Democracy and Corruption

by E. Terfa Ula-Lisa Esq

What is corruption?

Webster’s New World Dictionary has the following relevant entries: ‘Corrupt …adj. changed from good to bad; having become evil, rotten, dishonest, incorrect, etc. [corrupt officials; corrupt business practices; a corrupt version of a book] – v to make or become corrupt.Corruption …n. 1. a change from good to bad. 2. evil or wicked ways. 3. bribery or other dishonest dealings. [corruption in government]. 4. decay; rottenness.’

Note from the above that even the examples of the dictionary include ‘corrupt officials’ and ‘corruption in government’. The definition presupposes that there is what is good and what is bad. There is good and there is evil; there is a correct way and there is an incorrect way. In all things there is a proper way and an improper way. To corrupt would then amount to the change from good to bad, becoming evil, dishonest rotten or incorrect. In Democratic governments the Primary instrument of use and direction is the constitution. The laws, regulations and bye-laws under the constitution are to be adhered to, strictly followed and implemented for the public good. A deliberate infringement of the laws as set or a cunning attempt to circumvent them becomes a crime under the constitution.

Rule of Law

In a Democracy, all parties are governed by the law. All acts of the government and public officer holders too must be within the law. It is under the authority of the laws enacted that officers compete and win positions to represent the collective interest of the people who elected them. The way the public officers can know the extent of their duties, obligations and powers is to find out what the law says. In contested elections, the competing parties are to bring to the fore in a very public debate what they undertake to do to better the lives of the electorates of the polity who the contestant chooses to represent. Based on competing presentation of manifestoes, the public is persuaded to elect by majority who would best qualify to hold in trust the commonweal. The President, Governor or council chairman is not the boss but the servant of the people for the term elected in office. The swearing-in ceremony is a time of commencement and affirmation of the pact between the elected official and his bosses, the people. In ruling, such leader must need follow the law. What does the law say? should be a constant mantra in a democracy.

Legislative Control

While the President, governor or Council Chairman is to execute the laws, the legislative arm of government is the one that gives full expression to the peoples views of how and what they want done. In order to safe guard the rate and manner of expenditure, the budgets are proposed and passed into appropriation laws giving the executive the power in law to spend. Thus is check put on profligate spending. If there is a need in the land to build an institution of construct a road or check the menace of armed robbers, a representative of the people sponsors a bill that goes through the hearings and approval to being passed as a law. Even in the event that majority of the legislators are members of the same party and as such may have the same agenda, for public record and accountability, there ought to be laws passed and the people be able to scrutinize their acts to see that they are performing their duties. The legislature is supposed to act as a check on the executive to ensure that they do not work incorrectly or corruptly.

The Judiciary

As often is the case, disputes arise regarding what is the law or the proper application of laws and any offended party can go to the court for the disposition of the matter. In civil cases, the issue may be for the redress of a wrong done in contract tort or family issue. In criminal matters, it becomes the duty of some public officer paid by the state to prosecute all who offend or transgress against the law. The police and other organs of state like the ICPC or EFCC investigate and if there is an offence established, move to bring the person to justice. The judges are supposed to be independent of any influence and to dispense justice without fear or favor and where found guilty, to dole out the necessary sentence. In all cases in our courts, the accused persons are presumed to be innocent unless proved otherwise on the facts presented.

The Press

The Press in a democracy is presumed to be the fourth arm of the realm. The press is very important because Public officers in control of public resources and legal institutions of coercion like the Police, SSS and other government security agencies. A sage once penned the words ‘power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely’. With this in mind comes the press as a watch-dog of democracy. Because corrupt practices of any hue are often shady, the characters often shroud their deals with secrecy. In comes investigative journalism and scoops that bring out to the fore what would otherwise be hidden to the public.

A case on point was the Dele Giwa murder by parcel bomb. It was reported that he was on to a scoop that would have proved that a certain Glory Okon involved in drug pushing had ties to the then corridors of power. If his story had come out, it would have proved some powerful official complicity in drug dealing. It was speculated then and still is that that was the motive for his assassination by parcel bomb. Because the press in Nigeria operate within the system, there has been the corrupting influence of ‘brown envelopes’ which shuts them up failing which successive military regimes have harassed, jailed editors and correspondents or even out rightly shut down printing houses because they published material considered offensive to the ruling government or its officials. With the advent of the internet, the democratization of the press is even ahead of Nigerian democracy. Now in the blogosphere, bloggers can not only act as investigator, they are also their own editors and printing shops a corrupt government’s long arm cannot shut them up. That is why questions can be raised with pictures of houses abroad with public records searched to unearth shady deals of Nigerian public officials in western countries.

Incidents of corruption

Most discerning persons are aware of the pervading influence of corruption in our polity. It has become a matter of course for politicians in their conduct from party nomination at the ward level right up to the widely rigged elections and even up to the stage managed election petition tribunals. In our experimentation with government military or civilian, corruption has been prevalent. This corruption is often manifested by nepotism (appointment of wife, son, nephews, cousins, kith and kin to the board membership of State agencies). Contract ‘kick-back’ is very common where in exchange for a percentage (used to be 10%, I hear it has gone way up higher now) of the contract sum, the public officer favors a complicit company with government patronage. We understand that towards the end of IBB’s government, it became the building of stately mansions by a certain construction company and latter moved to oil lifting by cronies. From Bakinzuwo, Abacha and currently Alams, we have heard reports of the outright direct physical conversion of public funds in cash to private foreign bank accounts.

International Help

As stated elsewhere, public officials in utter disregard of their oath of office to service plunder the treasuries and convert foreign loans to their respective selfish benefit. The public suffers doubly; through the loss of the funds and secondly, the public is strapped to pay with unconscionable interest the loans taken ostensibly for infrastructural development. A third consequence is that the rogues who have so blatantly abused public trust, now constitute themselves into a power block using their ill-gotten wealth to buy elections, and the looting continues. The monies of course, are lodged in far off lands in foreign accounts through their clever lawyers and fronts and in some dubious company names in England, America, France, Germany, South Africa among others. In the spirit of the Millennium Development Goals for Africa, western governments are helping fight the scourge of corruption by investigation of every huge money transfer from these rogues. In the anti-money laundering laws we find an ally to fight corruption in Nigeria.

Going Forward

We had read with dismay the reports of certain dubious organizations that sponsor or support corrupt individuals who have hitherto looted the public treasury to return to government and to continue with the same. All well meaning Nigerians with the aid of our international partners are set to seek out this infamous group, their allies and properties and expose them via the internet. If cogent facts are known, in the Diaspora, these looters shall not be comfortable in transactions or even have peaceful enjoyment of their looted proceeds but shall be prosecuted. We need the help and goodwill of our partners and governments banks and people of goodwill worldwide to dig until we find every corner Nigeria’s money is hidden and repatriated to where it belongs. By 2007, those interested in looting the treasury need not apply because their looting colleagues would be VIPs (Very Important Prisoner) visiting in jails abroad.

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1 comment

prince kennedy Iyoha September 22, 2005 - 8:45 am

Your assessment of the cultura of corruption in Nigrian is very correct. This cultura has been rooted in the minds of those seeking poltica positions in our country.

Many of the candidate representing the people were sponsored and on the bases that favor will be retuned when election is won. this is from the very rich and important figures in our society.

The government will do much to disancourage this attitude if a fund is set aside for every candidate contesting for a particular position this way they will not be compelled to satisfy the big vultures in our community.

Our partners in the fight against corruptions are not doing anything to help combate this phenomena because they are the benefactors at the end while the Nigeria public loses in every front.

The Abacha money are still in circulation in the swish economy. And they are putting obstacles so that this money that is running in billions should remain in their economy for a longer period of time.

Can our politicians ever realize the evil done against the people they are supposed to protect someday.

You have rightly analyzed the responsibility of the various organs of government. But its like the heads of this mentioned organs dont realized their responsibilities. Last week the Italian minister of Economy resigned because the prime minister did not act against the centra bank governor for alleged corruption accusations. Can this ever happened in Nigeria

obj. was in Spain the other day he only promised to revitalize te embassy activities and lobbied for Spanish businessmen to invest in Nigeria promising them a suitable atmospher.

But he did not give any reasable answer to the question of corruption in Our country.

The most important thing this administration had done is the recognition that corruption is in the higher places and the need to combate it. Also i am pleased that the said fight has been institutionalized. This will be the bedrock to eliminate this culture from our politic for ever.


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