The corruption of public office holders in Nigeria is an issue most reasonable Nigerians agree has to be addressed before the country can move forward. However, a former governor of Sokoto State Attahiru Bafarawa has flipped the script and suggested that it is the corruption of Nigerians that forces those in public office into corruption.
Bafarawa said in an interview: “Today, corruption has become a general thing as you can see that 90 per cent of Nigerians are corrupt, because when you go to the grassroots level, corruption starts from there. The electorate will demand money before voting a candidate, no matter how good such is or the ideology she has. All that the voter wants is how much the candidate is ready to give. Then he who is going for the election will first look for money, whether he borrowed from the bank or his godfather will sponsor him is immaterial.
“That is the beginning of corruption, from the grassroots to the local government level, state level to national level. The electorate are corrupt; the politicians are either corrupt or forced to be corrupt because when they get to the office they are elected for, their first concern is how to pay the money back. They cannot get this money without the collaboration of the civil servants, because governors do not write the memo or raise the voucher.
“The civil servants will collaborate in bringing out the money and then you can see how corruption spreads all over.”
He added: “In Nigeria, it is common to see someone that never had the means of owning a building get to the office of the local government chairman and leaves as the owner of the best mansion in the area.
“Also, someone who never had a little building when he became governor, leaves office with houses in almost every city in Nigeria and abroad.
“Yet, the society would not probe to find how he got the money to own the buildings he got while in office. Unless people realize that it is their money that got the person in power those property. Because of the laxity of the people, some others that come to power later have the same mindset of stealing and leaving without questions asked. Whenever Nigerians start asking questions on accountability from leaders, then things would change for good and the trend of corruption will come to an end. So, these are the things people see happening but take them as the norm. Today, Nigerians take politics as where to make easy money, therefore, everybody jumps out from professional services and training to join politics and get their share of the easy money.”
Some of what Bafarawa said is true, these include, the requirement to provide the electorate with “stomach infrastructure” during (s)elections, the importance of money in order to be (s)elected, the electorate being unable to hold (s)elected officials to account and the absence of critical questions about the sources of politicians’ wealth.
The last point was also highlighted in some of the reaction on social media over pictures of the huge country home of Chris Ngige, the Minister for Labour and a former governor and senator.
Those are the conditions that have made politics a source for “easy money” in Nigeria as Bafarawa said. What he failed to address why it is so. A popular saying in Nigeria is “na condition make crayfish bend”. You can’t point at the bent shape of the crayfish without looking at the conditions that made it so.
Human Rights Watch in a 2007 report ‘Criminal Politics: Violence, “Godfathers” and Corruption in Nigeria’ stated that “the conduct of many public officials and government institutions is so pervasively marked by violence and corruption as to more resemble criminal activity than democratic governance”.
The majority of Nigerians have to operate in the criminal environment created by the Nigerian ruling elite. It is such jungle-like conditions, in which there is precious little governance to take care of the most basic of human needs, that create the climate for and entrench the behaviours that Bafarawa was describing. Corrupt politicians flood the society with guns and weapons to turn (s)elections into warfare. A few years ago, a market in Sokoto sold out of machetes just before a (s)election. The corruption of the rulers means little is provided in terms of basic services to the people, there is little hope of employment for many young people, who then provide an irregular army of thugs for electoral violence. It is a vicious circle.
The Nigerian Constitution in Chapter 2 Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy states:
16(1) The State shall, within the context of the ideals and objectives for which provisions are made in this Constitution:
(a) harness the resources of the nation and promote national prosperity and an efficient, a dynamic and self-reliant economy;
(b) control the national economy in such manner as to secure the maximum welfare, freedom and happiness of every citizen on the basis of social justice and equality or status and opportunity;
(2) The State shall direct its policy towards ensuring:
(a) the promotion of a planned and balanced economic development;
(b) that the material resources of the nation are harnessed and distributed as best as possible to serve the common good;
(c) that the economic system is not operated in such a manner as to permit the concentration of wealth or the means of production and exchange in the hands of few individuals or of a group; and
(d) That suitable and adequate shelter, suitable and adequate food, reasonable national minimum living wage, old age care and pensions, and unemployment, sick benefits and welfare of the disabled are provided for all citizens.
Those “fundamental objectives” in the constitution have been roundly ignored by (s)elected officials in Nigeria since 1999. Many have looted much of the public funds that would have provided for the majority, and have ensured that wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few. This concentration of wealth in the hands of a few and the impoverishment of many, clearly a violation of the Constitution, is a fundamental impediment to the growth of true democracy and create the conditions for Nigerians to be bent like crayfish.
Bafarawa makes a good point about Nigerians seeing politics as a means to “easy money”. This echoes historian Bala Usman who wrote: “For, without a clear cut separation between public service and the private acquisition of wealth and the exercise of political power to establish the primacy of the public interest of all citizens, over and above everything else, as clearly provided for, in the Constitution, any attempt to fight corruption is largely cosmetic”.
The absence of this separation makes politics a “do or die” affair and those that “do” go in with little interest in upholding the Constitution. And by failing in their constitutional obligations, they create the conditions that bend the backs of Nigerian voters.