‘Every Nigerian is corrupt’

Ibrahim Magu, suspended EFCC Chairman, imbroglio reminds of the trouble with Nigeria. President Buhari says the trouble with Nigeria is corruption while Achebe said it was leadership. Both diagnoses are right in their respective particulars but holistically wrong. In actual fact, corruption is just one of the manifestations of the real organic trouble but ironically turns out to lubricate the engine upon which Nigeria works.

It was in the 1980s, that heady era when Nigeria’s existential questions collectively then tagged ‘national questions’ by the intelligentsia started manifesting in several facets of national life that Nigerians became troubled, agitated, querulous and inquisitive about them. They were particularly concerned about corruption. And the question of corruption kept recurring from colonial times to today.

Under colonial rule, key Nigerian leaders were indicted for corruption starting with Ahmadu Bello’s 1943 conviction/imprisonment for financial frauds in Northern Region’s Native Authority System just as Sardauna’s Northern Region government’s MJ Muffet Commission of Inquiry indicted Emir Sanusi of Kano Native Authority and was deposed and exiled. Nnamdi Azikiwe was indicted by the Forster-Sutton Commission of Inquiry in 1957 while Awolowo was indicted by the Coker Commission of Inquiry in 1962.

In 1966, the military sacked the entire political class principally for corruption as they were accused of scooping off 10% profits out of government contracts. In 1975, Yakubu Gowon’s military government was toppled largely on grounds of corruption among other failings.

In 1983, Muhammadu Buhari sacked Shehu Shagari’s government and state governors and indicted them for corruption. Buhari was in turn overthrown for variants of corruption called sectionalism/ nepotism by Ibrahim Babangida. When Babangida assumed office in 1985 he did not pretend to any anticorruption crusade. However, he unfurled socio-economic and political reforms to such extent that Nigeria was quaking with all kinds of sociocultural, economic and political experimentations.

What was not tried as reforms in Nigeria of Babangida era was what has never entered the minds of men. Amidst these reforms, allegations of corruption against Babangida administration were rife. But in all these experimentations and amidst the allegations the administration never bothered itself with the rhetoric of anti-corruption.

In a way, some of its reforms, especially in politics and economy reduced the incidents of corruption such as liberalization of the economy that removed the bureaucratic bottlenecks of sourcing foreign exchange and import licence just as the Option A4 and Modified Open Ballot System abolished electoral rigging thereby leading to the clean elections epitomized by June 12, 1993 and earlier gubernatorial and legislative elections. But the recurrence and intractability of corruption flows from the conception, foundation and building of Nigerian nation state by Britain.

Britain was not interested in creating a cohesive society governed by a coherent state. It was merely interested in founding an economic facility that would last as long as the people allow it. It created an “amalgam” instead of a “union” of ‘states’ or people’s founded on shared values and visions. In fact, Britain made sure Nigeria it created never agreed on anything as a people or envision collectively for the well-being and development of the country. And a people without a set of values can never agree on a vision or set of rules to govern their conduct and relations.

Once Britain left, Nigeria erupted into a bedlam leading to vicious and outrageous violence and ended in a civil war. Since then Nigerians have not been able to trace the source or wellspring of corruption in Nigeria and that is why solution to it kept eluding each administration. For the simple fact that each Nigerian is part and parcel of corruption as corruption has been encoded into the organic whole of Nigeria, nobody escapes it as it is systemic. As citizens and as rulers, each person is perplexed about this seeming enigma and each like the Hindustan blind men touches corruption, perceives its dimensions and describes it within that dimension and perception.

It was in this situation that Nigeria found itself during the Babangida administration that Nigerians having failed to understand what corruption was, or its effect simply accused the amiable general of fostering corruption or as they alleged: “institutionalizing corruption.” Peeved by this accusation, Babangida personally replied Nigerians and pointedly declared that “every Nigerian is corrupt.” By this presidential declaration Nigeria was set agog with the pros and cons of this declaration. Many dismissed the General as being too sweeping in his declaration meaning that there was no way every Nigeria can be corrupt.

To these set of Nigerians, some Nigerians are corrupt while some are not. But the General has made his point and it ended at that as he waited for the verdict of posterity. And that verdict has been returned and it is that Nigeria is corrupt as has been yearly established by world rating bodies such as Transparency International.

Those that joined issue with Babangida argued on the basis that there was no way “every Nigerian can be corrupt” since it is possible that there must be some honest people struggling to maintain their integrity such as the Sodom and Gomorrah debacle where God could not find 10 clean people except Lot and his nuclear family. But such rejoinders missed the point of Babangida’s declaration. General Babangida diagnosis centred on the fact that the corruption in Nigeria was systemic and it was futile for anybody to claim that he is free.

It was simply impossible because as long as you have something to do with the system you are willy-nilly sucked into the vortex of its operation and you become perpetrator and victim. Come to think of it, who is that Nigerian that is clean of corruption? Is it the rulers as we have seen in the historical indictments littering the pages of history or that of recent days? It is difficult to actually say what Nigerians take or understand as corruption. Is it bribe giving/taking; nepotistic public employment hiring, public schools admissions, embezzlement of public funds, graft and aggrandizement and myriads of abuses of public offices? Does any Nigerian escape any or all of these corrupt acts? Struggling honest Nigerians, secular and religious are forcibly coerced into the vortex of corruption.

There is corruption in every innocuous act which we take for granted such as making pleas to school authorities (secondary and tertiary) to admit our children or wards in the universities/ colleges on considerations other than merit or public employment not based on competence and certified aptitude. The day Nigeria accepts Babangida’s diagnosis, the solution to the problem of corruption will start unfolding. It is because Nigeria and Nigerians have been living in denials that is the reason corruption has been, and continues to be the trouble with Nigeria. Nobody in Nigeria accepts that he is corrupt.

A Nigerian is not corrupt because opportunity or the convenience is absent. Once he has an opportunity he will execute a malfeasance that astounds the public. In most cases, the offender cannot help being corrupt as the NDDC probe has shown because the system compels you to act contrary to your conscience and in most cases the extant rules and praxis support and validate the offences. Yet we are reluctant to correctly diagnose the ailment. And the diagnosis is that the Nigerian State system is corrupt and corrupts every Nigerian both the ruler and the ruled and unless we change this system Nigeria will continue to be corrupt. This systemic corruption undermines Nigeria’s security and wellbeing and even though sustaining it now will eventually kill it.


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