Nigeria is a country richly endowed with abundant natural resources as well as quality human capital. Its population is the highest in the continent of Africa, also with the highest concentration of the Black race anywhere in the world. With this staggering and enviable statistics, one would have expected the country to make remarkable progress in terms of socio-economic development, but it is quite sad that the country is yet to find its rightful place among the comity of nations.
Of all the reasons that may have been responsible for her socio-economic stagnation, the phenomenon of corruption stands prominently in the vista. Since the independence of the country from colonial rule on October 1, 1960, political leadership and corruption have, like Siamese twins, become interwoven and inseparable in notoriety. The corrupt tendencies of the political class and its wider implication for socio-economic development in the country have remained a big challenge and a handicap for the country.
After many years of military interregnum with its attendant arbitrariness and absurdities, the introduction of democratic governance in 1999, was widely welcomed as a new dawn in the country’s political affairs. Hope was raised because, after a long period of darkness, a ray of light had appeared at the end of the tunnel. At least, that was the belief of many, if not all Nigerians. Fifteen years down the line, it is doubtful if anything is left in the enthusiasm, hope and aspiration that greeted the dawn of democratic rule in 1999. The reasons are not far-fetched. The average Nigerian has become more pauperised, more disillusioned and more alienated from the scheme of things by the political class who are preying on the vast resources of the country without even allowing the down-trodden, the hoi-polloi, access to the crumbs from thy masters’ table, as it were.
In 1966, four Nigerian Army Majors led by Late Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu, gave a number of reasons for the first military coup in the country that took place on January 15 of that year. In his coup day broadcast, Nzeogwu, the kingpin of the putsch said: “Our enemies are the political profiteers, the swindlers, the men in high and low places that seek bribes and demand 10 percent; those that seek to keep the country divided permanently so that they can remain in office as ministers or VIPs at least, the tribalists, the nepotists, those that make the country look big for nothing before international circles, those that have corrupted our society and put the Nigerian political calendar back by their words and deeds…” That coup effectively terminated the First Republic and regrettably led to the death of some major actors in the country’s political firmament at that time.
The immediate reasons for the coup, as encapsulated in Nzeogwu’s broadcast, underscored the nationwide disillusionment with corrupt and selfish politicians, as well as their inability to maintain law and order and guarantee the safety of lives and property. That was in 1966, about 48 years ago. It is quite obvious that the current prevailing atmosphere in the country is an indication that nothing has changed. In fact, Nigeria may have taken a turn for the worse as it appears that the centrifugal force is gradually giving way and therefore, can no longer hold the periphery. In other words, the way the Boko Haram terrorists are ravaging the Northern parts of the country and all forms of criminals are on the prowl in other geo-political zones, the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the nation is almost in jeopardy.
Not only this. Members of the Nigerian political class have continued to foist their uncontrollable greed and selfishness on the rest of the people because what matters to them is how to feather their own nest. In this case, the rest of the people are abandoned and made vulnerable to whatever vicissitudes of life that may come their way. Perhaps, the Late S.M. Afolabi, a Peoples’ Democratic Party, PDP, Chieftain and former Minister for Internal Affairs captured this aptly few years back, when he said to the Late Bola Ige, a former Attorney-General of the Federation: “We (in the PDP) invited Ige into PDP government to come chop, as in find something to eat”. What this means, and it is so evident today in the country, is that people flock into political parties, not necessarily because of what they can contribute to move the country forward, but essentially, what they hope to corner into their pockets as well as satisfy their cronies.
Consequently, what exists in Nigeria is a political class that has the capacity to manipulate the machinery of government even from behind the scene. To that extent, corruption has become synonymous with leadership in the country. The most prominent definitions of corruption or what constitutes corrupt behaviour, share a common emphasis on the abuse of public power or position for personal aggrandizement. Furthermore, this ugly phenomenon is referred to as “an impairment of virtue and moral principles”. Therefore, political corruption, an endemic cankerworm that has eaten deep into the foundation of our nation, encompasses brazen abuses by government officials such as embezzlement and cronyism, as well as abuses linking public and private actors such as influence-peddling, fraud, bribery, extortion, among others.
The political class in Nigeria is so neck-deep in these unholy practices so much that corruption has become an albatross that threatens our democratic process, good governance and as a result, stifle sustainable development of the country. And as the political class promotes corruption within its rank, it becomes more difficult for it to act positively for the benefit of the citizens and the country. In addition, the political class engages in all dirty tricks to suppress opposition, in order to secure and retain power and by so doing, maintain its stranglehold on the country. Also, in its pursuit of unfettered access to funds, good leadership is sacrificed on the altar of corruption. Indeed, the phenomenon of this cancerous political corruption has become a common thread that runs through successive military and civilian political regimes in the country. This is the unfortunate situation in which the country has been enmeshed for quite a long time.
Over the years, we have seen the development of a vast system of institutionalised political corruption most times emanating from the very top and permeating all strata of government with pervasive and debilitating destruction of the entire society. It is a fact of history that no nation can grow and enjoy steady development in all facets of its national endeavour without the enthronement and institutionalisation of selfless and good political leadership. This is so, because good governance is a sine-qua-non to qualitative development and growth. Perhaps, it is for this reason that the late Chinua Achebe, a world-renowned novelist said, the root cause of the Nigerian predicament should be laid squarely at the foot of bad leadership. “The trouble with Nigeria,” Achebe espoused, “is simply and squarely a failure of leadership… The Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to their responsibility, to the challenge of personal example, which is the hallmark of true leadership”.
Flowing from these, therefore, a leader is expected to demonstrate such qualities as, good character, vision, tact, prudence, and ability to lead by example. This is because people basically ascribe leadership to those who they feel can enable them achieve important objectives or goals. There is no doubt that the actions and inactions of the leadership class which has been managing the wealth and affairs of Nigeria since independence, has become a pitiable hindrance to the country’s socio-economic development. The challenge now is whether we have enough patriotic, sane and clean individuals left to pilot the affairs of this country and initiate the type of leadership that can extricate the country from the woods and take it to its envisioned Eldorado. Until this is achieved, the current crop of gangsters and cheats everywhere will continue to bestride the corridors of power at all levels with their ‘chop-I-chop’ attitude to governance. This way, they will continue to milk the country, stealing the common wealth of the people, as well as, deepening poverty in the society.