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In other countries, corruption is severely punished, but in Nigeria it’s exact opposite –David-West (I)

Being a paper delivered by Professor Tam David-West at the 27th and 28th combined convocation lecture of the University of Jos last year 

FIRST, may we, please stand up and give some moment of silence in honour of the pioneer Vice-Chancellor (principal) of this great institution, Professor Emmanuel Ayandele, eminent professor of History, Ibadan, who passed on to Eternity not long ago. Secondly, may I respectively ask that we also similarly honour Professor Adeoye Lambo, during whose tenure as Vice-Chancellor, University of Ibadan, the University of Jos was established; first as Jos campus of the University of Ibadan. Professor Lambo has also since left us for eternity.

May their souls rest in Perfect Peace. Amen.

For historical completeness or historical purity, I must also ask us to remember and honour General Yakubu Gowon, “To keep Nigerian One is a Task that Must be Done” fame, our former Head of State and Commander-in-Chief.

In order to do justice to history, it must be clearly stated that both General Gowon and Professor Lambo were without question the “founding fathers” of the University of Jos.

I am fully aware of this; because I was politically very active at Ibadan at that time; and I was very close to the Vice- Chancellor, Professor Lambo.

I am sure that these “founding fathers” of the institution will be very favourably disposed to know that the then (1970/71) baby “campus of the University of Ibadan” with about 100 students is now at age 40, competing even with Ibadan and all the other outstanding universities in the country; and with a student population of over 30,000.

Next, I wish to state that what I am about to do is not really “lecturing” this gathering of distinguished academics and intellectuals. (Both are not always necessarily congruent). What I intend to do, on the other hand, is to address a number of issues for our collective contemplation or reflection.

I am sure that quite a few people will be taken aback by my audaciousness. I fully understand and also share their concern and even trepidity. In fact, I also personally feel that my self-imposed task is indeed, very ambitious and daring. I may even be treading, in popular parlance, where even angels will shudder a bit to dare.

However, in spite of all this apprehension, I intend to try my level best to address the topic with buoyant hope and solid faith that at the end, we will have a number of issues for post-lecture mutual discussion, reflection or contemplation. In other words, hopefully, this lecture might inspire other title or titles for other lectures intended to x-ray our system.

Why pick on CORRUPTION? It is widely and rightly acknowledged that CORRUPTION is our greatest bane. It is the clog in the wheel of our national development and growth. The virus of corruption has infested or invaded every aspect or fabric of our system. However, unlike the biological virus, the corruption virus can be cured or prevented. I will take up this later.

Indulge me for the virus metaphor; being a virologist myself.

CORRUPTION, is so rampart and institutionalised in Nigeria; it has necessarily become a way of life; indeed a culture. Thus, in our setting or system, NOT to be corrupt is an aberration; an abnormality.

Alhaji Shehu Musa, of blessed memory, one of our greatest public servants and

a great intellectual was forced to bemoan that (in Nigeria). “It is not just that officials are corrupt, but that corruption is official. It is more so both in public and private sector. Anyone who does not do so is seen as a fool.” (This Day Sunday, October 5, 1997, Page 11, column 4 last paragraph).

Some shameless Nigerian apologists of corruption (apologists of corruption? Yes indeed) always argue that corruption is not peculiar to Nigeria. They are so disposed because they are gaining handsomely from the rot. In their sophistry, they conveniently avoid the peculiar Nigerian contents of the Nigerian brand of corruption.

Let me list few of these: In Nigeria, corruption is often times glamourised, thereby, making enemies of anti-corruption crusaders. In Nigeria, corruption tends to trickle down from the top ranks of the society. In other words, our leadership often tends to be apostles or champions of corruption. As a fisherman by natural placement, I know all too well that when the head of the fish is rotten, the entire fish is also necessarily rotten. In other countries, corruption is very severely punished, even capital punishment, no matter the status of the culprit. In Nigeria it is the exact opposite.

In Nigeria, corrupt so-called ‘big men’ or big ‘ogas’ are immune to punishment. They often or always get away with corruption even easier than “camel” passing through a needle eye,” using a Biblical metaphor.

In other countries, corrupt heads of state are quickly kicked out of office. One of the latest is in Guatemala in Latin America. This is far cry from what takes place in Nigeria where corrupt leaders use their corrupt loot to perpetuate themselves in office.

As an extension of this; when, by Divine grace, a zero-tolerance for corruption leadership comes onto the stage of leadership and governance, we tend to be hostile to such leadership. This is largely because corruption would be exposed and punished severely. To resort to colloquial they will say: “This one will put san san in our gari, oo.” Corruption in Nigeria is exacerbated by our other odious cultural expressions: Prebendalism, cronyism, favouritism, sycophancy and hangers-on disposition.

Further on the glamourisation of corruption: Clearly corrupt so-called ‘big men’ or “big women,’ are decorated with National Honours; making nonsense of such otherwise prestigious recognition. Artists compose music to praise them, even the churches confer knighthoods or other honours on them – these corrupt so-called ‘big men’ or ’big women.’ Some so-called pastors are also apologists for corrupt leaders because of patronage.

Furthermore, on at least two occasions to my memory, our leaders have tried to trick us with their ostensible conceptual corruption of corruption. For instance, ex-President Goodluck Jonathan – “Dr. Jonathan, Ph.D.” unbashfully told us that stealing was not corruption. He was only creating a “distinction without a difference”(Olatunji Dare. The Nation, September 1,2015. Back page).

Fortunately, “A new sheriff is in town. His name is General Muhammadu Buhari and stealing is now corruption. Femi Adesina’s article, Saturday Sun, September 5, 2015 Back page. Brilliant. Quintessential Femi.

Before him, in the late 1980s the Commissioner of Finance of one in the South- Western states had a running battle with his military governor, who he accused of massive corruption through misappropriation  of state funds. But when the then No. 2, Vice-President, also military, made an official visit to the state, he openly told (directed) the bold moralists Commissioner of Finance to shut up. He argued that what the military governor, his soul mate, did was misapplication of state funds and not “misappropriation.” He closed the case and the matter died. The Commissioner honourably resigned.

There is massive literature on corruption in Nigeria. I went back to two of these recently: “Hail Corruption!” by Oyinkan Medubi, The Nation On Sunday, January 18,2015 page 16. I am impelled to particularly refer to the impressively and comprehensively researched book, “EFCC and the New Imperialism: A Study of Corruption in the Obasanjo Years” by Mathias Okoi Uyouyo (2008); published by Bookman Publishers, Calabar, Cross Rivers State. It is a must read for any one interested in the “Culture of Corruption in Nigeria.”

Going through “Cost of Corruption” Chapter 2 and “Institutionalising Corruption,” Chapter 3 is sufficient to make one shed tears for the Nigerian State. The book was commended even by the EFCC, which described it as: “A commendable effort in strengthening the fight against corruption.” The Guardian praised it also: “Incredibly audacious.”

Another book worth reading is: the “Third World Politics: An Introduction” by Christopher Clapham especially Chapter 3, “The Third Third World State.” I am constrained to take up DEFINITION of Corruption. I believe that it is advisedly necessary prelude to addressing what I see as its “Universal Cause.”

Defining Corruption is not simply being pedantic, dull, or superfluous exercise.

Sometimes we tend to take things for granted to our peril. Let me reiterate that even former President Jonathan Ph.D. was not sure of what corruption is. How can he then fight an enemy of society, which he in fact did not recognize or acknowledge? Or will he, like Don Quixote of Cervantes, charge at non-existing imaginary enemy or foe? Exercise in futility.

Corruption: 

• “Depravity, perversion or taint; an impairment of integrity, virtue or moral principle especially the impairment of a public officials duty by bribery.

The word corruption indicates impurity or debasement and when found in criminal law it means depravity or gross impropriety” Black’s Law Dictionary 7th edition 1999.

• “Impairment of integrity, virtue or moral principle, depravity” Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary.

“Dishonesty and illegal behaviour by (especially) people in authority or power. Behaving in a way that is morally wrong. A corrupt person behaves dishonestly or illegally in return for money or power.” BBC English Dictionary

• “Decomposition, moral deterioration. Perversion. Bribery.” Oxford Illustrated Dictionary.

•“Crookedness, Dishonesty, Unscrupulousness. Bribery, Fraudulency, Extortion, Decadence. Degeneration, Degradation, Evil. Impunity. Fiddling. Impurity. Grate.” The Cassel Thesaurus.

• “Dishonest exploitation of power for personal gain” “Microsoft Encarta (from Oyinkan Medubi op cit).

• “Corruption is the use of public power in order to achieve private goals.” (Christopher Clapham op cit).

I appreciate your indulgence and patience with the above preamble, which as I stated earlier, I consider appropriate as foundation for the Lecture Topic.

Like Oliver Twist, I am afraid, I will still crave for more indulgence before I specifically address the main themes, especially the reflections (basics), which inspired my daring search for “Universal Cause” of Corruption.

Corruption: A universal cause. Hypothesis 

Corruption is moral sin of mortal man. Moral deterioration, degeneration, degradation. Its tendency is universal. It is not circumscribed by differences in system, persons, sex or status. On the disconnect between status and corruption, two illustrative examples need to be mentioned: First, during my Education Commissioner days in Rivers State (1975- 1979) a messenger, Grade Level 02, on N804.00 salary per annum turned down a Nl, 000.00bribe from a contractor who wanted a disclosure of the ministry’s official figure for a school building contract so that it could guide his bidding.

On the other hand, a Senior Inspector of Education earning above 10 times the messenger’s salary readily took bribe to oblige the contractor. The Ministry’s Security was alerted as a whistle blower by the messenger and the Commissioner of Police, Umolowo (Late). I got the Inspector arrested. He was later dismissed. The messenger was appropriately promoted.

The moralist Governor of the State, General Zamani Lekwot (now healthy and happily in Kaduna) gave me full support.

Second example: Francis Bacon, the famous 17th Century British statesman, who eventually rose to the exalted and enviable position of the Lord Chancellor, was later forces out of office because of a bribery scandal.

The above situations buttress Voltaire’s: “The infinitely little have a pride infinitely large.” Further, they also support Washington’s moral maxim: “Few men have virtue to withstand the highest bidder.”

In the context of the “Universal Cause of Corruption it could be concluded that both the Senior Inspector of Education and Francis Bacon, in spite of their high social status, DEVALUED their personal self esteem or self worthiness and also DEROGATED their justified expected PRIDE and so became victims of corruption. In the words of the psychologist, Branden, both of them are good examples of “The Disowned Self,” which necessarily lose focus and degenerate to bad ways.

In other words, Man, as man per se is a universal CONSTANT FACTOR. This too is obvious; even mundane.

To be continued tomorrow.

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