By Alex Oparah – From The Netherlands
There have seen frequent talks of economic and political marginalisation of some geopolitical groups over the others in Nigeria but one aspect that threatens our continued co-existence as one nation most, is the rampant corruption in our country. The intention of this writer is to emphasize the seriousness of this situation and create a forum for an exchange of ideas on how to solve the corruption problem in Nigeria. The ideas herein espoused by this writer should be considered a drop in the bucket and all possible opinions that have a common goal of reaching a final solution to this problem in the near future are welcomed.
In view of the current situation, Nigeria seems to be on course with its economic liberalization although this is imposing harsh difficulties on the less privileged in our society. This column does not have the luxury to delve into that issue at this time. It is a generally held belief or notion that corruption in Nigeria has become our normal way of life and can never be eradicated. This is a very erroneous perception or conclusion. Judging from the track records of most of the former and present leaders in Nigeria’s political Diaspora, one could conclude that most of them did not come into government to serve our country but to be served by our communities as they covertly or overtly pursue their self-aggrandizing agenda of acquiring ill-gotten wealth. By these acts, they have failed abysmally to uphold the law, protect the rights and privileges of the Nigerian people. Our leaders and strategists need to be patriotic and willing to render selfless service to our dear nation.
Nigeria continues to be a poor country to this day despite its enormous natural resources, untapped agricultural potential (long abandoned years ago), and abundant intellectual know-how because there is a strong linkage between poverty and corruption. Poverty helps entrench corruption while corruption exacerbates poverty. Corruption has for all these years been sapping the economic, political, social, moral, and even the infrastructural fibers of Nigeria. In some countries this corruption quagmire should be ground for a major revolution beyond imaginable proportions. David J. Murry, Deputy Chairman of Transparency International ( TI ) said, “ it is imperative to redress the paradox whereby a great wealth of natural resources coexists with great poverty, while corrupt elites grow rich in the same country.
Transparency International lists Nigeria as one of the oil-producing countries with questionable deals with regards to oil revenues disappearing into pockets of government officials, western oil executives, and middlemen. The oil wealth estimated at billions of dollars is squandered, while the majority of citizens live in abject poverty. Oil and gas theft by oil officials is currently at over 100,000 barrels per day in Nigeria. Statistical data show that the current per capita earnings is less than half of what it used to be in the glory days of the 1980s when Nigeria had $590 income per capita. OPEC projections put Nigeria’s net oil export revenues at $27 billion in 2004, a 29 % increase compared to $20.9 in 2003, & $16.5 billion in 2002. We all know what a barrel of Nigeria’s light-sweet crude cost today. This pattern of corruption is also rampant at all other revenue-making sectors of Nigeria’s economy.
I dare challenge any individual who continue to declare that corruption is incurable in Nigeria. We should learn from such countries that started this anti-corruption campaign with us years ago but have since left us in the dust due to our perennial ineffective approach to finding a solution this phenomenon. I do accept that fact that no country, including the very industrialized western world, is corruption-free. However, we as Nigerians from the top of our leadership to the bottom of the ladder should make a concerted effort to fight corruption at all levels of our communities. These include the executive, legislative, judicial, and non-governmental organization (NGO) branches at the federal, state, and local government levels. We should at the least make it our goal to reduce corruption to a mere nuisance within our society.
There should be total transparency and accountability all through the whole scheme of operation in the anti-corruption campaign. No groups or individuals (including the elite class) should be classified or perceived as exempt or immune from the adverse consequences for being a perpetrator of corruption. There should be effective reforms at all segments of the judicial branch, which is a major ingredient in the anti-corruption efforts.
In my attempt to proffer solutions to the corruption plague, I am compelled to make public a real life story involving the uncle of a fellow countryman in order to paint a better picture of the seriousness of the situation in Nigeria. His uncle was an official holding a reputable position in of the arms of a local government. He successfully schemed-off over N15m (fifteen million naira) from the local government coffers .The only punishment he received was the fact that he was sacked from that position. He went home smiling with his loot. What a shameful remedy for such a heinous crime.
This type of official is suppose to spend reasonable number of years incarcerated, pay huge court fines, incur huge attorneys’ fees from defense attorneys, and forfeit to the federal government all assets and money adjudged to have been acquired through these dubious means. What really happened in this case is that this official is working around a free man in our community, with no criminal record, a member of the wealthy elite class, and highly glamorized by his peers and members of his community. How long can this continue in this our great nation? Countries like China put their citizen to death if convicted of corruption. Their aim is to demonstrate the serious of such a crime. Something has to be done to tame this uncontrollable wave of corruption that has engulfed our country.
The legislative branch should enact laws that make “rights to speedy trial”
mandatory with specific time frames in corruption cases and the federal government will automatically assume a prosecutorial or plaintiff role in the matter. Any corruption case, whether at the federal, state, or local government level should be treated as a crime against The Federal Republic of Nigeria. There may be need in our judicial system to establish special courts to deal with possible backlog of such cases. The appellate phase may be allowed to follow the normal course of the due process of law. The “rights to speedy trials “ clause will in a number ways preclude the unscrupulous docket schedulers (such as court clerks) from macro-managing judicial hearings through unnecessary postponements or court hearing delays.
More prisons should be built throughout the federation to accommodate the likely influx of convicted offenders. This is because there is a severe need to put our house in order. The laws should effectively make the perpetrators of corruption schemes pay through their nose in time and material possession. These measures to some extent will at least distract future followers of these acts from joining the bandwagon.
High degree of credibility should be restored to the presiding judges. Any judge adjudged to have accepted bribes or gratuity in order to give a favorable ruling for their accomplice, should be de-barred and given very stiff prison term. He or she can never assume to that position again as an ex-convict. Attempts by individuals to bribe a peace-officer (i.e. the police, security agents, etc.) in any form, or a peace officer accepting bribe or gratuity should be considered a serious federal felony punishable by huge fines and very long prison sentences. In this way perpetrators on both sides will bear the serious consequences for their actions. Working conditions of the police, such as salaries, welfare benefits, etc, should be drastically improved. Entry level for police training should be raised to at least the equivalence of two years of undergraduate work at the university.
Watchdog organizations, whether institutionalized or voluntary, should be established to monitor cases of corruption, then channel instances or reports of corruption to the appropriate quarters. A toll-free “crime-stopper” hotline(s) should be established and made readily available or accessible to the general public. These hotlines should be well staffed to meet the demand of the public.
Finally, if we truly want to fight corruption in our society, our leaders must shun selfish or vindictive motives in prescribing lasting remedies to eradicate this nemesis. Most of the tools are already in place to fight corruption in Nigeria, but do our leaders have the political will do so. There is a serious need to need to pump new blood into Nigeria’s polity. These old generation politicians should give way to the new breeds that will bring youth, vigor, high expectations, transparency, and enthusiasm to our political entity. They are the ones holding our country hostage to real progress because of their selfish ambitions. We as Nigerians should put our heads together and fight corruption with all the resources available to us, and by all necessary means so as to finally defeat this monster called corruption that has continued to plague us since our existence as an independent nation.