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Sharing the Cake of Corruption

¨{By Adamu Adamu}

But we don’t know because we have chosen not to know. This is because of an aspect of corruption that is not normally thought of and accepted as such—people’s lack of civic responsibility. You don’t have to be a politician, a technocrat, a civil servant, a soldier or a journalist to be corrupt. Though this variety of corruption may not be punishable under any known law, it may be more potent in destroying the fabric of the social setup than all the other varieties.

Because of the corrupt influence of money, Nigeria is one big electorate that casts votes but doesn’t care about the outcome of the election; it is home to energetic citizens full of initiative without finishiative; it is made up of a populace that accurately identifies its thieves, and then gives them a big round of applause. It remembers every little thing, but before it can get to the correct action, it forgets everything. For a nation with such short memory, it is not surprising that yesterday’s villain becomes today’s hero, and, ultimately, tomorrow’s saint—with halo and all.

Two years ago, Paul Wolfowitz, former World Bank president, said more than $700 billion of Nigeria’s money, representing four decades of dedicated theft, had been stolen and stashed away in foreign banks. Though he was speaking about the past, the fact of the theft was not just some piece of economic history: the practice had continued to this day. According to Shell Oil Company, current direct theft in the oil sector alone stood at between 20,000 and 100,000 barrels a day. It said that at times, when the practice peaked, more than 36,500,000 barrels of oil were being stolen every year. Thus, of recent, when oil prices hit beyond the $100 mark, a quantum of more than $3.5 billion was being stolen annually.

We don’t know how much oil we produce; we don’t know how much of it is stolen—by bunkerers, by pirates, by the leadership, by government officials, and by the multinational oil companies themselves; we don’t know what exactly happens to the revenues of the little that is sold; we do know anything. It is not that the nation doesn’t know, but that it doesn’t want to know; because it is not so much that we forget as it is that we do not wish to remember.

And in order to stem the tide of corruption in the oil industry, Nigeria became a pilot participant in the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative, EITI, which seeks to ensure proper audit of Nigeria’s oil receipts.

The Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, ICPC, was set up to prosecute individuals, officials, and business organisations accused of all varieties of corruption, including giving or accepting bribes, corrupt acquisition of property, and the concealment of fraud.

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, which was established to prosecute individuals involved in financial crimes and other acts of economic sabotage, has made more noise and obtained a few convictions, but marred everything by having a corrupt motive; but, nevertheless, as a result, for the international community, the country started to become a country with which to do business.

For Nigeria, corruption remains a serious obstacle to economic growth, development, service delivery and poverty reduction; and it certainly required more than the lip service to tackle. All the nation gives it is a tip service—too little, too late in spite of the fact that it is because of corruption that there is intractable problem everywhere—there is no constant supply of electricity in Nigeria, no supply of water, no good roads, no schools with standards, no healthcare delivery, and no security at home, in the streets or on the highway. While the people keep hoping that things will get themselves right, corruption is meanwhile slowly consuming everything and everyone.

A people who are docile, despondent and indifferent don’t deserve things that work or what makes them work well—democracy; because nothing good can ever be had without painful sacrifice. The price of liberty—democratic liberty and its priceless freedoms—is eternal vigilance; and this vigilance can only be stood by erecting the right and proper procedure, following it, forcing leaders and followers alike to respect it, approving when they do, protesting when they don’t, demonstrating in order to let the world know, and defending the order for the sake of posterity. Unfortunately, in Nigeria, posterity is not the future; it is a personal pronoun—always an ‘I’ or a ‘Me.’

Nigeria is a public without a temper—a public with an inscrutable countenance. It is not clear whether it is smiling or frowning; it is not known whether it is approving or disapproving. Anything goes.

But if the public fails in its duty of eternal vigilance, whether because of the fee paid to it by its corrupt leadership or for the temporary convenience in breaking the law, it becomes just as corrupt as the leadership it condemns.

On the one hand, on the political scene, the political party has refused to develop into anything more sophisticated than an improved tribal foot soldiery or an exclusivist religious congregation. And not surprisinagly, the political class, mired in its mindless self-aggrandizement, is also unsophisticated; and, not surprisingly again, the type of representation it gives is of such low quality that everyone is ashamed of the nation’s legislatures. Compared to the political attitude of Nigerien politicians, for instance, the political culture of Nigerian politicians is puerile and undeveloped—in its acuity, in its public spiritedness and in its broadminded tolerance to opposition.

And on the other hand, compared to the public even in autocratic states, the political followership in Nigeria—in its volatility and quotient for uprising, in its readiness to defend its own economic interest, and especially in its capacity to tolerate nonsense from the ruling class—is a virtual nonstarter. It is a public that can be safely ignored—and ignored it is.

Meanwhile, the Nigerian electorate has allowed itself to be shackled into non-action by a myriad of differences. Political expression has been abbreviated by a violent self-censorship: people can’t demonstrate in the North without it becoming a religious riot with churches and mosques burning and Ndigbo businesses on fire. And you can’t demonstrate in the South without Agege and Aba becoming slaughter-houses of Hausa-Fulani.

No revelation, no matter how unsavoury, can move Nigerians to demand proper accounting from its leadership. A Northern thief can always count on the support of people from the North to defend him and believe his comeuppance is a diabolical plot by Southerners; and a failed bank swindler can always be assured of Southern—and media—support to see him through his Northern-inspired travails. There are no scoundrels in Nigeria; there are only sectionalists—and sectionalism is their first refuge. And it is often sufficient to see them out of trouble—whatever it is.

That is what happens when society ceases to be sentinel of its interest. It joins the vicious circle of corruption eating at the sinews of its very being, helping others, by their silence and applause, to kill and eat up the goose. And instead of being at the head of the table, the people, often in bitter enmity with their own kind, are stooped low, picking up dry crumbs from the floor. This is their corruption.

This is what happens when people sell their birthright for a pittance: the bargain is tough, the price small and the pleasure absent. The people must now reclaim that birthright in order to begin the task of remaking the Nigerian system and making it work well. The things that other people elsewhere do as a matter of fact and as something taken for granted—plain honesty, patience with ourselves and with each other, consultation,  earning an honest living, and giving each his due—is what we must relearn or have it forced on us until it become a culture.

Then we will have baked the national cake—and can begin the talk about sharing it. But the truth today is that, of the national cake that has been baked in their name, the people have really no share. The whole cake has been shared up by the leaders, by legislators, by contractors, by government officials and, now, by powerful denizens of the corridors of power.

And meanwhile the work remains undone, and so it will remain until those who will give this nation good government are allowed to come along. But they will not come unless the people wake up from this long slumber of neglect and take a stand and insist that the right things be done in their right order—by those entitled to do so.

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