FEATURE ARTICLE

Ntayi BandawaMonday, March 10, 2014
anfanibandawa@yahoo.com
Abuja, Nigeria

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THE PANACEA TO CORRUPTION IN AFRICA

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here is no gainsaying that corruption is a canker worm that has eaten deep into the flesh of many nations of the world. It is a cancer which is intricately woven into the fabrics of the African society as it cuts across political, economic, social, and other spheres of life, affecting the old and young; male and female. As a matter of fact, it is best described as a major reason for the backward ness and under-development of the African continent as it undermines effective governance, and resources meant for national development are siphoned and embezzled. Considering the pace at which corruption thrives in the African continent, it will be safe to posit that the menace is attractive and thus, profitable. It has found a fertile soil on which it escalates with little or no encumbrance. Simply put, it pays to be corrupt in this part of the world that is why many people are queuing into this trend. To this end, this discourse aims at analysing how corruption can be eradicated in Africa.

Corruption has been defined by the World Bank (1997) world Development Report as “the abuse of public office for private gains. Public office is abused for private gain when an official accepts, solicits, or extorts a bribe. It is also abused when private agents actively offer bribes to circumvent public policies and processes for competitive advantage and profit. Public offices can also be abused for personal benefit even if no bribery occurs through patronage and nepotism, the theft of state assets or the diversion of state revenue.”

In every country where corruption flourishes, these devastating effects abounds: few are unjustly enriched at the expense of the majority thereby giving rise to poverty; respect for rule of law is discarded and political instability is imminent; depletion of national wealth, social inequality which may give rise to unhealthy competition; reduction in the level of productivity and quality of goods and services; reduction in the level of foreign investment, bad international image, among others.

Corruption can be eradicated in Africa when it is made unattractive. This can take two broad ways, viz: formal and informal.

FORMAL:

This is when Government through its institutions and agencies is involved in combating the pandemic of corruption, thus making it unattractive. This may take several forms which include:
Transparency and accountability
Good reward system
International collaboration
Cashless economy
Political will
I shall discuss these points one after the other.

TRANSPARENCY AND ACCOUNTABILITY: Most African countries operate a system of Government where little emphasis is made on transparency. This explains why a man would be living a modest or average life before assuming political office, but at the time of relinquishing such political office, his standard of living would have drastically accelerated. Government funds are being embezzled by the day and no one truly cares as to how expenditure goes on. Even when it comes to budget allocation, budgets are so vague that it gives room for embezzlement.

Therefore, when a government is run transparently, and the officials are required to account as to how every fund budgeted is received and spent, and there is a body charged with the responsibility of making a fiscal transparency assessment and the results published, then corruption can be made unattractive.

On another note, there is also little emphasis on public office holders to declare their assets, and this gives them the impetus to acquire more wealth through fraudulent means. So, when there is a periodic obligation on their part to declare their assets and that of their immediate families (as some of them acquire wealth in the name of their wives and children), then they will be scared to be corrupt, as it makes them vulnerable to being caught.

GOOD REWARD SYSTEM: It would be unfair for us to deny that our continent is bedevilled by poverty. The implication of this is that people seek to make a living at all cost, not only for themselves, but for their dependants. Therefore, government work offers an opportunity for these people to be sustained and have their means of livelihood. There is an aphorism from my part of the world that “where one works, that is where he eats”. To this end, in a situation where the lawful income one receives at the end of the month is so meagre that it can hardly cater for the month’s needs, or it is not paid on time, most people will believe they have to devise a means for the augmentation of their income, which will make them indulge in corrupt practices.

In the light of the foregoing, when reasonable salaries and allowances are paid as at when due, it will ensure that those people who are corrupt on the basis of sustaining themselves, will desist from it. So also, those coming up will not indulge in it.

In a similar vein, we should build a society where honesty, integrity and dedication to duty are sufficiently rewarded, as this also will make corruption unattractive.

INTERNATIONAL COLLABORATION: Most African leaders after embezzling huge government funds kept it somewhere else, enabled by systems of poor regulation that allows abuse by those looking for ways to profit. The UK’s commission for Africa estimates that the assets stolen from the continent and held in foreign bank accounts amount to 93 billion dollars. For instance, Nigeria’s military dictator, Gen. Sani Abatcha, was believed to have stolen between 5-6 Billion Dollars and invested most of it in the Western world. Also, a former Governor of Plateau State in Nigeria, Joshua Dariye, was found by London Metropolitan police to operate 25 bank accounts in London alone. And like many of his counterparts, he used front agents to penetrate western real estate markets where he purchased choice and expensive properties.

In essence, corruption can be made unattractive in Africa when these countries where funds are transferred join hands with the local Anti- corruption agencies of the African countries concerned, to intimate them of any transaction or investment above a certain amount. Again, assistance from United Nations, United States, and agencies like FBI, Financial Action Task Force, and Department of Justice will help in setting up and nurturing the Anti corruption agencies within Africa.

So also, some of these corrupt public officials usually relocate to Western countries anytime they are wanted in their countries for any corrupt practice. Therefore, international collaboration in tackling this menace will ensure that they are repatriated back to their countries.

CASHLESS ECONOMY: A cashless economy is one in which the purchase of goods and services and the payment of debts and remittances are done through electronic money media, either through credit and debit cards, direct transfers from one account to another, smart cards, mobile payment systems, and other technologies. It is a fact that we are yet to imbibe the cashless culture in most African countries, and the use of physical paper cash is non-traceable, unaccountable, easy to hide or lose, steal, counterfeit, and spend without a trace. Bribes are often facilitated through cash inside envelopes and sacks.

To this end, when the cashless culture is made part of our economy, the giving of bribes and other corrupt practices will drastically reduce; and any transfer for such purpose can easily be monitored by agencies concerned, thus making corruption unattractive.

POLITICAL WILL: Virtually every Government when assuming power in most African countries, never fail to mention corruption as a possible set back, thus making it part of its agenda. However, history has revealed that corruption is left at the same state or even worse at the time a government is leaving the corridors of powers. This therefore shows that the political will in fighting corruption is lacking, and the rule of law is promoted only by lip service. There may be agencies in place, but if the Government of the day at the top is not ready to support and promote the fight as a moral and political force, then enforcement will be so difficult a task.

A strong political will capable of making corruption unattractive in Africa ensures:

Anti-corruption agencies fight corruption without impunity: there need to be established an agency or agencies where the members of the commission will be drawn from men of good repute, renowned/proven integrity, fearless, and of uncommon excellence; as one cannot fight corruption when one is corrupt.

In another vein, most corrupt officials are either the caucus in government, or the ones hobnobbing with the Government. Hence, there should be no ‘sacred cows’ in the fight against corruption. When some public officials are given the notion that even when they are corrupt they can always get away with it, many will venture into being corrupt. Therefore, a strong political will ensures that there is no impunity in the fight.

Again, the issue of immunity from facing criminal charges for certain public servants appears to be a setback in the fight against corruption, as “the iron is best struck when it is hot”.

Also, the anti-corruption agencies should be sufficiently independent in carrying out their responsibilities devoid of any interference from any angle, most especially by the government of the day.

Amendment of laws: some of our laws actually encourage corruption, as they are archaic and out of touch with reality. Even when they punish corruption, the punishment is not substantial and one is ready to undertake as far as the public purse will be shifted to one’s pocket. There was a time in Nigeria when John Yusufu stole billions of pension money. Though he was convicted, but he was given a token of money to pay as fine. Most people then in the country concluded that it pays to be corrupt.

Therefore, to make corruption unattractive in Africa, stiffer penalties (not necessarily death sentence) should be put in place, and stolen properties/assets confiscated.

Judicial reform: the judicial arm of a Government is responsible for adjudicating as to the guilt or innocence of a person. The long duration in which a trial is conducted raises doubt as to the efficacy of its outcome, as there is a tendency for the result to be distorted. Besides, it is often said that justice delayed is justice denied. In the circumstance, if there are reasons for members of the public to foresee that the judiciary is capable of declaring innocence in the presence of guilt, it will attract people to corruption.

Judges must be men who are “honourable” indeed. Justice S. O. Uwaifo, a retired justice of the Nigerian Supreme Court once said that “a corrupt judge is more harmful to the society than a man who runs amok with a dagger in a crowded street, while the man with the dagger can be restrained physically, a corrupt judge deliberately destroys the foundation of society and cause incalculable distress to individuals through abusing his office, while still being referred to as honourable”. So if the judiciary is sanitized, justice and rule of law will no doubt be upheld. To this end, I subscribe to the view that if a special court is established with the aim of handling corruption cases, it will ensure speedy trial.

INFORMAL

This is the collaborative effort from the members of the society in making corruption unattractive. The African society indisputably plays a crucial role when it comes to the issue of corruption. Robert K. Merton once stated that “corruption is at times a motivated behaviour responding to social pressures to violate the norms, so as to meet the set goals and objectives of a social system”. Since the African society directly or indirectly encourages corruption, it can proffer means through which corruption can be made unattractive.

First, our value system has been lost and downtrodden so much so that matters of honour, integrity, and honesty are waning, and consequently of little importance- as what matters most now is wealth. In other words, greater emphasis is accorded to wealthy men regardless of the means by which the wealth is acquired. Chieftaincy and other titles are now exclusive reserves of men who can purchase it, regardless of their reputation. In its extreme, one who has no money, no longer has a say, and thus, men are forced to steal public funds so they can be accorded that respect in their community. In fact, someone who looted from public treasury is no longer seen as a criminal since government fund is seen as no man’s money.

To this end, if we can retrace our steps to those days where respect and dignity are virtues given to men of character, not wealth, then there will be little need for Africans to crave for riches at all cost, and thus, corruption will be made unattractive.

Second, there is the scenario created when someone assumes a public office. In many instances, the society tends to place many and unnecessary demands, more than the person’s source of income. As such, the person begins to steal public funds in order to meet those demands. For example, instances may arise whereby his extended family would expect such a person to pay school fees for their children and possibly feed them; his relatives would request money for business and the like; his church or mosque will send him invitation for one launching after another; his university would want to confer him with a doctorate degree; his community would await him to singlehandedly construct the drainage on their street; his sick father or mother in-law would expect him to pay the hospital bills, and so many other responsibilities. Failure on his part to meet any of these demands will label him as a tight-fisted (stingy) human being, and in some instances, be stereotyped as a wicked person.

In the circumstance, if the society must succeed in making corruption unattractive, then all these unnecessary demands must have to stop, so that a public official can concentrate on a work before him, knowing that his basic task is to serve his country instead of maneuvering ways in order to satisfy some insatiable demands.

Another feature of our society that I must not fail to mention, which encourages corruption is the disparity between the rich and the poor. For instance, a rich man lives an ostentatious and extravagant life, to the envy of the poor man. This he could do by driving flashy cars, building mansions, wearing gold ornaments and other expensive clothes. The poor man on the other hand, hardly cares as to whether the money spent by the rich man is his lawful earnings or not. And so, the moment he finds himself in a public office, instead of seeing such office as an avenue to serve, he sees it as an opportunity to strive and be like that rich man. How best and fast can this be achieved, if not by resorting to foul means? So to make corruption unattractive, modesty must be introduced and practiced by all men in the society, so that nobody will engage in any unhealthy competition in an attempt to live like anybody.

In a nutshell, to make corruption unattractive in Africa by this informal means discussed above requires a radical change of attitude towards corruption. By this, the whole society should frown at it, and anyone hobnobbing with the societal cancer. This change of attitude can best be achieved by enlightenment and sensitization campaigns where the society will learn that corruption is no friend of progress and meaningful development.

In conclusion, it suffices to say that Africa is devastated by the inhumane activities of the few saddled with the responsibility of pioneering its affairs, that years after independence, it has little or nothing to show. The future holds nothing less than gloom if the societal cancer is allowed to spread unchecked, as it is presently responsible for as many deaths as HIV/AIDS disease in the region. Therefore, for corruption to be made unattractive in Africa is a necessity if Africa must move forward and take its rightful place among other continents of the world. Furthermore, the task of making corruption unattractive is one that is not only the responsibility of Government alone, but a collective effort that involves the governed as well.

Bandawa is a public affairs commentator based in Abuja

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