Monday, November 22, 2010

There is no doubt that corruption is one of Nigeria's most challenging issues. This is because, corrupt practices are intricately woven into every one of Nigeria's problems. Kidnappings for instance, would not be as much of a scourge if many in the police force , who are charged with protecting citizens, did not take bribes to either protect kidnappers and/or did not demand bribes to help citizens retrieve their loved ones. Similarly, the electricity sector would not be in such demise if politicians and officials did not steal money meant to buttress power as revealed by the power probes of 2008. These examples of how corruption contributes to national malaise come a dime a dozen. Consequently, it is no surprise that many Nigerians now experience corruption fatigue - whereby people still worry about corruption, but are simply exhausted by the sheer magnitude and impact of corruption on their daily existence. That exhaustion, in turn, disables the ability to be shocked and awed by recurring corruption scandals. 

It is easy to see evidence of corruption fatigue. For instance, Transparency International released its 2010 Corruption Perception Index. In it, Nigeria slipped by three points from 2009's listing to become the 44th most corrupt country on the 2010 issue of the rankings. What would have previously generated significant discussion and debate over the country's anti-corruption stance was met with nothing more than a collective shrug. That dismissal speaks volumes. After all, it was only a few years ago when Nigerians were enrapt in the activities of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and its investigations into various top ranking political figures. Many began to believe that politicians, who had stolen public money for years, would begin to face the music and Nigerians would indeed see justice served. Fast forward a few years and many of the names involved in those investigations roam the streets with little to no concern. 

Consider the former Governor of Bayelsa State, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, who was charged with laundering $3.2 million by a UK court, 'jumped bail' and absconded back to Nigeria. He is now reported to be a key member of incumbent President Jonathan's re-election campaign. Alamieyeseigha is not alone in escaping the law as such examples of corrupt politicians facing no consequences are plenty and arguably cause the growing apathy towards corruption and anti-corruption. But, blame cannot be placed at the feet of corrupt politicians and officials alone. That is because the very systems put in place to check corruption are deficient. For instance, after placing 170 corruption charges against former Delta State governor, James Ibori, all charges were dismissed by a judge. Ibori was later charged with new accusations of fraud, but managed to fly out of Nigeria, despite his being wanted "dead or alive". He landed in Dubai in May 2010 where he remains held. However, he will not be returned to Nigeria to face corruption charges. He will be sent to the United Kingdom to face the charges that he ran away from. Embarrassingly, Nigeria did not have an extradition agreement with the United Arab Emirates and could not have a Nigerian citizen returned to the country to face justice. The Ibori story, might just be a blessing in disguise, however, because him being returned to Nigeria would have inccreased his chances of walking away scott-free and re-branding himself just like Alamieyesigha. And because Ibori will not face a public trial in Nigeria, the very citizens who were directly affected by his greed will not see him face justice, irregardless of whether he is eventually convicted or not.

Because Nigerians do not see the corrupt face 'the music', the belief that corruption pays grows. Apathy towards anti-corruption grows as well. That is to be expected especially as even when a corruption case comes to a successful conclusion in the court system, the penalty is minimal, as was the case of Cecilia Ibru who only received 6 months in jail. These constant examples of the failure of the 'system' to apportion blame and consequences to the corrupt only cements indifference. And the repercussions for this growing attitude will be severe.

In the short term, the inability of Nigerians to be excited and engaged in anti-corruption, limits the amount of public support that is necessary for anti-corruption to be successful. Without the people's support for those charged with limiting corruption, agencies like the EFCC will have a hard time gaining credibility. That lack of credibility will in turn embolden the corrupt. And, in the long term, the fact that citizens are disconnected from anti-corruption efforts will limit the impact of anti-corruption educational campaigns. After all, why would anyone care about anti-corruption when those charged with stymieing it, the EFCC, can't do so? And, those charged with protecting the interests of the people - politicians and public officials - enrich themselves with no consequences?

Nevertheless, it is not too late to turn the tide and create a lasting tradition of anti-corruption that goes beyond rhetoric. In Tanzania, for instance, citizens plan to vote out their corrupt politicians on October 29th, 2010. With elections in 2011, Nigerians can themselves 'vote their hearts' and get rid of the incumbents that have used their positions to get rich and refuse to vote for aspirants that are well-known for their corrupt tendencies. The only way citizens can take charge of corruption is by decidedly removing the corrupt from office and sending a message to others that corrupt practices will not be tolerated. To do this, individuals must overcome corruption fatigue and participate in the polls. They must register to vote, show up to vote and not leave the polling station to ensure that touts and others do not manipulate the results. Once it becomes clear that citizens intend to tackle corruption, Nigeria may begin to see more responsible behavior from officials. And the days when the public coffers are raided by those meant to be serving the people will come to an end.

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