By most accounts, corruption, which has become a global cankerworm, constitutes the bulk of the ills afflicting Nigeria. Corruption manifests in all webs of human activities – in governments, religious institutions, businesses and other interactions. CHIJIOKE OKORONKWO examines the factors that have rendered Nigeria vulnerable to corruption.
Even as some analysts contend that corruption in Nigeria is somewhat exaggerated, others describe its magnitude in the country as startling. However, the analysts agree that for corruption to be contained in Nigeria, factors encouraging corruption should be brought to the fore and tackled head-on. They say that the factors include greed, weak anti-graft laws, exorbitant school fees, prohibitive house rents, high cost of living and obsession of some parents who want their children to excel in exams at all costs as well as efforts of politicians to win elections at all costs.
Mr. Maxwell Opara, a lawyer, said that greed was a major factor that pushed many Nigerians into corruption. He said that many people were not contented with what they had, adding that this compelled them to do everything possible to amass wealth, even if it entailed stealing or looting public funds.
“People are not just okay with what they have; a man who owns two cars will like to add the latest car in town to his fleet. A man, who owns a comfortable house where he resides with his family, will also want to acquire more houses to put up for rent,’’ he added.
Opara said that another factor fuelling corruption was the fact that the Nigerian society celebrated corruption, as it honoured those who had acquired wealth through fraudulent means. He said that most times, the society was aware that a man embezzled public funds in order to vie for a political office and yet, the people would still go ahead and vote for him if he was able to dole out money.
“Fraudsters, looters and dubious businessmen are receiving chieftaincy titles in our communities everyday; how then will well-meaning citizens not tilt towards corruption?’’ he asked. Besides, Opara said that religious institutions had tacitly contributed in the spread of corruption in the society by shying away from their responsibilities.
He noted that many Christian and Islamic clerics never queried the source of the wealth of their adherents whenever they made donations to churches or mosques.
“A man, who is a murderer or thief, will come to the church and make huge donations; pay tithes or build churches or mosques as the case may be and the clerics would keep mute because of the material gains. The clerics even bless and pray for such persons steadily. In this type of situation, other faithful in such congregation will not see anything wrong in amassing wealth through dubious means and `buy’ God’s blessing with money,’’ he said.
As part of efforts to tackle the growing menace of corruption, Opara urged the National Assembly to review the existing anti-corruption laws, with a view to prescribing capital punishment for corruption, as it was done in China. He also underscored the need for the establishment of special courts to try corruption cases, so as to ensure speedy and fair dispensation of justice.
He, however, frowned against the plea bargain provision, saying that it provided soft landing for looters of the public treasury. Opara stressed that people, who had once been convicted of corruption charges, should not be given appointments whether at the state or federal levels.
However, Paulinus Ijeh, a civil servant, said that the poor living conditions of most Nigerians often encouraged several people to engage in corrupt activities. He noted that the day-to-day responsibilities of an average worker in Nigeria far exceeded what his earnings could handle, adding the ensuing dilemma often compelled the worker to engage in Machiavellian tactics to live up to expectations.
“Imagine a situation where a civil servant with an annual salary below N1 million has to pay up N1.5 million as school fees for each of his three wards in a year. Do you think such person, no matter how morally sound he is, will resist an opportunity to make money through illicit means?
“Imagine a situation where a family man pays up to N800,000 annually for a two-bedroom flat; and he is still faced with other obligations like school fees, feeding, hospital bills, among others; do you thing he will resist the opportunity to loot? Imagine a situation where a poor teacher is being offered a sum, which more than his two months’ salary, to influence the result of a certain kid from a rich home; will the teacher be able to resist such an offer?’’ he asked.
Nevertheless, Ijeh stressed that in spite of all the societal pressures which predisposed people to corruption, a principled person without greed would always avoid corrupt practices. It should be recalled that President Goodluck Jonathan, at a recent conference of the Nigerian Economic Society in Abuja, regretted that Nigerians rewarded corrupt practices.
The president said that he wanted a society where everybody would frown upon people who came up with what they were not supposed to have. “If a young man just started a job and within six months or a year, he comes up with a car of N7 million to N15 million and you clap for him; then, you are rewarding corruption.
“So, for us as a nation to bring corruption down, it is not just blaming the government or blaming the police. All individuals must frown upon people who have what they are not supposed to have; who live in houses they are not supposed to live in; who drive cars they are not supposed to drive and who wear expensive clothes they are not supposed to wear.
“And until Nigerians are able to do this, I don’t think we will get to where we want to go,” he added.
Jonathan said that the private and public sectors were both involved in sharp practices and so, the fight against corruption could not be left for the government alone. “When you talk about corruption; the private sector is involved, the public sector is involved; even individuals are involved.
“But I know that if we collectively resolve not to reward corruption, people would not be attracted to corrupt practices, but when we all reward corruption, then of course, we will be tempted to go in that direction”, he said.
Meanwhile, relevant agencies are not resting on their oars in the campaign against corruption. For instance, the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, ICPC and the National Orientation Agency, NOA recently reaffirmed their commitment to the crusade against corruption in the country.
The Chairman of ICPC, Mr. Ekpo Nta, who spoke when the ICPC signed a Memorandum of Understanding, MoU on the anti-corruption crusade with NOA recently in Abuja, said that the synergy would go a long way in curbing corrupt practices.
“It is through enlightenment like this that we can apportion responsibility to those that are causing us problem in this country. There is no gainsaying the fact that fighting corruption is a collective responsibility and we in ICPC have always emphasised the need for collective wisdom in this national crusade,’’ Nta said.
On his part, Mr. Mike Omeri, the Director-General of NOA, said that the agency would adopt the “Identify, Reject and Report Corruption, IRRC’’ approach in efforts to implement the agreement. Observers, however, urge the government to initiate pragmatic measures to improve the living standards of the citizens, saying that this would provoke a remarkable reduction of corrupt tendencies in the Nigerian society. NAN.