DEEPER INTO CORRUPTION By late Professor Claude Ake

“ Mention corruption and we react with bored indifference. We have wallowed in corruption for what looks like an eternity and we appear to have reached a cozy accommodation with it. By all indications, we barely notice it and hardly ever resent it.
      And yet corruption is the bane of our society. It makes us poorer with each passing day; it divorces reward from effort, thereby depriving us of competitive efficiency. Corruption renders justice inaccessible especially for the poor and lowly among us. It constrains the development of a national identity by allowing private interests to override the common good and spreading distrust and disillusion. Pervasive corruption has made us unpatriotic and all but incapable of carrying through any serious collective enterprise including development. In our fiasco of a transition program, we have seen in clear relief, how corruption vitiates politics and undermines democracy. Now we watch with mounting anxiety as corruption threatens to turn the fiasco into an elemental tragedy. Internationally, our notoriety for corruption has turned our country into an object of contempt and hostility. To our dismay, Nigeria is virtually a pariah state.
    Clearly we have to break out of our easy accommodation with corruption and confront it. But to confront corruption effectively, we need to understand it. Corruption is a complicated problem. It is easy enough to be fixated on its symptoms, to miss its subtler and more pernicious expressions, its ubiquitous presence and the spread and depth of its injuriousness.
   More often than not, we think of corruption in its simple pecuniary forms: the office clerk who is induced to hide a file for N80; the prison keeper who takes N1,500 to assign an inmate to kitchen duties, the bank manager who takes 20 per cent of every loan. Even so, we tend to miss the significance of these simple forms of corruption. Why does the commissioner for works collect large payoffs to let contractors build road which are guaranteed to be unusable Does he really see this behavior as corrupt or is he relating to some principle of distributive justice which accepts public tenure as one’s legitimate turn to take a slice of national cake? What morality is this and how does it come into being? These questions show that the simplicity of pecuniary corruption is more apparent than real.
   In any case, pecuniary corruption, is only the most visible form of corruption. There are less visible forms and they are more insidious for instance: the seemingly innocuous deceptions we contrive in order to look better than we are; the betrayal of people who trust us; lack of courage to stand up for what is right, denial of the rights and prerogatives of those who are not “our kind,” taking advantage of the weak etc. What is it that gives unity to all these dispositions to warrant their designation as forms of corruption? And what is the relationship between them and pecuniary corruption? These questions encourage us to move beyond the act of corruption to the consciousness which underlines it, a consciousness which we may all call spiritual poverty.
   One manifestation of spiritual poverty in Nigeria is an apparent lack of commitment to any values or principles other than self-interest. It is not that we do not profess attachment to any belief or principle but rather that we surrender it all too easily in the face of an inconvenience or a gratification. Nor is it because we have no morality but rather that it does not appear to bind us. Our morality like our religion , is largely a badge of convenience.
   Nigeria has apparently succumbed to a primitive, pre-social morality, a morality of self-interest whose dynamic de-bases us continuously. For instance the powerful in our society have no qualms at all about talking whatever they need to indulge their greed and vanity, leaving the rest of us to suffer what we must. This has turned the history of governance in Nigeria into a chronicle of arrogance and exploitation.
The other side of this morality of self-interest is that we, the weak, have largely adopted sycophancy as our weapon for survival. Lacking self-esteem, and too different to believe in anything, we place the highest premium on submissiveness to the people in power and refuse to make any demands on them. Rather, we beg them constantly for our rights, our needs and our lives.
   As those who have power in our society act out their own corruption, they corrupt us too by reducing us to passive object of their will, by paying no heed whatever to our entitlement to human dignity and by debasing us.
   We, the weak in turn corrupt them by feeding their vanity and gratifying their lust for power. We corrupt them by making no demands on their responsibilities, and by granting them every indulgence. How do we break out of this vicious circle of degeneration?
   Right now it is threatening to break us, for it underlines the impending catastrophy which everyone is calling, rather euphemistically, the political impasse. Clearly, the political impasse emanates from a spiritual poverty which blinds us to everything except our self-interest, erodes the discipline we need to face up to our obligations and to uphold the principle which we espouse. By all indications it is spiritual poverty that makes our leaders so overbearing and many of us shamefully resigned to the violation of our rights and our integrity.
   While the crisis underscores our spiritual poverty and signals depressing prospect of  Zaireinizing Nigeria, it is also a singular opportunity. For it offers us a rare chance of taking democracy instead of merely receiving it –admittedly, no easy task against a belligerent dictatorship.
   This is the moment of truth, the time to concentrate our minds and reach into our innermost resources. History is upon us”.
 ** WRITTEN ON AUGUST 30, 1993 BY  LATE PROFESSOR CLAUDE AKE, FORMER DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR  ADVANCE SOCIAL SCIENCE, CASS, PORT HARCOURT, RIVER STATE, WHO WAS  MURDERED BY THE STATE ON THIS MONTH OF NOVEMBER 7, 1996 WHEN A BOEING 720 PLANE OPERATED BY ADC LINE THAT HE BOARDED WITH OTHER 141 PASSENGERS FROM PORT HARCOURT CRASHED INTO A LAGOON IN A MANGROVE JUNGLE 25 MILES NORTH-EAST OF LAGOS
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