By Emmanuel Adebiyi
Corruption can be defined as any intentional act of dishonesty geared towards achieving selfish gains. On the other hand, culture can be said to be a way of life of a particular people. For a while in Nigeria, corruption has been part of us, and has even grown to be our way of life. As a matter of fact, we have also been nurturing and transferring this evil culture to our off-springs.
Indeed, in 2015, current leader of the country, President Muhammadu Buhari, made the fight against corruption one of the most focal points of his electoral campaigns. His slogan then was: “If we don’t kill corruption, corruption will kill us”. That, of course, underscores the endemic nature of corruption in the country.
Without a doubt, corruption is the biggest among the numerous challenges in Nigeria. When critically examined, there is every possibility of observing corrupt practices in every facet of our national life, no matter the scope. Presently, corruption is so entrenched in the country that people factor its consideration into anything they want to do.
But then, we have not always been like this. In the olden days, as I was told by my grandmother, people were more honest and forthright. This has got me thinking about the actual origin of corruption as a culture in our society. Is corruption indigenously peculiar to Nigeria or is it a colonial legacy?
Well, probable answers to this can be gotten from two perspectives. These are from colonialism point of view as well as the indigenous point of view. Proponents of the colonialism school of thought are of the view that prior to the coming of the Europeans, corruption was an alien culture in Nigeria. So, advocates of this school posit that it was the Europeans who, out of selfish interest, taught and influenced Nigerians to imbibe corruption.
As for promoters of the indigenous point of view, the mainstay of their argument is that corruption has been part and parcel of the Nigerian culture, ever before colonialism. They opine that corruption cannot be disjointed from egoism, which is the prioritizing of one’s selfish interest over others’. In other words, human beings are moral agents who are wired to maximally promote personal interest. It can, however, be debated if this human affairs of personal gain is an obligation borne out of psychological innate compulsion or an option, given environmental socializing factors.
As much as all human beings are bound to be self-interested, man is liable to be corrupt. However, recurring events in the society can kill or nurture this natural inclination towards corruption. The environmental socializing factors of egoism are really being put to check in the old pre-colonial era than it is in the present day.
This is such that, whoever is regarded and confirmed to be corrupt will get banished from a specific human settlement, gets capital punishments without preferential treatment, lose his/her high chieftaincy title in the community, forfeiture of assets. Importantly, he/she will be regarded as a social defiant. The stigma attached to being corrupt necessitates remorse from the corrupt individual who wants to be assimilated back into the community again.
Sadly, the reverse seems to be the case presently as corrupt individuals are often adored, applauded and prompted for higher responsibilities. In my opinion, corruption is an adopted culture in Nigeria. The colonial masters fully exploited the psychological egoism in us to the extreme. They got us insanely married to corruption. It was not ours, it is alien. They “wooed” us to be the bride of corruption. They deceived us with their ugly gifts in exchange for our fellow strong and agile black men; they call them slaves. The end result is that corruption is now firmly rooted in Nigeria.
Corruption has now become an established culture that has its branches in the minds of many Nigerians. Its ugly effects on the society include poor and bad infrastructures, lopsided government policies, upsurge in cybercrimes (“Yahoo-Yahoo”), encouragement of criminal acts, unemployment, feeble health scheme, poorly funded educational system; insecurity and the list is just endless.
Corruption poses a serious developmental challenge. In the political realm, it undermines democracy and good governance by subverting formal processes. Corruption in elections and in legislative bodies reduces accountability and fair representation in policymaking; corruption in the judiciary undermines or suspends the rule of law; and corruption in public administration results in the unequal provision of services. More generally, corruption erodes the institutional capacity of government as procedures are disregarded, resources are siphoned off, and officials are hired or promoted without regard to performance. At the same time, corruption undermines the legitimacy of government and such democratic values as trust and tolerance.
Corruption also undermines economic development by generating considerable distortions and inefficiency. In the private sector, corruption increases the cost of business through the price of illicit payments, management cost of negotiating with officials, and the risk of breached agreements or detection. Although some claim corruption reduces costs by cutting red tape, an emerging consensus holds that the availability of bribes induces officials to contrive new rules and delays. Where corruption inflates the cost of business, it also distorts the playing field, shielding firms with connections from competition and thereby sustaining inefficient firms.
However, irrespective of how bad the corruption indicator in the country is, the social malady can be brought to a most minimal level. Psychological egoism can be put to check if we leave a communal lifestyle of sharing our wealth with family and friends and not keeping possessions more than we are actually in need of. We should not allow our comfort be the discomfort of others.
Application of appropriate sanctions on corrupt offenders must not be negotiable. In handling corruption cases, the current arcane court processes and rules that lead to delayed justice must be dispensed with.
Where persons or group of individuals or corporate bodies have been convicted of corrupt practices, any funds or assets seized by law enforcement agencies must automatically be forfeited to the relevant arm of government which has been a victim of such corruption. In addition, persons convicted of corrupt practices must be disqualified from holding any public office for a specified period.
On a final note, corruption cannot be wiped out entirely in any society. But then, any country that can muster the will can, indeed, reduce corruption to the barest minimum. I look forward to a corruption free Nigeria. The movement to actualize this, however, begins with you and I. Corruption should not be our culture.
Adebiyi, a NYSC member, is with the Ministry of Information & Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja