The word “corruption” is the most popular word on the lips of Nigerian leaders. It is not peculiar to the present crop of leaders; it was commonly used by past leaders. On January 15, 1966, took place, late Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeongwu mentioned corruption as one of the major reasons for staging the coup. He accused the politicians of “corruption” and called them “political profiteers and ten per centers”. Nigerian leaders of today are also using the word with reckless abandon as they often say, “we are fighting corruption. We shall fight corruption to a standstill. We shall have zero tolerance for corruption”. They all exonerate themselves from corruption, who then is corrupt that they want fight?
Now, what is corruption? Corruption is a noun which is derived from the adjective called corrupt. The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary defines word corrupt as “the willingness of people with authority or power to act dishonestly or illegally in return for money or personal gain”. The same dictionary also defines corruption as “a dishonest or wicked behaviour”. From the two definitions given above, we now know what corruption means. The question now is who is a corrupt person? A corrupt person is somebody with authority or power who acts dishonestly or illegally in return for money or personal gain. Also, a corrupt person is somebody who has a dishonest or wicked behaviour.
Thus, when a person or group of persons who have authority or power, decide to allocate outrageous sums of money for projects when such projects can be executed with smaller amounts of money, it is corruption. Take for instance, the contracts for the renovation of the official residences of the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Patricial Etteh and her Deputy that was to cost a whopping #628 million was an act of corruption. Six hundred twenty eight million naira (#628 million) is not a small amount of money. It is enough to build ten bungalows of three bed rooms each. That was the amount of money the committee headed by the former Speaker that awarded the purported contracts wanted to spend to renovate the residences of just two persons in a country of 150 million people where many are sleeping under bridges. What is special about these two personalities? Is it not the same blood and water that flow in them that also flow in the rest of us Nigerians? It was amazing that in a country where the masses have no access to affordable houses, drinkable water, regular electricity supply, quality education, good roads, good transportation system and good healthcare, etc, such amount of money could be earmarked for renovation. Whether the contract went through the Due Process Office or not, it was an act of corruption because the masses they are representing are living in abject poverty. The Punch of September 2, 2007 alleged that #450 million was spent to renovate the Senate President’s (David Mark) house, while that of his Deputy, Ike Ekweremadu cost #29 million. What kind of waste was that? If they could spend such amount of money for renovation how much would they have spent to build new houses?
But that was not the first time such wasteful spending has taken place. In the same Punch newspaper mentioned above, Hon. Wumi Bewaji, ex-AD House leader, said that Hon. Halims Agoda who was championing the call to probe Patricia Eteh was the arrowhead of anti- probe group that supported Umar Ghali Na’Abba against any probe. According to Bewaji, “The quantum of money that was involved in our quest to probe Na’Abba that time is a far cry from what they are talking now. Yet, Na’Abba can never be probed. Why are they attacking Eteh now?”
What I deduced from the above statement is that the amount of money Na’Abba spent to renovate his house could have doubled or even tripled the #628 million contract awarded for the renovations of Patricia Eteh and her Deputy’s houses. If that was what Hon. Bewaji implied, Nigeria must be a peculiar country! By calculation, if #628 million was doubled, it amounted to #1,256 billion. If it was tripled, it would be #1,884 billion. How could one person spend such amount of money to renovate his house?
The greatest corruption bedeviling Nigeria is electoral fraud. Electoral fraud is an illegal process of ascending political offices. It is occupying elective positions without the mandate of the electorate. Many political office holders whose elections were upturned by the courts because of fraud have since returned to their former illegal offices because they used State funds to buy their way back to their previous offices and offer of juicy appointments to the people of their constituencies. Those who stole the mandate of the electorate are walking free on our streets instead of being banned from participating in subsequent elections or punished. EFCC vowed to try ex-governors, which of them has EFCC tried since they left office almost four years ago? Are they not walking freely in the country today?
Electoral fraud is worst than armed robbery in the sense that it makes dishonest people preside over state affairs which they usually abused because they are not responsible to anybody. Corruption has prevented many government establishments including Ajaokuta Steel Company from production since it was established in the early eighties as about US $150 billion dollars have been sunk into it. Such huge sums of money went to private bank accounts. The Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) under former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s regime between 1999 and 2007, gulped US$10 dollars billion, yet, we are still in total darkness. Where did all that money go?
The administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo got about $22.7 trillion from the sale of crude oil but no meaningful development could be traced to that administration. It is amazing that it was the administration of Olusegun Obasanjo that set up the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), yet the administration was bedeviled with high level corruption. During the regime of General Ibrahim Babaginda (Rtd), $12.4 billion oil windfall was received during the Gulf War but was not accounted for till date.
When Late General Sani Abacha was Military Head of State, he arrested bank chief executives for corrupt practices, yet he was stashing away the wealth of the country to other nations. He also set up anti- corruption body he tagged War Against Indiscipline and Corruption (WAIC). Former President Obasanjo later recovered about $20 billion from the Abacha’s loot but Nigerians could not identify what the money was used for. Since independence, Nigeria has received about $200 trillion from crude oil yet Nigeria is among the poorest nations of the world.
When Major Paul Amen Odia (Rtd), was commenting on corruption in the army, he said, “When I got there, the very first harrowing experience I had was being confronted with army Officers who were stealing and stealing and stealing! And I uncovered fraud everywhere I went!” That was what happened immediately after the Nigerian Civil War in which those who survived the war were using names of dead soldiers that were on the pay role to steal money from the government.“…I’ll say that again, I belong to less than one percent of members of the armed forces who did not steal while in service! I fought corruption at various levels, and my commanders are there, I can mention some of them who can attest to my honesty...” said Major Paul Odia (Rtd).
For the past ten years Nigeria has always been rated among the three most corrupt nations in the world, according to Transparency International, a Berlin-based anti-sleaze watchdog. Can we see any honest Nigerian leader, past or present that can fight corruption? How did our leaders get the money with which they built or bought the houses they have all over the world? How did they get the money with which they established companies and oil refineries all over the world? Can they say with confidence that they used their salaries and allowances to acquire all that they have? For any Nigerian leader past or present to fight corruption, he must return all his ill-gotten money, companies, houses, farms, shares, cars etc, to either tiers of government. This is so because a maxim says, “he that comes to equity must come with clean hands”. A corrupt person cannot fight corruption. There is no moral justification for a corrupt person to fight corrupt people. They say their accusers should provide evidences to ascertain their corrupt practices. What evidence do our leaders need from us to proof that they are corrupt? Their conscience is our evidence because the conscience of a man is the greatest judge. Their conscience will definitely prick, condemn and imprison them.
Nigeria is at the precipice due to corruption among our leaders. Nigerians need honest, discipline and a leader with integrity to combat corruption headlong so as to put the country on the track of development. Leaders that are corrupt do not have the moral justification to fight corruption. They should stop deceiving us with their false anti-corruption war. We need genuine war against corruption and it is only honest leaders the can execute this fight.