Corruption and the Mangled Project of Nigerian Nationhood

Corruption and the Mangled Project of Nigerian Nationhood

Tuesday, May 16, 2017 12:56 am

Ademola Araoye

By Ademola Araoye

It is possible to forgive one’s incapacity to digest the sheer numbing impact of the daily news. It is even more difficult to humanly comprehend the seemingly morbid motivations, unfathomable scale, including the depth, national spread and character, of corruption that assails the incipient consciousness of Nigeria nationhood. Every where one turns, its ubiquity is not in doubt. It is futile to seek to codify all the unending streams of bombasts of national corruption. It suffices to appreciate that both the physical and social worlds of the Nigeria state space are being robustly shaken to their foundations. The 2016 International Corruption Index ranks Nigeria as 126 out of 136 countries, with a score of 28 out of 100. Yet, knowing the horrific state of corruption in society is just not enough. For beyond knowing is the yawning lacuna in understanding this horrible phenomenon. And then more troubling is the horrendous reality that conscious human interventions in the search to continually instigate transformatory impulses in the affairs of the Nigerian state seem always to have been stalemated. Society is also indicted with criminal connivance in egging on its tormentors.

As often is the realization in belated revelations that the very human agencies of the still born processes of change were themselves compromised human vectors in the perpetuation of the very disease they were supposed to be healing the nation from. Again the agonizing fractious national society, perceiving itself in various nebulous capacities as potential and actual beneficiaries of corruption at individual and community levels, is in the forefront in the adulation of national villains. The national villain is more often than not a local hero covered by the tenacious will of a partisan community that perceives not a traducer of the national will and over all public good, but a smart representative operating in the ethically devaluated and murky national space defined by the permanence of its shuffling convenient morality. In this space, the classic approaches of restoration/restitution and/or retribution, both as punitive and deterrence mechanisms, to the anti corruption fight is bound to fail. The judgment is always hung caught between discrepancies in the universal understandings in the very idea of the public good and the notions of a local hero navigating the merciless predatory tendencies of the disdained center.

The local hero must sustain this understanding, stoke it and feed it in a symbiotic relationship. Yet, for any graft agency providing personal gratifications to members of the local public ensures that some headway can be made. This goes to the heart of the Nigerian maxim: what’s in it for me? The outstanding successes in the loot- recovery drive of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission can be attributed to its realization of the fact that the general public is neither motivated be any nationalistic consciousness nor even moralistic sentiment of the public good, but to the dominant instinct for the me, me, I, I and myself, myself principle. The whistle-blowing policy adopted by the Federal Government is aligned with the instinctive proclivity for self first of a society in decay. Paradoxically, both the corrupt and their final nemesis, the local whistleblower, are operate on that principle.

Corruption is a complex phenomenon. It is an imprecise concept without a universally accepted definition. The varying definitions of corruption tend to reflect the inclination of the scholar1 and are influenced by a host of factors related to the use to which the concept is to be immediately adopted. The challenge of a lack of consensual conceptual delineation notwithstanding, corruption is the deployment of power, often legitimately acquired power, or use of one’s office or status in society, to promote or advance material and non material interests and outcomes to private ends that are extraneous to, and with definitive deleterious consequences on, or inconsistent with the overall objective public or common good.

Accordingly, corruption is regarded as antithetical to the purpose of public administration. It is often referred to as a failure of the institution of the public service and as a betrayal of the essential professional ethic of the public administrator to serve the public “honestly and disinterestedly as trustees of the public interest”.2 Public good or overall public interest are used synonymously and interchangeably as the non-exclusive common good.

The normative end of public policy is here assumed as the objective public good, or overall public interest or non-exclusive common good. It is distinguished from and contrasts the many competing partisan interests of the many segments of society. The rivalries of the many partisan interests that thrive in the public sphere may fuel a democratic response through the distillation of the many varied and competing interests into one common national interest or, under certain circumstances. It may however foster a logic of validating the institution of the practice of partisan loot as the convenient operational protocol for the system. The latter option would seem to be the road taken in most of Africa, including Nigeria. Corruption, in betraying the essential professional ethic of public administration, undermines the formulation and implementation of determined corporate interests of the state or that of the national community.

In defining and playing the crudest form of politics implying literally who gets what and when by all means possible, corruption, lurking initially at the subterranean zone of engagements, has incrementally become integral to the calculus of power. It is now central to the negotiations to achieve the extant political settlement. This is often the case in states characterized by fractious societies with neither a driving overarching central vision, a consensual moral center or nor even an agreed raison d’etre. In these circumstances, state institutions, both the corpus of protocols, rules and procedures as well as the direct human articulators, have no direct philosophical directions. They may have often been captured by partisan forces to pursue goals extraneous to the overall public good. When this culture is entrenched in the political system, it impacts the integrity of the formulation and implementation of policy. When corruption is believed to be the way the public sector, or one of its agencies, routinely operates the damage goes beyond the loss of misdirected resources, public administration risks losing both its capacity to be effective and the trust of citizens in the fair and impartial application of public resources and authority.3

Meanwhile, the informal terms of the management of the state space by a dominant coalition of forces may entail certain informal agreements or informal mutual understandings that are inconsistent with the conventional notions of justice and equality, purity of the law, the Constitution or the overall public good. Such a development poses a danger to the continued integrity of the system as a whole. When you institute, arrangements that either are merely convenient or a reflection of the subsisting power configuration, for the moment as permanent interim operating principles of a nation, it is an open invitation to chaos in the long term. For it is a slippery slope. Unfortunately, the Nigerian system has ran on convenient ad hoc and unstandardized operating principles for too long. The fundamental underpinnings of the extant political settlement thus elicits corruption as an ineluctable response. Given this context, any anti-corruption fight then inevitably is enmeshed in murky politics, rather than a criminal process that it ought to be.

Political settlement is the forging of common understandings, usually between elites that their, that may refer to personal and sectional, best interests or objectives are served by a particular way of organizing and deploying of political power. Since every political settlement is temporary and imply informal elements in the extant settlement, the renegotiation of every new administration or dominant coalition at all levels often involves a recalibration of the moral gauge that may or may not be close to the nation’s moral center, where one exists. To be sure, Nigeria has no such moral center. For the supposed moral center is filled with moral turpitude and crude hooliganistic impulses and suffused with high profile moral morons at the highest levels of the state, including a few irrepressible clowns. Recalibrating this non-existent moral central is fraught with danger.

The experience has shown that in the worst case scenario, the recalibration of the moral center may also prove to be a project not truly defined by public morality or ultimately by the search for the restitution/restoration of the public good from the parochial loot. The overall national ethical orientation is therefore critical in directing any assault on the Augean stable. Yet, the evidence suggests a lack of a common ethical pole in the brutish struggles of the crowd of mainly partisan actors to appropriate the totality of the public space or salvage a few crumbs and morsels from the table of the high and mighty dominant force at the center. The restoration of the sanity of the public space entails a process without safeguards. This is specially so in multi-national societies with fragmented, fractious and competitive intra-national society associated with little integrated social capital for the process to draw on.

Yet, often the project to recalibrate or reaffirm the centrality of the national moral center may however be a ruse; an exercise merely promulgated as a convenient tool for regime validation and consolidation of power. Because of this possibility, the exercise to contain corruption may span two poles. It may be a legitimate project of sanitizing the public sphere or at the other end may be a mere political project of partisan consolidation of power. The first polar end undertakes anti corruption project as a criminal challenge. The other end becomes a mere political process to extract a political dividend for the regime in power. Whatever drives the project though, the two poles undoubtedly have political dimensions. Anti corruption campaigns, in badly institutionalized systems as Nigeria, are often subject and vulnerable to the unpredictability and vagaries of politics. The management of the politics of the process to mitigate corruption is therefore a critical imperative.

The dominant regime at each point in time refers to the rules, principles, norms and modes on interaction between social groups and state organs. The directing principles of corruption driven regimes is the perpetuation of illegal and unfair distribution of value inconsistent with the organic law of the land. The public sector is then deployed to serve private, sectional and partisan ends. As recent experience in the country has demonstrated, there are no sacred national structures and policy imperatives that would not be touched by corruption. This structural dilapidation included even institutions set up to protect the inviolability and integrity of the state space. Worse still, the process of compromising the national fight to protect its longevity involved all who is who in the Nigerian political register!!! Nigerian corruption has no limits and spares no one. It corrals everyone and everything in its hurricane trajectory.

In any case, the public sector may lose its preeminence as the main structure for the developmental agenda as proceeds from corruption in private hands outstrip what is officially allocated to public administration. The Minister of Information, National Orientation and Culture, Alhaji Lai Muhammed, revealed that the looders (read looting leaders) of the public treasury had more money in their possession than all the tiers of government in the country. The Minister was quoted as saying it is now obvious that there are more funds in the possession of looters than are available to government at all levels to meet their obligations including paying workers’ salaries, providing social amenities, upgrading infrastructure and ensuring the security of lives and property.

Corruption expresses itself in a multitude of ways. The final impact however is the gross distortion and derailment of established procedures, processes and protocols that define the nature and character of the national and societal systems; relationships, operations, ethos of the public sphere. These distortions impact in the subversion of the integrity of all facets national life: political, including administrative, legislative and the judiciary; economic; social; cultural; normative; and spiritual. Contrasting the search for the public and common good, corruption at the personal, societal and institutional levels advances the subjective, private and parochial interests of a few to the detriment of the objective interests of the overall collectivity. In fiscal terms, it promotes parochial loot at the expense of the public good. It also reflects a lack of or corrosion of the moral center of society while polluting, metaphorically and in actuality, the spirituality of the public space or entire fabric of the febrile community. At its worst, corruption shreds the conventional operative norms of society and drives all levels of the subverted interactions of a society in decay.

Corruption inheres in the very nature of power in developing societies. The intense unmediated struggle for acquisition of power by all means by all the various competing individuals and their convenient roles as part of the coalescing partisan forces have proven to the most cost effective instrument to escape grinding poverty, achieve and consolidate the social mobility of individuals and their immediate families. Subsequently is the proclivity to abuse public trust in promoting personal or sectional interests. Power usurpation, including very skewed patterns in the distribution of fiscal value either through truncated due processes in politics, business and economic interaction or even the subversion of spirituality, is therefore the norm in state spaces characterized by intense struggle for partisan appropriation. In its report for 2016, Transparency International highlights that available evidence demonstrates that corruption in Nigeria serves two main purposes. The first is to extract rents from the state, which includes forms of corruption such as embezzlement, bribery, nepotism and cronyism, among others.

The second is to preserve power, which includes electoral corruption, political patronage, and judicial corruption. Evidence also suggests that these forms of corruption are related to the country’s social norms. Corruption is clearly associated with the power calculus in state spaces and societies floundering with no validating principles. It is what defines who is in and who is out. He who dares wins. It is a murky public sphere where angels fear to tread. It is paramount that the routine truncation of the ethics of the public space and the criminal abridgement of normal processes by representatives of stake-holding constituents in national affairs are tacitly or even explicitly approved by partisan kinsmen and the local constituency who perceive themselves as direct or potential beneficiaries of the accruing and accrued loot of the local hero operating at their instance at the center of power. The local hero who is villainous at the national level is often further rewarded by the local community who in various ways validate the They are accorded bigger political mandates and invested with chivalrous titles as rewards for the villainous acts of corruption at the center. They often represent the communal wild dogs that are unleashed to do haunt, hunt and hound in the wild world of domestic politics of inchoate systems. In such an environment, the sages stay at home.

Therefore while corruption may be instigated primarily for personal gain of the individual perpetrator, it is often instrumental in promoting, providing and satiating parochial material or psychological dividends of a sub set of the national community or a defined parochial constituency. This delineated partisan constituency perceives that its interests are served by acts of the villainous representative at the national level, who is hailed as a smart hero in the home constituencies. The denunciations at the national level that is contrasted by the approbations at the home constituency of the perceived smart local heroes suggest a wide ethical gap across the field and gargantuan systemic value dissonance in the operational axioms underpinning the system as a whole. This wide lacuna directs the operative expectations at the local level for their representatives deployed to the center. This is often the case in multi-national states and societies struggling with the damaging deficits and imperatives of state orphanage in post colonial contexts and the challenges of nation building.

Yet, evidence of this have emerged even in post liberation state spaces with relatively more coherent ideological appreciations of the essences of the state forged out of the crucible of horrendous deprivations and revolutionary struggles. They constitute post revolutionary societies in decay as the tenets of the revolution have given way to the banalities of partisan struggles intrinsic to the formulation of political settlements outside the strict strictures of the ideological driven party directions.

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