual behaviors everyday.
    Again, the government officials of Nigeria who laundered money to oversea Banks, and purchased properties at any cost in abroad were also an example of their notable corruption and criminally inclined nation which makes the whitemen to see such act as a “Black Animal Mentality” even though the western world benefited from those fund, they still known Nigerian goverments as the world most corrupted Government. The western world Banks usually wellcome the stollen government funds from Nigerians with a beautifull smile and warmth hand shake, at the same time critisizing and pocking nose behind them for doing less than what an Animal can do.
    When the authorities are corrupted what else do you expect from individuals?
    Beside the contageous government of Nigeria, The only ethnic group that can still be trusted in Nigeria today is the real “Hausa Fulani” People because individually they are least inquisitive, jealous, greedy , envy and desperate over money except for few of them who had tested power with collaboration of North East(Midle Belt) People, other than that Hausa Fulani were still considerable and traditionally the best.

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