The Metamorphosis of Corruption

Dan Agbese


By Dan Agbese  |

Phone: 08055001912 (sms only)


I KNOW it is getting messier and messier but still, I am intrigued by the metamorphosis of corruption in our country. On January 15, 1966, when he and the other four majors staged the bloody coup that changed the political, economic and social architecture of our country, Major Chukwuma Nzeogwu gave us a simple definition of the corrupt: he was the ten percenter.

His crime, in the patriotic feeling of the young majors, was that as a ten percenter, he made Nigeria look big for nothing. The young officers thought that was not nice. We had everything to lose and nothing to gain from allowing some people to make our country look big for nothing. The patriotic solution was disarmingly simple: get rid of the ten percenters and our country would look big for something.

I am sad to report to Nzeogwu, wherever he may be, heaven, purgatory or hell, that we are still in the thick of the battle. All right, there are no ten percenters any more. The metamorphosis of corruption has dramatically changed its face and its architecture too. We no longer talk of corruption in niggling per centage terms. The sons and daughters of the ten percenters have since come of age and taken things to greater heights and become enormously powerful and influential. Protected by something called impunity, they have proved impregnable. Human history has no evidence that taking someone’s hand out of the cookie jar is a piece of cake.

In its metamorphosis, corruption has laundered its own image. In the days of the ten percenters corruption was a crime. Those who sought to profit by it were furtive about it. But it is now an open indulgence; an article of faith, no less, in the conspicuous game of venality in which cheating the system and the people is the new definition of smart. In the times before corruption successfully sold itself as a struggle between the smart and the dumb, family name and honour mattered. Now, thanks to the metamorphosis of corruption, almost every family is prepared to sell its honour for a plate of eba and egusi soup. No one fears being tarred and feathered with the proceeds of corrupt practices any more. And let us be fair: affluence trumps poverty any day. If it takes corruption to move from Ajegunle to Banana Island in Lagos, it is the Lord’s doing, simplicita. No one need be told that family honour, however well protected, does not put choice food or wine or cognac on the table or give you state of the art jeeps and saloon cars and private jets. The well-heeled have cornered corruption and in their hands, it has become a reserved indulgence for the big men and women.

Corruption has become our way of life – as if you did not know. That is a great and fundamental leap from being a cankerworm. As we now know, corruption re-invented itself in the Jonathan presidency. It became a benevolent act. Slush funds took care of the president’s men and women – politicians, journalists, traditional rulers, the so-called men and women of God, military and police personnel and all those who needed papa’s helping hand. Corruption used to be the cynical theft of our common wealth. In that administration it became a benevolent act of generosity on the part of the father of the nation.

You see, corruption is a truly troublesome problem. See how long our successive rulers have been laying the cane across its back; from when it was about ten per cent to its present level of reputation. You see the effect of this flogging on the pages of our daily and weekly newspapers. Three-quarters of our newspaper stories deal with who steals where and how much. You would think corruption was wired into our DNA as a nation. Corruption is the longest running subject of public ire and discourse in our country. Problem is that it is one problem that is unwilling to allow our leaders get rid of it.

No one now appears to remember that before EFCC and other anti-graft bodies, there was a law against corruption. Its elegant title was Corrupt Practices Decree, 1975. Its short hand name was Decree 38. It is now lost among the welter of military legislations. The law prescribed stiff penalties for those who gave or took bribes.

I found two things about the law quite remarkable. The first is that the law had teeth, fangs even, but because it chose not to sink them into bribe givers and bribe takers, you might conclude that it was a toothless Alsatian dog. Maybe. The second point is that the law legitimised our traditional system of saying thank you to those who do us some favours. Under Decree 38, there was nothing wrong with taking kegs of palm wine, goats or sheep or bush meat and a little something for the wife to take care of the house to those who want us to chop too. The law called this traditional kolanuts. The framers of the did not seem to know that corruption was a child of this traditional system of oiling the palms before and greasing them after.

At each stage of its metamorphosis, corruption has presented us with its laundered image. We still know it as an evil to be fought and defeated and leave our country squeaky clean. Millions of people who voted for President Muhammadu Buhari last year believed he has the courage and the moral integrity to stop corruption. The new sheriff in town recognises the moral burden he bears as a leader and as a Nigerian. He has taken on the fight, as indeed, we expected him to.

We have reached the cross roads. This is our last chance to give corruption one-way ticket to hell. We want to see the metamorphosis of our country from corrupt to incorruptible. It would be nice for Nigerians to have the feel of what it means to live in a country relatively free of corruption.

Corruption is fighting right back as usual through ethnic interests and jingoism. Anyone who genuinely wants to clean up the country has to butt his head against the worst excesses in ethnic jingoism. I thought by now, we the people, would agree that corruption is not a social or political means for protecting or advancing ethnic interests. Those who freely help themselves to our common purse do not do so because they are Hausa/Fulani, Igbo, Yoruba or heck, Idoma. They do not steal on behalf of their tribes. They steal because they are bad people. Members of their tribes ought to worry that they are giving them a bad name. Instead, they hail them as victimised heroes.

I find it amazing that tribal interests compel people to rise in defence of thieves who happen to be their tribesmen and women. This is much sadder than you thought. It is shameful. It is the usual and calculated attempt to sabotage the war against corruption. Those who look for federal character in the anti-corruption war are themselves evil. The bald truth is this: if through acts of sabotage among the vocal minority, we undermine the war now going on much better than ever before and corruption defeats Buhari, it defeats all Nigerians. It would be our shame; our disgrace.

—  Jan 19, 2016 @ 15:20 GMT


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