Corruption thrives with our consent. You can’t deracinate corruption by celebrating crooks. Ours is a society where crooks are heavily decorated with titles, and garlanded beyond belief. In fact, communities and traditional rulers fall over their heads in their eagerness to offer titles to men and women with deep pockets, regardless of the sources of their wealth.
Even our cash-strapped universities are not left out of this zealous and obscene competition to “honour” our “illustrious” rich men and women with honorary doctorates. Our national honour list contains names of people who should ordinarily be pinned to the pillory, men and women who should be serving life sentence in jail.
In Nigeria, even previous records of indictments don’t stop crooks from getting future appointments or getting elected. You may argue that in democracy, the people are free to elect whoever they like. That may be true, but what are the consequences of doing so? By putting kakistocrats into power, you are handing the keys to a meat factory to a wolf, allowing them to steal the family silver!
By giving power to crooks, you are gambling away the future of your own children, and children yet unborn. Do you expect men and women without integrity to have conscience? In fact, without conscience, people can’t even fear God, let alone have any moral inhibition to think of the consequences of their own selfishness and greed on the welfare of others.
Materialism has largely contributed to this sorry state of affairs. The deification of money and material things has become our standard. Honest people in the workplace face hostility from those around them. They are perceived as “fools” “wasting their time trying to be patriotic and selfless.”
This ugly reality doesn’t stop there. Our marriage institution is no less under threat. A man may have basic things in life to keep a marriage going, but a materialistic woman he is seeking to marry, would normally tell him curtly: “Honey, you know I love you, but my parents don’t want me to suffer.” When has honesty become another name for suffering? A lower earning customs officer is more likely to successfully persuade a woman to marry him than a university teacher with a legitimate better pay him(the customs officer). What would make a grade level 14 civil servant accept a lower salary grade in the customs service? Certainly, salary couldn’t have been the motivation for this odd decision.
The famous American actress Lana Turner said “a successful husband is the man who has more money than his wife can spend. And the successful wife is the woman who can find that husband.”
That is precisely the ugly reality today. We want our weddings to be celebrated in vanity magazines. We raise the bar too high that men with legitimate incomes are scared to cross.
This societal mentality encourages corruption because, in your desperation to meet these materialistic standards to make your daughter look “special” by marrying her off to a big spender, regardless of his sources of wealth, you are ennobling corruption. And then you become part of the problem.
It doesn’t end there. When former Governor James Ibori of Delta State was first arraigned in Kaduna on corruption charges, his people chartered buses and poured into Kaduna, invaded the court premises, chanting: “Leave our son alone. What is your business if he stole our money?”
When the so-called masses don’t even recognise that corruption harms their interests, it makes one feel depressed. When the EFCC arrested and arraigned a former MD/CEO of the defunct Bank of the North, Alhaji Mohammed Bulama, for recklessly granting millions of illegal loans to his wife and children with bank’s funds without collateral security, which almost brought the bank to its knees, the Borno Elders came to his defence, accusing former President Obasanjo of an “agenda to humiliate northern leaders.”
When former Aviation Minister, Madam Stella Oduah took N250 million to acquire two bullet-proof BMW cars for her personal comfort at public expense and without approval by the National Assembly, her people rose to her defence out sheer ethnic solidarity. She is today rewarded with a Senatorial seat, despite such scandal, which portrays her as selfish and insensitive. The examples are endless.
With our apathy to integrity and accountability issues, are we not wittingly or unwittingly watering and nurturing corruption at our own expense? If corruption attracts disdain and hostility from members of the larger society, there may be a disincentive for people to engage in stealing public funds. When people are severely punished and held in contempt for corruption, the tendency to steal may be drastically reduced. With the infamy of imprisonment and societal stigma, corrupt people cannot feel comfortable in such hostile environment. If they lost respect, their stolen property confiscated and they are socially and legally denied the opportunity to participate in any future public activity, corruption will ultimately go. May be my optimism is unrealistic, or too farfetched. All the same, it is food for thought still.