The Cankerworm Destroying the Nigerian State

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Corruption! Corruption! Corruption!

This evil, embodied within the frameworks of patron-client relationships and vested interest has been the cankerworm eating at the very fabric of the Nigerian State for more than half a century, preventing her from developing economically, socially and politically within the paradigms of a modern liberal democracy she claims to represent.

In a 2009 report by Transparency International (TI), it was estimated that the amount of $40 billion is paid in bribes by multinational corporations to Nigerian politicians for their operations within the country. Dr Oby Ezekwesili, a former Nigerian minister of Solid Minerals and Education and a former Vice president of the World bank Africa Division, in a lecture given at the 52nd annual conference of the Nigerian Bar Association, said that “An estimated $400 billion of the country’s oil revenue has been stolen or misspent since the country’s independence in 1960”.
So how then can we end something that has become so normalized to the level that doing the right thing becomes the exception? A taxi driver who returned =N=18 million left in his car by a passenger at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport in Abuja was honoured with a state award. How do we presume to fight the ruling oligarchs that control the distribution of the country’s largesse at different levels to buy the loyalties of their clients thereby bolstering their power networks?

First, we must understand the power we have as the people of Nigeria. We have for so long been passive about the corruption by the political elite, and have joined in committing various acts of fraud at own different levels. The leaders of Nigeria, if not entirely, in some ways reflect the image of the Nigerian people. Many of us like the concept of having “godfathers” that pave the way for us, many times illegally. But what happens when our “godfathers” are usurped by other more powerful Godfathers that have no use for our patronage? We are thrown out in the cold. The benefits from corruption are short term and are very much hostage to the rule of men – not the rule of law.
Second, we need to understand our social and cultural values and standards as Nigerians, when we make policies and implement systems of governance. It is a common saying that men know what is right but find they are unable to do what is right. This is a natural human characteristic. We first must understand this, then set up systems that are impervious to our manipulations. Systems, as it were, that forces us to do the right thing.

We have imported wholesale the institutions of governments of the West without critically implementing these institutions within the context of our value system. This has been a huge contribution to the ubiquity of corruption in the country. These western institutions are very important and we can see that they work efficiently as frontiers for good governance, upholding the philosophies of liberalism and modernity. But unwittingly implementing these western systems of government has not helped us in any way, in fact these institutions seem to act as effective disguises by which the political elite perpetuate their vileness. But then we see these systems work effectively all over the western world. Why is Nigeria different? The answer is that we have implemented these western institutions without taking our value systems into consideration.

Once these two points are understood then we can go ahead to formulate policies and institutions that would nip corruption in the bud. I propose the following:

When Obasanjo tried to have the constitution amended – through illicit means – so he could run for a third term in office it was the public outcry that went a long way in preventing this from happening. In a democracy, the people have the power to vote in and vote out any official they so desire. This is the principle of a democracy. It is time for us to put this power to use.

We could develop an Anti-corruption bill. In this bill we could make our demands clear and only vote for the individuals who would support and sponsor the bill. Instead of falling prey to all the empty promises these politicians make, they would be the ones acquiescing to our demands if they want to get elected. If not we all go into the streets, strike from work and make a general call for civil disobedience – shutting down the economy in process. Some of these bills I propose include:

The “Government Expenditure and Revenue Transparency Act”: There would be a website set up by the government that would be frequently updated stating the current state of government accounts. Any amount of money paid into the account would be reported and any amount that leaves the account would be recorded. A paper trail would exist all the way to any individual that received money from government. Anybody would have the right to audit government accounts if he or she suspects any discrepancy. Certain parts of the account that cannot be viewed by the public like the covert operations of the government by her intelligence agencies would be accessible to independent individuals with top level government security clearances. Any suspected discrepancy in the movement of money would be taken with utmost seriousness. Once there is proof of foul play, everyone responsible would be given nothing less than a 5 year jail sentence.

The “Public Officer Assets Declaration Act”: All public officers – including career civil servants, political appointee and elected officials – from the level of Assistant Director must declare all their assets. As a public officer, except the conjugal relations between you and your partner, everything about your life would be public information. Anyone can audit you if they believe you are getting rich on government funds. But they would be required to pay you an inconvenience fee, any time they want to carry out an audit of your personal accounts. This is put in place because you would have to give them the required information they would need to audit your accounts, which could be inconveniencing for anyone and so the process is not abused. If any discrepancy is found in your personal assets, and it is proven by independent sources, 70% of all your assets are seized and become government property, then the person auditing you gets 20% while you are left with 10% of your assets and given a one year jail term.

We can propose, recommend and write one thousand and one ways to combat corruption in Nigeria, but without the political will we would go nowhere. It through the possession of a strong political will that we can arrest and prosecute powerful statesmen; judicially execute individuals that have destroyed the political economy of the Nigerian State; become accountable ourselves; stand in line to wait our turn; allow our children fail WAEC or JAMB if they did not prepare well enough for this exams; embody transparency in all our doings, by using video and audio surveillance systems we have no local control of; and advocate market based solutions instead of discretionary based solutions among other things.

Photo-Credit: www.pri.org

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