(By Don Oche)
“Anytime it comes to the issue of bribery and corruption, it is always the other man’s problem and the rest of us are “saints”. Without downplaying the mammoth responsibility of our leaders in leading the campaign against corruption, I am one of those who believe that Nigeria’s problem is both that of leadership and the followership as our leaders are the products and reflection of the Nigerian paradigm. Well I can hear murmurs of disagreement, but look at the facts“.
TO say that Nigeria is plagued with a plethora of problems is to state the obvious and to call for attitudinal change and reorientation of the nation’s values cannot be regarded as ingenious but rather as a no-brainer. Having said that, I intend to comment on a trait(s) common to most Nigerians. These traits are pervasive across the country and they cut across all strata of our society. They are found in the Presidential Villa as well as in civil societies, in churches and in mosques, in the boardroom of our multi-million naira oil companies and in the market square, in the hallowed chambers of the courts and in the stations of our security agencies, in the National Assembly and in the sacred realm of the Fourth Estate. They are found in the offices of our lecturers and in the hostels of our students, in the suburbs of the rich and in the ghettos of the poor, among white collar employees in the cities and among farmers in rural area. I’m sure you guessed it right: Bribery and Corruption. It has often been regarded as a “twin hydra-headed monster” that is bedeviling Nigeria.
It is always amusing whenever the topic of bribery and corruption comes up in private or public discourse. The would-be crusader gives her long homily on how “Our leaders” are corrupt and “the government” is enmeshed in a seemingly intractable cesspool of corruption but if by any means given the opportunity she will sweep Nigeria clean of it. Anytime it comes to the issue of bribery and corruption, it is always the other man’s problem and the rest of us are “saints”. Without downplaying the mammoth responsibility of our leaders in leading the campaign against corruption, I am one of those who believe that Nigeria’s problem is both that of leadership and the followership as our leaders are the products and reflection of the Nigerian paradigm. Well I can hear murmurs of disagreement, but look at the facts.
The politicians whom we all agree are corrupt, are the very ones passionately supported by “the people,” revered in our churches and mosques and held up as models by religious and traditional leaders. Well the cynic may say, “What can you expect from those who are benefiting from them.” Maybe you are right but we may wish to ponder this assertion by a friend who said that those who make all the noise about government corruption do so because they are not in a position to get their own chunk of the national cake. While one may not subscribe completely to this but isn’t it a curious fact that our political landscape is replete with people from the academia, the media, civil societies and even religious organisations who were once fierce critics of the government but are now sounding a different note because they are in “government.” In fact, the average Nigerian expects his leaders to be corrupt requiring only that they work as they go about looting the treasury although not to be too greedy to ensure the equitable distribution of the so-called “National Cake”.
So much for those in government. What about the rest of us private citizens? Well let’s take some reality check assessment. Let’s start with parents. Are you among those who pay money to secure your ward’s success in WAEC or NECO? Are you guilty of “buying” admission for your child into the higher institution? For the student, are you innocent of examination malpractices, or of “sorting” lecturers to ensure you pass your courses? Mr. Lecturer, are you guilty of failing those who refuse to buy your textbooks or awarding grades according to your price tag? As a corps member, can you beat your chest and say you did not influence your posting or place of primary assignment? For our market people, do we rip our customers off through outrageous over-profiteering of our goods and services? As business people, are we engaged in the import of contra-band and substandard products and as professionals do we violate the ethics of our profession to swell our pockets? For the rest of us, do we circumvent the law regarding our legitimate obligation to the government by bribing public officials? Let our consciences be the judge. In case you feel these are not matters of grave importance, the truth is that if you are not faithful in your little arena of influence chances are that you will not be faithful in a larger sphere of influence.
I leave my diagnosis of bribery and corruption here and attempt to proffer a solution because it doesn’t take a genius to identify a problem anyone can do that, but it does take extraordinary insight and courage to proffer a solution. On that note, may I table a solution which though obvious and seemingly pedestrian is extremely difficult in practice. It is my conviction that much of our problems (if not all) including bribery and corruption are moral issues and, if successfully attended to, will set the stage for tackling other national problems such as tribalism, religious bigotry, etc and increase our chances of success.
I’ve always believed that Nigeria does not necessarily need brilliant and innovative leaders with the gift of the gab to sway the masses and garner a following to bring about a change. What Nigeria needs are men and women fortified with “moral fibre” across all spectra of its society. Men and women who are practical enough to implement great ideas, people who have the guts, grit, ‘’stickability’’, ‘’stick-to-it-iveness’’, courage and determination to do the right thing irrespective of the consequences. Men and women who are committed to doing the right thing whether it is financially rewarding or not, whether it is detrimental to family and friends, who will not sacrifice principle on the altar of corruption, whose word is their bond and whose watchword is “We would do the right thing though the heavens may fall or the earth may give way or the mountains crumble we would do the right thing.” The million dollar question is how we find such people with moral fibre. I’ll borrow a leaf from Mother Theresa, who, when asked on how to achieve world peace, gave the pithy and sagacious reply “Go home and love your family.” Speaking from my Christian frame of reference, (and I believe others can say the same of their own religious teachings) “Go and practice the teachings of the Bible.”
Of course, if you are considering taking up the challenge of doing the right thing and being a Nigerian with moral fiber it is not going to be a walk in the park. Be prepared to be criticised and ostracised as the troublers of the peace. You may very likely be maligned and hounded by family members and even religious leaders. You may have to settle for an average standard of living for the cause of the right. You may lose your life for standing for the truth. Always be prepared to hear the constant refrain “Na you wan change Naija. Naija don spoil pata pata. One tree cannot make up a forest.” Always remind yourself and others: “A tree may not make up a forest but a forest begins with a tree.” Who knows if your little act of patriotism might spark off a fire of change that will engulf Nigeria in a flame of reformation ushering a golden era of religious tolerance, prosperity and a bribery and corrupt-free nation for generations to come. Even if you don’t live to see the change let it be on record that before God and man you can say in all good conscience, “I did the right thing” and go down in Nigeria’s history as an example of one who possessed moral fibre.
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