It is Time to Legalize Corruption

by Sabella Ogbobode Abidde

There are at least three dozen Nigerians in and around the corridor of presidential power today who have been in and around the corridor of power since the era of President Nnamdi Azikiwe and Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa. One president after another, one head of state after another, these men and women have managed to be around — stealing, mismanaging, misappropriating, abusing power and manipulating the people. And in spite of their high crimes and misdemeanors, they freely roam the Nigerian landscape. Above the law and revered by their people, they continue to reign supreme in the dilapidated theater that is Nigeria. Their offspring are already in the game, scheming and milking the nation’s blood and marrow.

When was the last time any corrupt person or regime was probed? When was the last time any person was brought to proper and severe justice for stealing? When was the last any one was made to return all the money they stole from the state? When was the last any public official forfeited illegally acquired properties and investment portfolio? The fact is that such things rarely happen in Nigeria. On the few occasions they’ve happened, they were given light slap on the wrist, occasioned by knowing winks. Does anyone remember what happened to the money and properties seized by the government of General Murtala Mohammed? Does any one remember what happed to the men and women that were arrested, probed and sentenced to prison? Where are they today?

There is not a single governor, state and federal legislator, commissioner, chair of local governments, and their counterparts in all government agencies that did not, have not, or is not now illegally dipping their hands into the public treasury. Government officials, since the days of General Yakubu Gowon, have been at it. (Ironically, Gowon himself was said to be above board.) Things started on the slope during the era of Alhaji Shehu Shagari — an era personified by Umaru Dikko’s avarice and licentiousness. And then there was Generals Abacha and Babangida, both of whom institutionalized corruption. No one though both men could ever be bested, outperformed by any other Nigerian leader. But presto, there comes Obasanjo and his gang! Even so, no one could have imagined that President Olusegun Obasanjo would turn out to be the high-priest of thievery and malfeasance. He was one of a kind.

In recent days, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has been on the heels of former governors Chimaroke Nnamani, Orji Uzor Kalu, Saminu Turaki, Joshua Dariye, Boni Haruna and Abdullahi Adamu. But knowing the EFCC, this round of roundups could very well be another one of their charades. Even if they mean it this time around, what about former governors like Peter Odili, Jonathan Goodluck and Ahmed Tinubu and all the pupils of the Nigerian Corruption Academy? And then there are heavyweights like Chief Tony Anenih, Col. Ahmadu Ali (rtd); and Governor Gbenga Daniel who declared about N469billion as his total assets. Common, what was he before he became a governor? We must not forget the grandfather of them all, Chief Obasanjo.

The EFCC and other anti-corruption agencies cannot claim to be battling corruption if ex-President Obasanjo and his gang are free from arrest and prosecution. I ask, as I asked a while back: what’s the difference between Obasanjo and Oyenusi? Both were armed robbers — one robbed with pens, the other with guns. But really there is no difference between the dealings of Obasasanjo’s Aso Rock and the dealings of street urchins who used force or the threat of force to get things done. What difference was there between what Oyenusi and Anini did and what the former president did?

If Obasanjo, Abubakar Atiku and several other high ranking officials are not arrested and prosecuted for their crimes, then it would be unjust to prosecute armed robbers and other petty thieves. Why prosecute drug dealers and prostitutes and money launderers when the Ubas, the Odilis, the Tinubus and scores of others are allowed to roam free and free from arrest and prosecution. The law caught up with Oyenusi and Anini and their likes; it is hoped that the law will also catch up with Obasanjo — not only for being an active participant in prosecutable offenses, but also for encouraging others to dream up and execute dastardly schemes against the national interest of Nigeria. When EFCC arrest and prosecute Obasanjo, then, we’ll know where their hearts lie; we’ll know they are serious about fighting corruption. Until then, I am tired of their charades and grandstanding.

Since successive Nigerian government has failed to genuinely prosecute anyone for corruption and fraudulent practices, it is time we have a level-playing field for everybody (to engage in the stealing game). Since corruption has become a way of life in Nigeria, it is time we codify it. After all, most Nigerians don’t even frown at corrupt practices; it is readily accepted, promoted and practiced. And since the administration of President Musa Yar’Adua is not likely to prosecute Obasanjo, Atiku and others, it is time we legalize corruption. Let’s make it easy to enter, engage and exit whenever a player wants to. There should be no monopoly on corruption since corruption, nepotism, and other forms of insidiousness are now part of our national culture; so, why waste time and precious resources railing against it? Why fight it? The most logical and pragmatic thing to do now is to legalize it. Come one come all and partake in the feast.

Even though some Nigerians may corrupt corruption, there are still several benefits to legalizing corruption:

  1. Saves scarce resources currently used by EFCC in their bogus missions
  2. Gives every Nigerian a level playing field in the acquisition of extralegal wealth
  3. Will save us from the hypocrisy and duplicity of pontificating about such issue
  4. It will permit the judiciary and police to devote their energies to serious matters
  5. Legalized corruption will help in the fair allocation of the nation’s wealth
  6. Equal access may help eliminate prostitution, poverty and other social ills
  7. Equal grabbing may also help to eliminate social-classism and superciliousness
  8. Legalized corruption may eliminate the need for people to pretend and show off
  9. No nation on the face of the earth will ever again brand Nigerians “corrupt,” this may lead to an improvement in how the rest of the world perceive Nigerians.

For several decades now, we have been fighting corruption, but have never succeeded. Not even a dent; so, instead of making corruption an elite sport, why not open it to all and every one who have the means and the capacity to engage in such an activity? Nigeria can never arrest corruption. Never! And in fact, prevailing conditions are making it easier to engage in all sorts of debauchery. One of the ways this government can prove to Nigerians that incidence of corruption can be arrested and restricted is to arrest and indict the Obasasanjos and their fellow travelers. How did corruption get out of hand? Simple: there were never penalties for the thefts that occurred in previous administrations. That set a bad precedence. If there are no penalties for all the crimes committed between 1999 and 2007, the Nigerian treasury will become an open sesame for all who wants to get rich by any and all means. So far, there is no indication that the Yar’Adua regime is any different. This presidency did not come to the table with a clean hand.

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