Corruption! Corruption! Corruption!
This evil, embodied within the frameworks of patron-client relationships and vested interest has been the cankerworm eating at the very fabric of the Nigerian State for more than half a century, preventing her from developing economically, socially and politically within the paradigms of a modern liberal democracy she claims to represent.
In Nigeria it is common for rich men to pay police men to intimidate their employees as they see fit. The country’s petrodollars are constantly looted by the political elite, at the expense of the general populace. Being a politician is almost synonymous with being a billionaire. In a 2009 report by Transparency International (TI), it was estimated that the amount of $40 billion is paid in bribes by multinational corporations to Nigerian politicians for their operations within the country. Dr Oby Ezekwesili, a former Nigerian minister of Solid Minerals and Education and a former Vice president of the World bank Africa Division, in a lecture given at the 52nd annual conference of the Nigerian Bar Association, said that “An estimated $400 billion of the country’s oil revenue has been stolen or misspent since the country’s independence in 1960”.
It is common to find publicly advertised “special exam centers”, where people can come and pay a fee for guaranteed success in state sponsored terminal exams in Nigeria. I could go on, but I guess we all get the image of the grotesque nature of corruption in Nigeria.
So how then can we end something that has become so normalized to the level that doing the right thing becomes the exception? A taxi driver who returned =N=18 million left in his car by a passenger at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport in Abuja was honoured with a state award. How do we presume to fight the ruling oligarchs that control the distribution of the country’s petrodollars at different levels to buy the loyalties of their clients thereby bolstering their power networks?
First, we must understand the power we have as the people of Nigeria. We have for so long been passive about the corruption by the political elite, and have joined in committing various acts of fraud at own different levels. The leaders of Nigeria, if not entirely, in some ways reflect the image of the Nigerian people. Many of us like the concept of having “Godfathers” that pave the way for us, many times illegally. But what happens when our “Godfathers” are usurped by other more powerful Godfathers that have no use for our patronage? We are thrown out in the cold. The benefits from corruption are short term and are very much hostage to the rule of men – not the rule of law.
Second, we need to understand our social and cultural values and standards as Nigerians, when we make policies and implement systems of governance. It is a common saying that men know what is right but find they are unable to do what is right – doing the wrong things instead. This is a natural human characteristic. We first must understand this, then set up systems that are impervious to our manipulations. Systems, as it were, that forces us to do the right thing.
We have imported wholesale the institutions of governments of the West without critically implementing these institutions within the context of our value system. This has been a huge contribution to the ubiquity of corruption in the country. These western institutions are very important and we can see that they work efficiently as frontiers for good governance, upholding the philosophies of liberalism and modernity. But unwittingly implementing these western systems of government has not helped us in any way, in fact these institutions seem to act as effective disguises through which the political elite perpetuate their vileness. But then we see these systems work effectively all over the western world. Why is Nigeria different? The answer is that we have implemented these western institutions without taking our value systems into consideration.
Once these two points are understood then we can go ahead to formulate policies and institutions that would nip corruption in the bud. I propose the following:
When Obasanjo tried to have the constitution amended – through illicit means – so he could run for a third term in office it was the public outcry that went a long way in preventing this from happening. In a democracy, the people have the power to vote in and vote out any official they so desire. This is the principle of a democracy. It is time for us to put this power to use.
We could develop an Anti-corruption bill. In this bill we could make our demands clear and only vote for the individuals who would support and sponsor the bill. Instead of falling prey to all the empty promises these politicians make, they would be the ones acquiescing to our demands if they want to get elected. If not we all go into the streets, strike from work and make a general call for civil disobedience – shutting down the economy in process. Some of these bills I propose include:
The “Government Expenditure and Revenue Transparency act”: There would be a website set up by the government that would be frequently updated stating the current state of government accounts. Any amount of money paid into the account would be reported and any amount that leaves the account would be recorded. A paper trail would exist all the way to any individual that received money from government. Anybody would have the right to audit government accounts if he or she suspects any discrepancy. Certain parts of the account that cannot be viewed by the public like the covert operations of the government by her intelligence agencies would be accessible to independent individuals with top level government security clearances. Any suspected discrepancy in the movement of money would be taken with utmost seriousness. Once there is proof of foul play, everyone responsible would be given nothing less than a 10 year jail sentence.
The “Public Officer Assets Declaration Act”: All public officers – including career civil servants, political appointees and elected officials – from the level of Assistant Director must declare all their assets. As a public officer, except the conjugal relations between you and your partner (spouse), everything about your life would be public information. Anyone can audit you if they believe you are getting rich on government funds. But they would be required to pay you an inconvenience fee, any time they want to carry out an audit of your personal accounts. This is put in place because you would have to give them the required information they would need to audit your accounts, which could be inconveniencing for anyone and so the process is not abused. If any discrepancy is found in your personal assets, and it is proven by independent sources, 70% of all your assets are seized and become government property, then the person auditing you gets 20% while you are left with 10% of your assets and given a one year jail term.
The “Bribe, Report and Acquire Act”: this act basically works on the greed of the Nigerian people. If anyone collects a bribe or gives a bribe, the first person to report to the nearest police station gets 95% of the other’s total net worth. This Act intends to breed distrust between the individual who gives the bribe and the one who collects the bribe, thereby stopping bribery altogether.
The “Recallment Act”: This would involve the invocations of the machinations to recall any candidate from office if he goes against the will of the people. Before any public officer gets elected he would provide the people with a manifesto of the things he intends to accomplish in office with timelines – the content of the manifesto would be agreed upon by the people and the individual. This manifesto would be an agreement between the people and the individual who is seeking their votes. He would also sign a court binding agreement to be recalled from office if he deviates from what was agreed with the people. In cases where an individual is recalled, his seat becomes vacant, and INEC coordinates election for his seat. Apart from the presidential succession of the President by the Vice President, no other position should be held that way. If a Governor is recalled, his deputy governor does not automatically become the governor. Instead the deputy governor, if he or she wants the position, would have to contest the position with any other interested individual. This would make INEC more independent, and not stretch them thin by having elections on the same day at the same time, as is presently the case
Then the extreme powers of the president would need to be curtailed. No more would the president be responsible for choosing individuals for positions that are supposed to be neutral or apolitical, like the Chief Justice of the Federation, the INEC Chairman and the Inspector-General of police. This could be done in the West (North America and Europe), but based on our values, especially in regards to the patron-client networks; this should never be allowed to happen in Nigeria again. These positions would be filled by a rigorous process. Five nomination committees from different civil society organizations would be set up for the purpose of nominating an individual; each committee would independently nominate a couple of individuals they believe should fill the position. None of the members of the different committee can be nominated. Then the names provided by the nominating committees would be given to 5 selection committees, independent of each other. No member of a nominating committee can be a member of the selecting committees. The selecting committees would provide one name each, and the name of the individual that appears most by the 5 selecting committees would be given the job. The complex bureaucracy of this alone would, if not stop, but mitigate lobbying for the position.
The nominating and selecting committees can be chosen from Organizations like the Nigerian Bar Association in each geopolitical zone and the Body of Benchers, while for the INEC Chairman would include members of the political parties that have one seat in any elective position and groups like the Transitional Monitoring Group (TMG) and Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC).
For all these policies to be enforced we need an apolitically neutral police that only does what the constitution says as interpreted by the courts. Therefore the need to restructure the police force is important. First the position of the Inspector General would not be chosen by the president or any stake holder in the country’s partisan politics. This position would be selected by the rigorous process of using nominating and selecting committees that the positions of the CJ of the Federation and the INEC chair are subjected to. Then the remuneration for every policeman would be 10% more than what his colleagues on the same level in other sectors of the civil service and the private sector are earning. The Police Academy would be made a prestigious one that no ordinary riffraff can enter. Defending the constitution is a difficult job, those men and women have to be treated with respect and dignity.
It is easy to see many of these proposed policy reforms as either draconian or trite. And based on the fact that the political elite would do everything in their power to stop these reforms from happening because it would destroy the very foundations of their corrupt networks, the resilience of the people cannot be overstated. If none of the individuals running for office agree to sponsor the bills or sign the manifesto agreements, the Nigerian people would go on strike, not come out for elections, take to the streets of Aso Villa, and seek the help of the International Justice system to indict our political elite.
It is clear that for many of these reforms to happen the people need a leader or a group to galvanize under. Based on the fact that this has the tendency especially in the initial stages of the revolution to become tyranny, considering the unscrupulous values of Nigerians, the people would need an outside supervisor. A former U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria once said that the U.S. government spends half a billion dollars on Humanitarian schemes in Nigeria annually. This is good but many of us can agree that the impact of these schemes is ineffective and does nothing substantial for the Nigerian people. If it truly wants to support good governance rooted in the foundations of the rule of law then the U.S. should support a scheme that would galvanize the people against the malevolent political elite that have been nothing but leeches, and enforce these reforms. This way a long term goal that would lead to political stability creating an environment for true economic development would be achieved instead of the ridiculous short term benefits of charity that practically does nothing for the Nigerian people.
One thing we must understand as the people of Nigeria is that in a democracy the Government works for us. The government is a representative of the people, doing things for the people that they cannot do for themselves effectively like the basic security of life and property. Taking public office is a burden, because you stop representing your own interests and start representing the interest of the people. This is why it is an honourable thing to be a public servant. It is time we make public office the burden it was meant to be, and not some position for unscrupulous individuals to come into, to revel in the perks of power.