Corruption – the Monster that has Handcuffed Nigeria
Corruption is defined as “the lack of integrity or honesty (especially susceptibility to bribery); use of a position of trust for dishonest gain. (Word.net). It is the unscrupulous use of one’s position to derive profit or advantages.” In Nigerian context, I will further define corruption as an abuse of privilege conferred on an individual by a family, community or a larger society. The larger society may be town, local government, state or the country as a whole. No country on earth is corruption free. However, through vigorous application of laws and regulations it could be minimized or reduced to a manageable level.
A lot of very good articles have been written on the relationship between high level of corruption and underdevelopment. It is an understatement to say that the level of African development is attributable to the level of corruption found in the continent. Yet in Africa, some countries are doing a good job in trying to reduce the level of corruption in those countries. With this brief introduction, I will go into the main caption of my article which is ‘Corruption – the Monster that has handcuffed Nigeria.’ In my article I will discuss the various forms of corruption, how each has contributed to the destruction of the Nigerian society and I will suggest ways to minimize or reduce corruption to free Nigeria from its debilitating effect. The various forms of corruption that I will discuss include the following: political corruption, educational corruption, religious corruption, and economic/financial corruption.
Political corruption is when an elected officer who lacks integrity or honesty uses his or her office or position for personal or ethnic gain. In Nigeria, the various forms of political corruption that is being perpetrated include bribery, subversion of the people’s mandate through election rigging, too much concentration of power, nepotism, cronyism, and mediocrity. If political corruption can be minimized or reduced in Nigeria, all the other forms of corruption can be controlled. In Nigeria, the political class controls virtually every aspect of decision making including the economy. The concentration of the economic decision making in the hands of the political class has brought with it an unprecedented level of corruption that is arguably one of the worst if not the worst in the world.
In Nigeria, the Naira must exchange hands before anything can get done. Because this is so institutionalized, doing business with the public sector is a daunting process unless one is ready to succumb and comply. In the section dealing on how to drastically reduce corruption in Nigeria, I will make suggestions but I will support my argument that the public sector of Nigeria is very corrupt with two simple but true examples. One of the examples is from Mr. X and the other is from Mr. Y. Mr. Y retired on June 30, 2006 at the age of 55 in the U.S. and prior to his retirement, he completed his paperwork which included direct deposit of his monthly retirement income to the appropriate authority. He mailed his completed application form and never came across people who were responsible for processing the application forms. At the end of July 2006, on the very day that his retirement income was supposed to be in his bank account, the money was there. For almost three years now the monthly retirement income has not failed to be in his account. Contrast this to Mr. X who retired at the end of 2008 at the age of 60 in Nigeria. Up till June 2009, his file is still crawling from one table to another. It took over three months after he retired before the retirement forms were made available to him to complete. He did not even receive his last month income (December 2008) and despite the fact that he has not received any money from the government since six months, he is expected to grease the palms of the people who are paid to process the retirement applications. I used these two simple but true examples to highlight the difficulties Nigerians face daily as a result of institutionalized corruption. Immediately after Nigeria gained her independence, people were afraid of taking bribe from people they did not know for fear of being arrested for bribery. In those days people were afraid of ‘marked money’ which the CIDs used to trace and arrest individuals who took bribe from the public as an inducement to do the work they were paid to do. These days, the people who are paid to enforce the law against bribery are themselves the chief law breakers.
Subversion of the People’s Mandate through Election Rigging
In any democratic set up, the power to let people know that they are performing, not performing or underperforming is through the ballot box. If elected office holders are answerable to the electorate, the fear of not being re-elected due to nonperformance or underperformance would make those elected official perform to earn the trust and respect of the electorate. If the people’s will is subverted, the main tenet of democracy is destroyed and when this happens, the elected officials will no longer be accountable to the electorate. Either through god- father connection or strong-arm by the political party in power, the electorate is sidelined and the attendant crushing corrupting environment is what is being experienced today in Nigeria.
Too Much Concentration of Power
The saying “power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely” is being experienced in Nigeria. There is no place where this statement has affected the people’s way of life and the economy than in Nigeria. At the federal level, the presidency wields enormous power. The other two branches of government that are supposed to counter-balance the power of the presidency are mere observers. At the state level, the governor wields enormous power and just like its federal counterpart, the other two branches of government that are supposed to counter-balance the governor’s power are mere observers. The presidency controls who gets what and how much without much input from the legislative arm. The same scenario happens at the state level.
In Nigeria, in virtually most of the cases, one has to know somebody in authority to influence employment decision before one gets employed especially in lucrative jobs. This type of action breeds incompetence and hostile work environment. Most of these individuals come into the work environment with chips on their shoulders and find it difficult to play by the rules.
Cronyism is the appointment of a friend or a relative to a position of trust regardless of whether or not the person is qualified. It has been alleged that some openings are left unfilled until the friends or relatives of the friends of those responsible for the hiring are available. Some vacancies are left open for friends who are still in college. If Nigeria is to advance economically, this type of practice must be abolished and vacant positions must be open to competition and the best candidate hired for the job. This practice together with nepotism is partially responsible for the brain drain that is happening in Nigeria. Nigeria cannot afford to lose her highly educated and well trained workforce to outsiders. Even when these individuals are educated and trained abroad, it will be in Nigeria’s interest to do whatever in her power to lure these individuals back to help develop the economy.
Nepotism and cronyism breed mediocrity. Nigerian leaders must open their eyes and see the harm that nepotism, cronyism and mediocrity are doing to the economy. Productivity is sacrificed in the altar of inefficiency. If Nigerian leaders want Nigerians to be patriotic, the way they do things must change otherwise no amount of slogan or re-branding will make people patriotic. A nation is like a family. If your children watch you as parents waste the resources that are meant for their upbringing and you turn around to preach to them the virtue of being resourceful, your children will look at you and wonder if you are insane. Nigerian leaders must stop encouraging mediocrity by employing the best for the good of the economy. After all, if the economy grows, more people will benefit.
In the 1960s and 1970s graduates from Nigerian High Schools (Secondary Schools) were regarded very highly all over the world. Many universities abroad were eager to welcome Nigerian high school graduates because of the reputation and the quality they brought to those institutions. Many parents, who did not have money to send their children to school borrowed, sold land and other properties to send their children to school. Education was pursued by many as a stepping stone to wealth and social status. Parents were ready to sacrifice to see their children move up to the elite status as a result of acquiring good education. Today, the reverse is the case. Many foreign universities are leery of accepting Nigerian high school graduates because the experience has soured. Parents are leery of sending their children to higher institutions because when they finish school, there will be no job for them. What is it that brought Nigerian’s educational sector to this pathetic stage? The reasons are not far fetched. They include the following: Lack of adequate funding, corrupt ministry of education officials, payment for admission, attitude of the teachers, attitude of the students, parents’ nonchalant attitude, and sex for grade.
Lack of adequate funding
There is a saying ‘whatever is worth doing at all is worth doing very well.’ When corruption became institutionalized in Nigeria, the funding of education suffered. The political class decided that the money meant for education would be put to a better use if it is converted to personal or party use. The political class did not see education as a necessary tool in the development of the economy. Education became a privilege and no more a right for the citizens. The money to pay teachers became easy money for the political class. School buildings were left to decay and libraries and laboratories became nonexistent. Even school fees paid by students were embezzled by the political class or civil servants. This led to strikes or threat of strikes. Unfortunately for Nigeria, the world is a small village and the news of what is happening in the educational sector is known worldwide and that has affected the reputation of Nigerian schools especially the tertiary institutions.
Corrupt ministry of education officials
In addition to the political class underfunding education, the corrupt ministry of education officials makes educating the citizens difficult. The political class, because of the level of their corruption does not have the moral courage to police what is going on at the local government level. The ghost worker situation is so pervasive and government auditors are willing to look the other way for pittance. Some headmasters are told to prepare the payroll in pencil and when the final payroll comes from the ministry in ink with different number of staff and different amount no body questions the discrepancy. Does anybody care? Who gets the money paid to non-existing staff?
Payment for admission
The amount of money that a prospective student is required to pay for admission to a university depends on the type of course the student will pursue. Students who want to become medical doctors are charged more than students who want to study any of the liberal arts. What does this say about the educational system? This means that in some cases the best and brightest students would not be given admission because they cannot afford to come up with the enormous amount required from them. Everybody loses, the student would not get admission because he/she does not have the money to pay and the economy loses because it is denied the services of its best. I am at a loss as to why this has been going on for some time without the government intervening.
Attitude of the teachers
I was shocked about the stories some students in the tertiary institutions told me. Even though the story that I heard may not be happening in all the tertiary institutions in the country, when it happens in one school, it is one school too many. The students told me that after they write their papers, they are expected to ‘Sort’ it. When I inquired what they mean by ‘Sort’, they told me that the student must give the teacher money for the teacher to grade the paper otherwise, the student will fail. I asked them what happens if the student is very smart and the answer was that it does not matter. One student said the more money you pay, the better your grade. My own relatives confirmed the story.
Some teachers insist that unless the student buys his/her teaching materials, the student will not pass the class. This type of arrogance has led to the demise of quality education in most of the tertiary institutions.
Attitude of the Students
Some of the students contribute to the degradation of the educational system. Since some students know that all it takes to pass a class is money, they will rather pay the money than attend classes and acquire sound education. The student is the greatest loser while the country also loses in terms of reputation and loss productivity. Some of these students end up in foreign countries and when they are employed based on their academic qualification they cannot produce at the desired level. This tarnishes the reputation of the country’s educational system.
Parents’ nonchalant attitude
Cultism and college prostitution may be reduced to a barest minimum if parents question their children on their abhorrent behavior or question them on how they come up with money to pay for their lavish lifestyle. Poverty and the level of corruption in the society have eroded the moral stand of many parents to question their children when they exhibit certain immoral behavior.
Sex for Grade
Sex for grade has been an issue that has bedeviled the educational system. While this may not be peculiar to Nigeria, the Nigerian situation is troubling because of the brazen nature with which the teachers approach this phenomenon. This sex for grade is directed mostly to the lady students. While most ladies find this repugnant, some actually enjoy it because of the power it gives them and the fact that they do not have to study to pass the class. The government cannot wish this away or pretend that it is not happening. It is happening and must be stopped. The moral implication for the country is enormous. Unless this is stopped, it will be self perpetuating and will have disastrous consequences for the education system, the economy and the family.
In South and Central America, the churches were and are still the advocates for social justice and equity. In Nigeria, some of the churches themselves have been compromised with money from corrupt politicians and even blood money. Why is this happening? Some of the churches or religious leaders are the products of the defective educational system that I have discussed in this article. When I go to church here in the U.S., I spend no more than one and a half hours but when I come back to Nigeria, the church goes for at least 4 hours. Every 30 minutes or so, there will be one form of fund raising or the other. Some of the old women who bear the brunt of the fund raising can hardly feed themselves and yet they overextend themselves because they have been meant to believe that their salvation depends on how much money they contribute. It is amazing that the almighty naira has found its power even in the church. The psychological game being played on these wretched women is very unfortunate and when the country decides to change the level of corruption in the country the churches should not be spared.
I will discuss the economic/financial corruption from the public and private sector perspective.
Public Sector Perspective
Unless Nigeria comes to grip with corruption, short term, medium term or long term economic planning will amount to nothing. As a result of the uncontrolled corruption in the country, money earmarked for projects are embezzled or misapplied. This process repeats itself project after project. That is the reason why energy a key component of economic development has been in disarray. The money and attention put in energy development would have yielded the desired result but for corruption in the public sector. No country can honestly aspire to develop without adequate supply of electricity. Electricity powers the manufacturing, telecommunication, educational and even the service sector. Nigerian manufacturers will continue to be placed in a competitive disadvantage unless the energy sector is developed.
Although, I am yet to fully understand how Nigeria plans for its economic development, however, this much I understand. Planning is mostly based on what makes sense ethnically instead of what makes sense economically. In any well planned economy, diversification is emphasized. In Nigeria the opposite is the case. The congestion at the Lagos/Apapa Sea Port is as a result of poor planning. There is no reason why Calabar, Port Harcourt and Warri Sea Ports could not have been developed to international standard and ships diverted to those ports to ease congestion at the Lagos/Apapa Sea Port. Furthermore the much talked about dredging of the River Niger to make Onitsha and Lokoja inland sea ports have long been overdue. The economic multiplier effect to the entire economy could only be imagined.
Expanding the number of international airports in the country has also economic ramifications. In the San Francisco Bay Area where I live, there are three international airports all within few miles from each other. There is one in San Francisco, one in Oakland and one in San Jose. Nigeria must learn to let economic benefits to the country drive economic planning. There is no reason why a big country like Nigeria cannot have at least one fully functional international airport in each of the six zones. Nigeria needs a diversified economy not only to move away from one commodity economy but to increase revenue generation from other sources. In risk assessment, a company with one source of revenue or supplier is considered high risk because of what will happen to that company if either the supply source or revenue base is affected. If any natural disaster hits Lagos, Nigeria will suffer irreparable damage to the economy because of the concentration of industries in that one location. Diversifying the economic and industrial base in Nigeria does not only make economic sense, it is also a national security issue.
Private Sector Perspective
Like the public sector, the private sector has its own share of blame. For corruption to take place there must be willing participants. The political class would not have perfected this monster if the private sector is not giving them a helping hand. Who moves the huge amount of money that these people steal from the public from one location to another? The financial institutions have been willfully blind when it comes to the amount of money that flows into and out of their institutions. Part of this willful blindness could be traced to nepotism, cronyism and similar vices but greed among the financial institution employees is also a factor. The laundering of money through the financial institutions must be checked if Nigeria intends to wage honest war against corruption.
My Recommendations to Drastically Reduce Corruption
Nigeria knows exactly what to do to drastically reduce corruption but the political will is lacking. The political will is lacking because those who benefit from corruption are the ones who are looked upon to eradicate it. I have the privilege of talking with some members of the society who should do something about corruption. I have even met some of them here in the U.S. when they attended the Anti Money Laundering Conference in Las Vegas.
Short term Solutions:
Restructure the law enforcement and regulatory agencies that are charged with enforcing the laws against corruption in Nigeria. There are too many overlap, for example, the ICPC and EFCC have almost identical assignments. Some times these agencies are more interested in fighting the turf war than fighting to eradicate corruption. Secondly, it appears that the EFCC has its tentacle in every mundane financial crime in the country. When non financial institutions are quarreling the EFCC should not get involved. This type of issue should be handled by the police. The EFCC should concentrate its efforts on those in the political class that are stealing Nigeria dry and those in the financial institutions who are collaborating with them. The EFCC should redouble its effort to sanitize the financial institution in order to prevent them from being used both by the political class and others to launder money. The civil monetary penalty against UBA by U.S. regulators which has happened two years in a row is a slap on the Nigerian regulatory agencies. It shows that the Nigerian regulators are not doing their work otherwise UBA would not have exported its sloppy anti money laundering regime to the U.S.
The Chairman of EFCC should be appointed based on knowledge of what it takes to fight corruption and not restricted to individuals with law enforcement background. This will increase the pull of knowledgeable people that could be appointed to head the agency.
The CBN and other regulatory agencies must revamp, retrain and reorient its examination staff. Based on the level of corruption in the country, the examination staff should be at least doubled if not quadrupled to enable it perform optimally. The salary of the examination staff should be enough to discourage them from engaging in activities unbecoming of the level of professionalism expected of them. All the financial institutions in the country must be examined by these well trained and highly motivated examination staff no later than 2010. Thereafter, depending on the rating assigned to each financial institution, the frequency of future examination could be determined.
Nigeria should establish an agency that will be shrouded in secrecy with the responsibility of conducting undercover review and sting operations of both the examination staff and the financial institutions’ management staff who may want to compromise the examiners. This same agency will also have the same responsibilities over public officials. Nigeria is not the only corrupt country in the world, the difference is that while Nigeria celebrates public officials who loot public fund, many other countries jail or execute such people. After I retired and became a consultant for financial institutions I was surprised when some management staff of some of the institutions told me that it is good to have me on their side. They confessed that they are afraid of the unknown whenever examiners come to examine them. Nigerian regulators should evoke such fear on the regulated instead of being cozy with them.
Nigeria should use the undercover agency to flush out educators that either ask for money before grading students’ papers, demanding sexual favors from students before grading their papers, or demanding money from prospective students before offering them admission.
There are too many ghost workers in the system. Each ministry in order to entrench transparency must establish a crack team of auditors that will conduct surprise audit of the agency that they are charged to oversee. These auditors should also be monitored by the undercover agency.
Long term solutions
The primary school and high school curriculum should be updated to include discussion on the evil effect of corruption on the country. Nigerian children should learn from the early stages that corruption is bad.
The law enforcement and regulatory agencies should start to match the lifestyle of the political class and the top management of the private sector with how much they are paid. If there is a discrepancy between the two, the undercover agency should be alerted to conduct undercover operation. If the individual is engaging in activities unbecoming of his/her office, the individual should be arrested and the arrest widely publicized to serve as a deterrent.
This article is not intended to provide solutions to all of the problems ailing Nigeria. However, my intent is to highlight some of the negative effects that the cancer of corruption has wrought on Nigeria and to offer a few suggestions on how to combat it. There are many other negative effects that can be traced to corruption such as loss of respect among nations and lack of patriotism by the masses among many. God has endowed Nigeria with both human and material resources and until Nigeria arrests the runaway corruption in the system, Nigeria will continue to be mired in perpetual underdevelopment. Corruption is Nigeria’s greatest threat to national security and the political class who are eager to accuse everybody else but themselves about the threat to national security would be wise to honestly and truly fight corruption in order to better the lots of the people.
About the author.
Amadiebube Robert Mbama is the founder and owner of MBAMA & Associates LLC, a USA based Anti-Money Laundering, Bank Secrecy Act, Office of Foreign Asset Control and other regulatory consulting company. He is a certified public accountant, an associate chartered accountant (ICAN), a certified financial forensic and certified anti money laundering specialist. For more information please visit www.mbamaassociates.com.