And Are We Not?
During a luncheon to celebrate his 90th birthday, on March 15, 2014, President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe took a swipe at Nigeria’s corruption, warning his countrymen not by any chance to become like Nigerians. While the accusation was made more than a month ago, the reaction to it came only last week—and that alone said a lot about corruption of another sort. Did the government need the whole of a month to mull over the wordings of its reaction before releasing it? Or did the government initially believe Mugabe was right; but after considering the implications, changed its mind? Or did its embassy despatch from Harare fail to advise it of the fact of the swipe in time? Or was someone waiting to be paid to react on behalf of the country?
Following the swipe, Zimbabwe’s ambassador to Nigeria was summoned to the foreign ministry to receive a strong protest note. ‘Not only does it not reflect the reality in our country,’ the foreign ministry statement said about the accusation, ‘but to come from a sitting president of a brotherly country is most unkind and very dishonourable.’ And other patriotic Nigerians have thrown in their widow’s mite in defence of the fatherland. But neither the official nor the unofficial reaction from Nigeria tried to deny the substance of what Mugabe said; and, in the main, the thrust of the reactions had gone something like this: ‘Mugabe is a tyrant and a sit-tight despot.’ ‘There is runaway inflation in Zimbabwe.’ ‘Nigeria has helped the liberation struggle in southern Africa.’
Because what Mugabe said was true, silence to admit it was better than noise that didn’t disprove it. ‘Are we now like Nigerians where you have to reach into your pockets to get anything done?’ was all Mugabe said. But just how much the Zimbabwean president had simplified and understated the matter! If only it was just a case of reaching into pockets!
He didn’t know that contracts here were awarded by executives, not by competitive bidding; he didn’t know that appointments here were made by political executives and not by competitive examinations conducted by an independent commission; he wouldn’t know about security vote, and would never come to know that a Nigerian president or governor could dash a billion Naira of public money to his friend or to himself—and it would be covered, passed and audited OK as a proper charge on that so-called security vote; he didn’t even know that that the police here routinely gave their guns out to criminals for hire, and they shared and demarcated police precinct into different theatres of operation: and the area of criminal operation would be out of bounds to the police for the duration of that racketeering contract; Mugabe wouldn’t ever know that some judges here write two opposing judgments on a single case and what they finally read in court as judgment depends on who pays higher!
Mugabe wouldn’t know that, because of corruption, they had never conducted a free and fair election in this land—and electoral corruption is the highest form of corruption; for, it deprives people of their right to determine their leadership and future. It includes in it every manifestation of corruption: people are bribed, the entire state security apparatus is misused, public office is abused, oaths of office are violated, rule of law sabotaged, judiciary is compromised; while, on top of all this, public resources are stolen to pay for the rigging.
But Mugabe wasn’t the first to accuse Nigeria of corruption. Transparency International, which commenced operation in 1993 and gave out the first Corruption Perceptions Index in 1995, had by following year discovered and ranked Nigeria last; and this earned it the notoriety of being the most corrupt country in the world; and since then it has been down all the way. And even democracy didn’t seem to have helped matters. For the first six of the last 15 years since the return to civil rule in 1999, Nigeria remained the most corrupt country on earth, always comfortably last or at best second to the last.
After those six years of President Olusegun Obasanjo, at a time when corruption was struggling to attain to perfection in Nigeria, the country’s ranking inexplicably started to improve! The ultimate in corruption would have been reached by Nigeria if it was able to enmesh Transparency International as it fell victim to the very pestilence it was trying to eradicate. But Nigeria didn’t become the sovereign of corruption by so technical a process; it did so because of the practical, often ingenious, corrupt practices of its citizens at home and around the world.
And as successive governments struggled with crises of legitimacy and junior officers in their employ struggled with inflation and low pay, and senior officers faced the prospects of job loss or unplanned retirement, those exercising discretionary powers were presented with boundless opportunities for perpetrating corruption; and, without the fear of being caught or punished, this often became a temptation few can resist. And so, it became pervasive and it is enjoyed.
In the past, Nigerian leaders have chastised even Nigerian journalists and writers for their negative reports about the country and accused them of a lack of patriotism—and wanted them to stop; because they figured out that it wass a lot easier for journalists to stop writing than for them to stop their corruption.
Sometimes, by way of example, they even cite the case of Cable News Network, CNN, saying that in its reporting and analysis, CNN always upholds, protects and promotes American interest, which may not be untrue; but that just happens not to be journalism; and Nigerian journalists are under any no obligation to copy that brand of flag-waving reportage. In such a situation, patriotic journalism is no better than pecuniary journalism; and it doesn’t help the case that it is the nation that is paying the journalist back with its citizenship. Any consideration other than the truth should be anathema to the professional journalist, who should never accept to be made to apologise for saying a necessary truth; nor ever regret exposing the perfidy of an unaccountable leadership.
If I want be a patriotic journalist, what I will do is to drop my pen and pick up a gun to join other Nigerians in fighting the country’s just battles—wherever they are fought and whoever the enemy is. Or go into politics to help spearhead a genuine movement for a reform of the system that will lead to the permanent entrenchment of a true democratic culture in Nigeria under the rule of law—at whatever price; or get into the legislature to ensure the independence of the country from every type of bondage—domestic, regional or international; or be part of the nongovernmental overseers; or just be content with being a conscientious, law-abiding and angry citizen.
After all is said and undone, I pick up my pen and write; because, besides that, I don’t owe this country the responsibility to tell a lie on its behalf—whatever injury it stands to suffer on the international scene. And, by the way, suppose that the situation is, indeed, as the Nigerian writer says it is, which then will have been more unpatriotic—the writing that only reported the truth of corruption, or the corruption that prompted it?
For the moment, the government will do well to leave Mugabe alone and attend to its corruption. It should begin the process of considering the possibility of setting up a committee that will prepare the modalities for calling a general meeting of all stakeholders to begin the great task of looking into the necessity of studying, delimiting, delineating, zonalising and dividing all aspects of corruption; setting up appropriate subcommittees to begin the onerous task of calling for memoranda from the public; collecting, collating and classifying submissions; undertaking a world tour to Scandinavia, North America, Far East and Oceania to study the situation.
The committee’s report should be submitted to the next National Conference that will be convened to find out why the current conference failed. And when that next conference submits its report, another committee charged with the task of extracting motions, submissions, resolutions relevant to the work of the original committee should be set up. Its own report should be handed over to a White Paper subcommittee with powers to verify every statement of fact, summon any and every stakeholder, and, if necessary, undertake another world tour to reconfirm some of the issues. It should immediately break into subsubcommittees that must individually and severally reflect federal character to write the subunits of the White Paper; and when a draft report is ready, it should be handed over to an editing committee.
The final clean document must be subjected to a referendum in which every Nigerian, repeat, every Nigerian, all 150 million of us without exception must give his opinion. Then the fight against corruption will have begun; but for the moment, with its elaborate architecture of corruption, Nigeria’s patronage system is as near to perfection as any spoils system on earth can get; and precious few, if any, systems can match its corruption-friendliness.
And in the end, it will slowly become clear that even the current security challenge and failure can be seen as the inevitable result of the amalgamated corruption going on—political corruption, bureaucratic corruption, economic corruption, religious corruption, social corruption and international covert corruption; but what is still not clear to many is how Government Haram fits into this corruption jigsaw.