Majority of the electorate in Nigeria voted for change and executed a ‘silent revolution’ in the March 28 Presidential election, which handed Muhammadu Buhari with the Nigerian presidency. It was a much needed revolution to halt the destabilising, dismembering, multi-furcating and cascading of a failing state into a vanishing country.
Although the mantra of ‘change’ is on the lips of most Nigerians, it is not clear whether they appreciate what demands the requested change will impose on their individual lives and the national philosophical outlooks. They articulate the desired outcome of the change – drastic reduction in public sector and bureaucratic corruption, reliable, affordable and sufficient power and energy supply, security of life, better and improved infrastructure and an education system that prepares the youths for the new age of entrepreneurship – but they gave little thought to what role they individually need to play as the change agents.
Bequeathed with a ruined economy, a thoroughly corrupt bureaucracy, deeply compromised and ineffective institutions and elite class, and a failing education system, attainment of the expected change outcomes will take years, if not decades; and this will be made possible with the emergence of credible change agents. Revolutionary talks are cheap and visions of what change can bring are accessible to many, but the critical ingredient in delivering results is a governing class possessed with the twin abilities of political skills and administrative minds.
The rarity of these attributes either separately or in combination explains why most silent and violent revolutions eventually collapse under the weights of their internal contradictions. The leader endued with a political skill has the gift of foresight to sense what can be done, at what moment and how to convince others to embrace the change agenda. The change leader must also be blessed with the administrative mind which enables him/her to keep order in a disorder prone environment like Nigeria, and in the process manage materials and human talents toward the achievement of the change outcomes. The prospect of Nigeria trending an upward developmental trajectory will depend on whether the existing political order can birth the change agents that are possessed with these attributes.
It is generally accepted that the Nigerian nation is riddled with a culture of pervasive and unmitigated corruption. While corruption is a world-wide phenomenon manifesting in virtually all the countries and institutions of the world, the Nigerian brand of corruption is unique because it is executed with impunity, beyond the reach of the law and sometimes celebrated through societal elevations and apotheosis of the corrupt persons. It is now widely believed that until corruption is drastically reduced or eliminated, the Nigerian nation will never attain its manifest destiny among the nations of the world. In one of Chinua Achebe’s books he wrote: “Corruption in Nigeria has passed the alarming and entered the fatal stage, and Nigeria will die if we continue to pretend that she is only slightly indisposed.” Pervasive corruption explains why Nigeria has poor and substandard roads, medical, energy and power infrastructures and why our military and law enforcement agencies are ineffective. It explains the lack of employment and the accompanying poverty, deprivation, alienation and insecurity reinforced by the virtual absence of job generating industrial base.
While corruption, especially in Africa, has received a lot of academic attention resulting in many nuanced and contested definitions, I want to suggest that corruption simply describes a phenomenon in which the set standards and rules have been violated. When we act or involve ourselves in activities in which we operate below the set standards and the rule of law, we become corrupt.
This brings me to the issue of the current fight against corruption in Nigeria. We cannot say we are fighting corruption when we sacrifice merit on the altar of nepotism. A typical example is what is happening in the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, the Department of State Services, DSS, Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, and other organisations, where appointments of CEOs were made without recourse to merit, quota system and federal character principle.
Suffice it to say that when we deny a qualified staff the opportunity of becoming substantive head of his organisation because he/she is not from a favoured part of the country or is not of our religious faith, that is nepotism – the worst form of corruption. The same applies when a complete outsider is imposed on a key government institution such as Customs Service where he knows little or nothing to superintend over those that rightly ought to run the organisation, simply because the person who ought to be made the Comptroller-General is from (the appointing officer’s calculation) the “wrong” zone. How can a nation grow under the present system of ‘Man knows man?’ Going by what has happened so far, we can rightly say that the current fight in Nigeria is only against financial corruption, not corruption as a whole, because, if indeed we are fighting corruption, everything related to corruption must be abhorred; regrettably, that seems not to be the case.‎ The unfolding ugly development has demoralised civil servants who now believe that hardwork, length of service and loyalty do not pay. They now live in fear not knowing what future portends.
Let me give other examples of corruption. A university professor who spends his time running after contracts or seeking for plumb government appointments while neglecting his university duties for which he is paid salaries with a promised pension is a corrupt person. A judge whose judgments are influenced by ethnicity or religion is corrupt, even if money does not change hands. The president, minister, vice chancellor, director general who inflates contracts in order to loot the resources of the institution he/she presides over is corrupt. And the parent who buys leaked examination papers to aid his children to pass examinations is equally corrupt. A private sector engineer who inflates contracts and delivers sub-standard jobs is a corrupt engineer. A politician and his/her collaborators who rig elections, forge voting numbers are equally corrupt. Corruption is more than ‘authority stealing;’ it is present when we operate below the standards set and the laws governing our engagements. In the light of this definition, our people err indeed when they only look at the ‘legis-looters’ ‘sin-nators,’ the officials at the Nigerian presidency, state chief executives and other high government officials as the corrupt persons, not recognising that in all areas of our national and private lives where we operate below the norms, we too are engaging in corruptive activities.
In seeking for solutions to curb bureaucratic corruption in Nigeria, there must be change agents who in their lives have defeated the evil of corruption and have the twin gifts of political skills and administrative minds at all levels, starting from the home up to the level of the Nigerian presidency. People become change agents and gain political and administrative skills through broad-based education. The current fight against corruption will not end with this Buhari administration. It will take at least three decades and three generations of unbroken progressive leadership to reverse the damage done to Nigeria and its capacity to produce its own organic human capital. But we will only succeed if we are honest, sincere, detribalised and fair to all. That indeed, is the actual change we need.

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