Foremost nationalist and political leader, late Chief Obafemi Awolowo in 1979 raised a salient point when he said, ‘Since independence, our governments have been a matter of few holding the cow for the strongest and most cunning to milk.” Under those circumstances, he explained, everybody runs over everybody to make good at the expense of others. Several decades after this statement, the situation has not changed.
Issues of corruption and corrupt tendencies have become daily national discourse. At the national and state levels, various panels are currently investigating one act of misdeed by present and previous public officials. A sizable number of them have been arraigned in various courts and tribunals. The revelations are as chilling as they are baffling, particularly for a nation that made anti-corruption its swan-song. Unfortunately, this ugly development has created the impression that Nigeria is a nation of Political Leaders and Looters.
Indeed, corruption in public and private lives has become a societal norm. The uncleanliness and uncertainty of our system of life compel people who find themselves in key positions to devise means of safeguarding their future and those of their unborn succeeding generations. Even the local societies condone corruption by obliging chieftaincy titles to opportunistic men and women of means.
The main issue of corruption in public life in Nigeria is not only the horrific and retarding effect of corruption and the corrupt, but the abominable silence of the good people of this country who suffer from this wicked act. As Albert Einstein once said, “The world is dangerous not because of the people who do evil, but because of those who sit and let it happen.” From all available information, this is an undisputed fact because an evil act or deed cannot flourish unless it has a sponsor – what in Nigeria is called “god-father”.
Today, public service is so steeped in corruption that it is becoming a way of life, albeit, a glaring testimony of how decadent our nation has become. Moral and ethical behaviours are at best difficult to legislate in a free and truly democratic society, for they are concerned above all with human values, not with legislation. However, a government or social system can compel by diverse means the adoption by its citizens of certain values and desirable norms of behaviour.
The perfection of open corruption on a huge scale was the most destructive legacy of past civilian and military administrations in Nigeria, in that it usually at the end results in the final annihilation of the national psyche, the complete loss of faith in honesty, and the almost unshakeable entrenchment of cynicism toward the leadership and the entire system itself.
From revelations at various courts, panels and tribunals, it would be seen that main objective of most of the aspirants is to share in the disbursement of the national cake manifested in embezzlement of public funds, election malpractices, inflation of contracts and other abominable acts. And these have in no way helped in the development of Nigeria.
Origin of corruption in Nigeria is not far-fetched. The rise of public administration and the discovery of oil and natural gas are two major events seen to have led to a litany of ignoble corrupt practices in the country. Over the years, the country has seen its wealth withered with little to show in living conditions of the average human being.
Another school of thought blames it on advent of colonialism. According to this view, the nation’s colonial history may have restricted any early influence in an ethical revolution. Throughout the colonial period, most Nigerians were stuck in ignorance and poverty. The trappings of flash cars, houses and success of the colonists might have influenced the poor to see the colonists as symbols of success and to emulate the colonists in different political ways.
A view commonly held during the colonial days was that the colonists’ property (cars, houses, farms etc.) were not “our” property. Thus, vandalism and looting of public property was not seen as a crime against society. This view is what has degenerated into the more recent disregard for public property and lack of public trust and concern for public goods as a collective national property.
Whatever is the reason, the fact remains that something must be done to change the status quo and restore Nigeria’s badly damaged image.
Good enough, President Buhari has promised to wipe out corruption in public life but to succeed he must realise that the public must be convinced that a genuine attempt to stamp out corruption is in progress and must be made to identity with the effort.
Second, government at all levels must recognise that corruption can only be seriously tackled by assault from various fronts and through varied complementary intervention strategies.
Third, in future elections, voters must be careful to choose between potential political leaders and looters.
Lastly, there is no doubt that good leadership and good governance usually evoke positive and dynamic response from the governed. In the battle against corruption in public life, the highest echelons of President Buhari’s administration must show a commitment to uprightness as well as dedication to the eradication of corruption.

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