HEARTS G. OFOEZE
Department of Government/Public Administration,
Abia state university,
This article takes an incisive look at the issue of corruption, identifies and examines its various dimensions and effects as well as the various pretended efforts by the past and present Nigerian governments to fight the phenomenon. In all, based on the findings herein, this article avers that corruption which has since ” passed the alarming stage and entered the fatal stage ” has not only bred social injustice and torn the country apart but also has exerted debilitating and devastating effects on the socio-political and economic life of the citizens. That this is so, is clearly evident in the general systemic instability and tension and their accompanying socio-political and economic under development that have unrelentingly afflicted the country and its citizens. Besides, the article also avers that the glaring failure of all the efforts to fight corruption by the various successive and the present Nigerian government has derived from the insincerity of the top government officials and decision-makers who are the perpetrators and beneficiaries of corruption.
The issue of “corruption” and the problems arising there from seem to constitute the most discussed phenomena in Nigeria such that wherever two or more persons gather for discussion in any sphere of human and national life, corruption and its associated problems always constitute the primary items on the agenda of such discussions and with the discussants usually condemning it and its related problems in very strong terms. But quite interestingly, some of those people who condemn it and its associated problems are even the main perpetrators of the phenomena. Indeed, because of the near-suffocating preponderance of corruption and its associated problems, scholars have made so much efforts at analyzing the dimensions and causes of these rather hydra headed phenomena such that there exist today a huge avalanche of literature on corruption and its association problems.
In general, there clearly exists a consensus among Nigerians, including the perpetrators, that corruption is bad and so, it must be fought and eradicated. But although this is the general belief among Nigerians, and although virtually all successive regimes
(both military and civil) including the present regime, have claimed to have fought and/or
still fighting to eradicate the phenomenon andits associated monstrous problems,
corruption, both in terms of its proliferation and astonishing speed of spread, has continued
to thrive even more luxuriantly so much so that it seems to have developed a life of its own
with well developed internal dynamic for self-propulsion. In fact, right now, in Nigeria,
corruption has become so ubiquitous and so “brazenly rapacious that the very few citizens
who have not yet been caught up in its sickly web, are seen by those already within the
web, as people that must be avoided as much as possible. Besides, one very important
thing about corruption is that it is so sticky that once caught within its web, the person
As already indicated elsewhere, although people, especially public officials in their public speeches, sermonizations and pontifications, strongly condemn corruption and its associated problems, some of them, in their everyday existence, actions and behaviours, perpetrate, and benefit, from it. This state of affairs has arisen either because of their ignorance of the meaning of corruption aid its various dimensions or that they are merely being hypocritical in their public condemnation, of the phenomenon.
The central task of this article is to make explicit the meaning, dimensions and causes of public corruption in Nigeria as well as to identify some of the efforts made by some of the past regimes to tackle it.
2. CORRUPTION DEFINED:
Corruption, like many other concepts in the social sciences, is difficult and somewhat out rightly impossible to define in a manner that is acceptable to all. Thus, it is not surprising that there exist numerous definitions of the concept even though there is a general agreement that the phenomenon and its associated dimension are seen as abhorrent, offensive and antithetical to justice and equity.
Describing it, Professor Abdullahi Smith sees corruption as “the diversion of reserve from the betterment of the community to the gain of individuals at the expense of the community.” However, the problem with this definition is that it tends to see corruption as acts associated only with material things or money. On his own part Dan Agoese sees corruption as any act/thing .done by a person(s) to influence another in order to take advantage of any situation. The problem with Agbese’s definition above, is that it fails to distinguish corruption from the lawful exercise of influence as well as power to attain certain legitimate societal goals which indeed is what political power as well as influence are, Agbese’s definition tends to wrongly convey, albeit unintentionally, the feeling that any act done to influence another so as to take advantage, is corruption. But this is not true.
We shall in this article take the “concept” corruption to mean any act, action or
inaction of any person or group (public or private) deliberately perpetrated to secure
advantages(s) for oneself, a relation or associate or group(s) in a manner that detract from
the accepted regulations, moral, ‘and/or ethnical standard or code and hence constituting a travesty of justice, equity and fair play.
Thus, properly understood, corruption more or less equates injustice and inequity. Consequently, whenever corruption/corrupt act is committed, then injustice is perpetrated. It is because of this, that corruption is seen as disturbing, offensive and condemnable.
To be sure corruption is of varied nature, type and dimension. Thus for example Professor Onige Otite identifies five categories/types viz-political corruption, economic corruption, bureaucratic corruption; judicial corruption and moral corruption. Each of these types manifests itself in many ways as we shall demonstrate later. As could be easily deduced from the Otite’s classification, corruption is found in all facets and departments of human and national life as well as in both the public and private spheres.
Essentially, the private dimension of corruption may take the forms of behvioural
tendencies and acts of people in their interpersonal and/or intergroup relationships in their
capacities as private individuals and/or groups even though these may still have possible
marginal spillovers into the public realm of their existence. And as should be expected,
the backdrops against which “private sphere corruption” is ascertained, are all rooted in
moral, ethical and other normative criteria and standards in human socio-political,
economic interpersonal relationships. Therefore the private sphere corruption often takes
such forms as breach of trust, dishonesty, cheating, immorality, moral debauchery, and
“subjective irresponsibility” of a person acting towards another in his capacity as private
individual rather than in his official capacity. And in addition, in most cases, private sphere
corruption may not really breach or infract any objective formal law rules/laws even
though highly ethically and morally reprehensible.
On the other hand, public corruption refers to any act arid/or behaviour deliberately perpetrated by public official(s) in a manner that secures some advantage for himself, his friend(s) or association(s) or group(s) at the expense of another or other person(s). Such act or behaviour usually results in a breach, infraction of certain formal rules/regulations or moral or ethical or normative codes of good behaviour and conduct. In his official capacity with the intent to secure some undue advantage for himself or to another person or group at the expense of another person(s) or group(s) and in the course perverts official institutional rules, regulations or moral, ethical or normative codes of conduct and behaviour.
Essentially, the distinguishing character of public corruption as against private sphere corruption, is that it is an act or behavioural tendency of a person/group acting in his/its official capacity and exercising some public authority to secure some undue/undeserved advantage for himself/itself at the expense of another or others.
Essentially public corruption or lack of it can only be ascertained or assessed from the stand-point of the official role/position/office occupied by the perpetrator or against whom the act is perpetrated. Therefore, properly understood in this way, the centrality of the concept of “role” in the entire issue of public corruption becomes clear.
In its simplest nature, the concept “role” means “the behaviour characteristic expected of an occupant of a functionally defined position in an organizational setting (Ollawa, 1979: 10).
Implicit in this are two important analytical aspects of “role” “role expectation” and “role enactment”. The former (“role expectation”) refers to the expected behaviour, qualities, actions, and conduct of an occupant of a public office/position, The latter (role enactment) refers to the actual conduct, behaviour, action and qualities of an occupant of public office/position(Olawa, 1979:10) In other words, whereas role expectation constitutes the expected behaviour, attitude, actions as well as the ethical moral and normative standards of an occupant of a position/office, role enactment constitutes the actual behaviours, attitude, action and performance of an occupant of a given position/office. Therefore, the former (role expectation) constitutes the legal, as well as the moral, ethical and normative standards and background against which the actual actions, behavior conduct attitudes and performances of public office-holder, are evaluated and assessed. On that note, if the performance of the office-holder do not synchronize with the expected actions and, behaviours, attitude and performance of the office/position, then he would be seen to be corrupt and to have perpetrated corruption. On the other hand, if his actual actions, behaviour, conduct and performance synchronise with the expectations of his office/position than he would be adjudged to have perpetrated no corruption and so not corrupt. As quite clear from the foregoing, one very important thing about public corruption is the fact that whenever it is perpetrated, it subverts, infracts and perverts objective public rules/laws as well as the moral, ethical and normative codes of conduct of the society. Indeed, it is the public corruption and its related manifestations that are the main focus of discussions.
In the main, to the layman, public corruption manifests in such numerous forms are bribery, fraud, kickbacks, over inflated contract costs, outright embezzlement and misappropriation of public- funds, stealing, conversion and diversion of public property and many other similar acts.
However, apart from the above acts of corruption, there are many other and evenmore destructive forms of corruption and corrupt practices but which the ordinary people seem not to know. Some of these include the use of public office and influence to secure for oneself, and/or relations, friends and associates (including ethnic groups) undue and unmerited advantages, rewards, appointment/employment into public office, the perpetration of injustice and inequity in matters of personnel promotion, advancement, remuneration, allocation of public resources and other economic and social benefits, on nepotic, ethnic and tribal basis contrary to the specifications of public service rules, regulations and code of conduct. Some others include all acts of malfeasance including deliberate refusal by public office-holders to carry out their official responsibilities with the intent to secure advantage of one type or another for themselves and or their relations in a manner contrary to the, law. In short public corruption in Nigeria as Mallam Adamu Ciroma has once noted, is
…. The deliberate bending of the system to favour
friends or hurt foes; any misbehaviour, deviation from or perversion of the system or misleading*Nigerians or giving them wrong or distorted information about things they ought to know.
Thus, according to Mallam, “a public official is corrupt if he accepts money or
money’s worth for doing something that he is under a duty to do or exercises a legitimate
discretion for improper reason.-
In all, public corruption (especially its political, economic and bureaucratic aspects) has left the Nigerian state emasculated, wretched and underdeveloped. Indeed, as Professor Achebe, (1983:38) in his- The Trouble with Nigeria has put it, “corruption … has passed the alarming stage and has entered the fatal stage, and Nigeria will die if we keep pretending that she is only slightly indisposed” To capture the pervasive nature and degree to which corruption has penetrated into the whole fabrique of the society, Achebe”(1983:38) goes on to lament, thus:
…. To look the other way while the nation’s treasury s being
looted by the people in authority, to collectively regard election manipulation as a way of life, to mischievously embrace the act, of offering and accepting ten percent on total contract signed by public officials, to inflate census figure, receive undue favour from government and a countless other corrupt acts, are such paths to the nation’s demise.
3 FIGHTING CORRUPTION IN NIGERIA
Based on the numerous socio-political and economic problems precipitated by corruption, many well-meaning Nigerians have all called for the need for the political leadership to take action and effective measures to tackle the problem. Let us, at this juncture examine some of these efforts made by the various previous regimes in the country to arrest corruption.
Because of public condemnation of corruption each of the successive, federal
governments after the Belawa regime including the present, has tried/attempted to fight the
menace of corruption by “instituting one programme or structure or another. Thus for
example apart from me ordinary courts which unfortunately did hot really show any
intention to perform that role, the Aguiyi Ironsi military regime announced its intention to
institute actions to tackle the problem. In his nation-wide broadcast of 28th January 1966,
General Aguiyi Ironsi declared that:
…the Federal Military Government will stamp out corruption and dishonesty in our public life with ruthless efficiency and restore integrity and self-respect in. our public affairs. In the public service, efficiency and merit will be the criteria for advancement. The Government will study very carefully the ‘question posed by those who recklessly abused their public offices through the acquisition of state land and financial deals. The Federal Government’will introduce administrative, reforms. It will also restore the laid down procedures for tenders and awards of contracts so as to eradicate corrupt practices and ensure benefit from the expenditure of the tax payers money… (Agedah,1993:13-14).
However, very unfortunately, before the regime could do anything it had been-overthrown by another regime led by Lt. Colonel Yakubu Gowon. The Gowon regime was not interested in fighting corruption and indeed as the report of the panel set up by the Murtala Mohammed regime which overthrew it showed, the Gowon military regime marked the beginning of massive corruption on the highest scale(Ageda, 1993:1).
The Murtala- Mohammed regime, on its own, just like the Ironsi regime, identified corruption as a very dangerous problem of the Country and tried to gear up to it. But rather than putting forth enduring structure, the regime opted for an ad hoc arrangement leading to the mass-purge of the public service. This led to mass retirement and dismissal of public servants some of who were quite innocent, efficient and highly dedicated workers.- In fact the manner through which the entire exercise was conducted, clearly exposed the ignorance and unintelligent nature of that regime to the extent thatthe number two person in that regime-General Obasanjo expressed some regret that the purge led to unnecessary hardship for the innocent ones while the guilty ones ‘ were spared. The Murtala Mohammed/Obasanjo regime however still went on to claim to be committedto fightingcorruption even though many Nigerians albeit rightly, disagreed, asserting that some of the regime’s top leaders perpetrated corruption because, according to Agedah (1993: 1) the era of the regime, “saw new heights of patronage and privilege by the hatch-men to sycophants and surrogates of the military le&ders”7
On its own part, the Shagari civilian regime which emerged in 1979 also expressed strong displeasure with corruption and made some effort, albeit, superficially, to fight it. The regime established three important structures to fight corruption- the Code of Conduct Bureau, Code of Conduct Tribunal and the Public Complaints Commission. In addition the Shagari regime also introduced the so-called “Ethical Revolution” programme.
However, notwithstanding all these, corruption received very serious boost as some of the prominent members of that government as well as the top members of the ruling NPN party perpetrated corruption to a level not known before. But although this is so, there were some members of that government who had no hand in the huge corruption for which that government was known. For example, in spite of all the Igbo phobic efforts made by the military regime that overthrew the Shagar regime, the panel which was set up to probe some selected members of the Shagari regime, could not establish any case of corruption against Dr. Alex Ekwueme- the Vice-President and who was one of the principal target of that probe.
The Buhari regime which overthrew the Shagari regime made some noise to the effect that it was committed to fighting corruption. But rather than put in place the necessary structural and institutional prerequisites with which to fight corruption, the Buhari regime chose to adopt ad hoc pedestrian, infantile and crude measures none of which had any clear aim against corruption. All that the regime succeeded in doing was merely to create and sustain, through draconian, anti-people, and fascistic decrees, an atmosphere of terror, intimidation, and uncertainty. This remained so until that regime was in turn overthrown by one of its principal potentates Babangida, then Chief of Army Staff.
The Babangida regime which emerged also talked about the need to tackle corruption. The regime established the special Anti-Corruption Committee headed by Justice Kayode Esho, and some ad hoc military tribunals. In addition, through the 1988 Civil Service Reform, the regime created the public Accounts Committee, the Audit Alarm System and other similar instruments which made it compulsory for all ministries and extra-ministerial bodies to submit their accounts within a specified period as well as the civil service rule which provided/provides that a minister could still be made to account for his actions in office even after leaving office. But notwithstanding all these, that regime was/is believed by Nigerians to have perpetrated corruption to the highest heights and that indeed that regime institutionalized “corruption” as an art and instrument of governance. Indeed, this even got to a point whereby those few Nigerian who did not join the bandwagon of corruption became endangered species. This state of affairs continued until the regime and its leadership were stampeded into “stepping aside” following from that regime’s commission of the highest political corruption “of annulling the June- 12 free and fair presidential election widely believed to have been won by MKO Abiola.
The Abacha regime which emerged after the displacement of the Shonekan led-interim National Government like the previous military regimes also pretended it was going to fight corruption. But as it has since become clear, it also perpetrated corruption to a dangerous level.
Even the present regime has emphasized its commitment to fight corruption. To
buttress its commitment albeit, ostensibly, the regime has instituted an “anti-corruption
act”. In spite of the existence of this “Act” however there are numerous stories and acts of
corruption associated with some top members of the regime and the ruling party. Perhaps,
as has since become clear, the “Anti-corruption Act” has only served as an Instrument to
harass and intimidate those wrongly or rightly, perceived as political opponents and foes of
the powers that be at Abuja.
Our discussion so far has demonstrated that corruption which began right from the inception of the country by the colonial masters and throughout the period of colonial dispensation, and the period of the first republic, reached its monstrous stage during the military era especially from the Gown regime through to the second republic and all the subsequent regimes including the present
The overall impact of corruption in all its ramifications on the Nigerian state hasbeen quite debilitating, perilous and destructive. That this is so, is clearly evident in the gross social, political and economic underdevelopment of the country. This underdevelopment is clearly demonstrated by the. mass unemployment, mass illiteracy, extreme insecurity of both life and property, armed robbery, low life expectancy, high infant and adult mortality, prostitution, lack of social amenities, and other social infrastructure! facilities, violent religious and ethnic crises, gross poverty, deprivation and extreme marginalization and general political and systematic instability all of which have become the common characteristic features of Nigeria.
However, although all the successive regimes/political leaderships since independence had appreciated the perilous impact of corruption on Nigeria and although in their public statements they had vigorously sermonized in condemnation of it, but none really sincerely fought the scourge (corruption). This lack of serious commitment to fight corruption derived from the fact that it was these regimes/leaderships through their various agencies that perpetrated and benefited from corruption. This was in spite of the beautiful anti-corruption programme which each of these regimes/leaderships had. Thus, for example in spite of its claim that it came to power to stamp out corruption perpetrated by the Gowon regime and in spite of the; mass purge of the public service, some members of the Mohammed/ Obasanjo military regime were known to have corruptly enriched themselves through the various activities associated with the FESTAC and other similar programmes. The same thing applied to the Shagari regime which in spite of its “ethical revolution” wrecked the country’s economy and through election rigging and other electoral malfeasance threw the country into political darkness and crises. The Buhari regime which came on-board after sacking the Shagari regime inspite of its terrorist posture and WAI programme was still known to have perpetrated corruption such as the “52 suit case” saga. The Babangida, Abacha as well as the Abusalami Abubakar regimes were all known to have, not only perpetrated all forms of political, economic, social and moral corrupt practices, but also raised corruption to the status of “weapon of governance”. Indeed, even the present regime has elevated corruption to a new height as manifested through the numerous ethnically oriented patterns of appointments, uneven handedness, the corrupt manipulation of the legislature and the electoral act fraud among others. Indeed, from the look of thing the “Anti-Corruption Act” has become mere instrument of intimidation and harassment of political opponents and foes.
P. E Ollawa (1979) Participatory Democracy in Zambia: The Political Economy of National Development. Ilfracomb, Arthur Stockweli.
C. Achebe, (1983) The Trouble With Nigeria Enugu, Fourth Dimension Publishers.
D .Agedah, (1993) (ed.) Corruption and the Stability of the Third Republic Lagos: Perception Communications.