Still On Political Corruption | Independent Newspapers Limited
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Still On Political Corruption

Posted: Jan 12, 2016 at 9:42 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

Niyi Akinnaso

The term “political corruption” refers to the more familiar practices by which government officials illegitimately use the powers with which they are entrusted to appropriate funds and other resources for private use by themselves, their relatives, and their cronies. Other forms of political corruption include nepotism, cronyism, patronage, and graft.

The ongoing revelations about the diversion of arms funds to former President Goodluck Jonathan’s campaign and other personal uses are an example of political corruption laced with daylight robbery. The revelations have added yet another sign of political corruption to our semiotic repertoire – the sudden availability of huge slush funds.

Something is wrong with the recipients of such funds who did not ask, “Where is this money coming from,” when workers’ salaries are not being paid on time. What happens to the recipients’ conscience and free will when someone else chooses to pay for their votes and those of their supporters? Why did they not cry foul, once the source and officially stated purpose of the funds were revealed? And why not return the money once it became known that it was sourced from public funds?

Another major sign of corruption in our society is to be found in the lifestyle and consumption pattern of the political class, particularly, presidents, governors, legislators as well as various accomplices, especially contractors and consultants. Just think of any politician you know, who has spent one or two terms in office as president, governor, legislator, commissioner, and so on. Compare the goods and services they typically consumed before assuming office, while in office, and what they continue to consume even after leaving office.

With virtually no exception, such a three-stage comparison would yield astronomical growth in consumption during the last two stages: Big houses and multiple automobiles, often including one or more SUVs; First Class (or at least Business Class) travel on airplanes; patronage of top class hotels, choice restaurants, and exclusive stores around the world. Besides, annual physical and medical treatments are obtained abroad, all at taxpayers’ expense.

This high-taste consumption pattern is extended to their children. They are sent to school abroad, and when they attain the age of marriage, they are indulged in the recent status craze of “Destination Wedding”. Top of the choice destinations are Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.

This leads to yet another major sign of political corruption in Nigeria, namely, the expensive social engagements arranged by or for our politicians, particularly rites of passage, such as naming, birthday, wedding, and funeral ceremonies. The scale of such ceremonies is mind-boggling. Beyond sumptuous meals and customised wine and champagne drinks, there are top-brand live bands and expensive gifts to cart away.

Yet another sign is the lack of correspondence between the country’s wealth profile and her abject poverty level. It is quite evident that nothing but large-scale political corruption accounts for the wide gap between the country’s oil wealth and its economic profile as the largest economy in Africa, on the one hand, and its recent rating as one of the poorest countries in the world, on the other hand. The United States recently captured this discrepancy in its explosive commentary on political corruption in Nigeria. The report portrays a country in which “officials frequently engage in corrupt practices with impunity”.

Other signs of political corruption stare us in the face as are its negative consequences. No words are needed to tell us about abject poverty; under-staffed, under-funded, and under-equipped hospitals, schools and tertiary institutions; high rates of illiteracy and youth unemployment; and, above all, decrepit infrastructure, typified by inadequate and irregular power and water supply, poor road networks, and inadequate recreational facilities.

A good indicator of the effects of corruption is Nigeria’s consistent low ranking on the Human Development Index, which is a global comparative measure of life expectancy, literacy, education, and standards of living. With less than two per cent of the budget expended on health and nearly 70 per cent of Nigerians living at just over a dollar a day, it is a credit to the resilience of Nigerians that life expectancy is about 52 years.

But perhaps the most striking indicator of corruption is to be found in the Corruption Perception Index, which has consistently ranked Nigeria very low.

So much has been said about the lack of political will to fight corruption. The Presidency, the National Assembly, the Nigeria Police Force, and the Judiciary have variously been blamed for failing to enact or enforce appropriate laws to fight corruption. What is often forgotten is that all four constituencies have a stake in preserving the status quo, provided their share of the national cake keeps coming in.

The good news is that change appears to have come with President Muhammadu Buhari’s ongoing fight against corruption. It has been criticised as selective. But it has to start somewhere. And what better place to start than with the administration that nearly plunged Nigeria into a serious economic crisis owing to blatant corruption all over the place? Nevertheless, a clear and transparent anti-corruption policy is still needed that will guide the public’s expectations.

What worries me is that we have been watching the revelations as a spectacle. Buhari has been engaged in the big battles, while we continue to aid and abet corruption in small places, particularly gate-keeping situations, such as police checkpoints, customs and immigration posts, and passport offices. We as citizens have to engage in the small battles to minimise corruption in such gate-keeping situations.