Just about leaving secondary school in the mid-1960s, a relation advised me to consider a job as a policeman or sanitary inspector. His reasoning was simple: I would not be in want because people would be begging me with money!
Being a policeman or sanitary inspector was never in my consideration even though, at that time, I did not see anything wrong in anyone suggesting either of the jobs to me with such a fanciful reasoning and prospects. We all wanted to be rich and comfortable; we were never taught at school about the evils of corruption. We thought those who had made money were lucky, that their protruding bellies were evidence of good living!
Corruption is endemic in Nigerian society. Most tend to focus on the corruption of politicians and civil servants, not least because their corruption was effortless. However, they occupy privileged positions and the scale of their corruption has ominous consequences for the larger society.
The lack of progress and development in the Nigerian society are the repercussions of an amazing scale of graft in more than four decades in the life of a nation. Monies made from oil would be envied by any other nation, but there is hardly anything tangible to show for them. Our roads are bad and dangerous, our educational system is collapsing, the elite has no confidence in our hospitals, the judicial system is rotten and the Nigerian state is ominously drifting towards being a failed one.
The resultant effects of corruption, which include the inability of the state to provide jobs for its citizens, have also been the rise of crimes and criminality in society generally. Kidnapping for ransom has become an aspiration for those who also wanted to be as rich as the politicians, while hawking of human parts for sale is evidence of a despicable society. There are not a few who assumed they had jobs but have now become beggars or criminals of some sort. Many states in Nigeria can no longer pay the salaries of their workers.
The current administration of President Muhammadu Buhari has been fighting corruption somehow, revealing the extent of graft in the previous administration. The revelations, saddening as they are, make one wonder about the extent of damage many decades of plundering has done to our society.
Corruption is the greatest enemy of society, hence there are not a few nations of the world that punish culprits with the death penalty. Nigeria’s past military governments were well positioned to have fought corruption with whatever draconian punishments the crime deserves, were their leadership not to have been equally as corrupt as the politicians they displaced. General Sani Abacha announced two military coups blaming politicians, among other things, for corruption. Alas, a substantial portion of the billions of dollars he himself stole from the national treasury has yet to be repatriated from his foreign bank accounts!
The fight against corruption and criminality belongs to the generality of Nigerians. However, a purposeful leader can lead the way for a fight that belongs to all of us.
Today’s stable nations of the world have a history of their own. Punishments for all sorts of crimes were exceedingly harsh during the Tudor era in England and Wales. There were 70,000 executions during the reign of Henry VIII between 1509 and 1547. People were executed, amidst great publicity, in lots of different ways – beheading, hanging, burning at the stake, crushing with heavy stones, being boiled alive, and being starved. It was believed that very harsh punishments deterred others from committing similar offences. Until 1782, convicts were transported to America and between 1788 and 1868, more than 166,000 British convicts were banished to Australia. Most British people now readily comply with rules and regulations but there is a history behind that.
The world has changed; any harsh punishment meted out to criminals would be considered a violation of human rights. However, corruption and criminality have no place in a civilised society and all must be thought about this at home and in our various institutions of learning. Religious places of worship would have lost their very essence if adherents had also not thought about this. Significantly, the law of the land must not reward corruption or any other crime.