The fact that Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa, or that it is one of the largest producers of the preferred crude oil in the world is not in doubt.
It is equally not contentious that Nigeria is blessed with rich human, natural and financial resources, good climate and vast stretch of sea for fishing and maritime trade, or that it parades some of the best sportsmen and women in the world.
What is in doubt however is the sincerity of our leaders to accept the fact that bribery and corruption are the bane of our society and until recently, insecurity which has allowed terrorism in the guise of Boko Haram (our own equivalent of Al-Qaeda) to imprison us and send fear waves and jitters across especially the northern parts of the country. Gallop Polls place Nigeria in shameful and unenviable position in the corruption index scale far below some African countries in their ratings.
Pick any Nigerian newspaper or listen to discussions on the TV and you will be amazed that there is always a losing, not winning battle over corruption, bomb blast or senseless shooting (murder) of innocent citizens on motorcycle. All we hear (a now familiar swan song), is that the security agencies are on top of the situation, not the other way round, or that government will prosecute offenders.
While returning from a workshop on Anti-corruption and Good Governance in the US, I picked a foreign newspaper while in transit at the Schipol International Airport, Netherland, and a whole column was on the subject of corruption, citing Kenya and Nigeria where the reporter experienced the "wetin you carry" and "settle-me", syndrome. Are these ugly trend not on the highways (check points) or entry points and offices today?
The spate of startling revelations in the public hearings on pension, aviation, oil industry, fuel subsidy probes and financial institutions (SEC), education and also health sectors where billions of naira earmarked for improved education, infrastructural provisions for accreditation of medical schools, as well as take-off grant of an American Hospital in Abuja, have not helped matters. The power sector and transportation (Railways) are still crawling with more noise and less achievement. The road constructions or rehabilitation have improved, but appear to be slowing down either waiting for the rains to stop or bringing their completion nearer to re-election campaign period.
However we are not alone in this mess, except that elsewhere, the culprits are made to face the law regardless of one's status as there are no "sacred cows". How many ministers or governors (except James Ibori) have actually ended up in jail? Yet, people are indicted and because of their status and connections (either as party faithfuls, and financiers'), government looks the other way. Not too long ago, the World Bank was engulfed in scandal as well as the World (FIFA). Some overseas governments had their own taste of scandal. Some parliamentary institutions including the US Congress among others, where Members of Congress have been sanctioned for wrongdoing, are also examples.
It would be unpatriotic to say that Nigeria is the only country labeled as corrupt, but my concern is our image and reputation in the eyes of the rest of the world. Could this have been wholly or partly responsible for our failed World Bank presidency bid, apart from power play?
Where and when did we go wrong since the oil boom of the 70s, (now turned oil (doom)? Perhaps the solution may be our misconception of what corruption is and the failure of our leaders and lawmakers to combat it. I recall the 70s as a civil servant when we had to fill and sign the Oath of Allegiance and Oath of Office Declaration on assumption of duty. It would appear that it is only lawmakers that make such declaration (at least on paper) before being sworn in as members. There is need to reintroduce it for public officers.
Still on the misconstrued definition, corruption is the use (misuse) of public officers position to advantage, or fund for private gains, including receiving gratification or inflating, or not executing contracts. Hence, people seek letters from legislators, emir, or traditional rulers before consideration for employment or placement in educational institutions of choice, or even promotion. Perhaps, our public educational institutions can be managed to compete favourably with, or, at par with their privately-owned counterparts, so that our graduates and the institutions in Nigeria can earn global recognition and acceptance.
Another form of corruption is citing big projects or institutions where it will benefit a few, for political reasons to gain chieftaincy or traditional title rewards. Obtaining licence to establish private universities or big factories (while in office) and not industries to benefit the local community, or imposing money bags or favoured candidates to win elections. Such products of election "by selection" end up desperately recouping their "investment" by putting self first.
There is therefore the need to address these issues decisively and with sincerity of purpose so that Nigerians can stand tall anywhere.
James Adesida, KSM, J.P is of the Church of the Assumption, Asokoro, Abuja