Saturday, 8 December 2007

UN International Anti-Corruption Day - My take

Joining the clamour

I was invited by Omodudu to contribute to the United Nations International Anti-Corruption Day initiative run by the Nigerian Lighthouse for the 9th of December 2007.

We all have grand ideas of how we can fight corruption but I wonder if we are really addressing the issue as clearly as we can.

My contribution was simple and appears below and it was posted to NigerianLighthouse@gmail.com, this might be a bit altruistic but I do think that is where we have to deal with the matter, a return to the core traditional virtues of principled stances and that would be difficult.

Corruption - Your NO counts

Corruption – Your NO Counts.

Did we have a time when people were principled, honest, content, fair, just and true lovers of humanity? That is where we have to return to, then stop respecting people of dubious means and strengthen our anti-corruption agencies to take them on and win.

When I watched Sorious Samura’s Living with Corruption earlier today and I have viewed it twice and it still makes compelling viewing – the showing times for Europe, Middle East and Africa appear below:

Central European Time (GMT/UTC +1)

Saturday 08/12/2007 20:00

Sunday 09/12/2007 07:00 20:00

Expediency forces compliance

The problem with corruption and how it permeates the fabric of society is almost intractable, it is easy to see high-level corruption involves people in power and international firms or organisations in cahoots in terms of contracts, money laundering, developmental aid, health and education, but there is another level that was so well reported by Sorious Samura.

It is expediency, people are coerced into submitting to the machinations of corruption because their needs trump the hurdles they have to cross to meet that need.

What is my passport doing in her pocket?

For example, when I was leaving Nigeria almost 2 decades ago, the immigration official – a pregnant lady – at the exit point took my passport and as she leafed through the pages asked what I had brought for her – I told her I was completely skint and she pocketed my passport.

What is my passport doing in her pocket? I was going to make that a topic of blogging against corruption and it might well become one soon.

There is no reason or procedure that allows for my passport to go into anyone’s pocket but mine, I also had a situation to hand, I had a flight to catch and was being confronted with a serious abuse of power and a corrupt official.

It took the quiet words of my travelling partner to placate the woman and there probably was an exchange of money before my passport was released. I was incensed but helpless because I could not control that situation, it is doubtful there was anyone in authority I could relate that matter to without having more problems.

It would have been nice to walk away from that situation but this is the problem, we have a need that trumps the hurdles, that expediency means we have to yield to the corrupt elements in our society to get on or suffer loss of time, more money and possibly liberty too.

Low-level corruption

In the programme, Living with corruption we saw where the man needed a job to feed his family that he had to part with two-thirds of his pay to the gateman and the foreman before he could be assured of a job.

The baby in the family was ill, that placed great pressure on the means within the family, and money that should have gone to providing for food was taken by the receptionist and janitor of the clinic before they could gain access to see the doctor for treatment.

The boy was sent back from school because he could not pay the tip required by the teacher – this was not the school fees – it was to meet some need of the teacher who also must have had problems getting paid because officials down the line have misappropriated the salaries and require bribes to release the funds.

Pupils being threatened with failure not because of poor academic ability but because they have not paid a bribe; mediocre pupils who in cases of teens pay up buying leaked examination papers placing a greater pressure on those who are naturally gifted but cannot compete with corrupt kids who already know the answers before the examination.

If education is as important as many now see it is, rather than upset the applecart the parents pay up for their children not to be left on the wayside of a future that we all hope is promising.

Public transport drivers have to ply a certain route that is infested with policeman leeches who even after having their pay doubled had settled into the impunity of charging a flat fee bribe; the driver had to pay or will get imprisoned and end up paying double that.

Some drivers work the whole day but no one cares that some days they end up with nothing to take home to feed their families – impunity breeds impunity and there is no recourse for fairness and justice because this corrupt chain flows up the line to the top.

Corruption fighting back

A friend narrated a tale where he had to invigilate his fellow students during which time one of them tried to reach for his books to check the answers. When my friend refused, he was accused of being wicked, unreasonable and probably a few other unprintable names.

That is one of the problems we have with fighting corruption, a snippet of Nuhu Ribadu shown as a trailer to fighting corruption contained an enlightening statement – “When you fight corruption, corruption fights back”.

May I say it fights back like a wounded lion – like when Sorious challenged a Kenyan minister for taking away the people’s land; the minister accused Sorious of having an agenda.

In Nigeria, the situation is sometimes quite benign, everyone finds a refuge in religion and God – once people call upon the name of God and swear by any revered religious tome they can find many accusers backing off. Interestingly, not many can stand on their honesty, principles or integrity, they need backing because, they, in and of themselves have no such virtue.

Others would use their ill-gotten means to menace their accusers with unscrupulous lawyers and slanted judicial systems – it explains why anti-corruption agencies get bogged down in Kenya, Sierra-Leone and Nigeria.

Starting the fight

The issue here is – where does the little man go to report the unjust, the unfair, the corrupt and the tyrant?

If there is no power that can indict, arrest, sanction and punish the corrupt there is no way the war on corruption can begin to gain traction.

Where there is such a power, the little man also has to be able to gain access to that authority and be able to seek redress that does not get caught up in red-tape.

Dealing with expediency issues are a bit difficult when looking at the examples above, if a child is to be fed or treated in hospital one cannot risk a principled stance and forfeit the life of the child.

We need some social scientists to address these matters and hopefully intimate us with the psychology needed to help the little man whose only hope of escaping poverty is having all that rightfully belongs to him given to him and not pilfered off by every vested-interest-corrupt petty tyrant that lines the way to his home such that he ends up with nothing.

Can we win against corruption? We probably can, but it would not be easy at all.

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