Corruption is one of many intractable social pathologies ravaging Nigeria. Corruption is a symptom of deep institutional weakness which leads to inefficient economic, social and political outcomes. Corruption embraces a broad spectrum of activities ranging from fraud (theft through misrepresentation), embezzlement (misappropriation of corporate or public fund) to bribery (payments made in order to gain an advantage or to avoid a disadvantage).
Corruption is illegal in Nigeria, yet everywhere it is woven deep into the fabric of everyday life. The wands of currency notes slipped under the counter to speed up a traveller’s way through the customs; the tip given to the Police at checkpoints; the brown envelope given to lecturers by students to get a pass mark; the president and ex-presidents, including all political leaders living well beyond their declared assets etc. are all evidence of corruption. It seems to be the lingua franca in the country. The ‘Giant of Africa” has become decrepit, all thanks to corruption.
Nigeria has never really known alternatives to corrupt lifestyle since independence and the stigma as contagious as it is tends to reflect especially in the character of the leadership rank. Stanley (2012) quoting Ezukanma (2009) lent credence to this when he narrated thus: In ancient China, King Chik’ang Tzu, notorious for his corruption and profligacy sought the advice of the famous Chinese philosopher, Confucius, on how to deal with thieves in his kingdom. The philosopher replied: If you, sir, did not covet things that don’t belong to you, they wouldn’t steal if you paid them to.
From his response, Confucius encapsulated the inextricable link between the ways of the ruler(s) and the followers. The conducts of the masses are only a reflection of those of their leaders and the vices of the people only a mirror of the vices of their leaders. Therefore, the frightening crime rate in Nigeria is only a symptom of the criminality of the Nigerian ruling class. Presently, as our leaders are greedy, corrupt, fraudulent and immoral, the Nigerian society will inescapably be greedy, corrupt, fraudulent and immoral. It is because the Nigerian power elites failed in their role as leaders that they have taken to harassing and hectoring the people in the name of fighting crime, for what is really a failure of leadership.
Corruption may be classified as either sporadic or systemic in character. That is to say, it may be occasional, that is, occurs irregularly and as such does not threaten the economy of a country; or it may be entrenched in a country, that is, become an integrated aspect of the economic, social and political system such that honesty becomes irrational.
When corruption has eaten deep or has become systemic, it becomes resistant to ordinary anti-corruption reprisals due from the character of its preponderance. This explains why Buhari has achieved little or no success at all in his war on corruption. Systemic corruption, thus, is akin to the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). In this semblance, it could be observed that as the virus renders comatose inbuilt immune capacity of the human body system so also this corruption brand subverts the immunity of a political system by destroying all its institutions and consequently rescinds its growth, which is why nothing works wherever it exists; no social programme or economic policy, however lofty, can achieve its set objectives to the later or as expected.
The cost of corruption is three-fold: political, economic and social. On the political front, corruption constitutes a major obstacle to democracy and the rule of law. In democratic systems, offices and institutions lose their legitimacy when they are misused for private advantage. Accountable political leadership cannot develop in a corrupt climate. Economically, corruption leads to the depletion of national wealth. It hinders the development of fair market structures and distorts competition thereby deterring investment.
Again, the effect of corruption on the social fibre of society is the most damaging of all. It undermines people’s trust in the political system, in its institutions and its leadership. Demanding and paying bribes becomes the norm. This, in a way, clears the way for despots as well as democratically elected yet devious leaders to turn national assets into personal wealth.
Corruption is both a cause of poverty, and a barrier to overcoming the later. It is easier for a developed country to weather through the storms of corruption than an emerging economy. This is the reason growth cannot be expected in a country, like ours, enmeshed in corruption. Development cannot thrive where corruption thrives.