(By Omoya Yinka)

Leadership is practised by leaders, but who are those who become leaders? Were they not once common citizens, typical Nigerians in whose veins corruption flows?

‘Our leaders are corrupt.’ That is the song on the lips of every Nigerian. But who are our leaders? And what is corruption? Quite predictably, most of us would give vivid and comprehensive definitions of corruption, citing and recounting several instances of public officials who, one way or the other, have been nabbed for misappropriating the treasuries of the state. Quickly, the scandal of former Delta state governor, James Ibori, comes to mind. We may even mention the former speaker of House of Representatives, Patricia Etteh. Of course, her successor, Dimeji Bankole, who seemed to have taken a leaf from her, is also one of those illustrations that we are likely to give as regards definition of corruption. And honestly, it would not be a surprise if John Yusuf, a former director at the Police Pension Office, who converted two billion naira of police pension funds to his private use, is mentioned.

Truly, Nigeria has an inexhaustible list of the kind of these ones, and our people waste no time in pointing accusing fingers at them when the need arises for us to define corruption. We seem to forget about that market woman who has manipulated the container she uses in measuring rice in order to maximize her profits, at the expense of her customers. No, we do not cite that as an example of corruption when asked. We seem to also forget about the mechanic who writes off spare parts that are in good condition as faulty, in a bid to extort money from ones he knows to be ignorant on such matters. No, we do not see that as an example of corruption either. We do not see the corruption around us. We only see the corruption above us- the corruption done at the top. Isn’t it our leaders alone who are corrupt?

As simple as it can be explained, corruption is any form of dishonesty, illegality or fraudulent conduct on the part of any member of the society, be it the government or the governed. According to Transparency International’s 2012 Corruption Perception Index, Nigeria is one of the 40 most corrupt nations, ranking 139th out of 176 countries. Nigeria tied with a country like Pakistan on the corruption list. This is saddening. It keeps one wondering how on earth Nigeria declined to such a deplorable state. The answer is not far-fetched however. When a people have a misconception of their problem, a solution becomes difficult to come by, and so their conditions deteriorate. It is an erroneous belief that corruption starts from the top. No, it doesn’t. Corruption begins with me. It begins with you too. Yes, it starts from the grass roots, wrecking havoc gradually but unnoticed, crawling upwards subtly until it gets to the top and strikes with force – just like a cat would stealthily pounce on a rat.

Many people have given plausible reasons for the thriving corruption in Nigeria. One of such was the late renowned novelist, Chinua Achebe, who, in 1983, wrote a book entitled “The Trouble with Nigeria”. In the book, Achebe largely blamed the plight of the country on leadership failures. He had this to say: “The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership. There is nothing basically wrong with the Nigerian character. There is nothing wrong with the Nigerian land or climate or water or air or anything else. The Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to the responsibility, to the challenge of personal example which are the hallmark of true leadership.” That was his view. However, as much as I subscribe to most of his opinions on this matter, I beg to differ on some of them. I dispute the view that ‘there is nothing basically wrong with the Nigerian character’. I tell you, so many things are wrong. An average Nigerian is seriously affected by his environment, which , needless to say, tends towards corruption. Logically, it can be surmised that an average Nigerian is corrupt, whether we admit it or not. Moreso, from Achebe’s standpoint, failure of leadership is a major problem of Nigeria. I reasonably subscribe to this also. Nonetheless, an adage says if a hunchback is asked why the load he carries on his head sways to a side rather than being balanced, the hunchback should point to the observer that the problem with the load actually originates from the down.

Leadership is practised by leaders, but who are those who become leaders? Were they not once common citizens, typical Nigerians in whose veins corruption flows? The bible says, if the foundation be destroyed, what can the righteous do? So, this biblical injunction begs the question of what we expect the leaders, who were once typical Nigerians, to do when they finally get to power. To see the money society has always taught them to make, by hook or by crook, and take away their eyes just like that? To willingly and suddenly discard the greediness that is characteristic of Nigerians? I’m afraid things don’t happen that way. In order to salvage the appalling state of corruption in Nigeria, there is a need for a complete overhaul, and this time around, from the grass roots. Every Nigerian needs to be reoriented. Nigerians should be made to know, right from their childhood and even at their adult ages, what things that are corrupt and detrimental to national development. Nigerians should be made to know that siphoning public funds is not only the possible form of corruption. Nigerians should be made to know that things like jumping the queue, examination malpractice, breaching protocols, manipulations of measuring tools, extortion of the ignorant, favouritism etc are also serious cases of corruption. It is, therefore, my considered opinion that the Federal Government should set up an agency that will see to this urgent reorientation of Nigerians. The agency should be concerned with identifying and chastising, from the grass roots to those at the helm of affairs, corrupt practices common to all. This agency should complement the efforts of already established anti-corruption bodies like EFCC and ICPC. Perhaps it might have occurred to you that the problem with Nigerians may not necessarily be the identification of corrupt or not corrupt practices, hence I hasten to add that, in line with the setup of a reorientation agency on corruption, the laws pertaining to punishments meted out to offenders should be made more stringent.

We no longer want a situation where one who steals billions of naira is only sentenced to two years imprisonment with an option of #750,000.00, as in the case of John Yusuf. Such grossly unproportional punishment only emboldens other public officials to commit greater crimes . It also sends a wrong signal to the populace that corruption may after all not be a grievous offence. In conclusion, we must all dispose the Nigerian notion that a person is corrupt only when he is caught in the act of public fund misappropriation and has failed in exonerating himself from the charges levelled against him. We must begin to see every form of dishonesty, fraudulence and illegality as corruption. We must see the need for a change from the present unpleasant state. So, as I bring this writing to an end, I say, if truly corruption begins with me, let corruption end with me. Let change begin with me!

Written by Omoya.

“Opinion pieces of this sort published on RISE Networks are those of the original authors and do not in anyway represent the thoughts, beliefs and ideas of RISE Networks.”