The Alternative to Decriminalizing Corruption

by Sabella Ogbobode Abidde

If the decriminalization of corruption is an idea whose time has not come, what then do we do to arrest and stump its growth and diffusion? That corrupt practices are eating deep into our shared moral fibers, and laying waste our human and infrastructural development is beyond debate. Nigeria has always had its rough edges; dirt here and there, miscreants here and there. It was never a utopian society. Still, it was a functioning and more caring society — a society where reputation and dignity mattered. Younger generations may not know that there was a time in the history of Nigeria when we knew who the cheats and thieves and vagabonds and street urchins were. We knew most of the good guys from the bad guys. But today, the line is blurred, assuming there is a line at all.

Religious and community leaders, school principals and headmasters, governors and ministers, presidents, and entire households — all are mired in shady and stomach-whirling ventures. Corruption and corrupt practices is now a religious rite. To be clear, corruption is present, in one shade or another in one degree or another, in all societies the world over. That’s to say there is not a single corruption-free society. But in Nigeria, what we have is an unusual strain of corruption taken to a new height: they are law and order-resistant, commonsense-resistant, ethics and morality-resistant, shame and embarrassment-resistant, and punishment-resistant. It is worse than cancer.

How do people live in such a society? How do institutions function? In such a callous and cruel condition, how do the people realize their dreams and aspirations? A society this vile is likely to find it difficult fulfilling its responsibility to itself, to its citizens and to the global community. In the end though, no one but the people and posterity suffer from this corruption-induced debilitating condition. To right the wrongs associated with Nigerian-style corrupt practices; extensive and harsh solution has to be implemented to chop off the head and the root of corruption causing agents, agencies, and systems. If we are to survive and thrive as a nation, we must embark on unusual remedies.

If Rawlingnization of the system is needed, fine; if the Idiagbon-Buhari method is what will set the country on the right path, I am all for it. Not even the China approach should be taken off the table. These three methods calls for the impartial probing of assets and investment portfolios and the forfeiture of assets that were dubiously acquired; the physical elimination of certain elements within the system; the revival and strengthening of institutions; the education, reeducation and sanitization of the people’s psyche; and the introduction of a new political and governing system.

To achieve these, government may have to set up an independent and activist body to probe past governments and certain individuals. (But mostly individuals and their estates or holdings.) Or, simply re-empower and restructure the EFCC to undertake such tasks. By so doing, Nigeria could easily recover 50 billion dollars from fifty individuals. If an individual willingly gave up all the money he/she stole — all the money plus interest and penalty beginning at twenty-five thousand dollars — then he/she will be spared prosecution, but will be banned from public office for ever. Those who refuse to return stolen money should be probed and prosecuted, and if found guilty, summarily executed! Yes, executed! In all, government should pursue stolen money wherever they are kept, be it in New York, London, or Swiss banks. Countries that refuse to return our money should be penalized or taken before the United Nations or appropriate organs of the UN.

From the day the new anti-corruption legislations come into effect, corrupt officials should be summarily dealt with, China-style. How the anticorruption body operates, how and what they cover, and all other aspects of its operations should be left in the hands of the specially appointed body (sanctioned by the Nigerian Parliament and the Judiciary). Once that is done, the fear of abridging national laws and international conventions will be mostly out of the question. In the end though, a nation, any nation, must do what’s best in her national interest. As it is, corruption and other forms of recklessness are menaces and danger to our nation security interest.

Why do we execute armed robbers? Why do we execute those who commit murder? Why do we execute those who commit treason against the state? Simple: we do because their actions are heinous, are against our collective health, and are against our national security interest. An armed-robber steals $1,000.00 we execute him or send him to twenty years in prison; but when a politician steals $1,000,000.00 or $10,000,000.00 we turn blind eyes to his crime. Where is the justice? As drastic as some of the proposed measures may sound, they are entirely necessary if Nigeria is to free itself from the abyss. They are necessary if Nigeria wants a shot at glory and Canaan. They are crucial if we care about our welfare and about the type of society we want to bestow future generations.

As imperfect as it was, the Tafawa Balewa, Obefemi Awolowo, and Nnamdi Azikwe’ generation left a better and more hopeful country. What’s going to be our gift and our legacy to the next generation? That we applauded theft and banditry and foolishness? That we are the generation that gave allocation for roads and bridges, then stole the money. That we are the generation that made allowance for clinics and hospitals, then turns around to shawl the money? How shameful it would be if we left them a messed up nation since corruption negatively impacts the overall development of a nation. Amongst other factors, corruption —

  1. increases transaction cost
  2. discourages foreign direct investment
  3. reduces overall growth of the formal economy
  4. helps to weaken political institutions and the bureaucracy
  5. encourages informality of the political and economic system
  6. helps to personalize the rule of law
  7. negatively impact the cultural and social space
  8. does not allow for easy entry and exit of state activity,
  9. encourages indolence, nepotism and an uneven playing field, and
  10. those who are used to mediocrity and corrupt practices may find it difficult to compete in an atmosphere where superior intellect and decency is required to function

In closing therefore, decriminalization of corruption and corrupt practices may be a radical and far-off idea. Decriminalization may be an idea “whose time has not come.” And in fact, it may never come; it may not come because it is not likely to seat well with global sensibility and international mores. That said, what’s to be done about a country and a system this rotten and scatological as Nigeria? Because corrupt practices have become a way of life, most Nigerians are not even offended by it anymore. There is no shame or dishonor attached to it. It is normal to cheat and to lie. It is normal and acceptable to beat the system. It is now customary to stick it to the government.

Today some parents expect their children to defraud financial institutions and public treasury. To do otherwise is to be considered a moron. If we continue on this path — with no checks, sanctions and severe penalties — we might as well say bye-bye to decency and to our nation. Who would want to live in a disorderly and predatory society, anyways? May be vagabonds!

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