Okechukwu Emeh, Jr
To begin with, material wealth, or riches, is a protection against the deprivation, misery, shame and inhumanity of lack, poverty and squalor. When acquired in a fair and just manner by dint of hard work, effort, struggle, determination, entrepreneurship, talent or divine favour, it is a thing of glory and upliftment in the sight of God and right-thinking people. However, when wealth is achieved through foul or illegitimate means, it is bound to be a source or reproach, resentment, unease, crisis of conscience and tragedy to the person involved.
Today, Nigeria is evidently in an epochal war against corrupt enrichment through public office, as being spearheaded with courage and sheer determination by the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari. Reassuringly enough, many men and women of goodwill across Nigeria have risen beyond the confines of petty sectional sentiments by receiving the unsavoury development of calamity of evils spawned in the land by corruption, mismanagement and impunity on monumental scale perpetrated by some of those entrusted with our national patrimony in the recent past with disbelief, revulsion, indignation and condemnation. This is inevitable against a backdrop of startling revelations from the ongoing anti-corruption investigations into various public institutions in the country like the defence over the $2.1 billion arms deal.
It is not an overstatement that corruption is an ill wind that blows nobody any good considering its corrosive effects in society. Admittedly, the cancerous spread of this socio-economic cankerworm in Nigeria is one of the major reasons why the country, notwithstanding her abundant human and material resources, is a classic example of stunted growth and arrested development foisted by years of diversion of public funds badly needed for national transformation to private pockets through unwholesome practices like misappropriation, embezzlement, fraud and bribery. Such economic and financial malfeasances are also a key factor fuelling privation, deprivation and despondency among our hapless populace and the resultant discontent, desperation, crime and violence. Alongside this is the negative impact of endemic or rampant corruption on our external image, as frequently captured in our unimpressive ranking on global annual corruption index being conducted by renowned integrity rating bodies like Transparency International (TI).
Although public sector corruption is mainly linked with those in government because of their likely easy access to public purse, the ordinary people outside the system are complicit in one way or the other in the scandalous and shameful act. This could be viewed through their connivance by benefitting from the proceeds of corruption or giving moral support to corrupt deviants because of clannish, friendly or political affiliation. Think of a communal group that is wont to receive the appointment of one of their own into juicy public position with the razzmatazz of pomp and ceremony, thereby sending a wrong signal that the time for them to get their cut of national cake has come, which, alas, is an indirect inducement of such an official to embezzle public fund. Think of another group, in the form of rented crowd, whose members carry placards in a demonstration, defending one of their ethnic people when being accused of or arrested or tried for official corruption. And think of some of our masses who eulogise or celebrate a public official who stole millions of naira from the national coffers that would have gone into provision of infrastructure and social services merely because such an official usually gives them a pittance and they would claim that “yes Oga is a generous giver who drops something (cash) for the less privileged like us and so he must chop too, na his time”.
Of course, the aforementioned examples could vindicate the belief in certain philosophical quarters that people deserve the leaders they get. In this case, a people with a strong volition for lofty ideals would have a genuine leader who would reinforce their desire for a good society, while the reverse is the case for a populace with scant regard for moral values. Sadly, many people in Nigeria are oblivious of the side effects of the proceeds of corrupt enrichment by public officials they are part of the beneficiaries like privation and deprivation and the associated mass poverty, human degradation, rising rate of youth joblessness, lack or decrepitude of public amenities, crime and violence.
However, one wonders why a public official in Nigeria should betray solemn trust embodied by his or her position by stooping so low to steal from public treasury – a treasury meant for general good. Untoward factors like narcissistic individualism, selfishness, greed, avarice, personal aggrandisement, societal pressure, ungodliness, inhumanity, unawareness and consummate lack of moral values cannot be divorced from such proclivity with corrupt enrichment by certain officials to the advantage of the overall well-being of our society. In the face of these factors, it is undeniable that the proceeds of corrupt enrichment are part of what the wise King Solomon of the ancient Israel described in the Holy Bible as vanity, and vanity upon vanity, according to him, all is vanity. Although wealth cushions against lack, its paradox is found in the ineluctable fact that sometimes it is either impermanent or it does not guarantee true happiness or inner peace (the peace of God), especially when wrongly acquired. Besides, the illusory of identification with material things is laid bare in the proximity of death, with the whole idea of possession stands revealed as ultimately meaningless. Of course, this is where the issue of vanity of material wealth arises, in marked contrast with the enduring nature of sterling and captivating values like spirituality, morality and sense of humanity, which make those who exude them to lead a meaningful and fulfilled life.
In most cases, those who hanker after material wealth through dubious means are victims of vacuous existence. In fact, there is a spiritual and moral emptiness in the lifestyle of such people, which inform their palpable sense of angst, ennui, fear, desperation, disquiet, restlessness, boredom, anxiety, dissatisfaction, insecurity and, sometimes, suicidal inclination. Much often than not, they try to sublimate these unhealthy tendencies with insane and rapacious quest for more wealth, forgetting that the source of all abundance is not outside us but is part of who we are as human beings. No doubt, such quest and the attendant pleasures of life usually make them to meet their nemesis. And bearing in mind the inevitability of Karmic justice or law of cause and consequence, those involve in corrupt enrichment often get their comeuppance or just deserts precipitated by public curses through criminal justice or misfortunes like life crisis, terminal ill-health and tragedy.
A case against corrupt enrichment through public office is, therefore, buoyed by the evils it represents in society. One, it is driven by unbridled ego, which is hell-bent on survival and protecting and enlarging itself and reinforcing it are thought patterns like “I want”, “I need”, “I must have” and “not yet enough for me”. Two, corrupt enrichment is a criminal breach of public trust because it is a wicked and shameless plunder of limited public resources, which has long-term adverse effects in a polity like privation and deprivation through mass impoverishment, chronic unemployment and neglect of infrastructure and social services and the by-products of public discontent, crime, violence and insecurity. Three, it is propelled by reckless private interest characteristics like greed, selfishness and exploitation – as against the lofty principle of public spirit, which the underlying philosophy is promotion of the greatest happiness of the greatest number of people in society. Four, corrupt enrichment is at the core of primitive accumulation of wealth, which is not only an assault on values of contentment, moderation, self-control, perseverance, trust, honour, dignity and self-worth, but has also made the physical needs for basic necessities of life like food, shelter and clothing for ordinary citizens that could be easily met to appear insuperably difficult because of the imbalance of resources caused by the pursuit of more wealth by corrupt officials with grim and ruthless determination. Five, it is an accentuation of strong attachment to mammonism or chief preoccupation with money, wealth or profit, which the Scriptures say the love of it is the root of all evils, unlike spirituality, morality and sense of humanity that suppose to be the true ends of man in order to build a better society. Six, as part of the materialist values, corrupt enrichment tends to destroy human roots (including relationship) and tarnish integrity based on its nature to turn desire for gain into a sole motive. Seven, it dwarfs the prospects for inclusive economic growth and even and sustainable development, alas laying the foundations for deprivation, inequality and injustice and the resultant class conflict in society. Eight, corrupt enrichment promotes profligacy given that proceeds from such despicable acts are unearned income because they are devoid of diligence and entrepreneurship. Nine, it erodes public confidence in government and its institutions by casting asterisk on the integrity of some of those entrusted with public office because of the credibility gap thrown up by their negation of public trust through acts that are shorn of clean hands. And ten, corrupt enrichment tends to dent the corporate image or reputation of a country through distrust, suspicion, resentment and humiliation it brings to its leadership and people, unlike righteousness, which the Bible says exalts a nation.
In view of the foregoing, corrupt enrichment should now be seen as one of the greatest social evils of our time that should be frontally attacked with every sinew of our strength as a people. Apart from the laudable efforts by the present administration in Nigeria to wrestle this public enemy number one to the ground through various anti-corruption investigative bodies (EFCC, ICPC, CCB, etc) and accountability initiatives like the Treasury Single Account (TSA), there is also an urgent need for a fundamental change in attitudes and behaviour in the country. This would require Nigerians to rise to the challenge by finding meaning and fulfilment in spirituality, morality and sense of humanity rather than materialist values that often find vent in economic and financial crimes like corruption, fraud and bribery. In this regard, the inordinate craving to get rich by many of our populace needs a serious rethinking. For one, this is considering the Law of Attraction of Homogenous Species by Stephen Lampe, in his book Building Future Societies (1994), which states that a people who desire material progress at all costs and have no regard for moral principles would have a leader who holds similar views and who would be willing to exploit and plunder them. For another, the primary purpose of our life cannot be found on the outer level like the acquisitive and self-centred goals or what we do but on what we are, which is the basis for true success in life. That is why all Nigerians, irrespective of affiliations, should close ranks and give the much-needed wholehearted support to the ongoing anti-graft campaign by the Buhari administration for emergence of a new Nigeria where public awareness about the evils of corrupt enrichment and crass materialism in general will be the beginning of our national self-rediscovery and healing through manifestation of transparency, honesty and accountability in all our undertakings.
To top it all, the time has come in the country for public and national shaming of public officials who debase public standards and responsibilities and pursue self-enrichment to the point of national detriment. For one reason, shame, according to Yorick Blumenfeld, in his award-winning book Towards the Millennium: Optimistic Visions for Change (1997), is one of the factors that have preserved certain values through the centuries by reminding us of our inescapable human limitations. As he put it: “…to do something wrong and not feel shame is testimony to bad character”. As an integral part of the emotional social conscience that could become a focal point of our modern-day ethos, shame, therefore, arises in part from the failure of the individual to live up to an internalised example. This is the main reason why naming and shaming of unscrupulous public officials cannot be underscored in the current war against corrupt enrichment in Nigeria.
- Emeh, a social researcher, wrote in from Abuja. Tel: 08036895746, email@example.com