The acts and facts of corruption in African societies especially in Nigeria are so far-reaching and deep-rooted that their effects are virtually impossible to quantify. In Africa’s largest population which Nigeria is, corruption is of course a serious problem which ruins lives, weakens otherwise prosperous communities and institutions, and impedes general societal development toward modernism. While it is prudent to think that Nigeria could tackle corruption within its own borders through an increased vigour by effectively addressing the avenues that proliferate it, by simply understanding that societies cannot continually bear the costs of it in the long-term; it seems, sadly, that there is a major challenge in conquering corruption: how the people define it, or refuse to define it.
One of the reasons corruption thrives in Nigeria is that Nigerians who are supposed to be the victims of the consequences of graft have refused to construct a generic definition of the act. When it comes to characterizing corruption and impunity at all levels of society, the ability to rightly define it as it is, is often influenced by severalself-centred circumstantial variants.
Most times the argument over who is corrupt (or not) is lost in a tunnel of rumpus: you’ll likely be told that the person whom you have “accused” is not corrupt because you havenot got any proof of their corruption-it doesnot matter even when the corrupt person themselves have owned up to committing the act. You are told this as though there is need for evidence to prove an act which advertises itself as obviously evidential.
On other occasions, you are reminded that the person whom you say is corrupt is not the only (with strong emphasis on ‘only’) one who is corrupt in the country. You are told this as though you are compelled to compile a dossier of all the names of corrupt people in the land before the act of corruption you are reporting is valid.
What makes your teeth itch is when the narrative of corruption, on other occasions, takes on an even more dangerous orientation. In a bid to defend the corrupt, the act of corruption itself is described as coming from God. You are told this; that for instance, you must not complain about the insecurity bedevilling Nigeria as you are bound by faith to start seeing the worrisome act as an offering from God the Almighty. Who then, are we, mere mortals, to even think of interrogating providence?
Beyond this irritatingrhetoricthat seeks to tirelessly defend the indefensible, what is certain is that to conquer corruption, people must, at least, be able to define it within its generic terms; devoid of beclouding by self-centred circumstances. Acts of corruption must be identified for what they are, and an abnormality stamp be cast on it by society. Without doing this, conquering corruption in Nigeria becomes a knotty task to unravel.
While intellectual engagements are possible with the first category of people mentioned above, it is not possible with the second and third group who shove corruption either by telling you that the so-and-so person whom you said is corrupt is not the only person who is corrupt in Nigeria therefore they be allowed to be; and/or that we should see corruption as offering from providence.
To those who ask for proof of corruption within Nigerian leaderships at all levels, the proofs stare us all in the face, and are visible to all of us-at least to those who are not blinded by hypocrisy. The proof lies in the fact that for several decades, Nigeria has refused to function as a reasonable society. Throughout my life which was mostly spent living in different parts of Nigeria, I am not aware of a Nigeria that was, at any given period, overwhelmed with basic amenities as stable electricity or tap water. None amongst my peers have seen a Nigeria of functioning healthcare system, of good public infrastructure, of conducive learning environments, or even of hygienic public toilets. So, it is very disheartening that after all the effects of corruption that confront us daily, some otherwise enlightened Nigerians still ask you for proof over corruption of say, a minister or governor in Nigeria, who used their office toenrich friends, wives, children, and even infants. Most importantly, the proof of corruption lies in people who lead lifestyles which are clearly a boastful display of affluence way beyond their legitimate incomes.
It was my friend, Professor Moses Ochonu, of Vanderbilt University, who once said that “Nigeria is the easiest place to do a background check on someone, not the formal background check supported by a database but the background check of visuals and self-advertisement. I mean, Nigerians are very poor at hiding their corruption: they consume conspicuously, accumulate primitively, and announce their new wealth and status with fanfare and ceremony. For corrupt Nigerians, the point of having all that money is to be known and seen to have all that money-otherwise what is the point? Nigerians are poor disguisers of illicit wealth; we cannot live above our legitimate means and hide it.”
To salvage Nigeria of corruption, those of us, who, for now do not have anywhere than Nigeria must, at the very least, see corruption in Nigeria through its right context and then condemn it and its benefactors. But I understand that although, theoretically, this may sound easy to conduct; in the technical sense of it, it could be difficult a task for most people out there in Nigeria. Because the difference most times, between those who fight them and those who wouldnot even think about fighting them is that the former must be courageous enough to stand on their own feet and carve out an independent economic existence.