There is no need for us to continue to sing the song of bribery and corruption when not actual and honest efforts are being made to curtail them within the existing laws, which already cover the malpractices. A country is never run by rhetoric but by actions. How much efforts have we made to identify the major and minor areas where bribes may be demanded and given? How much efforts have we made to identify the likely people that may be involved in bribery and corruption? How many allegations of bribery and corruption are made against the private sector in the transactions among and between them? How much do we educate our people on the need to be law abiding, not to yield to the demand nor give bribe? How much do we educate our people on what to do or how to incriminate those who demand or give bribe, especially by leadership example?
Although one cannot ignore the factor of allegations of actual bribery and corruption today in our society; the more serious issues that are being misinterpreted as bribery and corruption are actually those of financial malpractices, misappropriation and embezzlement of public funds. While bribery and corruption are generally crimes of immorality; financial malpractices, misappropriation and embezzlement of public funds are criminal cases of theft. If a contract is awarded at an inflated price far and above the actual price or a certain amount of money is set aside for a particular job and the money is taken by one or a group of individuals without the job been done or if a significant part of the revenue of a public corporation end up in the pockets of a group of individuals, any of these is an outright criminal case of embezzlement of public funds. If public officers or the elected misuse or waste the public funds allocated to them, this is a criminal case of misappropriation. The cases of financial malpractices, misappropriation or embezzlement of public funds have very serious implication on the economy and society. They do lead to neglect of duties, lack of maintenance, replacement and eventually decay. We have seen these in our country. However, they can be stemmed by capable leadership, the use of the right management, adequate systems of control and accountability.
There is the view held today by outsiders, generally the advanced countries, that our country is wrapped in a web of bribery and corruption. It is an acceptable concept that one neither talks about himself nor washes his dirty linen in public. We exacerbate these issues by the way they are handled by our authority on one hand and the way we present and report them through our media on the other hand. Which of the advanced countries of the world today is actually an open society when it comes to bribery, corruption and malpractices? One thing is, they do not leave the misdemeanour unattended when they manifest and are found out. They always deal with them decisively and generally in camera. Should we talk too much, too loud, destroy confidence and do nothing to address the endemic financial malpractices in our country?
The question is; who is more at fault among the parties involved in bribery and corruption? Is it the person who takes or the person who seeks and then gives in order to get what he wants? Some people in positions of power or authority are difficult but only in disguise of waiting to be softened by a sweetener or a bribe without any sense of morality before discharging his duty. Here the person who seeks at any cost buys his way out without any sense of morality. The person who seeks sometimes tempts the person in a position of power to accept a sweetener or a bribe. This is particularly evident among the multi-national companies, foreign businesspersons, contractors or foreign Governments who scramble for business in our country.
As they seek for more and more businesses and because of the fierce competition among them, they pressurise, tempt and buy their ways out. The prolonged military dictatorship in our country may have exacerbated this issue and mode of bribery and corruption. All the foreign business persons, contractors, Governments and multi-national companies are prepared to give one kind of sweetener or bribe, even if they are not asked, in order to get what they wanted. Who is then the party responsible for today’s corrupt practices which advanced countries and their media used to blackmail our country and leader either to deny them what they want from the international community or for them to get what they want easily from our country?
Bribery and corruption in our country may be common mainly because of the level of education and law abidance. By level of education here I mean the level of awareness, rights and entitlement in society. Those in position of power are generally better educated. Those who seek are generally less educated. They are often desperate, not law abiding and believe that the only way out for them is to bride even if some of those in positions of power may not have demanded. When matters are between the educated, the question of bribery hardly arose. The educated often talk their way through while those in positions of power are often careful not to be trapped into bribery offences. In these circumstances they always discharge their duties honestly.
I do not here exonerate the educated from bribery and corruption but the incidence may be much less than those between the people in positions of power and the less educated who have not the confidence to challenge even when they are not willing to give bribes on demand. How many lawyers on dealing with each other or people in positions of power, elite versus elite bribe their way or tolerate the demand? If those who seek are law abiding, they have no reasons to bribe or to tolerate the demand by those in positions of power. Anyone who is law abiding will not be vulnerable to the demand for bribes, especially petty bribes. The demand and giving of bribes in society however depend on the level of education, law abidance and enforcement, awareness of rights, entitlement and civilisation.
The issues of bribery, corruption and financial malpractices are not today isolated to one country. They exist in every country. The differences in each country are their significance, commonality, triviality and the type of people involved. The West introduced bribery and corruption into Africa. But today you do not just give nor demand for bribe ordinarily in the advanced countries. In these countries the problems are first prevented by adequate systems of control, adequate and honest law enforcement and interpretation by the Courts. When the problems manifest, they are dealt with clinically. If the problems involve people in sensitive areas or financial institutions, they are sometimes dealt with in camera. But the issues are rarely brought into the open. This is to maintain confidence in their countries.
Our country must not submit to the propaganda or blackmail of the advanced countries on these issues which they also use generally to divert attention from their own homes, especially by those of them who tried but are unable to have a foothold in our country and in their desire to orchestrate insurgency to destabilise the country. Our problems should be ours. We must not accept the ways they unnecessarily vilified us nor been made to believe by them that our country is the only one infested by bribery and corruption. But we need to be careful as to the way we expose our country in this respect where the advanced countries would maintain a dignified silence and tackle such sensitive problems in camera. But a sincere Government with brave leadership should be able to wipe out bribery and corruption completely in society no matter those who are involved. There is no need to merely sing the chorus of intention to do something.
The example that all is not that well, as far as bribery, corruption and malpractices are concerned in the advanced countries is the classic case of the November 2000 presidential election in the United States of America where the election was not only rigged but the attendant miscarriage of justice on the matter. Were these cases of bribery, corruption or simply malpractices? Whatever outsiders thought about them, they never played the issues to the public gallery nor did their western brother countries and media made it an issue. They simply carried on matters normally as usual. Yet these are the people who claim to occupy high moral ground and impose themselves on us on matters of efficient and honest practices not least to monitor our affairs and elections. If such an open presidential election rigging and miscarriage of justice had happened in any of the less advanced countries what would have been their reaction and action? The quiet way the issue was handled was about maintaining confidence in their western countries. From this, are we to learn not to drum our countries into international irrelevance and learn to tackle sensitive issues quietly? But, if the advanced countries and their media try to play the tune dictated by our issues loudly on their own accord, while we are doing something serious to address the problems, we should be able to counter them especially through our media. Advanced countries are only loud when it is to their advantage.
Our people ought to have an unwritten code of conduct such as not to give brides or sweeteners even on demand whatever may be the competition to get rich at all costs. If those who seek are law abiding, refuse to give bribes, the person who is in a position of power and duty bound would have no alternative but to carry out his duty honestly. Some of the ways to prevent, reduce or stop all forms of bribery and corruption in our country are through the use of the right personnel, law enforcement, adequate systems of control, the policing of those who police, the Judges who interpret the laws and foremost by general education. The people should organise themselves in various forms at least to follow up the elected and Government of the day. We should not wait for things to go wrong before we start to shout and apportion blame. That is, deter before it happens. This is the frontline role for our news media.
As things are now, we still have the chance to clean up our country, remove the issues from triviality, the ordinary or made insignificance before they become difficult, organised, connected and covert as found in advanced countries. While every country takes steps to put her house in order, the West who exported bribery and corruption in the first place to Africa must cleanse themselves of the malpractice which is today organised, disguise, connected but out of triviality and the ordinary in their countries. It is not enough for them to continue to look for scapegoats among the leaderships of the less advanced countries that do not submit to their domination. After all, where do the ill-gotten gains from the less advanced countries end up?