Many Nigerians are corrupt; but they love to hate corruption. It is the talk among the rich and the poor. It is a discussion past time for those in government and out of government. You hear comments like: “corruption is embedded in our system” It is our ‘second nature’. We seem to have been sold to corruption. It is the currency by which we trade. It is a hydra headed monster. People are passionate whenever they talk about this vice and make it sound as if it is one ethereal phenomenon.
I reckon that corruption is not a myth. It is a reality and it is human beings that are corrupt not some unseen elements. Why then is it difficult for us to tame this human monster? Many believe that we are still in this mess because we never had leaders who had the will to tackle it. Rightly or wrongly, it is believed that this new government headed by President Muhammadu Buhari will deal with the monster. He is believed to be Mr. Integrity, one who hates corruption with a passion.
Indeed, before he came to government this second time so many stories were built around him. Whether the stories are true or not is another issue. But he is believed to have lived a Spartan life and hates ostentatious living. I just want to underscore a point that the man is perceived to be clean and would not have anything to do with corruption. This perception is largely deduced from his antecedent.
Well, it is not my prerogative to tell how upright the president is. But, being of good character in a corrupt environment is not the magic wand that drives away such evil. To some extent, the person of the leader matters and it could help stem a debilitating tide. But largely, when it comes to the issue of corruption the president needed more than being chaste to deal with the issue.
First, it is important to note that punitive measures have not, to a great extent; stopped people from being corrupt. Countries where people are being beheaded, sent to jail and killed for one corrupt practices have not stopped experiencing corruption. In Nigeria, people would rather go to jail as long as their loot is intact. We have seen cases of people who were jailed for corruption only for them to be celebrated when they come back from prison.
That goes to show that there is need for a more practical approach to stemming the monster. Former President Goodluck Jonathan gave suggestions about putting structures in place. A good suggestion I think; but what kind of structure? I believe strongly that we should begin to look in the direction of building structures that will discourage people from corrupt practices. The first step in taming corruption is getting the right people to work in strategic government establishments. No matter how good the intentions of President Buhari are; he can’t be everywhere. So he needs the right people to work with.
The first step he took in appointing Mr. Femi Adesina, former Managing Director of Sun Newspapers as his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity is a great and courageous step. Adesina is not the kind of person that is given to loose talk. He is known for being thorough. His approach to issues is not beclouded with emotions. That, to a large extent, will save us from being fed with lies from government parlance.
Beyond this initial appointment several other people will be appointed. If Buhari succumbs to pressure to put party people who have issues with integrity in key government positions, we may yet be having another era of bad governance. Somebody had commented cynically that we may be heading for part two of PDP. Nigerians are already agitated and they are almost finding fault in the new government before it was sworn in.
Aside from getting the right people in government, there is need for certain bold and courageous decisions and structures to be put in place if the government is really serious about fighting corruption. Government has to conduct its business in a transparent atmosphere. We don’t need new laws. Existing laws and institutions that were created to fight corruption are there and should be followed. But I will like to point out that the first step to take in ensuring there is less corruption in the award and execution of contracts is for government to make public whatever transactions it has with those who get its contracts. There are laws on procurement and award of contract which says these transactions should be made public.
For instance, if government wants to construct a road, the first step is to publish its call for bids in national newspapers and go through a public selection process. I’m aware of a federal government bulletin that publishes new contracts and calls for bids. But there should be a follow up on this. The name of the person or company who wins the contract should be published and the contract awarded should be made public with all its terms.
Government can then take a step further to publish the amount of money paid to the contractor and also give a timeline for the execution of the contract which will also be made public. If I know for instance that Mr. A has been awarded a particular road to fix in my area and he has been given X amount of money to begin work on the road, I will not turn around to blame the government that the road is not being done. My attention will be on the man who got the contract and pressure will be on him to fix the road.
I dare say that all these laws are there for government to act on but it is not being practiced because of some vested interest. Somebody gets a contract to fix a road and the officials awarding the contract already add their own percentage. The road will cost N1 million but they tell him to quote N10 million. The excess N9 million goes to the pockets of the officials in charge.
Osinaike, publisher of Church Times Nigeria, writes via [email protected]