IT is not the young people that degenerate; they are not spoiled till those of mature age are already sunk into corruption.” Charles de Montesquieu
The above quote accurately illustrates the perennial danger a country faces when corruption permeates its society. It is therefore widely held that the most dreadful instrument that has the potential of eclipsing any meaningful policies geared toward sustainable economic and social development of a country is corruption. Corruption stunts pertinent variables necessary for socio-economic development, including multiplier effects, by rendering impotent the very structures, institutions, and human resources that are designed to facilitate growth.
Sadly, corruption is negatively impacting every sector of the Nigerian society, particularly in government where elected officials’ oath of office has become meaningless. Unfortunately, its abysmal impact is felt more in the following areas: education, healthcare, infrastructure development, job creation, environment, foreign investment, economy, youth population, sports, and much more.
Similarly, corruption is not only a threat to democracy and an impediment to generational augmentation, but also a danger to economic growth. Economic development cannot thrive in a corrupt environment. Since Nigeria is globally known for corruption, it is therefore imperative to cleanse the system of the vermin called corruption so that meaningful sustainable economic development could abound, especially in the light of lofty ambition of making Nigeria one of the 20 largest economies in the world. In the same vein, meaningful foreign investment and sustainable economic development would be a mirage if anti-corruption contraption is not greatly hoisted.
Again, the impact of graft on the society is enormous. The residual effects of corruption on people could better be imagined than described. Though we can estimate the monetary cost of decades of corruption, including vestiges of sleaze in our country, we may never know the exact human cost of this enigma because there is no perfect measure for the impact of corruption. Nevertheless, the populace can see the evidence of corruption and feel the ugly effects—high poverty rate, high mortality rate, and so on. But to fundamentally reduce the cost of corruption, the nation has a choice to transform its culture—a culture that would spurn all levels and types of corruption starting from the genuine and transparent actions of its leaders. The alternative would be continuation of hopeless conundrum, the status quo that has kept the country down for many decades.
The foregoing makes it urgently important for Nigerians to demand not only the expansion of the scope of investigations of graft among public officials and contractors, but also to rid the country of selfish public servants. In the same token, giving immunity to governors perpetuates corruption and it should abrogated. This would be a way to change people’s attitude to public service. Public service is not about people enriching themselves; it is about implementing policies and programmes effectively and constantly monitoring them to ensure that they are achieving their intended objectives. Public service is about transparency and accountability. As a result, the spate of recent activities of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), particularly, the arrest and arraignment of some former public officials, is giving some Nigerians a glimmer of hope; and to others a concern. Many helpless Nigerians had been yearning for this period—a time to check the recklessness and impunity with which people in the corridors of power deny the masses their share of dividends of democracy. When corrupt public officials live in affluence while the masses seethe in agony and penury, the masses become more restive. Also, the corrupt few receive no sympathy from the majority of Nigerians when they are facing the pangs of the law—in this case, EFCC. To others, however, their “rich and famous” psyche has been severely dealt a blow due to the current activities of EFCC.
Yet another strident group thinks that EFCC is a political tool and its activities are selective and politically motivated. Everyone is not treated equally under the law. And some former and current governors are not being paraded for corruption because of party affiliation. This view may diminish that efforts of the EFCC. In any case, EFCC should work diligently to recover as much looted funds as possible and return them to the programmes, states, local government areas for which they were intended. The public should know when and where the funds were recovered; how much money was recovered from each culprit should be a public record. In addition to recovering the funds, the looters should serve a reasonable jail term. This may probably deter others from engaging in corrupt practices. In so doing, there should always be fairness and due process devoid of political motivations.
We may never equate the inconvenience of remanding in custody those accused of looting the public treasury with the human agony that permeated the society because of corrupt practices. One cannot begin to imagine the dreadful impact of corruption on a nation until one begins to put human faces to its consequence in form of people lost due to bad roads, poor healthcare system and poverty; generation lost because of poor educational system and dilapidated infrastructure.
EFCC should remember that it is representing the helpless masses who are victims of corruption. Their mood suggests overwhelming support for the activities of the EFCC. This mood would be sustained as long as every government official is thoroughly scrutinized. EFCC must ensure that each and every former governor, minister, ex-general/leader, contractor, and local government chairman is investigated or cleared of corrupt practices. This process would serve as a means to exonerate those who served their country selflessly and implicate those who are culpable.
Also, EFCC should imbibe the attitude of objectivity to assure Nigerians that no one is above or below the law as the commission continues to enjoy the support of majority of Nigerians. However, there should be a speedy trial of the suspects to avoid undue detention of people without trial. EFCC should ensure fair and open trial based on rule of law whereby the public will continue to have solid confidence in EFCC, judiciary and the federal government. In any case, there should be an amendment to the constitution to expunge the immunity clause. Expunging the immunity clause would ameliorate the proclivity of public officials, particularly the governors to—truncate and scuttle the rule of law—loot the treasury while hiding under the cover of immunity. It is fundamentally wrong to have immunity clause to protect corrupt individuals in public office.
Public officials should be accountable from the moment they are entrusted with public interest—the very moment they took the oath of office. Nigerians expect them to discharge their responsibilities with utmost diligence and honesty. While we praise those who serve the country well, the public despises those who have staggering contempt for the rule of law. So, with the undeterred mode with which the EFCC is operating to stamp out corruption, an environment conducive for sustainable economic development would be created sooner than later. This would have heightened global implications in the form of good image and massive foreign investment.