A former Chinese Justice Minister, Fu Zhenghua, was sentenced to death for bribery involving 117milion Yuan (approximately, $16 million). Nigeria should borrow a leaf from China in the fight against corruption. Like in China, voraciously corrupt government officials should be sentenced to death; and executed by a firing squad. The level of corruption in Nigeria defies the English lexicon. To continue to call the present form of corruption in Nigeria corruption is comparable to referring to armed robbery as burglary.
Before the advent of military rule, Nigerians were relatively law-abiding and the society was orderly. For the most part, the police maintained law and order with no guns, with just batons. There were thieves, mostly pickpockets and burglars, but virtually, no armed robbers. It all changed after the civil war. With the proliferation of guns in private hands, and teeming unemployed young men, many of them ex-soldiers, armed robbery became a major problem. Armed robbery is an exceptionally violent and brutal form of stealing that could neither be compared, nor equated, to burglary and pickpocket. Laudably, the Gowon administration made relevant laws to deal with this atrocious menace. It set up special tribunals to try armed robbers and sentence them to death by firing squad.
Nigeria is a corrupt country, and for historical reasons, will remain so for the foreseeable future. Despite our supposed abhorrence for corruption, and strident opposition to it, Nigerians have a soft spot for corruption. Due to the cultural shocks of colonialism, we expect that government and corporate employees, justifiably, should exploit “Olu Oyibo” (civil service/political appointment), and make some money off it. “Olu Oyibo” – which literally translates to the Whiteman’s job, is the Igbo name for the civil service and corporate employment. This is because it was the colonials that introduced modern government, corporate organizations and professions to us.
Nigerians were cynical of the colonialists – a foreign power, primarily motivated by the furtherance of the pretensions of the British Empire and not the well-being of the native peoples – and their newfangled, and sometimes, exploitative institutions. Consequently, they neither trusted nor committed to these institutions wholeheartedly. During this time, certain habits and mindset became ingrained; for example, the attitude that only the dim-witted will unreservedly labor for the government without exploiting it for personal gains. There is a Yoruba adage that says that, “It is only the dim-witted that are totally committed to the Whiteman’s job.”The colonials are gone but the cynicism towards the government and its institutions persists.
Secondly, Nigeria remains an artificial sovereignty – an agglomeration of cultures, languages and ethnic groups roped together – purposely to advance the colonial interests of a colonial power. Until Nigerian is welded into a nation by a redefinition of the object of Nigerian nationhood, and by giving Nigerians a unified sense of purpose, she remains vulnerable to the plagues of artificial sovereignties, like civic indifference and, its doppelganger, corruption. Therefore, the fight against corruption in Nigeria will, at the very best, reduce corruption to a manageable level; it cannot eradicate it.
It is important to note that there are contrasting differences between the corruption of the past and the present. In the early days of Nigerian independence, corrupt politicians and public officials misappropriated about 5 per cent of funds earmarked for public projects, and the notoriously, incorrigibly corrupt, amongst them, were accused of stealing 10 percent. That was corruption. The disappearance of $20billion from government coffers; stealing, sharing and salting away of $2billion, slated for the war against terror, into private accounts; padding of the budget by up to N40billion; defrauding the government of more than 84billion naira by the accountant-general; and other similar instances of outrageous financial brigand are not just corruption.
For want of words, I will call it piratical depredation: the looting and tearing down of a country by buccaneering deviants. Just, as armed robbery is not burglary, piratical depredation is not corruption. Just as armed robbery demanded a different set of laws, and a special tribunal, piratical depredation demands new laws and a special tribunal.
The new law should borrow a leaf from China. China executes those convicted for corrupt activities involving more than 3 million Yuan, that is, $463,000.00 (about N232 million naira). The income per capita in China is higher than that of Nigeria. Adjusting for the differences in income per capita between the two countries, the threshold for such executions in Nigeria should be about fifty million naira (N50, 000, 000.00). It is obvious that many Nigerians will object to this proposed borrowing of some aspects of the penal code of a dictatorship by a democracy. However, there is no text book democracy in practice anywhere in the world.
Different countries of the world have had to adapt their democracies to their peculiar needs and circumstances. For example, Britain is a democracy and a monarchy. The adaptation of her democracy to her cultural and historical peculiarities demanded an amalgam of antithetical political institutions. The exigencies of the war against corruption demand the adjustment of Nigerian democracy to the Nigerian reality, even if it means appropriating some cachets of authoritarianism.
The statutes establishing these tribunals should discourage the legal tomfoolery of pettifoggers given to lying for a pittance that suffuse the Nigerian legal profession. It should make it very hard for them to frustrate the prosecutorial process with their lawyerly sophistry and quibble. This will enable swift trials and conviction, and those convicted for corrupt activities exceeding fifty million naira (N50, 000, 000.00) will be sentenced to death, and executed, like armed robbers, by firing squad.
*Tochukwu Ezukanma writes from Lagos, Nigeria
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