By Uzoma Onyegbadue
Nigeria suffers image problem due to endemic corruption in all facets of its national life. Utterances of Nigerian leaders, the attitude of foreigners in their dealings with Nigeria and Nigerians, recent developments where huge sums of money were unearthed by Nigerian anti-corruption agencies and general conduct of national life and elections, all show that corruption is endemic in Nigeria.
Not to be easily forgotten is the incident in May 2016 at the global anti-corruption summit hosted by the then British Prime Minister, David Cameron, where in a chat with Queen Elizabeth II before television cameras, he referred to Nigeria as a “fantastically corrupt nation”.
President Muhammadu Buhari, having declared war on corruption and was battle set, also admitted in a chat with Sky News diplomatic editor, Dominic Waghorn, that Nigeria was indeed fantastically corrupt, saying that he was not embarrassed by the comment and that he will not seek any apologies from David Cameron or the British government.
Aside the concurrence between the leadership of Nigeria’s former colonial master, a world super power, and the Nigerian president, the country’s image problem is further compounded by the stamp of corruption which has long been embossed on the nation.
However, this stamp of corruption cannot in reality represent the character and attitude of the totality of Nigerians and especially those who work hard to earn a decent living.
Irrespective of this fallacy, many Nigerians are subjected to dehumanizing treatment and searches at international border checks and airports once they present the green passport. This is the consequential effect of the image problem orchestrated by corruption.
In recent times, the efforts of the anti-corruption agencies: the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), have yielded damning results on the image of the Nigerian public/civil servants. The nation’s workforce is seen as so corrupt that some commentators often referred to them as “evil servants”. The ICPC, early this year, reported the recovery of over 40 exotic vehicles from the Federal Ministry of Water Resources alone, allegedly stolen by some retired directors and assistant directors. Other recoveries were equally reported from other government agencies. The negative image created by such, overshadows the reality of some public office holders who are dedicatedly and honestly offering their services to the country.
The recently introduced whistle blowing policy of the Federal Government has equally exposed how deeply corruption has eaten into the national fabric. The recent discoveries by the EFCC of huge sums of money in various currencies stashed in one obscure place in Kaduna which was traced to Mr. Andrew Yakubu, a former Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation and others in Lagos, has cast the image of top public officers who determine the course of the nation in negative light.
Most interestingly, the N15b discovered by the EFCC at Osborne Towers, Ikoyi Lagos, which the Director General of the National Intelligence Agency is reported to have claimed as belonging to his agency, came in a manner full of suspense and created doubt in certain discerning minds, hence further dragging the name of a reputable national agency in the bad image conundrum.
Relatedly, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr. Babachir Lawal has been suspended from duties based on serious allegations bordering on corrupt practices involving funds and contracts meant for alleviating the sufferings of internally displaced persons in the North East under the Presidential Initiative for the North East (PINE). The image cut here is that even at the exalted position of Secretary to the Government, corruption will still lure such an office holder to use his office to deny homeless, suffering and serially harassed citizens their due.
The nation’s electoral process is not spared thisnegative image. Despite reports by local and international observers adjudging the 2015 elections as substantially free and fair, the IndependentNational Electoral Commission (INEC) is riddled with billions of naira bribery scandal, of which some refunds have been made and prosecution of large numbers of indicted staff ongoing.
This has created an image of a fouled process which produced leaders who in reality may not necessarily be the choice of the people.
As worrisome as the image problem created by corruption is, mischievous online commentators, sometimes intentionally misspell and corrupt the first name of the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, to read “Liar Mohammed”, apparently to register their non-acceptance of his positions and utterances on national matters.
It is, therefore, a necessity for all well-meaning Nigerians to rededicate themselves to the ethics and morals that will save the country from corruption and engender good image for national prosperity. The government, also, must conduct its affairs in manners devoid of doublespeak and nepotism, while making conscious efforts towards frustrating and blocking all avenues that can yield room to corruption, in order to make a success of the “Change begins with me” campaign.
Finally, a new strategic communication programme of action should be embarked upon using the instrumentality of the network of public relations practitioners under the guidance of the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations; an institute supervised by the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture.
Onyegbadue writes from Abuja