When the footballer Edson Arantes de Nascimento alias Pele was 17, he had a World Cup gold medal to his name. Along the way, he had set a record as the youngest person to play in a World Cup final. At the same age, Nick D’Aloisio designed an application that was valued at $30 million by tech giant, Yahoo. At 17, I was learning a lesson about a societal ill. Interning at a publishing company in Lagos, a customer came in one day to pick up some books. As I wrote him his receipt, he made a plea to me to falsify the amount the books cost. Why did he do this? He wanted to keep the change from the money his boss had sent him with. Asking me to put a false sum on the receipt would have misled his boss on how much the books cost. I politely declined and reflected upon it with my Father at the end of the day. He wasn’t surprised. A week ago, I made acquaintance with a Cameroonian in transit in Madrid, he spoke of the Lagos airport being the one place in the world where workers and drug enforcement agency officers would openly ask or demand money in return for an accelerated walk through the Immigration process. He argued that it sent the wrong message to the world and I agreed with him. These episodes say something: Corruption in the different forms it takes is around us and we have become so desensitized to it that when we see it, we shrug and accept it as the way of the world.
According to Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, of the 20 most corrupt countries in the world, 10 are African. They are; Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Libya, Eritrea, Guinea Bissau, Angola, Burundi, Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of Congo. In my country, Nigeria one episode recently made me laugh. After shaking my head. One of the corruption watchdogs, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission which has failed to prosecute any significant public figure in the last 5 years had an ex leader with a reputation for being corrupt cover its official magazine towards the end of last year. It says a lot about the battle, or lack of it in challenging this ill that plagues us. It also highlights the flaws with the system: it lacks the bite to do what it really should do.
From a legal point of view, one suggestion will be that there’s a truly independent body tasked and equipped with the ability to fight and prosecute corruption. This way, they would be able to rise above being used as pawns for political revenge. The judiciary also have to take a degree of fearlessness in dealing with this plague as they especially have the final say in setting the tone for its punishment.
The Ghanaian intellectual, George Ayittey is hugely critical of the Mugabe generation of leaders describing them as the Hippo generation. His argument being that this generation who are synonymous with “corruption and complacency” have been guilty of reinforcing what he describes as “vampire states” with the ability to “suck the economic vitality out of the people”. He has a point. While it could be that he attempts to scapegoat this generation, it goes without saying that they have provided an atmosphere that has proved conducive for the corrupt. Some of the most corrupt regimes in history have occurred right under their watch. Naturally, this atmosphere has seeped through and it becomes a part of us. As such, it starts to become normal and we fail to see anything wrong. As a result, one way to go would be to declare a zero tolerance policy on corruption from the bottom upwards. This would involve prosecution of everyone found guilty of the offence of Corruption or intending to commit. The hope would be that this would lead to a collective bucking up of ideas and values. Also, it would act as a deterrent- that legal theory that seeks to control the rest of society by highlighting the consequences attached to the performance of a certain act in the bid that it would serve a preventive purpose. Doing this, it can be said that it keeps people in check through fear. This could also be taken up by Ayittey’s calls for a switch to the cheetah generation made up of a younger breed of Africans who believe in democracy, accountability and hold a no nonsense approach to Corruption.
I stand against corruption because I am of the belief that things should be based on merit and it stands tantamount to the principles of equity and natural justice. I stand against corruption because at the end of the day it serves no benefit to anyone. I stand against corruption because it reinforces a cycle of square pegs in round holes and runs the risk of perpetuating the wrong people in power. I stand against corruption because as Chinua Achebe’s No Longer at Ease teaches us, it has a way of catching up with us. I stand against corruption because it is the right thing.
You should too.
This essay came 3rd in the My Corruption Free Africa competition.