Where is Mr. Corruption domiciled? Is he to be found in an office, reclining in a cushion chair and enjoying air-conditioning, or in the garage sweating it out under the sun? Or does he reside in a palace with a big turban or other cultural regalia, being fanned by tireless courtesans? Or is Mr. Corruption sitting in our hearts, flowing within our veins, keeping us alive, manifesting out there in splendid mansions, vintage cars, exotic gardens and aromatic meals?
I decided to ask these questions, even if poetically, after listening to the chairman of EFCC, Mrs Farida Waziri, speak during the launch of her grand project (a la Dora Akunyili’s Rebranding Nigeria Project), called Anti-Corruption Revolution (ANCOR). The South-west zone of the ‘revolution’ kicked off on Tuesday in Lagos. The event was beamed live on prime television. It attracted dignitaries like former secretary-general of the Commonwealth, Chief Emeka Anyaoku; former petroleum resources minister, Prof. Tam David-West; the colourful deputy governor of Lagos State, Mrs Sosan, and the indefatigable Prof. Dora Akunyili, information minister. It was an important event whose timing was apt. Brainstorming on the cankerworm of corruption is never a tautological task, given the fact that corruption is number one factor in the underdevelopment of this country and the way we are perceived abroad. Without corruption, Nigeria would have since attained a cardinal point of Vision 20-20-20 long ago without having to wait till 2020. But with it, it is idiotic to think that we will become one of the top 20 developed nations by that year unless, of course, if we mean to say the top 20 most backward nations.
Corruption is like a self-multiplying octopus in our national psyche. Barring predestination, it is responsible for almost all the mess that we are stuck in as a nation: bad roads, ill-equipped hospitals, under-funded educational institutions, political violence, imposition of bad rulers on the electorate, you name it. This nemesis is the reason for the loss of direction that we see in governance, the collapse of national institutions and the spiraling fall of moral values. Corruption is the ogre behind the sweeping poverty that pushes 70 percent of Nigerians below subsistence level. And poverty, which the visionary, albeit misguided, Poverty Alleviation Programme has failed woefully to reduce, thereby necessitating a Senate probe, has created cataclysms such as crime, squalor, disease and untimely death.
The questions I asked earlier on regarding the whereabouts of Mr. Corruption were predicated on Mrs Waziri’s apparent confusion when she stated, at the Tuesday event, that even though the millions of victims of corruption are well known, the face of corruption remains elusive as its perpetrators profit from obscurity and lack of transparency. By this, Madam Chairman is saying that she does not know who the corrupt Nigerians are even though she knows the victims of their criminal activities. This confession is surprising, coming from the person hired by the president to track down the perpetrators and drag them to face the law. To say that you do not know the perpetrators, in the kind of environment we have whereby ill-gotten wealth is wantonly displayed, means that the battle has been lost even before it starts.
The face of corruption is not elusive at all as the anti-graft czar claimed. The ugly face is very much available publicly, in broad daylight, gaunt and supercilious, daring anyone to touch it. What is the nickname of all those holders of public office who fearlessly display looted funds – saints or sinners? What is the source of some of the mind-boggling wealth we are seeing, owned by persons or groups that are otherwise incapable of amassing them through legitimate means?
Very often even the EFCC does come across some of the looters of the treasury. The media are awash, once in a while, with a story of such arrests and the usually hyped attempt to prosecute a suspect. After some time, the story is tucked into the inside pages and it eventually peters out. The news hawks then return to their shells to await yet another earth-shattering expose.
If Mrs Waziri is truly searching for the face of corruption, I’ll help her track it down. And it’s so simple that you’d consider it a push-over. First, she should begin by scrutinizing the face of anyone she has arrested. Since her coming on board, many high-velocity names have been nabbed by her operatives, but how many were successfully prosecuted? We were told that half a dozen state governors during the Obasanjo era were corrupt but they could not be prosecuted because of the constitutional immunity they were enjoying. Almost two years after they left office, and that privilege is gone, none of them is in jail. Instead, the ingenious minister of justice, Mr Aondoakaa, came up with the plea bargain option which the EFCC is applying in its work. According to the government, this method is cost-effective and saves time. But plea bargain, to most Nigerians, is like retrieving 10 bags from the loot of a big thief in exchange for his freedom and subsequent use of the remaining 90 bags. That, in effect, is a short cut to corruption. It further creates skepticism about the anti-corruption war and makes the citizenry to merely shrug in a resigned cynicism.
The truth is that corruption has become a national culture today, to the extent that those committing it no longer see it as an offence, while the victims of corruption regard it as a way of life. The keynote speaker at the Lagos event, Prof. David-West, had wondered why the faithful in a church or a mosque would collect donations from unscrupulous persons, knowing fully well that the source of the funds is not clean. The reason is that the faithful see such monies as normal, or as their legitimate share of the national cake. They usually reason that their “son of the soil,” the crafty donor, is bringing home the dividends of his/her contacts in high places. If they refuse to take the money, claiming some sense of purity, he would take it to a rival shrine.
Prof. David-West has poignantly put a finger on the culture of corruption in Nigeria. So much lip service has been paid to the problem to the extent that people see it as a waste of time to talk about it again. This is more so when the real perpetrators of corruption are allowed to go scot-free after being arrested. Others are enjoying the privilege of being untouchables in the war against the menace. You are punished for corruption only if you do not have the right pedigree or the right contacts. And in Nigeria, who doesn’t have powerful friends if he’s powerful enough steal? Many top shots in the country, I hear, are occupying their positions courtesy of some not-so-clean services they rendered in the past, including helping establish the government.
I wish Mrs Waziri all the best in reining in this monster. But to win the war, the EFCC chairman should begin to wage it from home, where charity usually begins. It will not help the Anti-Corruption Revolution if the citizenry see it as selective or a mere talk-shop. If you fight corruption sincerely, the people will know; if not, they will know. They have eyes and brains.