Depoliticizing The Zero Tolerance For Corruption

by L.Chinedu Arizona-Ogwu

It is not surprising that our citizens have become cynical of public officials and politics. Campaign against corruption tends to be strong during election and transition periods when every politician attempts to hold the moral high ground. However, sustained strategies to mobilize our people to fight corruption at all levels become rhetoric after elections when politicians have consolidated their hold on power. Thus, the sporadic approach to combating corruption has created the perception that our anti-corruption policies are merely a sham for politicians to gain political control to enable them to engage in similar practices (O bu gini? chei!). The sad reality is that, unless we take sustained and holistic approach to combat corruption, our democratic process stands the risk of loosing its mass appeal.

Many people share the view that low levels of wages, high levels of material deprivation and desperation that exist in our country account for the rampant corruption in the country. While these claims are valid, they tend to elevate the symptoms of corruption and mask its underlying causes in the country.

In recent years, the donor community, civil society and many Nigerians have identified bad governance as the major problem that fuels corruption in the country and by inference, good governance as the perceived antidote to corruption. The question then becomes what is good governance and how does it eliminate corruption? Basically, good governance is the process by which various actors in governance manage public institutions and resources in the most inclusive, equitable, transparent and accountable manner. From this simple definition, it is obvious that good governance is broader concept than corruption as it covers wide ranges of government activities. However, corruption occurs within the process by which governments, corporations and non-governmental organizations formulate policies, and the process by which they implement them. Therefore, to prevent corruption, it is imperative that government targets these processes of decision-making and implementation by instituting mechanisms that eliminate the opportunity for corruption.

Since 1985, the IBB government under the direction of the International Monetary Fund and donor community began to implement the economic reform program. The central goal of the economic reform program was to reduce excessive government intervention in the economy, which created conditions for corruption and mismanagement. Towards this end, the IBB government privatized many state owned industries to eliminate corruption, inefficiency and mismanagement and to introduce competition into productive sectors of the economy. For example, the IBB government legalized forex bureaus to eliminate corruption within the management of foreign exchange controls and neutralized the black market operations. Trade liberalization policies led to huge influx of essential commodities thereby eliminating the monopolies and rent-seekers, which in turn ended the long line ups for basic necessities such as soaps etc.

However, to create the necessary foundation for private sector development and to reduce corruption of all forms, there is the need for strong and effective judicial system, fair and transparent rules, effective banking system, restraint on political power and promotion of rule of law. In these regards, the IBB government’s abysmal human rights record, disregard for rule of law and assault on successful local business people undermined its ability to create sustainable anti-corruption policies.

Thus, the challenge facing the Yar’Adua government is to develop effective infrastructure to lay the foundation for sustainable anti-corruption policies in the country. Consequently, the government has adopted transparency, accountability, effective management of public sector, rule of law, and all inclusive government as the cornerstone of Zero Tolerance Policies. With regard to public sector management, the government has passed legislation to strengthen the independence of the Central Bank to keep the government at arms length from the management of the Central Bank. The government has also continued with the court computerization program to make the judiciary more efficient. In addition, the government has equipped our law enforcement bodies such as the police with new vehicles and the tools they need to enforce our laws. More importantly, the government has adhered to rule of law in its exercise of power. For example, while others may disagree with the imprisonment of the ex-ministers of the state for their involvement in the financial loss to the state, the reality is that these ex-ministers were tried within the laws of the land and by an independent judiciary as demanded by rule of law. In my opinion, the Peoples Opinion provides not only a forum for deliberation and discussions of the government policies and stewardship, it creates the opportunity for the public to hold their leaders accountable.

The Zero Tolerance For Corruption policy requires effective delivery system through independent bodies such as the judiciary, parliament, tender boards and auditor general etc. to translate government’s anti-corruption policies and values into specific rules and standards. Accordingly, the Yar’Adua government has focused on strengthening theses institutions by either reforming or enforcing the existing rules on corruption. However, the problem with this approach is that, most of the institutions entrusted with combating corruption are themselves corrupt and cannot be relied upon to implement the government’s policies to achieve the desire outcomes. In view of this, it is the imperative that the government creates a watchdog to oversee these institutions without creating another bureaucracy. This is attainable through sustained public education and increased vigilance to exert pressure on corrupt public officials to refrain from their opportunistic behaviours. For example, public education campaigns against overloading empowered commuters to demand respect and value for their fares thereby forcing drivers to stop their overloading tactics. In essence, by educating the public to be the watchdog of these institutions, people will appreciate their stake in democratic process and fight against corruption.

In addition, the development of anti-corruption policy is but the first step towards ensuring that the policy objectives are achieved. Thus, while good governance policies provide the general direction for combating corruption, the government must express in specific language the desired outcomes with the assessment tools to monitor its success in a given time period. So far, the government has not demonstrated an organized approach to combating corruption. This has created the perception that the Zero Tolerance for Corruption has lost its steam. Therefore, the government must translate the general principles of its anti-corruption policies into specific language that appeals to the public and challenges them to participate in the fight against corruption. This includes educating the public about their rights and how to seek redress. Making law enforcement bodies their operations less intimidating through community relations activities.

Clearly, the principles inherent in good governance practices reflect Western values. Ideally, good governance principles postulate that the fundamental unit of our society is the individual, not our extended family system. Additionally, it suggests that the means by which we can maintain our rights is through the courts by means of adjudication. However, over reliance on such values as primary anti-corruption strategy in a country that has diverse cultures, classes, religion, tribes and identities is problematic. In our country, individual rights and responsibility tend to be subordinated to the rights of tribes or social groups. This has enabled corrupt officials to hide behind their membership in a particular social organization or ethnic group to defend themselves against charges of corruption, thereby creating division and unnecessary tension in the country. For instance, some people have argued that Mallam Idriss was imprisoned because he is a northerner and he belongs to a different political party. These defenses tend to obscure the facts for punishing corrupt officials and portray our governments as biased and undemocratic, which undermine public confidence in the government.

In light of this, it is absolutely important that the government takes into account the stages of our socioeconomic development, culture and social attitudes towards corruption in its implementation of the zero tolerance for corruption policies. This requires sustained and extensive public education campaign to strengthen our people’s acceptability of universal principles of morality. In other words, it is important to stress that honesty, fairness, compliance with the law, and respect for others etc are set of moral principles that are applicable to everyone irrespective of their gender, tribe, faith, class or political affiliation. Additionally, by emphasizing that it is the duty of every citizen to uphold the moral principles and values of our nation by challenging deviant behaviours, it will empower our citizens to deny populist and opportunistic leaders the safe haven to divide and exploit us.

Obviously, our pre-colonial societies had established rules, customs and laws that governed public conduct and social relationships. For example, our pre-colonial societies believed in the powers exercised by our gods to punish corrupt people. And given the belief in the omnipresence of our gods, it was believed that no deviant behavior could be hidden thereby imposing fear in the people to refrain from corrupt practices. Judging from what our elders say about the moral decay of our generation, it is fair to infer that the natural laws, customs and believes that held our society together made that society reasonably less corrupt than ours.

However, our contact with Europeans, our advancement in knowledge and science and integration into the global economy has unraveled the foundation of our society. Rights and justice have been redefined on the basis of Western values. For example, the constitution is the basic law of the land and all powers are derived from it thereby marginalizing our traditional rulers. In addition, few people are afraid of the god’s ability to punish them for their deviant behaviours.

Therefore, to succeed as a nation in the fight against corruption, we need to educate our people, particularly, our children about the new ethical and moral values that govern our conducts. The public education campaign against corruption must target our children from primary school to our tertiary institutions to instill strong moral discipline and patriotic values into them. This will help to change fundamentally our attitudes and believes towards the state from what WE CAN GAIN FROM THE STATE TO WHAT WE CAN DO FOR OUR NATION. Corruption is difficult to root out because the mindset of our generation is based on what we can get from the state and not what we can do for our nation. The fight against corruption, poverty and economic deterioration will be illusion unless we reverse this mindset through a comprehensive public education campaign.

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