By Okechukwu Emeh
MATERIAL wealth is a protection against the deprivation, misery, shame and inhumanity of lack, poverty and squalor. When acquired in a fair and just manner or by dint of hard work, or divine favour, it is a thing of glory and upliftment in the sight of God and right-thinking people. However, when wealth is achieved through illegitimate means, it is bound to be a source or reproach and resentment.
Today, Nigeria is evidently in a war against corrupt enrichment using public office, as being spearheaded with courage and determination by the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari. Reassuringly enough, many people of goodwill across Nigeria have risen beyond the confines of petty sectional sentiments by receiving the unsavoury development of evils spawned in the land by our corrupt officials with disbelief, revulsion and indignation. This is inevitable against the backdrop of startling revelations from the ongoing anti-corruption investigations into various public institutions in the country, like the $2.1 billion arms deal.
It is not an overstatement that corruption is an ill wind that blows nobody any good. Admittedly, the cancerous spread of this socio-economic cankerworm in Nigeria is one of the major reasons why Nigeria, notwithstanding her abundant human and material resources, is a classic example of stunted growth and arrested development foisted by years of diversion of public funds badly needed for national transformation into private pockets through unwholesome practices like misappropriation, embezzlement, fraud and bribery. Such economic and financial malfeasances are also a key factor fuelling deprivation and despondency among our populace. Alongside this is the negative impact of endemic corruption on our external image, as frequently captured in our unimpressive ranking on annual global corruption indexes being conducted by renowned integrity rating bodies like Transparency International (TI).
Although public sector corruption is mainly linked with those in government because of their likely easy access to the public purse, the ordinary people outside the system are complicit in one way or the other in the scandalous and shameful act. This could be viewed through receiving proceeds of corruption or giving moral support to corrupt deviants because of clannish, friendly or political affiliations. Think of a communal group that is wont to receive the appointment of one of their own into juicy public position with the razzmatazz of pomp and circumstance, thereby sending a wrong signal that the time for them to get their cut of the national cake has come, which, alas, is an indirect inducement of such an official to embezzle public funds. Think of some of our masses who eulogise or celebrate a public official who stole millions of naira from the national coffers that would have gone into provision of infrastructure and social services merely because such an official usually gives them a pittance.
Of course, the aforementioned examples could vindicate the belief in certain quarters that people deserve the leaders they get. In this case, a people with lofty ideals would have a genuine leader who would reinforce their desire for a good society, while the reverse is the case for a populace with scant regard for moral values. Sadly, many people in Nigeria are oblivious of the side effects of the proceeds of corrupt enrichment by public officials.
However, I wonder why a public official in Nigeria should betray the solemn trust reposed in him by stooping so low to steal from the public treasury – a treasury meant for the general good. Untoward factors like narcissistic individualism, selfishness, greed, avarice, personal aggrandisement, societal pressure, ungodliness, inhumanity, unawareness and consummate lack of moral values cannot be divorced from such proclivity with corrupt enrichment to the disadvantage of the overall well-being of our society. It is undeniable that the proceeds of corrupt enrichment are part of what the wise King Solomon of the ancient Israel described in the Holy Bible as vanity, and vanity upon vanity, according to him, all is vanity. Although wealth cushions against lack, its paradox is found in the fact that sometimes, it is either impermanent or it does not guarantee true happiness or inner peace, especially when wrongly acquired. Besides, the worthlessness of identification with material things is laid bare in the proximity of death, when the whole idea of possession stands revealed as ultimately meaningless. Of course, this is where the issue of vanity of material wealth arises, in marked contrast with the enduring nature of sterling and captivating values like spirituality, morality and sense of humanity, which make those who exude them to lead a meaningful and fulfilled life.
In most cases, those who hanker after material wealth through dubious means are victims of a vacuous existence. In fact, there is a spiritual and moral emptiness in the lifestyle of such people, which informs their palpable sense of insecurity.
A case against corrupt enrichment through public office is, therefore, buoyed by the evils it represents in society. One, it is driven by unbridled ego, which is hell-bent on survival and protecting and enlarging itself and reinforcing it are thought patterns like “I want”, “I need”, “I must have” and “not yet enough for me”. Two, corrupt enrichment is a criminal breach of public trust because it is a wicked and shameless plunder of limited public resources, which has long-term adverse effects such as poverty, neglect of infrastructure, increased criminality and chronic unemployment on the polity. Three, it is propelled by reckless private interest characteristics like greed, selfishness and exploitation – as against the lofty principle of public spirit, which underlying philosophy is promotion of the greatest happiness of the greatest number of people in society. Four, corrupt enrichment is at the core of primitive accumulation of wealth, which is not only an assault on values of contentment, moderation, self-control, perseverance, trust, honour, dignity and self-worth, but has also made the physical needs for basic necessities of life like food, shelter and clothing for ordinary citizens that could be easily met to appear insuperably difficult because of the imbalance of resources caused by the pursuit of more wealth by corrupt officials with grim and ruthless determination.
. Emeh writes from Abuja