THE data released by the Transparency International notwithstanding, we, as Nigerians are fully mindful of the temperament of our citizenry to acts of dishonesty. The world may not understand us but we know that most of us lie about virtually everything and disregard the truth even in most simple situations where the facts are obvious. Pretending as if we are unacquainted with the precarious situation of our daily existence is like hiding behind one finger. It is this most adverse characteristic that our leaders have imbibed and taken from the confines of their homes to public offices. Hence the institutionalisation of corruption in our polity.
Yes, poverty breeds contempt for honesty. After all, “eni ebi npa kii gbo waasu”, meaning “a hungry man does not assimilate the sermon” but after our leaders, most of whom are from pauperised pedigree have been fed to the tip of their lips, the desperate injury inflicted on their psyche by penury continues to hunt them like a nightmare and this results in desperation to maintain their present fiscal position.
We have glorified corruption to ‘a saintly position’ and it is only a surgical approach that can expel the cancerous organ from our body polity. From our shops and markets where items of low qualities are passed as original to unsuspecting customers, to using the wrong scale and measures with false bottom for selling items to consumers and vandalising an infrastructure installed by the government for the common good of the people, it is most certain to ourselves that dishonesty has an institutional framework in our nation. Irrespective of the parameters used by Transparency International, our 35th position is too generous and requires a second review. If a country in the 139th position out of 176 countries is so transparently corrupt then, the bottom thirty-four must be a ‘hell’ filled with brigands and ravaging bandicoots. In this regard, my sympathy goes to the people of Somalia, North Korea and Afghanistan, for living in the most corrupt human enclaves in the world where life must indeed be a nightmare for the common man.
Foreign embassies keep us at arm’s-length, refusing to distinguish between the high and mighty and the lowly in Nigeria because there seems to be no clear-cut difference in our attitude to dishonesty. It is not as if the nations which these embassies represent are filled with angels but in our own situation, there seems to be no clear cut level below which we cannot descend in dishonest conduct. These bad habits stem from modern homes where the old African culture has been replaced with one that rarely frowns at dishonesty and desperation to get undeserved results. Gone were the days in Nigeria when homes had no doors and visitors may walk round the home up to the bedroom before discovering that the occupants are not around. Yet, no single item in the house would be lifted from its location.
Today, parents aid dishonesty. A child that finds money on the roadside and fails to pick it dare not narrate his experience at home without being visited with serious corporal punishment for being a ‘Mumu’. Parents abet examination misconduct at various levels while the stake of certificate racketeering is already raised above controllable level through parental indifference. Sellers in our markets are usually in deep prayers, Christians among them clap in groups, while the Muslims squat religiously on the mat but this does not stop them from slipping a fake item into the hand of the unsuspecting customer while collecting money for the original. It does stop them from selling at double the normal price or selling grains with measures with false bottom, because doing so is considered as smartness.
Compared to dishonesty, godliness has taken the back seat in our country. Family values have broken down to the extent that the poor in the family is made to look miserable while the truth is confined to the rare for the sake of money. The slogan, “money speaks” is usually at the tips of the lips of the well-to-do in the family. In our country, “Olowolagba” meaning “The rich is the eldest in the family, irrespective of age.” These factors push individuals to look for money at all cost.
It is in this regard that we would be unnecessarily dogmatic to blame our woes on those who are labeling our country as one of the most corrupt in the world. Last year, the same global index placed Nigeria in 143rd position out of 183 countries but this should not be taken as an indication that things are better today than they were last year. The fact that a thief who had been stealing cow now steals goat does not make him less evil because a thief is a thief.
This article is not intended to do any in-depth analysis of the corruption indices but to let us know that there is no way a saint could be selected from a community of devils. Our government is what it is because of the rots in the larger society and no amount of anti-graft institutions erected in our country would make us pass the examination of the Transparency International. A check on the result of survey conducted on Nigeria by the Transparency International shows that the Police was found to be the most corrupt institution in Nigeria, followed by the political parties, then the Parliament, Judiciary and the educational institution in that order. It is instructive to observe that though, the religious body is found to be the least corrupt, it is still found to be corrupt. If the religious body of a country could score mere average mark in transparency, then its Sunday services and Jumat prayers are questionable.
The truth is that if the teachers, the judges, the lawmakers, the law enforcer, the civil servants and religious bodies are corrupt, then we must appreciate the conclusion of the Transparency International that “…Corruption destroys lives and communities, and undermines countries and institutions” as our nation has failed in all ramifications.
• Prof Rasheed Kola Ojikutu is of the Faculty of Business Administration, University of Lagos.
Culled from The Guardian Newspaper