Friday, January 15, 2021 10:19 am
By Chris Anyokwu
Perhaps if you Google the word “corruption”, what is most likely to pop up is the word Nigeria. Such, indeed, is the coevality and indeed the co-extensivity of the two entities that the one incarnates the other; both closer to one another than a set of identical twins. Let’s be clear, every year, the global corruption watchdog, Transparency International, has, without fail, scored us very poor grades in our storied struggle against corruption. If anything, we are so used to corruption that looking it up in a dictionary is an exercise in self-delusive futility, a colossal waste of time.
Even a day-old baby born in Nigeria knows a thing or two about “kwarapshaun” as it is pronounced in certain quarters. And why not, when it’s born right into a world of corruption! “I was shapenned in iniquity; in sin did my mother conceive me”, the infant would confess readily. However, we are compelled and constrained to do the needful and, as Ola Rotimi would tell us in Kurumi “tradition is tradition”. So, we shall reach for the dictionary to find out what it says about corruption, a matter of urgent national and, indeed, existential import. Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English defines corruption as follows: “dishonest, illegal or immoral behaviour, especially from someone with power.” It is also a “changed form of something… so that it becomes worse than it was.”
Furthermore, in his inaugural lecture entitled, “Corruption in Nigeria: A Colonial Legacy”, Professor A.A. Lawal writes: “Corruption in Public life is the use of public power for private profit, preferment or prestige or for the benefit of a group, or class, in a way that constitutes a breach of the law or of standards of high moral conduct.” For his part, Godwin Azenabor in his monograph captioned: “Corruption in Nigeria: Perspectives and Strategies for Effective Control” argues, quoting Onigu Otite, that corruption is “the perversion of integrity or state of affairs through bribery, favour, or moral depravity.” It involves the violation of some existing order or norms, Azenabor reasons. He then goes ahead to itemise the many forms corruption manifests itself in Nigeria, including looting, rigging of elections, manipulation of elections, ten percent on a total contract sum, inflation of contracts, wrong delivery of judgement by courts and prolonged delay of court proceedings and trials, bribery, embezzlement, misappropriation, tax evasion, over-invoicing, leakages of examination questions, sexual harassment, extortion and blackmail.
He equally opines that allusions such as the following constitute corruption: “ten percent cut”, “long leg”, “bottom power”, “Egunje,” “tips”, “arrangee,” “you chop, I chop,” ‘kick back”, partikola”, “palm-greasing”, “settlement”, “blockage”, among others. By now, it should be clear and obvious to the reader that corruption implies negative change or violation; a change from the original state of something to another, usually less efficacious, less useful one. It is also, to be certain, a form of transformation from a state of wholeness, perfection or organic integrity to a degraded, perverted and defiled one. Thus unhealthy and unwholesome change or trans-formation is corruption, pure and simple. A few random and routine examples would suffice at this juncture: let’s just say too much of everything is corruption – that is to say, too much of a good thing is corruption. For instance, drinking too much water, eating too much food or reading too much, as Ecclesiastes cautions. By the same token, when you add too much salt or pepper as a cook into a pot of soup or sauce, it is corruption. Scolding a child or haranguing an employee endlessly or overworking your servant or help, driver, gardener, anybody under your command is corruption. When you meet a thing, say, a car, in a fairly tolerable condition and deliberately misuse or manhandle it to the extent that it degenerates into a worse state.
That is corruption. If you refuse to handle or treat everyday objects like a book, toilet, electrical appliances, door-knob, railings/banisters, or as a tenant you deliberately destroy your landlord/lady’s property, you are corrupt! Defecating in unauthorised places such as a bush, gutter, frontage or open premises of a public or private facility is corruption. The same goes for the sexual act e.g., incest, fornication, adultery bestiality, homosexuality, rape and other forms of sexual predation and misconduct. In the same connection, misinterpretation of ideas, information, teachings, injunctions or the law either in secular or religious circles with malicious intent is a classic case of corruption. Let us also add that fraud in whatever guise – exam malpractice, admission racketeering, cheating, etc. – is corruption. Bullying, trolling, body-shaming, oppression, intimidation, setting people up for a fall through lying, misleading information, exaggeration, distortion of fact, betrayal or treachery are instances of this horrendous vice. Kidnapping, insurgency, terrorism, all forms of crime, nepotism, cronyism, favouritism, clannishness, tribalism and “sitting on” people’s files in the workplace to prevent or stall their career advancement is a criminal act of corruption. Moreover, the elevation and institutionalisation of the culture of mediocrity and incompetence either through the Quota System or Federal Character principle is corruption. Official corruption!
The point is that when this becomes public policy as it is in Nigeria today, you end up destroying the beautiful culture of merit or meritocracy in the public sphere like in the media- Tv, radio, print, etc., in ministries, departments and agencies of government, thereby giving pride of place to political patronage and preferment. What we then find all over the place is jobs-for-the-boys, that is, important and sensitive positions are reserved and given to loyalists and ponces such as thugs, goons, hit-gangs, hooligans, hoodlums, cultists, agberos and the burgeoning army of the criminal underworld – Yahoo-Yahoo boys, scammers, child-stealers (gbomogbomo), ritualists, etc.
Our men and women in uniform who are supposed to be above board and lead by the power of personal example are, sadly, the public metaphor of corruption. Just pay a visit to our airports, seaports, land borders and even our waterways. You would see corruption at work. Make no mistake, corruption is also found among those who do their business in the informal sector. Take your car to your roadside mechanic, vulcanizer or panel-beater. He is surely going to use fake or sub-standard products which he will pass off as genuine and extort you to boot. It is the same terrible situation with the fuel attendant, the market woman, the driver, the hawker of grocery products and your gateman. The PHCN man or the plumber is not exempt. All are corrupt. How about corruption in politics? This is a totally different kettle of fish. This calls for a bit of backgrounding regarding the political animal that tyrannises our lives on end. In fact, for you to be able to understand the roots and origin of our contemporary political behaviour, a bit of psychoanalytical deconstruction of the man of power is a sine qua non.
To that extent, therefore, it should be borne in mind that the African past is a dark and dreary cyclorama of monarchies with divine rights. The King was god and his word was law! He only vacated the throne at death in most cases. Little wonder, therefore, he was reputed to have actively aided and abetted the Slave Trade, exchanging his subjects and strangers usually for mirrors, gunpowder and rum. Under colonialism, he was serviceable to the white man. In the heyday of the struggle for self-determination, it was said that some of our rulers and leaders held meetings both in London and Lagos, trying to negotiate our independence. Such was their feckless profligacy and self-apotheosis that a certain flamboyant and vainglorious politician used to dress in multiple layers of expensive fabric with the tail of his get-up dragging after him for miles with minions and lickspittles serenading him in order to earn their keep. Wole Soyinka had taken a look at this breed of political buccaneers and had written off Africa as eternally doomed.
This is the underlying germ of his play, A Dance of the Forests. Ola Rotimi lends his own voice to this pessimistic prognosis in Our Husband Has Gone Mad Again. With these local bourgeois rulers, it’s business as usual, as, at Independence, they inherited the bad table manners of the departed colonists. Edward W. Said, the late Palestinian-American scholar says as much in his famous essay “Yeats and Decolonisation”. Thus, when it comes to political power, with Nigerian politicians, it’s a case of much of a muchness, leaving the people high and dry. A nation of no-hopers! For all intents and purposes, with the “Kabiyesi” complex of traditional or ancient culture and society combined with a rapacious insatiability of power, our politician becomes irredeemably delinquent, an enemy of the people masquerading as “a man of the people” a la Chinua Achebe. Wired, then, into the political unconscious or the DNA of the political class is a deeply-ingrained mentality of entitlement that, in turn, sires and spawns the notorious culture of impurity which paid pipers and cheerleaders, charitably called “advisers” and “aides”, love to salaam and genuflect to. Again: Soyinka in A Play of Giants and Achebe in Anthills of the Savannah memorably dramatise this habit of self-debasement at the dirtied heels of power as professional calling. Talk of addressing a cow as “Brother” just for a taste of beef! And, again, for the politician-as-god, nothing, absolutely nothing is too precious to be sacrificed for power. As George Orwell reminds us in his dystopian novel, 1984 “The sole object of power is power”. Put more simply, power for power sake, never for service! In his public lecture entitled: “Why We No Longer Blush: Corruption as Grand Commander of the Federal Republic of Nigeria”, Niyi Osundare warns us: “If we do not kill corruption, corruption will kill us as a country”.
But, let us cut government some slack. It’s not as if those in positions of power haven’t been doing the grunt work to break the back of kwarapshaun. In 1983, the military junta of General Buhari and Tunde Idiagbon sought to “kill” or at least “cage” corruption by promulgating the War Against Indiscipline (WAI) decree; the Obasanjo Anti-Corruption Act of 2001 (read: the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC)), among others were/are some official measures put in place to emasculate the ogre. Even in the academia, undergraduates and postgraduate researchers have produced B.A/BSc., M.A./MSc. and PhD theses all of which purportedly seek to examine and proffer solutions to the problem of corruption. Countless novels, plays, poems as well as memoirs, sermons, electronic and print media programmes have been produced to tackle corruption in Nigeria. Conferences, campaigns, retreats, seminars/webinars and summits have been organised to look into it with a view to disembowelling it. We have tried scapegoating, naming-and-shaming measures, jail-terms for offenders, and even our politicians have pleaded with the people to shun corruption, to no avail. Thankfully, we now have a “Centre for Corruption Studies, University of Abuja.”
How prescient, how perspicacious, how patriotic! It is sincerely hoped scholars and students alike of the Centre will be able to do justice to their Mission and Vision statements and help Nigeria overcome corruption. But given that life and living itself, as Christopher Okigbo tells us, is a process of corruption, how feasible and how practicable is it for Nigeria and its citizens to “kill” corruption? Doesn’t “killing” corruption imply “killing” everybody? If society is totally rid of corruption, who will remain to enjoy the resultant earthly paradise? Isn’t life itself a matter of complementarity, of dialectic – Good versus Evil, Light versus Darkness, the marriage of Heaven and Hell? Thus, an all-good, corruption-free world is sheer Utopia and an all-bad, corruption-ridden world is pure hell, the domain of the doomed. What to do, then? Simple: let us try to maximise Good and minimise Evil (i.e. corruption). Fighting corruption in all its manifestations is our collective responsibility, our bounden duty to God and man. But, again: how do we make omelette without breaking eggs? How do we make furniture without felling trees? How do we build roads without violating the earth? How do we make babies without rupturing the hymeneal membrane? And how do we build without destroying and how do we live without dying?
Chris Anyokwu, PhD.
Associate Professor of English
University of Lagos