Nigerians will be shocked to know that bribe giving and taking in the country is such a high-yielding gold mine that attracts very little attention. The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) is about to change all that as it has just revealed that in one-year alone, a whopping N400 billion illicitly exchanged hands between public officials and the citizens they are employed to serve. What this goes to show is that the war on corruption and corrupt practices has hardly begun.
Presently, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and other sister agencies of government put in place to check such illegalities are focussing attention on politically- exposed Nigerians and other top government functionaries who, directly or indirectly, have access to the public treasury.
But what NBS has just told the world is actually that, gratification requested by or voluntarily given to public officials for performing what is, in actual fact, their official duty, is not just a drainpipe but a gushing dam. Curiously, those institutions that Nigerians first run to when their rights and privileges are trampled upon are the ones that are the most culpable in this scandal. According to the report, the Police is top of the list followed by those institutions many Nigerians refer to as the last hope of the common man – the judiciary made up of the prosecutors, the judges and the magistrates.
We are not about to put anyone on trial on the basis of this damning revelation for the simple reason that all have sinned. We are all guilty of the malfeasance. As the saying goes, it takes two to tango. Where there is a bribe taker, there is, unmistakeably, a bribe giver. That ought to present a worrisome scenario to those intent on cleaning up the system.
It is important to point out that this game of money for service is not peculiar to Nigeria. After all, bribe is not an Igbo word. That it exists in the English lexicon is proof that other climes have such challenges too. What is of concern here is the degree, the extent to which Nigerians are prepared to go in other to unduly influence the provision of otherwise free service to their favour.
From the giver’s point of view, such token which now put together amounts to much, makes files move faster. It makes traffic move seamlessly. It enables one to obtain favours one is not entitled to. That in a nutshell is the dictionary definition of bribe- to persuade somebody with enticement, to give somebody money or some other incentive to do something, especially something illegal or dishonest.
Elsewhere, bribery is viewed with all seriousness. People go to jail for it. A former Israeli Prime Minister is a good example. The Americans and Europeans involved in the Halliburton bribery scandal are another. In places like China, we have it on good authority that it will not only bring down a public figure but also send him to the gallows.
In those cultures, there is the belief that every resource is needed for national development. Therefore, bribery, a part of corruption, is seen as distortion that is not permissible if the right moral culture must be established. In Nigeria, who cares? Imagine what N400 billion could have done to uplift the welfare of the proverbial common man if it had been judiciously deployed and utilised.
The NBS, in bringing this to the fore, is letting Nigerians know how the country is haemorrhaging and almost bleeding to death. In their opinion which we share, the police and the judiciary may be at the top of the shameful practice, they are, by no means, the only ones involved. It cuts across the gamut of our national life- at filling stations, hospitals, motor parks and, these days, even in churches where desperate worshippers bribe pastors to fast and pray on their behalf.
It is imperative to suggest that this information put in the public domain by NBS is a wakeup call to all especially those agencies of government that think that they are doing a great job because they arrested one politician who diverted project money and converted same to personal use. Without doubt, that is a positive step in the right direction in the effort to clean up the mess that corruption is spreading across the land. That, too, is wholesale bribery that may not be as dangerous as the retail bribery NBS is talking about that goes on even in homes, gradually but steadily, eating away the fabric that holds the nation’s moral fibre together. Because it is mutually agreed upon, it easily escapes the law. To stop it requires an attitudinal change that comes from within the mind of all of us. It is a difficult but doable task.
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