Friday Sermon: Chronicles of Corruption 1

By Babatunde Jose

There are many culprits for this pandemic of rabid puppies that is about to swamp the entire nation and infect the international community in the process.

They include a dysfunctional and kleptocratic political class, a thieving bureaucracy, a disoriented traditional institution, a disordered military profession, a paralysed police force, an alienated and enfeebled citizenry and a corrupt and corrupting spiritual merchant class that preaches the virtue of prosperity without commensurate hard work – Tatalo Alamu

Corruption and crime are endemic sociological occurrences which appear with regular frequency in virtually all countries on a global scale in varying degree and proportion. Individual nations each allocate domestic resources for the control and regulation of corruption and crime. Strategies to counter corruption are often summarized under the umbrella term anti-corruption.

Corruption is a form of dishonesty or criminal offense undertaken by a person or organization entrusted with a position of authority, to acquire illicit benefit or abuse power for one’s private gain. Political corruption occurs when an office-holder or other governmental employee acts in an official capacity for personal gain. Corruption is most commonplace in kleptocracies, oligarchies, narco-states and mafia states.

Corruption is fast becoming a culture in Nigeria and in other parts of the world as well. After all, what is culture, if not the way of life of a people? Corruption is a global evil that has defied human intelligibility in its social context. As an anti-social behavior and a plague that has eaten deep into the entire fabric of the Nigerian society, it confers undue benefits on few people contrary to legal and moral norms of the society. Prior to its contagious and incurable infection, it undermines authorities’ effort to provide welfare for all citizens as the resources to do this are in the hands or at the reach of few of the populace.

People no longer frown or feel ashamed to engage in corrupt practices! Chuachua is now acceptable as a way of life and it is now a Pandemic.

The ongoing corruption scandals in the country, is a game changer in our chronicles of corruption.  It not only spells doom for this country but calls for serious reflection on the sin of kleptomania that promises to bring this country to its knees.

Obasanjo as reported by Afolabi (Afolabi, Gabriel K, “Contextual perceptions of corruption in contemporary Nigeria, (Conflict and Strategic studies, School of Management and Social Science: Babcock University Press Ltd 2007) enumerated the “various forms of corruption to include fee fraud (known as 419), money laundering, unconventional and fraudulent trade practices, misappropriation or diversion of funds, kick backs, under and over invoicing, bribery, false declarations, abuse of office, and collection of illegal tolls.” However, he conveniently failed to add the conversion of Beachland Estate as corruption or the massive donations by government contractors to his Presidential Library Project as a form of corruption; neither did he remember to add the interest of a serving President in Transcorp as corruption; and his Bell University.

The late sage, Obafemi Awolowo said “The pursuit of wealth is not a bad thing in itself because without the food and comforts which wealth provides, life will be penurious and drab. But always remember that any wealth accumulated on a selfish basis, at the expense of the State in defiance of social justice helps to create a disorganized society in which everybody will eat everybody and no one person can be safe”.

It is becoming increasingly clear that it is a sin and unpatriotic for anyone to remain honest under this condition!  How do you want to explain your condition of poverty and impoverishment to your children and children’s children? What would you tell them you were doing or where you were when their friend’s Parents were looting the commonwealth. Where were you when the Police and the staff of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) shared N3.14 billion as palliatives for the COVID-19 pandemic? Were they resurrecting their dead colleagues who had died of Coronavirus? No wonder someone said we are ‘fantastically corrupt’.

Islam enjoins Muslims to play a proactive role in anti-corruption campaign. It is seen as a veritable amal (right moral action); an act of great social benefit that elevates the standing of the ummah and the country.

Fighting bribery (rashwah) and corruption (fasad) is an integral part of the teachings of the Quran and Hadith. The Quran prohibits “devouring/misappropriation of the property of others” see Quran 4:29 and 2:188, which is a broad concept that subsumes such other offences as fraud, hoarding, theft, and gambling. The text also condemns those in authority who spread corruption and mischief among people, bestowing favors on some and oppressing others (Quran 28:4 and 89:10-12).

The scope of rashwah is extended to financial transactions between members of the public and government officials, which are manifestly favorable to the latter. In this way sale, lease, hire, and partnership that are so concluded fall under corruption.

The second caliph, Umar al-Khattab, expropriated the properties some of his officials had accumulated due to favors they had received. The assets in question surrendered to the public treasury. This was done to prominent figures, including the governors of Bahrain, Egypt, Mecca, Kufah and Sham. The practice was later institutionalized under the Abbasid Caliph, Jaafar al-Mansure, when a department was established for handling expropriation matters, involving government officials, merchants, contractors and others, who worked or conducted business with the government and accumulated disproportionate amounts of wealth.

Because of the numerous forms it can take, corruption escapes the idea of a comprehensive definition. It knows no boundaries, applies to rich and poor, to individuals and communities, and tends to have a cultural dimension. Whereas conduct, such as officials demanding bribes, is considered corrupt in virtually all societies, attitudes vary to gift-giving and cronyism between countries and cultures.

In a section of their book; The Islamic Attack on Corruption, Zafar Iqbal and Mervyn Lewis wrote: “On the moral plane, there is zero tolerance for bribery in Islam, and Islam rejects the idea that bribery serves as ‘the grease that oils the economic wheels’.” We are of the view that the evolution of corruption, especially of the political variety in our country is rooted in the first generation political leadership:  A leadership that found itself in position of control of resources which hitherto was under the colonial authorities. However, it was fueled by greed, avariciousness, insecurity of financial future and inordinate self aggrandizement; opportunistic and crass abuse of positions and also ostentatious lifestyle, customs, and people’s attitudes. Another root cause is tribalism: Friends and kinsmen seeking favor from officials can impose strains on the ethical disposition of the official as these kinsmen see government officials as holding avenues for their personal survival and gain.

Azikiwe was the first major political figure investigated for questionable practices. In 1954 when Zik became Premier of Eastern Region he used his new power to transfer government funds into the African Continental: African Continental Bank had been founded by Zik himself. Although he had resigned as a director upon becoming Premier, he and an organization called Zik Enterprises Ltd. still held 28,000 shares in it. A few months after the transfer of government funds, some of the bank’s directors (who include Zik’s father and cousin) quietly agreed to make Zik lifetime chairman of the board.

These novel banking practices aroused no public comment until when Zik fired an old crony from a cushy government job. The old crony, E. R. Eyo, was both an ex-convict and a member of the Eastern Region’s House of Assembly. Out for vengeance, Eyo rose in the House to blurt out about the government funds in Zik’s bank. The Speaker of the House ruled him out of order on a technicality. But, British Governor Sir Clement Pleass was not so easily silenced and asked for a commission of inquiry.

Lennox-Boyd the Colonial Secretary ordered a commission to investigate Zik’s relations with African Continental Bank. The report delivered a verdict that most of the paid-up capital of the African Continental Bank was from the Eastern Regional Financial Corporation. Hmmmmm!

Political corruption is therefore not a novel practice in this clime except that it has now developed its own evolutionary trend and it is becoming increasingly clear that if we do not destroy it, it will destroy this nation.

Barka Juma’at and happy weekend


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