opinionBy Femi Falana
For most Nigerians, a discussion of corruption is often an opportunity to lambast the state and its managers. The media will continue to report cases of corruption. Sometimes corruption probe panels turn out to be the subject of probes themselves! In other words, a demon calling the devil bad! It is based on the foregoing that the state has always received knuckles. But is blaming the state the only response that should guide our response to corruption? Why has public focus been limited to the activities of the state and its actors? What happens to the individual and group levels of analysis in the corruption matrix? Is the state the only liable institution?
We should ask the unasked questions in our attempt at locating and fighting corruption. First, what are individuals doing wrongly in the fight against corruption? Secondly, how do groups in the society, some of which often claim to fight corruption, contribute to the flourishing of the menace?
In a society where corruption is centralised, monies stolen from the public purse is redistributed and used to create employment and infrastructure within the society. Thus, rather than send such monies to Swiss or British Banks as the late Gen. Sani Abacha and Mr. James Ibori did thereby creating employment in Switzerland and Britain, the organised corruption follows the methodology of Suharto of Indonesia. It is therefore argued that the Suharto regime did not condone the exportation of corruption largesse hence the development of Indonesia today! What would have happened if all the stolen funds from Nigeria were retained in the Nigerian economy?
The State and Graft punishment
However, a cursory examination of the ant-graft laws in Nigeria today will reveal that there are sufficient laws to deal with the issue of corruption. Sadly however, according to the perception index of Transparency International, Nigeria was ranked 144th out of the 146 countries, beating Bangladesh and Haiti to last position. The KPMG also recently released a report in which Nigeria was ranked as the most corrupt state in West Africa.
As stated above, it is not because Nigeria does not have sufficient laws to deal with the issue of corruption. In fact, there may be very few countries with more anti-graft laws, the problem however, is that there is no political will in addition to the fact that our system harbours sacred cows and the "untouchables". We are all witnesses to the Halliburton scandal and how it was bungled by Nigeria in order to shield the powerful.
In other words, while accused persons may file interlocutory appeals, the EFCC should have enough courage to drag judges who grant orders staying proceedings to the National Judicial Council (NJC). Similarly, lawyers who file such sham applications and other frivolous motions should be reported to the disciplinary committee of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) for gross misconduct.
Corruption in Nigeria, no doubt has assumed a dangerous dimension, which percolates all the strata of the society. The civil society is not spared in this menace. In fact, it has so much eaten deep into the fabrics of our society that the hitherto insulated places have now been taken over by corruption. Rather than being a conscience of the masses, the civil society has become a tool in the hands of corrupt people. Our NGOs have become corruption vessels and the effect is what we see today - a society without conscience.
Foreign aids meant for specific roles have been converted to personal use. Gone were the days when NGOs stood and spoke for the oppressed masses; now, they are agents of retrogressive, oppressive and corrupt personnel. The situation is even made worse due to the proliferation of NGOs where people just register organisations whimsically.
The roles of religious bodies in the fight against corruption have also become a source of worry. These bodies have become haven for corrupt individuals whose monies are used to sustain them. Instead of speaking the truth, religious leaders have suddenly become appendages of the ruling class using their vantage position to enrich themselves at the expense of the poor members of their congregation who often see them as next to God.
Why is it that in spite of the stinking poverty in the country, religion is hastily becoming another source of psychological trauma for the ordinary Nigerian? A poor man goes to church or mosque and is greeted with SUVs and other flashy vehicles belonging to the cleric. Even when the congregation cannot afford to eat two balanced square meals in a day, some of our religious fathers deliberately or inadvertently display wealth? Do the religious fathers think about repercussion of some of their actions? How many religious leaders are so committed to feel for the poor families in their congregation to a point where they are touched to leave out some of the worldly things like gold wrist watches and of recent private jets? For a good number of youths, it is not therefore evangelism or the love of Christ that makes them heed the call, rather it is a bid to become like my pastor in materialistic wealth. Most especially, while industries are grounding, religious structures are rising.
Hence, a new source of wealth has arrived. It then becomes easy to understand why some of the most corrupt individuals in Nigeria find it easy to go to churches and mosques on Sunday and Friday without fearing that tough messages await them there.
You would recall that a few years ago, there was a move by a state government to impose taxes and levies on churches, mosques and other religious centres. All those who were opposed to the policy should be having a second thought in view of the growing opulence of some religious leaders. In the United Kingdom a Nigerian "bishopreneur" is currently being investigated for fraud by the police. Indeed, one of the issues being looked into is the propriety of collecting tithes from poor congregants only to channel the proceeds to acquire limousines and private jets.
Pastor Tunde Bakare of the Latter Rain Assembly was reported to have said that not until the religious leaders, including himself, were incarcerated, there wouldn't be sanity in the churches. He said churches have failed their congregations, as pastors have now become tyrants, oppressors and leaders without care for their followers.
In a swift reaction, President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, who acquired his jet a couple of weeks ago, took a swipe at Bakare for condemning their crave for jets and opulent life. He said everything a pastor could get for evangelism should be acquired. Not minding the economic situation of the people, I think the statement credited to this leader is uncharitable knowing full well that many Christians today would fare well if the resources used in buying these jets are made available to them. Just like Bakare said, there is need for sanity also in the civil society. It is sad that poor members of the congregation cannot afford to put their children in the schools 'owned' by their churches or mosques because the tuition fees are colossal and beyond their reach. What a sad plight!
If this is the case, then, the tax authorities must extend their dragnets to all religious centres where substantial income is generated on a regular basis in the name God. A few months ago, a contractor donated a church worth several millions of naira to the Otuoke community in honour of President Goodluck Jonathan. Just last week, an ex-president raised N400 million to build a small mosque in the premises of a library. Such business ventures and schools including universities set up by religious institutions which charge exorbitant fees that the children of the poor members cannot afford should pay taxes to the state. The prosperity pastors who are buying jets to preach the gospel to those who wallow in abject poverty should be assessed according to their wealth and be made to pay commensurate taxes. After all, they pay appropriate fees for parking their jets at local and international airports at home and abroad.
In reaction to bias of the law in favour of the bourgeoisie there has been a popular demand by Nigerians for the introduction of the death penalty in corruption cases. Since armed robbers are sentenced to death for robbing individuals violently of a few thousands of naira, it is logical to argue that those who divert billions of naira budgeted for fixing of roads and equipping of hospitals which led to the loss of many innocent lives should face the death penalty.
Notwithstanding the horrendous effect of corruption in the society, we should not be frustrated to support the campaign for the brutalisation of humanity through the death penalty. Even in Nigeria, our experience with murder and armed robbery has proved that the death penalty is not a deterrent for violent crimes. A state that cannot enforce a law that prescribes a punishment of two years for money laundering will frustrate the trial of any member of the ruling class for corruption under a law that provides for the death penalty. While the Criminal Code has prescribed the death penalty for certain offences, the Lagos High Court has held that the execution of the death penalty by firing squad or hanging is illegal and unconstitutional as it violates the fundamental rights of convicts to dignity guaranteed by section 34 of the constitution.
Lest I forget, parents too are no longer the representation of exemplar behaviours. Thousands of parents know that their children are corrupt but won't speak up. Rather they thank God for giving them "the opportunity". Children without any job buy cars and parents are not perturbed. The role of the family as the first point of socialisation is being challenged by greed just as in some grandeur men of God. Elite theorists, in spite of their criticisms have noted that the masses are gullible. Unfortunately, Nigerian masses seem to represent this gullibility. There was Occupy Nigeria for increase in fuel but what has happened with the multi-billion cases of corruption? Nigerians as individuals are still waiting to hold their leaders accountable.
What is to be done?
My conclusion is simple: Nigerians must take their destiny in their own hands. Nigerians must know that corruption does not just happen but it survives on the level of morality at the individual and group levels. Youths must shake themselves out of the bondage of unscrupulous politicians who have nothing to offer but the bastardisation of values. Where are their children? Ask yourselves? Progressive religious leaders must take back religion from the business people that have hijacked it for materialistic gains.