By Johnson Ebigide
The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary of contemporary English Language defines corruption simply as ‘’dishonest or illegal behaviour, especially of people in authority’’. That is, corruption is using ones official power dishonestly and illegally for personal aggrandisement and undue advantage over others. When the law empowers an individual to make use of his statutory position for the welfare of the generality of the society, but he decides to turn around, using such entrusted power to defraud the society for his personal gains, such an individual is said to be corrupt.
However, one form of corrosive corruption that is ravaging the country is when a government establishment or institution uses the law establishing it to rip off members of the public in the name of revenue generation, and sometimes for the purpose of forceful protection of the interest of the citizens; unsolicited protection that keeps the protected economically depraved.
Laws, from the Mosaic days till date, are primarily made for the smooth coordination of human affairs and relationship in the society. Even the Orwellian animals knew the importance of law; although the more clever ones among them like some Nigerians saw to the falsification of the generally accepted laws made to safeguard their personal interest and livelihood against the welfare of the majority other animals.
Contemporary Nigeria is replete with many institutions applying the laws establishing them in a corrupt propensity so much so that but for the fearlessness and commitment of a few elite Nigerians in confronting them legally and frontally, the masses would have been suffering serious disadvantages in the name of enforcement. The Nigerian Police ‘’force’’, the Army, Customs, National Drug Laws Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), NAFDAC, EFCC, FRSC and other traffic regulatory establishments, Code of Conduct Bureau, National Pension Commission, INEC, and even the law making institutions, to mention just a few, are enmeshed in institutional corruption.
For example, some years ago, the Federal Road Safety Corps(FRSC), the statutory role of which is primarily to ensure safe monitoring on the highways felt that its role was not enormous enough and had gone ahead through the national law making organs for greater statutory strength to enforce the replacement of old vehicle plate numbers in the country. Desirable as that move could have been, if the new plate numbers were not simply a recodification and designing of same features of the old ones in a reversed mode, owners of such vehicles were to pay for fresh registration of their vehicles before their old plate numbers were to be replaced. But for the general outcry and the spirited effort of a Lagos-based lawyer, such a rip off would have been entrenched in the country. Again, it is said that the same FRSC is seeking approval to be carrying arms like other security agencies in the country. What are the arms for ? To shoot down any recalcitrant and uncooperative driver or what? Yet, the major function of the agency is to save lives on the highways !
Again, some years back, the National Pension Commission had published yet another horrifying threat to employers of labour, particularly concerning the civil service. The core message was that employers must deduct forcefully certain premium from the latter’s monthly salaries, adding in a note of finality that the troubled Contributory Pension scheme already on ground was incomplete without a new insurance scheme. To a cursory observer, the move was quite laudable, but a critical inward analysis of pension administration in the country had further sent the jitters down the spines of the already financially crawling civil servants in the country.
The fear of retirement days is becoming depressing for even the regular civil servants, who are still in service in the country. There have been reports of some pensioners dying owing to nonpayments of their pensions many years after retirement; there have been reports of some very elderly retired civil servants being subjected to very rigorous verification exercises after which nothing is forthcoming for years as pensions for them; reports abound of the failure of some state governments to remit the deducted percentage of money from the salaries of their workers as part of the latter’s contribution in the new pension scheme to their pension administrators, talk less of the contribution of such state governments, and it is still hazy as to whether retired civil servants are still entitled to the erstwhile bulk payment, called gratuity, upon retirement from active service. In the face of all these worrisome atmosphere and uncertainties, one wondered then why worsening the plight of workers, nay, civil servants, through a further depletion of their low income which is constantly being pummeled by rising inflation and cost of living ? That explains why the Nigerian Police and Army have forcefully but cleverly opted out of the new contributory pension scheme with its ambivalence connotations; knowing fully well that nothing good comes out of the house of Judah. Though, that obnoxious policy was dead on arrival, it was an index of institutional corruption.
Then comes the issue of the Code of Conduct Bureau. Declaring one’s assets to stem the tide of corrupt acquisition of such assets in the country is commendable, but surely not desirable for most civil servants whose salaries can barely feed their families. Besides, the exercise is quite stressful, particularly concerning the financial aspect. Why, for example, should a civil servant with a monthly salary of less than N18, 000 after several deductions and taxation be made to pay N1000 at the court of law before his or her asset declaration form is stamped officially?
Then came the ranging issue of National Identification Number (NIN) and its attendant hassles on Nigerians. Though, the implementation of the policy is becoming melodramatic with the unending shifting of the deadline for linkage to mobile network providers, it has thrown up several questions that are yet unanswered. Why is it that after buying a network SIM and registering same with all the personal details, including finger prints, one is further subjected to same registration with another agency of the Federal Government !? Could it be that the agency has no trust in the ability of the network providers to furnish it with all the details of subscribers to generate the needed NIN? What are the bank verification numbers (BVN), or driver licence codifications and many other avenues of getting personal details of Nigerians and residents in the country for ?
It is even becoming increasingly risible in the civil service. Why should an officer be subjected to a continuous authentication of his qualification for the job he or she is doing for years !? Could it be that at the point of entry into the service, he or she did not present documents that qualified him or her for the job and subsequently offered the employment?
There is a litany of other manipulative corrupt moves of some institutions in the country, all draining the meagre earnings of the civil servants. Is it the National Housing Funds to which every civil servant must subscribe every month throughout his working days to own a house, and yet has no easy access to the funds thereafter, or the defunct National Providence Funds (NPF) to which every worker was forced to part with N4.00 monthly, and yet not reimbursed after leaving employment of the company he or she worked before the late 1990s?
Corruption is also rife in the civil service as an institution in the use of official positions to victimise supposedly perceived rivals and radical subordinates. It is corruption of the highest order for a superior officer to subjugate any of his or her subordinates to constant intimidation, victimisation, unnecessary vexatious posting to drab offices and harbouring unrepentant propensity for profligacy and rapacity. The story has it of a military officer who got a subordinate detained in the barracks, just to make use of the short absence of the subordinate to seize his beautiful girl friend, who had strongly rebuffed the debauchery advances of the said morally corrupt officer.
The spate of institutional corruption is on the increase with so very many vexatious enactments that are infringing on the fundamental rights of Nigerians. Like the deadly traditional suffocating method of feeding babies with pap by closing the babies nostrils, turning his or her head slightly downwards and pouring the pap into the babies mouth in a torrential gush, while the baby is securely held, the advent of COVID-19 Pandemic has introduced yet another angle to forceful medication. Though, the move is to save lives, but when it becomes a do or die affair as being threatened in some quarters, then, the handshake has definitely gone beyond the desirable elbow.
It is against this backdrop, therefore, that efforts should be geared at all times and costs to put necessary monitoring mechanism (whistle blowing inclusive) in place, towards checkmating not only the excessive inclination of some institutions in the country to abuse the laws establishing them, but to ensure that the ultimate organs from which they derive their statutory mandates do not encourage corruption in the country through enactment of porous laws with yawning lacunas, through which the masses could be hoodwinked or arm twisted into forfeiting their fundamental rights.