By Evaristus Bassey
With the Gestapo-like invasion of Judges’ residences, including Supreme Court justices, perhaps a modicum of fear would run through highly placed public office holders. For indeed corruption in the judiciary became the norm rather than the exception. The focus on corruption seemed to be on those who occupied executive offices and sometimes on the institutions of the National Assembly; it has taken the action of the DSS, an aberration as it is, to turn our attention more on the judiciary. While this action could help to cleanse the judiciary at the federal level, ordinary people in the states who have to deal with magistrates, would still remain at their mercy.
Magistrate courts are easily the most corrupt courts in the country, and trading in cases is as open as any business transaction. Magistrates tell you upfront that they have seen the merits of the case and ordinarily it should lie in your favour; and if you give so and so amount, the judgment would surely be in your favour. You are left with the stark realization that if you don’t raise the money, no matter how fool proof your case is, it would go to your accuser. So a new form of justice is collecting money from both sides and then awarding the case to whom it should favour. There is no conversation if the parties do not pay. The party that loses still had to pay because the judgment could be more stringent otherwise.
The entire practice eats into our transactional culture of gratification; for our people hardly understand that, except you are very poor and cannot afford it at all, such services should be rendered without extra compensation. This transactional culture of gratification extends wherever there is service to be rendered. A lecturer in most Nigerian universities would not read your thesis without your regularly stopping by to make an ‘offering’ to this temporary god of your future. S/he knows you need the certificate, s/he is paid a salary, and it is part of her work; but you must pay in kind and in cash in order to facilitate the supervision! The alternative is to double or triple your years in school. And nothing is worse than all these lecturers who had all their degrees in one institution and have no exposure to other institutions.
The most terrible places are the federal ministries, departments and agencies. A simple transaction that should take a week could take several months if you do not go around to ‘see’ those who should move one file from one desk to the other. Civil servants are the shame of Nigeria. They mock the change agenda of Mr. President. You could be given a 5% waiver for an imported item, but if you ‘see’ those concerned, they could turn it into a 100% waiver and pocket what you negotiate with them; and so government continues to lose revenue. If you are owing tax for many years, it could be commuted for you and the civil servant pockets a hefty sum while the government goes away with pittance. Perhaps government should really look at the emoluments of civil servants, especially those who work in such sectors that generate funds. But it seems to me that these sharp practices have become so endemic, that stopping them would amount to shaving off the skin.
I think initially, with the new government, things were really slow in ministries because business people didn’t know what the new regime would be like. Someone remarked to me that during Jonathan’s time you knew what to do and things moved smoothly, meaning that it was understood that the way to do business was just to give the bribe and move on; but that in Buhari’s time you weren’t sure of what to do, so civil servants simply kept files unattended to or took forever doing so. But I guess, gradually it has become business as usual, and perhaps with higher stakes, except for high level officials. While EFCC is doing a good job putting fear in the hearts of highly placed public officials, ICPC should concentrate on mid-level officials, who are actually the nerve wire of any government. ICPC helped to stop the corruption at our airports through sting operations. There should be more sting operations especially in ministries that issue waivers, in customs, in federal in-land revenue services etc. The ICPC approach is quite sustainable so far, because its preventive strategies have the potential of a dynamo effect; and ICPC is doing quite a lot that is not in the public space as news. Nigerians would want to hear more about ICPC because not everyone has the patience to go to the website.
As it is, the tendency towards corruption seems to be part of our culture, because our cultures believe in appreciating effort. But culture is not static. While encouraging the positive elements, we should learn the discomfort of simply saying thank you without acceding to the temptation of ‘dropping something’.
Those who are leaders should teach others on limiting expectation; for culturally we seem to have quite unrealistic expectations of others. It springs from our strong sense of solidarity manifested in our extended family systems. A distant cousin for instance expects you to see him through university, and afterwards to settle him into a job or provide funds for a business.
These are all good if the means are at one’s disposal. But perhaps if as Nigerians we learn to limit the expectations we have of people who occupy any office, it might reduce certain pressures on them. Unfortunately, sometimes, even as church, we place a high burden on people, and in trying to live up to those expectations, they tinker and tweak processes and expected results.
The recession is helping many Nigerians to live according to their means. It would be great if our responsible anti-corruption agencies helped our mid-level officials to join these throngs of Nigerians who are learning to adapt to the times.
Bassey is a Catholic priest and works at the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria
Source: Trending news today