It will not necessarily be a swift generalisation to suggest that corruption is the largest industry in Nigeria. Data from the World Bank suggests that the corruption industry in the world is worth $1 trillion. Coming closer home, the African Union stated that corruption costs African countries $148 billion every year, which represents 25 percent of the continent’s GDP. During his testimony to the US House of Representatives on May 19, 2009, the former chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Malam Nuhu Ribadu, told the US Congress: “Between 1960 and 1999, Nigerian officials had stolen or wasted more than $440 billion. That is six times the Marshall Plan, the total sum needed to rebuild a devastated Europe in the aftermath of the Second World War”.
Following this statement was another one on May 25, 2009 by General Muhammadu Buhari in an interview with the BBC Hausa Service where he mentioned that between 1999 to 2009 Nigeria made more money from oil proceeds than it had generated between 1914 when the country was amalgamated to 2009. Yet there is nothing to show on ground that matches those figures. The data that one could not lay his hands on is, how much of the one trillion dollars generated from corruption the world over, is Nigeria contributing annually?
This entire amount was generated before the world came to know about the probe conducted by the House of Representatives committee under the chairmanship of Farouk Lawan which found that about £12.6 billion or at least N2 trillion vanished from the so called fuel subsidy. Added to that was the new allegation that the committee chair who led the investigation was promised $3 million bribe, of which $620,000 had already been collected.
Corruption is an old business. The word itself originated from the Latin word ‘currumpere’, and it entered the English dictionary in the fourteenth century. Its original meaning refers to a state in which a substance is completely dissolved, spoilt or disintegrated. This meaning was then applied to the human behaviour in which there is loss in the integrity of the individual in discharging public responsibility.
In the modern age, as discussed by some of the leading theorists in the study of corruption such as John Thompson, James Lull and Stephen Hinerman, the corrupt behaviour of public officials in using public office for private gain leads to what is called scandal. Although newspapers have made the word into a cliché in describing certain aspects of corruption, it will be important to make a clear distinction between corruption and scandal. This will help us to understand the current state of confusion about the stories that dominated the pages of Nigerian newspapers involving Farouk Lawan.
According to John Thompson, “If corrupt activities remain hidden from the view of others, if they are consigned to a shadowy existence in a world that is shielded from public scrutiny, then they will not and cannot become the focus of scandal. A scandal can arise if and only if the veil of secrecy is lifted and the corrupt activities become known to others or become the focus of public investigation”.
In this case the allegation made against Farouk Lawan by Femi Otedola has qualified to be called a scandal, even if the amount allegedly collected is just one dollar, because what is important is unveiling the shadowy nature and the secrecy of the deal. The moral outrage from members of the public, as well as the mediation of the story in the media, qualifies it to be a scandal. Some cases of scandal require thorough investigation and the involvement of law enforcement agencies.
But an additional dimension to the story about the Lawan bribery allegation is its tendency to divert attention from the scandal that gave birth to it. That is the House Committee Report which indicted some ‘untouchable’ individuals in Nigeria. Both cases of abuse of public office whether directly by those in position of authority or by their proxies parading as businessmen are abominable. But the Machiavellian tactics employed by Nigerian politicians on issues as important as these allegations will only sink the country further into political turmoil.
An important aspect of investigating corruption scandals is the consequence that follows such behaviour. Richard Nixon lost his office for getting involved in corrupt activities. The growth of the corruption industry in Nigeria in recent months, coupled with the state of insecurity, causes a lot of concern. When you combine these two evils together, you begin to wonder whether those in the position of authority are interested in having a geographical location called Nigeria.