Fifty three years after independence, Nigeria has emerged as a country undermined by the scourge of corruption, so much so that many have come to see it as in invincible institution.
Anti-corruption crusaders believe, and perhaps justifiably so, that corruption is an official language in Nigeria. The frequency of financial scandals – as well as their dimensions – in government circles, baffle even the most sanguine of citizens. Every sector of the economy reeks of stench from the rot that is official sleaze, and as it persists, it manifests itself in acute underdevelopment of the state, decayed infrastructure and avoidable loss of lives.
The current administration, at inception, vowed to wage a war against the societal cancer, just like the administration before it and others before them. From the first military coup in 1966, every successive government had identified corruption as, not just an issue, but the major issue in Nigeria. And with such identification came with – a few times serious, but most often feeble – attempts to curb the monster. Fifty three years after independence, ours has emerged a country overran by official corruption, so much so that many have come to see it as invincible.
But the danger is the scary capacity of corruption to stunt national growth and drive away foreign investors. Most developed economies have less cases of corruption than their underdeveloped – or developing – counterparts. This should inform us of the role transparency in government will play in our desired journey to national development. We must fight corruption; it’s as simple as that.
Interestingly, we don’t necessarily have to reinvent the wheel. We have a template from Georgia, a country which, in 2003, was described by the World Bank as one of the most corrupt countries in the world. In fact, the World Bank noted that in Georgia “the price of obtaining ‘high rent’ positions is well known among public officials and the general public, suggesting that corruption is deeply institutionalized. Higher prices are paid for jobs in agencies and activities that households and enterprises report to be the most corrupt, suggesting that corrupt officials rationally ‘invest’ when buying their public office.”
In a survey, it noted that the percentage of “public officials believed to have purchased their position was close to 50 percent for customs inspectors, approximately 40 percent for tax inspectors and ordinary police officials. More than one-third of the offices of natural resource licensers, judges, investigators and prosecutors were also believed to have been purchased”.
That was such a striking similarity with what currently obtains in Nigeria where people pay bribes to be able to get employed in government ministries and parastatals. But, it also seems, the Georgian case might be worse. The realities were quite scary. In 2012, Johan Engvall, a researcher of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, did an elaborate work on Georgia’s true transformation under Mikheil Sakaasvilli.
He writes, “The price for a job in the police is said to have been ranging from $2,000 - $20,000, depending on the profitability of the position for sale. Prospective customs officers could pay up to $10,000 to get their jobs, while officials in the civil registry offices invested $5,000-$25,000 to get appointed. In the universities, bribes ranged from $8,000 to $30,000 depending on the prestige of the program. Since the average monthly salary of a street level bureaucrat approximated $35-$40, the money invested somehow had to be retracted unofficially. Structured as a pyramid, revenue obtained from bribery and extortion would pass upward the pyramid. Thus, the system was more organized than what met the eye.”
Such, and many more details, were the stark reality when Mikheil Sakaasvilli got swept into power as president by what was popularly known as the Rose Revolution. He immediately declared a sincere war against corruption, confronting aggressively the criminals of the state. Of note should be that Sakaasvilli was the justice minister of the very corrupt regime he succeeded.Being a minister in that regime also meant that he was familiar with most of the members of the old order, yet he wasn’t afraid to step on toes, to question assumptions of the invincibility of official corruption, to return the country to its citizens. The war he waged was even ruthless at times, but he waged it all the same. Clearly, it seems, somebody can serve a corrupt government and still be worthy for a public office in the future, especially if the person has sufficient love for fatherland to be able to make a detour from the route the government s/he served followed.
President Sakaasvilli sponsored an anti-mafia bill (the Georgian mafia operated like Nigeria’s subsidy cabal) which was passed into law by the legislature in February 2005. The law’s special element was that it allowed for plea bargaining and large-scale confiscation of properties acquired through corrupt and criminal deals. The essence of this was for the state to be saved the exorbitant costs of having to feed and cater for culprits in the nation’s prisons. The law was enforced vigorously, and just within the same year, heads began to roll. High profile figures such as the former president’s son, former minister of energy, that of transport and communication, the chairman of the Chamber of Control, the head of the civil aviation administration, the chief of the state-owned railway company, the president of the football federation, the president of the state-owned gold mining company, and some oligarchs were arrested and prosecuted.
The audacity with which the reforms were implemented struck a unique impression on observers when the country’s President disbanded an entire police force and replaced it with a new, effective one. The state secret service was abolished and its remains merged with the ministry of internal affairs. According to the World Bank report, “a 2010 survey indicates that only 1 percent of Georgia’s population reported having paid a bribe to the road police. Comparable numbers were 30 percent.”
The reforms touched business, the civil service, and even education, and their results were amazing. The World Bank, again, reported that in the sphere of economic policy, “Georgia is the number one economic reformer in the world. According to the World Bank/IFC’s “Ease of Doing Business” rankings for 2010, and much to the delight of Georgian leaders, the country rose from 112th to 12th in the world.”
Worthy of note is that Sakaasvilli’s government rejected World Bank’s economic blueprint, and instead opted to develop his and work with it. But when they saw the outcome of the government’s committed efforts, the same World Bank did an elaborate report on Georgia’s modernization, and then recommended it as a model for export to other corruption-ravaged countries.
This is where Nigeria comes in. First, the current administration has a need to realize that heavens will not fall if corrupt past and present leaders are prosecuted and given significant jail terms. Secondly, the most important ingredient in the corruption fight is the political will from the topmost leader whom associates and friends would fall back on for intervention when the law enforcement officers begin to do their jobs.
A state called Bihar in India fought theirs by sponsoring a legislation that created fast-track courts dedicated to corruption cases. That way, such cases were heard and concluded speedily, and over 66,000 people were jailed for acts that bordered on corruption. Nigeria can commence that immediately. We can create special-purpose courts that’ll give corruption quick attention. And as we do that, the judges must first be examined, and if found guilty of corruption, prosecuted for a crime against the state.
With a clean judiciary comes the confidence in the state to be able to uphold justice and rule of law, two ingredients which presence sends perpetually on exile sleaze and impunity.
By Chinedu Ekeke