Editor's note: Law Mefor, a forensic/social psychologist, journalist and author is based in Abuja has described the fight against corruption in Nigeria as hypocritical.
Mefor in this latest piece highlights how Nigeria must treat her civil servants and many to checkmate the proliferating corruption index in the country.
Nigeria is one country where living a lie has been elevated to an art. It is a nation of contradictions where a police man is kitted and armed, and set off on empty stomach. After all, patriotism is all he needed to be suffering and smiling.
Nigeria is a unique country where the total take-home of the civil servant may not even take him to the next bus stop. Yet, the leaders are sure that the worker can look the other way when public funds are kept in their care.
Is it not truly hypocritical hoping that corruption will go away in the country where the keepers of publicity tills have little or nothing to legitimately take care of their most basic needs?
The way the public service is arranged in Nigeria is exactly what 'incentivizes' corruption. And because, naturally, survival comes before morality, preaching anti-corruption to the public servants is like trying to reconcile God and Lucifer.
Let us do an analysis with a worker in the federal capital territory, Abuja. Over 70% of them live outside the city and many more in the remote Nasarawa and Niger states in rented one or two rooms going - usually - for about half a million naira and commute to work daily in public transport for about 24 days in a month.
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He eats his lunch, takes care of his family and dependents and attends to social needs in order to belong in the church, alumni associations, clubs, town unions and so forth on his minimum wage of N18,000!
That is not all. In his neighborhood he has to pay for security (vigilante service), pay for light he hardly consumes (somebody said it is now more like paying for darkness), pay for service charge (whatever that means) if he lives in an estate, sink his own borehole for clean water or buy from water drawers. He has to send his wards to private schools as public schools have since collapsed…
One can see that on the average, for a worker to survive in a place like Abuja, it may take well over N100,000 per month whereas what comes to the average worker officially in the month may not be anywhere near half that amount.
How then does he survive if not by cutting corners? Teaching ‘do not steal’ to a bunch of workers who have no legitimate ways to earn an honest living is but a waste of time. It is simply hypocrisy.
Nigerians have been told that if they do not kill corruption, corruption will kill Nigeria. Agreed; but are we really fighting in a manner as to win the war?
The conditions that will make Nigeria win the war are simply not there. Forget the propagandistic postulations of the Government of the day. After all, we all heard the same stories under Obasanjo, Yar’Adua and Jonathan. Do not forget, PDP set up the EFCC and ICPC and corruption grew only larger under their watch.
Surprisingly, the conditions to make the nation do away with corruption are relatively simple.: To begin with, government has to offer the civil servants a living wage.
A living wage is the minimum income necessary for a worker to meet their basic needs.
This is not necessarily the same as subsistence, which refers to a biological minimum, though the two terms are commonly confused.
These needs include shelter (housing) and other incidentals such as clothing and food.
In some nations such as the United Kingdom and Switzerland, this standard generally means that a person working forty hours a week, with no additional income, should be able to afford the basics for quality of life, such as, food, shelter, utilities, transport, health care, minimal recreation, one course a year to upgrade their education, and childcare.
The living wage differs from the minimum wage in that the latter is set by law and can fail to meet the requirements to have a basic quality of life and leaves the family to rely on government and often illegal sources for additional income in uncivilized climes such as Nigeria.
Following such postulation, whoever wants to find an uncorrupt civil servant in Nigeria of today will have to pay a visit to the graveyards.
Those not dipping their hands in public tills yet probably do not have the opportunity and they are all praying for it.
That is what has given rise to the clichés like ‘wait for your turn’; ‘na turn by turn’; ‘no put san san for my garri’ and so forth.
That was what the Deputy Senate President Dr. Ike Ekweremadu was saying at Ibadan recently when he called for N50,000 minimum wage.
Those fighting the war against corruption need to first secure the civil servants and enlist their active support.
Without their cooperation the war cannot be won because they are the ones who create the loopholes being exploited by looters. Only they can also plug the loopholes.
The next factor is giving deterrence its due premium. Punishing corruption adequately is the only way to provide deterrence to would-be looters of public funds.
In the psychology of motivation, not punishing corruption can produce a worse effect than not fighting it at all. In learning psychology, reward and punishment are what reinforce behaviour the most.
When government focuses on recovery of loots and not on punishment, the likely response of the public officials is that they too can only forfeit their loots when caught tomorrow. Tell me why they wouldn’t loot today if those caught have received only slaps on the wrists?
Contrarily, in Asia countries such as China looters are summarily executed or have their limbs chopped off.
Why can't Nigeria do something similar if indeed we are determined to kill corruption? That singular brutal gesture against corruption is enough to keep public officers in check.
In Nigeria, looters are offered plea bargain even by EFCC and ICPC, a power they do not possess. For the avoidance of doubt, it is only a court of competent jurisdiction that can enter plea bargain with an accused person since the issue is criminal in nature, or order the shielding of the identities of looters. But today, EFCC and ICPC have assumed such functions of the courts.
What is more, there are no such provisions in the acts setting them up.
More importantly, failing to name and shame the looters provides a direct reinforcement to would-be looters also. The other very dangerous precedence being set is selectively prosecuting the fight, which politicizes the fight.
Many Nigerians have repeatedly called for fast-track courts to focus on corruption and may be on two or three other related issues as well.
This way, when investigations are completed, a corruption case may just take a few months.
It does not also appear investigative capacities of the anti-corruption agencies are up to the challenges. Sambo Dasuki is just getting charged 2 years on.
They need funds and manpower, training and retraining.
The issue of investigations and getting watertight cases ready before heading to court is so fundamental. Judges work on hard facts and evidence and evidence alone and not on sentiments, which the agencies hardly come along with.
Then, there is this ridiculous number of charges, which the agencies slam accused persons with, sometimes running into hundreds.
Such is actually laughable at face value and appears designed only for media hype. More often than not, these charges simply collapse like a pack of cards in court, only for the agencies to turn round to blame corruption in the judiciary.
Yes, there is corruption everywhere including the judiciary. But they need to first do a good job of investigations before pointing accusing fingers anywhere.
More importantly, the government itself has to deal with its own prolificacy, which is corruption in itself and this brings up the other issue Ike Ekweremadu talked about - abolition of security votes.
What exactly is security vote? It is millions to billions of naira the president and governors receive monthly, which neither goes through appropriation nor is accounted for.
The humongous sums land in the laps of Mr. President and the governors for use as they please in the name of security. Yet, insecurity wrecks the country from north to south and all around.
In order words, the money hardly go into securing the country but to advancement of personal interests of the top first citizens of Nigeria and 36 states. Imagine one billion naira monthly to a governor.
Multiply that by twelve and by 8 years they normally stay in office. N96 billion. That is possibly what one governor can keep to himself in the name of security votes. What corruption could be worse than such a system that allows a governor to keep such a humongous unappropriated amount to himself?.
Nigerians need to know that, the world over; security vote obtains only in Nigeria.
N96 billion as a so-called security vote, if applied to the construction of boreholes alone, can transform a State.
If one borehole, on the average, goes for N1 million, how many bore holes can a governor give to say, Guinea worm disease (GWD) ravaged communities? 96,000 boreholes.
So, you can see that government is simply not ready yet to fight corruption.
A few symbolic gestures in arrests and trials cannot win Nigeria the war. The claim that corruption is only fighting back is naïve. Let government address these prerequisites and watch corruption vanish from our national life.
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