Nigeria has been romancing corruption for too long. Efforts by successive administrations to end the romance have been unsuccessful, because it seems as if Nigeria cannot survive without corruption. And it is a fallacy to think or believe that Nigeria cannot survive without corruption. These days as efforts are being made by President Muhammadu Buhari to reign in corrupt politically exposed Nigerians and turn the economy around into a truly productive one, where there are no free monies, the uninformed yell, “Bring back corruption!”
When you inquire why they want to bring back corruption they reel out the prices of essential commodities when corruption was walking on four legs in Nigeria and say that they were better off then, than now when corruption is being tackled and billions of naira and dollars recovered from looters.
It is perhaps ignorance of the enormity of the damage done to this country by corruption that makes many Nigerians to be very tolerant of the vice. It is also because corruption has been tolerated for a long time. Old habits die hard. We need to be reminded how far this nation has gone with corruption, for us to appreciate the urgent need to tackle it head-on.
In 1939, a Nigerian businessman based in Ghana named Prince Eikeneh, wrote to the colonial government in Nigeria complaining about the number of Nigerian girls who were coming to Ghana to work as sex workers. He said the girls were usually taken there by a Warri-based Madam named, ‘Alice’, who told the girls they were going to learn a trade or get married. He concluded that the trade was very well organised and profitable for the ringleaders. Almost 80 years later, there are still many Alices luring young Nigerian women with non-existing jobs to Italy, UAE etc where they are forced to work as sex workers like in 1939 that Prince Eikeneh complained about.
In 1947, late Chief Obafemi Awolowo wrote that, “Corruption is the greatest defect of the Native System.” He complained that not only did judges take bribes; people used their connections to enrich themselves and avoid punishment for their crimes. Several decades after Awolowo lamented that judges take bribes, judges still take bribes if media reports are to be believed. Today, corrupt people still use their connections to enrich themselves and avoid punishment for their crimes.
In 1950, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa said, “The twin curses of bribery and corruption pervade every rank and department of government.” At that time ‘awoof’ was already being used to describe how civil servants used their positions to enrich themselves. 68 years after Nigeria’s first and only Prime Minister, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa observed that bribery and corruption pervade every rank and department of government, are we any different today even with the spirited efforts of President Muhammadu Buhari to turn the tide?
In 1968, a Polish-British Sociologist named Stanislav Andreski, coined the term ‘Kleptocracy’ to describe the system of government he found in Nigeria. He said, “Nigeria is the most perfect example of kleptocracy since power itself rests on the ability to bribe.” And as 2019 general elections is around the corner, many political office seekers are set to bribe their ways to power in apparent validation of Stanislav Andreski’s postulation on corruption in Nigeria, 49 years ago.
An American businessman told the US Embassy in Paris in 1973 that “A great deal of the under the table payments were taking place in Nigeria to obtain crude oil.” Today, the names and criteria for awarding rights to lift Nigeria’s crude oil are as opaque as in 1973. Given Buhari’s effort to sanitise the sector, it is obvious that corruption in the oil sector is endemic, institutional and pervasive.
In 1975, a report of the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into the shortage of petroleum products found that a lot of the petrol being imported into Nigeria was being smuggled to Chad and Niger Republic. Is this excuse not familiar to observers of recent history of fuel shortages in Nigeria?
In 1979, a British bank, Johnson Matthey collaborated with the Central Bank of Nigeria to export huge amounts of forex from Nigeria on behalf of politicians like Alhaji Umaru Dikko in contravention of foreign exchange controls. The bank later collapsed due to unsecured loans to Nigeria and had to be bailed out by the Bank of England with 100 million Pounds- the first time the Bank of England had ever rescued a private bank in British history.
With corrupt acts in Nigeria leading to collapse of banks in Britain and Brazil, any wonder Nigeria has become synonymous with corruption among the international community. It is a narrative that Nigerians must change. It is only those that are committed to the war against corruption that can change this narrative, and should be supported by Nigerians in 2019 general elections. That is the sure path towards ending Nigeria’s long romance with corruption, which has pauperised its people and makes a mockery of its claim as the ‘Giant of Africa’.
Uwadima, Journalist, Author and Researcher writes from Abuja
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