The humiliating daily headlines of corruption crisis stemming from treasury looting by public officials seems cruel to recall. It has been pushed over the ethical cliff by a healthy dose of fear. The corruption perpetrated by appointed and elected public servants reveal a morally bankrupt nation that its mention ended any rational national discussion about corruption in public office in Nigeria.
Corruption has been part of our politics for as long as we can remember. But the Jonathan years will be remembered in our history as the era when a President deployed corruption on a massive scale for the mass destruction of his country. The corruption is both ominous and meticulous. During his days, he used corruption to divide our nation. It gained unprecedented traction. It became an enemy most difficult to fight and conquer. It got more and more deeply entrenched in all spheres of our life. It tentacles reach far and wide.
In those years, corruption became an effective tool in the hands of the government to destroy our people and deplete our resources to the extent that Nigerians have now become beggars and refugees in their own country. It steadily but unobtrusively crept in and damaged our world. Today, corruption is the most debilitating bane of our society. It is a despicable phenomenon deeply entrenched in our culture. It has eaten into all the progressive initiatives and actions of the few well-meaning individuals and institutions in our society. The partners and shareholders in the corruption entrepreneurship include policy makers, politicians, bureaucracy, oversight and law enforcement agencies, lower rung officials, mafia, service providers, and motivated section of citizens.
Corruption is all pervading. It’s an equal ethnic destroyer – Yorubas, Hausas, and Igbos. Corruption makes it possible for 99.99 % of the resources meant for the targeted poor end up in the pockets of politicians. Corruption results in stealing from the poor. The level of degradation has reached alarming and unspeakable levels. It has become a well-oiled organized crime. It holds the entire people and the entire nation hostage.
Watching the rise and fall of the Nigerian economy, is like watching a predictable ballet or opera, or even a Nollywood movie, all with distinct beginnings, middles, and ends, marked by triumph after triumph, crisis after crisis, and then the resolution of it all at the end. The curtain drops. The lights come on. The power elite has replaced economic boom with economic doom! Then the decline and instability, poverty and penury, sorrow and sadness, moaning and mourning. Mission accomplished!
Widespread corruption leads to runaway inequality. Fraud disproportionately benefits the thieves. Fraud and looting artificially redistribute wealth from honest, hard-working Nigerians to a handful of crooks. Runaway inequality in turn leads to the fall of empires through unrest or revolution. In fact, inequality was one of the main reasons for the fall of the Roman Empire. And inequality in Nigeria is much worse than in Ancient Rome. Indeed, inequality in Nigeria today is ten times as bad as in Ancient Rome, worse than it was in Tsarist Russia, Gilded Age America, modern Egypt, Tunisia, or Yemen, many banana republics in Latin America, and worse than experienced by slaves in 1774 Colonial America.
We have incompetent and imperious rivaling ruling class swimming in ocean of corruption, decadence, factional struggles, power struggle, and political assassinations. As the situation worsened, civic pride waned and Nigerians lost trust in their leaders. Institutional corruption in Nigeria breeds lack of trust and leads to collapsing economy. Now we have a financialized economy going from manufacturing into speculation. Nigerian banks are manipulating every market, and committing massive crimes of corruption. They incur very high levels of debt. Fraud highly rewards the banks, makes boom-bust cycle more severe, and harms the economy – all which increase inequality. Corruption violates our human rights. Undermines the rule of law. Distorts the development process and dis-empowers the Nigerian state. It has impacted the sovereignty of our nation in security, law enforcement, good governance, and development.
Take a look at these few headlines on corruption. The headlines are not new. You’re well familiar with them. The headlines are reminders from the killing inventory and mortal sins of corruption:
“Goodluck Jonathan Administration Accused Of Stealing $9B” (International Business Times, 1/19/16). “Nigeria says it has recovered $9.1 Billion in stolen money and assets” (Reuters, June 4, 2016). “The extraordinary story of Nigeria’s $20 billion oil money ‘leakage’ (Business Insider, Feb. 6, 2016). “Nigerian former minister ‘stole $6bn of public money’ (BBC, July 28, 2015). “Money laundering: EFCC recovers looted $2trn in 12 years” (Vanguard, Feb. 3, 2016). “US to return $480m Abacha loot to Nigeria” (AFRICA REVIEW, April 21, 2016). “Nigeria Says $15 Billion Stolen in Security Spending Scams” (Bloomberg, May 3, 2016). “$700million Raw cash Found In The Home Of Petroleum Minister, Diezani Alison-Madueke” (Online Nigeria, 10/4/2015).
“Nigeria orders arrest of official accused of stealing $2B meant to buy weapons to fight Boko Haram” (Fox News World, Nov. 17, 2015). “7 Nigerian Ex-Governors, Other Public Thieves, To lose Billions Smuggled To Dubai” (The Simon Ateba News, March 22, 2016). “N23bn Diezani Bribe: 11 INEC Officials Admit Receiving N120m” (SaharaReporters, May 28, 2016). “EFCC Releases CEOs Of Access bank, Sterling Bank After They Refund Billions Of Naira” (SaharaReporters,May 07, 2016). “ABACHA LOOT: Switzerland returns $723m to Nigeria in 10 years” (Vanguard, March 16, 2016). “Fayose Admits To Buying Properties Of N1.35 Billion” (SaharaReporters, July 07, 2016). “Former PDP Secretary Olisa Metuh Has Offered To Return N400m He Received From Ex-NSA Dasuki” (SaharaReporters, June 30, 2016). “Former Air Staff Chief Amosun And Other Top Military Officials Arraigned For N49 Billion Fraud” (SaharaReporters, June 29, 2016).
These headlines tell the scope and scale of corruption in the political and economic turmoil that is crashing in waves over Nigeria. Nigeria has survived – for now. But we still have no idea what it will take on the long run to survive the unprecedented looting in our history. How do we make sense of the unpredictable and unthinkable revelations from mass destruction of corruption? It’s not that corruption will kill us, corruption has killed us and still killing us. The apprehension and prosecution of the thieves have been painfully slow. The punishment for the first and only one rogue convicted so far was a lenient and generous reprimand. If the light sentences for such grievous and injurious crimes continued, the war on corruption will not have the deterrence it’s supposed to have. It will be a double jeopardy for Nigerians, victims of corruption.
We want speedy resolutions to the trials. Since the generals in the war against corruption are not disposed to go for death by firing squads for the thieves, then the punishment should be punitive enough in terms of number of prison years ranging from 100 to 150 years so much that the criminals will prefer death penalty. The thieves should be stripped naked of all ill gotten properties, businesses, cash and vehicles, anything and everything. That should the minimum punishment. They deserve no less. And let justice begin – NOW!