Anti-corruption is the new catchphrase, the latest buzzword through which many individuals and civil society groups are trying to promote good governance. Many anti-corruption crusaders are being recruited on a daily basis. Oftentimes, you hear activists say “if you don’t kill corruption, corruption will kill Nigeria!” Even the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari made it a battle cry in the lead up to the 2015 and 2019 general elections. It promised to revamp the economy, tackle insecurity and fight corruption to a standstill.
Interestingly, not many people understand the concept of corruption. Ask many of the crusaders, they’ll tell you government officials are corrupt. They quickly point to members of the National Assembly, ministers, Heads of Departments and agencies of government and by extension civil servants. When asked about whether they are not part of the corrupt Nigerians, they are wont to dissociate themselves. Yet, in truth and indeed, they are part of the corruption chain.
According to the Berlin-based international anti-corruption agency, Transparency International, “Generally speaking, corruption is the abuse of entrusted power for private gain”. Corruption can be classified as grand, petty and political, depending on the amounts of money lost and the sector where it occurs. TI went further to calibrate the concept when it said, “Grand corruption consists of acts committed at a high level of government that distort policies or the central functioning of the state, enabling leaders to benefit at the expense of the public good. Petty corruption refers to everyday abuse of entrusted power by low- and mid-level public officials in their interactions with ordinary citizens, who often are trying to access basic goods or services in places like hospitals, schools, police departments and other agencies. Political corruption is a manipulation of policies, institutions and rules of procedures in the allocation of resources and financing by political decision-makers, who abuse their position to sustain their power, status and wealth.”
Indeed, as rightly observed by the TI, while people in government can be justifiably accused of perpetrating grand and political corruption as defined above, many of us, including the anti-corruption crusaders, are involved in petty corruption. The trader using false measurement to sell grains; those involved in adulteration of products to maximise profits; the clothier selling four yards of clothes as five; the auto-mechanic who buys fake spare parts after collecting money for original from vehicle owners should know they are all involved in corrupt practices.
The journalist who demands bribes before publishing news items or articles; the Disc Jockey who demands gratification before playing songs of upcoming artistes on radio or at social functions; the person who doctors receipts; the filling station attendant who under-dispenses products to customers; the building contractor who undersupplies materials or purchases fake building materials for the price of the originals are all caught in the corruption web.
The office messenger who refuses to do their work until he has received gratifications; the hospital clerks who demands bribe in order to allow latecomers to be the first to be attended to by doctors; the religious leaders who divert tithes and offerings of the worship centres to personal use; the fake prophets who use fake visions to extort money from members of their congregation; the estate agent who inflates the price of accommodation over and above what the homeowner demands; the landowner who sells the same plot of land to more than one person, are all corrupt.
We cannot hope for a better society when many of us are not willing to give up on our petty corrupt practices. While the anti-corruption agencies like the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, the police, the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal, Office of the Auditor-General and the like are doing their best to go after the people involved in grand corruption and political corruption, it is usually the conscience that is the accuser and the judge of people involved in petty corruption.
The task before us is daunting. We all must join hands to fight corruption and subdue it. We all must be the change we want to see in our society.