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Editorial

Corruption is Life Threatening Virus, Action Needed to Save Nigeria from Perdition Says Professor Akin Oyebode

Professor Akin Oyebode
Professor Akin Oyebode
Vice Chancellor University of Ekiti State, Professor Akin Oyebode believes that corruption has become a life-threatening virus within Nigeria’s polity which necessitates drastic action in order to save the nation from imminent perdition.

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Oyebode who spoke at the 3rd Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF) retreat in Lagos called on the authorities to build strong institutions and use flawless and courageous Nigerians to man institutions saddled with the task of fighting corruption to save Nigeria from perdition. See the full address below.

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BUILDING SYSTEMS AND INSTITUTIONS THAT PREVENT CORRUPTION
By AKIN OYEBODE
Protocols Introduction Hardly has any subject engaged the attention of Nigerians generally in the recent past than corruption and its deleterious consequences for the country’s growth and development. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to suggest that the more analyses proffered by observers on the dangerous cankerworm, the more virulent it becomes.

Only a few days ago, we were asked to accept corruption as being part and parcel of our culture since Nigerians seem to have exceeded the limits of their “shockability” at the venality and unrepentant penchant for primitive accumulation by the country’s ruling (read, “looting”) class! The fact that many are throwing up their hands in surrender to the relentless assault on the nation’s psyche by many among those who claim to be protecting their interests is indicative of the dire circumstances that Nigeria has, undoubtedly, found itself.

It is against this background that we are being invited to once again contemplate the issue of corruption in our country and what needs to be done to contain it. Having spent some time ruminating on the issue and written academic papers on the subject, I honestly habour feelings of deja vu in being asked once again to volunteer opinions on the well-worn topic. Nevertheless, it is intended to re-visit the matter and what it portends for the polity, bearing in mind the imperative of transparency, public accountability and good governance generally in our long-suffering country.

The Ogre of Corruption and the Imminent Mortality of the Nigerian State. If you would excuse the hackneyed expression, let me begin by observing that the cankerworm of corruption has eaten deep into the social fabric of Nigeria so much so that some even opine that let who is not guilty cast the first stone!

However, if truth be told, not everyone has been tar-brushed by the infamy of corruption except we are to succumb to the fallacy of generalization. There are still some untainted souls in the Sodom and Gomorrah which contemporary Nigeria seems to have become. While it is no exaggeration to aver that corruption has corroded practically all facets of human endeavour, politics, the private sector, police, universities, even the church and mosque, it would be unscientific to ignore oases of propriety in the desert of infamous conduct and untoward practice.

In fact, some (myself, inclusive) had opined that if Nigeria did not do all it can to stop corruption, then corruption would actually stop Nigeria. If we are all agreed that the high incidence of corruption in Nigeria was unacceptable, then the country should stop at nothing to clip the wings of unjust enrichment, inflated contract costs, transfer pricing, influence-peddling, nepotism and other ignoble acts of malfeasance which characterize corruption. Once there is general agreement regarding unacceptable conduct, whether manifest in petty, blue collar or grand corruption, it is but a short step towards prescribing stiff and severe sanction for whoever breaks the Eleventh Commandment.

Now, jurists from Beccaria to Bentham had argued that it was certainty of sanction rather than severity of punishment that constitutes an effective deterrent against infraction. In relation to the theme of this presentation, it needs be emphasized that impunity is, perhaps, more critical than corruption, per se. Accordingly, the tolerance exhibited by the ruling class for the misconduct of its members and friends is clearly an affront on the corporate interests of Nigeria.

Where there is selective enforcement and a high tolerance level for the misdeeds of public office-holders, it becomes highly problematic to sermonize on the survival of the Nigerian nation-state. The nation would be judged by the preparedness of the ruling class to apply the full weight of the law on all violators, without fear or favour, affection or ill-will.

The moment it is sounded loud and clear that in the enforcement of law, there shall be no sacred cows, there is most likely to be greater compliance with the law. In Nigeria today, it is an open secret that fat camels pass through the eye of the needle, which is not only dysfunctional but counter-productive in the extreme.
Ineffectiveness of Efforts to Curb Corruption in Nigeria
Let it be immediately stated that Nigeria does not suffer from a lack of laws against corruption. From the Criminal Code to laws establishing anti-corruption agencies such as the ICPC and EFCC as well as laws ensuring fiscal responsibility, curbing money laundering and encouraging ethical practices in public procurement, Nigeria had established a network of laws which seem to evince formal disdain for what Ted Heath once called “the ugly and unacceptable face of capitalism.”

What is more, some agencies such as MAMSER, WAI Brigade, NOA, etc. have since come into being charged with the task of creating a new Nigerian who would do what is right and proper and frown at undesirable conduct in public office and elsewhere. This is aside from preachments in the churches, mosques and other places of worship aimed at weaning Nigerians off untoward practices and behaviour.

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Regrettably, all these efforts seem to have come to naught on account of insincerity and lack of tenacity of purpose by the powers-that-be who flagrantly refuse to recognize that actions are much better than precepts. The hypocrisy of the ruling class who demonstrate double standards and inability to walk the talk has induced long yawns among the populace who can no longer stand the cant, hypocrisy and sanctimonious, holier-than-thou stance of their rulers who fail egregiously to practice what they preach.

Of course, a number of foreign dignitaries have been drumming it into our rulers ears that the country would be better off by building great institutions rather than encouraging big and strong personalities who could quite easily succumb to a delusion of grandeur and end up not impacting positively on the people and country generally. However, as far as corruption is concerned, perhaps Nigeria is in need of both great leaders and effective institutions if the anti-corruption war is to be waged to a decisive conclusion. However, before interrogating this thesis further, it is apposite to touch on the international ramifications of the question on hand.

International Dimensions of the Anti-Corruption Crusade
Over the past twenty years or so, there seems to have been some re-thinking among western countries in particular regarding the extent that they would tolerate the salting away corrupt earnings of especially Third World rulers in their banks. Furthermore, there are now laws in place against corrupt practices by functionaries of transnational corporations in the developing world. Laws prohibiting corrupt practices abroad would seem to have opened new vistas for the global movement against corruption which the poorer countries could profit a great deal from.

Indeed, there are a few instances where corrupt rulers who escaped sanctions at home for their unconscionable acts have been brought to book abroad, even if there is not much to see yet in terms of restitution to the poorer countries following conviction and confiscation of stolen wealth, especially from African countries. The need to repatriate such stolen funds would go a long way to reduce, if not, in fact curb the insatiable appetite of African rulers to gobble down their people’s wealth with the connivance of accomplices from the selfsame western countries.

The high point of international solidarity against corruption was the UN Convention against Corruption, 2006, followed by its AU variant. Mercifully, Nigeria is party to the Conventions and can, therefore, bring its full force to bear on all those enamoured of practices deprecated under the instruments. The fact needs to be emphasized that corruption is a hydra-headed monster and a global octopus which needs to be attacked globally. Trying to clip its local tentacles while quite necessary, is, regrettably, insufficient to deal with the ogre. The efforts of the international community need to be galvanized against corruption which is now approximating a crime against humanity.

Concluding Remarks
Undoubtedly, corruption has become a life-threatening virus within the polity which necessitates drastic action in order to save the patient from perdition. It is an unwarranted assault on the nation’s integrity which needs to be fought to the hilt if Nigeria is to survive. While it continues to threaten national survival, no effort should be spared to bring it to heel. As they say, a drastic malaise warrants drastic remedy.

Nigeria has enough laws and institutions to combat corruption. The architecture of the war against corruption seems adequate even if there might be the need for re-tooling here and there. What has been lacking hitherto is the requisite political will to fight the disease to a logical conclusion. A situation where anti-corruption agencies are denied the wherewithal to sustain the anti-corruption crusade smacks of a calculated attempt to disembowel and incapacitate them. Accordingly, what is urgently called for is rejuvenation and empowerment of existing anti-corruption agencies as well as encouragement of all those enlisted in the struggle to contain the vermin.

Those in the frontline of the battle to exterminate corruption from the nation’s landscape need to be sufficiently motivated so as to wage the war to a successful end. As patriotic and committed men and women, they can be trusted not to brook any act of malfeasance and untoward practice. All that is required to save this country from the corrosion of unconscionable acts is total commitment of the powers-that-be to the fight against corruption by way of requisite body language and full co-operation with the agencies established to carry out the war against corruption.

* Presentation at the Third Retreat of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF), held at the Eko Hotel and Suites, Victoria Island, Lagos on Friday, March 14, 2014. ** Professor of Law, University of Lagos and quondam Vice-Chancellor, University of Ado-Ekiti (now Ekiti State University).

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