Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Corruption in High Places

It’s been forty-months since I last visited my birth place, Benin in Edo state located in the south-south region of Nigeria. The sand is still dark red; the mud as thick as ever; the roads still full of gullies and the flood after every rain at as notorious as I can remember. The flood on Uselu road such a nuisance that it is now referred to as Uselu-river. I’m nostalgic when I am served soup in a clay pot and even more so when I taste the roadside crunchy bean cake locally called Akara; but on the flipside, I am saddened when I see my people at the bus stops and realize that they are still as poor as I left them. I recall the spate of development in the Middle East also world producers of oil and deep within me I wonder why we cannot have rapid development. The question is why? After all, we are an oil-rich nation. The answer I get: corrupt leaders!

I heard about Transparency International on the radio and its rating of countries in relation to corruption and so decided to run a Google search on it. According to Wikipedia, since 1995, Transparency International has published an annual Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) ordering the countries of the world according to "the degree to which corruption is perceived to exist among public officials and politicians". The organization defines corruption as "the abuse of entrusted power for private gain". Nigeria is rated one of the most corrupt countries in the world, and it was interesting to discover that the corruption perception index has been criticized because the definition of what constitutes bribery, tipping or corruption vary from one country to another. There’s without a doubt that Transparency International’s definition of corruption points accusing fingers at our leaders. But what struck me in the definition are the words ‘abuse, power and gain’ and here’s my thinking.

It goes without saying that Nigerians are after what they can get from their neighbours each person using the other as a stepping stone to achieve his own goals. As my colleague puts it, our appetite for evil is huge. We all use our power to the detriment of others. My friend’s experience captures it vividly. He had reason to see someone somewhere in Surulere, Lagos. The particular street was unfamiliar to him so at a point he decided to stop and ask for directions. He beckoned on a young man along the sidewalk and asked him for the needed direction. He was lucky, the man was familiar with the vicinity and so he turned out to be helpful. As courtesy demands, he said “thank you” but guess the reply he received in return, “Oga na thank you I go chop”. My friend said he was absolutely short of words and taken aback. The summary of his experience, nothing goes for nothing in Naija.

In our higher institutions, bribery, cheating and extortion are the order of the day. This is disheartening considering that the academias next to parents are responsible for character formation and instilling knowledge. You know what they say, “education goes beyond reading and writing”. And on the other hand, our students, the future of tomorrow; our hope for a better Nigeria are jointly guilty of corruption. You may wish to take me on but so many examples come to mind.

For instance, the Faculty officer who insists on a tip, before registering a student’s courses for an academic session and the hard-headed student who on the other hand, refuses to bribe the faculty officer but decides to forge the necessary signatures to facilitate the submission of his course forms failure of which would mean he cannot sit for his semester exams. Both faculty officer and student have ‘abused power’. If the student, the future of tomorrow, has already begun to imbibe this practice of forgery; how can we then adduce corruption only to our government?

Still in our higher institutions, we have the lecturer who decides that lecture notes otherwise known as hand-outs will be imposed on students (even if he/she already acquired one from a senior course mate) and as a matter of fact conducts continuous assessment test for only those who purchase his lecture notes, or even decides to score his patrons arbitrarily, while leaving the grades of others to their fate all in a bid to make money. Isn’t he guilty of abusing power for a personal gain? Yet, he is quick to blame the government under the camouflage of ASUU. I listened on the radio recently as an undergraduate student narrated her ordeal of how she had to bribe her lecturer with $1,000 for a single course in order to pass; her other option of course would have been to sleep with him, so she choose the ‘lesser evil‘ in her opinion.

I have also learnt of a school’s principal who when approached by a corporate body that wanted to provide some infrastructural support under its corporate social responsibility initiative was more interested in her personal gains instead of the welfare of the students.

The policeman who harasses drivers at check points under the guise of doing his job by requesting for particulars and the driver too who fails to renew his license because he believes he can get away with the expired document with the aid of a few Naira notes; is another example that comes to mind. Wouldn’t you agree with me that both policeman and driver are corrupt?

During the military regime, I’m told that a lot of agile young men decided to join the army simply because they hoped to become a military state administrator some day and amass wealth. That is obviously corruption pre-meditated.

You would agree with me also that are we all jointly responsible for fast tracking applications for passports, driving licenses and jumping queues because we have the power to pay a premium.

These are the sorts of scenarios we are faced with in Nigeria today and they convict YOU & ME. We can go on and on but the common excuse given is that people are corrupt because they are poor.

You would also agree that all scenarios (forgery, exploitation, extortion, bribery etc.) involve some form of abuse of power for a personal gain. My point is “corruption in high places”, is not a thing of today in our society and involves the high and mighty just as it involves the common man on the streets. The truth is that the high and mighty, already had engaged in one form of corruption or the other before attaining their high and mighty positions. Things are no longer done on merit in Nigeria because each one seeks to favour his accomplice who aides him in perpetuating corruption. Even those who strive to steer clear of corruption find themselves between the devil and the deep blue sea. Corruption has become inherent in every one of us!

Poverty has a role to play too, but I dare say it’s not a justification for doing wrong. For as long as we (the masses) continue to see poverty as a justification for corruption rather than seeing corruption as the reason for poverty, we are not significantly different from those we accuse so gravely; and we will all continue in this vicious circle, corruption beginning in the lower places and graduating unto higher places and poverty would continue to thrive!