BY CHIDI OBINECHE
CORRUPTION connotes the impairment of integrity, virtue, or moral principle. It also suggests depravity, decay, decomposition, inducement to wrong by improper or unlawful means (as bribery); a departure from the original or from what is pure or correct. It comes from the Latin word “com” meaning “with, together”, and “rump ere, meaning “to break”. Corruption is a complex, social, political and economic phenomenon. The global programme against corruption targets countries with vulnerable developing or transitional economies by promoting anti – corruption measures in the public sphere, private sector and in high level financial and political circles. Unknown to many, the reality of corruption in Nigeria is that it is a wall-to-wall activity blanketing and smouldering every aspect of the country’s socio-economic life. Some prefer to dub it “intractable”, and “hydra– headed monster”. British Prime Minister opts out to prefix Nigeria “fantastically corrupt.”
Whatever the appellation, and in spite of its centrality to the nation’s political life; ubiquity in all other social transactions, it is, perhaps by design, consensus or ignorance a spectral presence, lacking the necessary mass to permit a forceful and physical engagement. It is the Nigerians’ unwillingness to put a tag to the various strains of corruption; the result being that for most, it assumes a generic proposition, a huge diaphanous mass enveloping everything disdained, but yet entertained and caroused. It is one of the few nouns and activities in the world that have no single, universally accepted and comprehensive definition. Attempts to develop a definition for it usually run into legal, criminological, and in many countries political issues. As the beginning of the United Nations Convention against corruption in early 2002, points to be considered included not defining it at all. It has therefore expanded to include abuse of discretion, favouritism, nepotism, clientelism, influence peddling, etc.
It is against this backdrop that the seemingly innocuous remarks by the British Prime Minister, Mr David Cameron comes into focus. Britain in history reputedly engaged in untidy acquisition of colonies, looting of their treasures and wealth and rigging elections to foist their preferred stooges into office; acts that amounted to corruption. Indeed, recent documents and confessions point to the fact that Britain rigged the 1959 elections that ushered in Independence for Nigeria in favour of Tafawa Balewa. The fuss by Nigerians over the corruption tag by Cameron is also incredulous. The president’s Senior Special Assistant on Media, Garba Shehu led the pack. In his swift response to the “fantastically corrupt” tag, he insinuated that Cameron may have been referring to an “old snapshot” of Nigeria, apparently forcing the view that Nigeria is now spick and span, and old things have passed away. In his eagerness to upturn logic, he forgot that corruption in Nigeria is all encompassing, and can be seen in the streets, at the airports, seaports, in homes and private organizations, and even where he works. His submission looks like a case from the sublime to the ridiculous, best captured by Ekiti State Governor Ayo Fayose, who pointedly raised the argument made famous by the late ace novelist Chinua Achebe that those “who bring home ant ridden faggots should not be surprised by the visit of lizards. The governor said: “What do you expect from the international community when the president of a nation keeps going abroad to say that his people are corrupt?”
“ When a president mounts the podium in foreign lands and gleefully says that his own people are criminals, that they are corrupt, and that those abroad should be sent back home, why won’t leaders of other countries brand all citizens of such a country as fantastically corrupt?” Canvassing his own view, senior lawyer Emeka Ngige, feigns not rattled by the jeer from Cameron, saying it is open knowledge and should not be given much attention. He took it to a hilarious notch by ascribing corrupt practices mainly to the immediate past administration of Goodluck Jonathan. For him, Buhari is doing his damn best to consign the practice to the dust bin of history. The admittance of Buhari to the tag, even with his tasking of Cameron to ensure the return of stolen funds from Nigeria tucked away in safe havens in London and other western capitals makes it more hilarious. Another case of the kettle calling the pot black. But by far, the most curious twist to the “fantastically corrupt” bogey is in the indictment of the anti corruption struggle of Buhari as tainted with corruption. Chief Mike Ozekhome, A lawyer, posits that the president’s perception of corruption is limited to only stealing of public funds, citing his disobedience of court orders, selective prosecution of allegedly corrupt Nigerians as the fulcrum of Cameron’s lens view. The British Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow who was a star witness to the famous statement, had snidely asked if the Nigerian delegation to the anti- corruption summit travelled at their own expense , mischievously suggesting that he regarded Nigerians as some kind of expendable nuisance. That purview fits into their stereotyped worldview of third world countries as the bastion of corruption and primitive accumulation of wealth.
In George Orwell’s Animal Farm, Napoleon the leader grows to be corrupt, selfish and beguiling. He enforces the Seven Commandments, which include statements such as, whatever goes up on two legs is an enemy; no animal shall wear clothes; no animal shall drink alcohol; and no animal shall kill another animal. But at the end of the book, he uses his power to alter all the rules for his own benefit. Even worse, he alters the commandments in order to justify his wrong actions. Napoleon uses Squealer to spread false information in order to influence public opinion. Therein lies Cameron, the provocateur in “fantastically corrupt”, therein also lie Buhari, and the strange club of fawning Nigerians who propagate lies that corruption in Nigeria is a thing of the past. Arising from the fuss and uproar Cameron’s remarks generated it is soothing to learn of FORDES exclusion of Nigeria from the list of the five most corrupt countries in Africa.