Over the past few years, corruption has become a topic of increased interest and debate within Nigerian society. Nigeria’s independent media and other commentators worldwide are constantly assessing the government's efforts to address corruption. This public discourse is a critical element in any anticorruption effort and is essential in raising public awareness of the issues associated with corruption in Nigeria.
 
In a democratic society, the public's tolerance, or more significantly, intolerance, of corrupt practices determines the success of any anticorruption campaign. In established democracies, elected officials react to the public's intolerance of corruption by initiating investigations and/or enacting legislation that results in reform. Consequently, we hope, the continued public debate and publicity occurring within Nigeria on corruption will result in the public becoming less tolerant of corrupt practices.

The history of corruption is as old as the world, because ancient civilizations have traces of widespread ‘illegality and corruption.’ (Dike, 2003). Thus, Lipset and Lenz, 2000 noted that "corruption has been ubiquitous in complex societies from ancient Egypt, Israel, Rome, and Greece down to the present." Corruption is also believed to be endemic in modern governments and it is not peculiar to any continent, region, or ethnic group. This does not, however, mean that the incidence and magnitude of corrupt activities are the same in every society. Some countries are obviously more corrupt; yet others have better plans in managing corrupt activities. Obviously, Nigeria is not one of those countries with a better handle on corruption, despite its unending corruption commissions and all the noise made by every administration on the efforts to transform the nation into a corruption-free society (Dike, 2003).

Therefore this article is written with a view to adopt a new approach - managing the challenges posed by corruption in the Nigerian society, rather than acting to punish incidents. This is a sort of proactive prevention in the first place, containing it to a manageable level. Corruption in Nigerian society has eaten deep into the fabric, and is perpetrated not only by those who govern, but also by the governed. Management should therefore be a combination of sincere prevention measures and tough remedial measures. These should be unconditional. (Zero-tolerance comes to mind here).

Corruption is a complex and adaptive phenomenon that affects many aspects of society and has plagued societies from the beginning of time. It is difficult to define, understand, and control. Because of the complexities associated with corruption and the differing perceptions individuals have of the phenomenon; it is not easy to define a realistic anticorruption goal.

•    Is it realistic to strive for the total elimination of corruption in any society?
•    Can a corruption-free society actually exist?

Although a number of societies may have reduced corruption to relatively low levels, none has created a utopian society where corruption does not exist.

Today, corruption in its various forms and manifestations is prevalent in all societies, even the most advanced Western democracies. Transparency International's Annual Corruption Perception Index does not reveal any country receiving a "perfect 10" or "zero corruption" in the annual country corruption environment rankings.

•    Rather than creating unrealistic public expectations suggesting that corruption can be eliminated, would it not be preferable to educate the public to the reality that corruption cannot be eliminated but can be effectively managed?

•    Can realistic goals and milestones be established within various components of society, specifically government bureaucracies, to effectively manage corruption?

•    Perhaps either knowingly or unknowing, this is what is occurring in many modern societies in which corruption is a relatively minor social problem. If so, can an effective corruption management strategy be developed and implemented in Nigeria? 

•    What should be the focus of an effective corruption management strategy?

As a Food Hygiene and Safety trainer, I always enjoy teaching Pest Control to my students, and hence came up with what I call the “Vermin Allegory” or figure of speech. The vermin allegory can provide some guidance in developing an effective anti-corruption strategy. When mice, rodents or other vermin infest a building, there are two distinct strategy options available to combat the infestation.

One is a "detection strategy" that attempts to catch the vermin, most likely one at time. The other is a strategy that cleans up the environment to make it unattractive to vermin. In fact, the most effective vermin control strategy includes both prevention and detection components. Pests like vermin, need several favourable or conducive conditions before they can infest a building: they need warmth; they need food; they need a dirty environment; they also need some form of encouragement from the building’s owner. Take all these favourable conditions away from them, and they will not be able to infest the building, or if they do, they will not multiply.

The vermin allegory can be used to develop and educate the public about a national corruption management strategy. Its application could result in the government establishing realistic goals and milestones, and, most importantly, specific strategies to address corruption throughout all the arms of government, the public sector and the public in Nigeria. Although applicable to a national corruption strategy, the methods described by the vermin allegory might be better applied to address corruption within individual Nigeria government bureaucracies. It would mark a new direction if Nigerian government bureaucracies openly conveyed their own anticorruption, or integrity strategy, to their employees and the public. Perhaps this should be one of the initial milestones of the Nigerian government's overall anticorruption strategy.

As in the vermin allegory, any anticorruption strategy should encompass both detection and prevention components. Since they are more tangible, detection components of an anticorruption strategy are easier to develop and implement. Investigations, prosecutions, convictions, and sanctions for corruption-related offenses as well as a mechanism for the public to report incidence of alleged corruption are the most common anticorruption strategy detection components.

Although the uniform application and effectiveness of these components might be subject to debate, Nigeria has already implemented a number of anticorruption detection components. The high profile corruption investigations and public reporting mechanism initiated by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) called the Anti Corruption Revolution (ANCOR) project, as well as the conviction and sentencing of a number of high-profile officials highlight anticorruption detection on a national level.

Due to an absence of communication and the lack of transparency at both political and bureaucratic levels, it is difficult to assess what, if anything, various Nigerian arms of government and organizations are doing to detect corruption. Similar to
what should occur on a national level, bureaucracies should establish mechanisms for employees and the public to report alleged corruption. This reporting mechanism should be structured so that nothing can be hidden and be supported by an independent investigation that would determine if the allegations can be substantiated. The government organization's management should also lead in a way that encourages managers and supervisors to detect and report illicit activities.

In contrast, corruption prevention actions are far less tangible and far more difficult to implement and assess. However, as reflected by the vermin allegory, the proactive prevention components of corruption management strategy are significantly more important than those focused on detection. Realistically, it is certainly more cost effective to expend resources to prevent corruption than to incur the financial, social and political costs associated with corruption. Additionally, once corruption has permeated an environment or society such as ours, there can be no assurance that any type of detection efforts will be successful in eradicating it. Unfortunately, in most anticorruption campaigns or efforts, detection is usually overemphasized at the cost of prevention.

When addressing the issue of corruption, politicians and senior government bureaucrats tend to emphasize reactive detection methods. At the national level, detection activities are important in demonstrating political will and gaining public confidence in the government's anticorruption efforts. Detection activities are also critical at the bureaucratic level in demonstrating management's intolerance for corruption. However, detection methods alone will never be sufficient to effectively manage corruption.

On a national level, a corruption prevention strategy should focus on enhancing the public's awareness of the social, economic and political costs associated with corruption. Public, politicians and senior government officials should be taught that the purpose of government is to “serve civil society, not exploit it”. These educational efforts should diminish the public's tolerance of many corrupt practices that are currently viewed as acceptable. Additional, national public education efforts may cause the various agencies within government to be more concerned about their public image. Government educational efforts, possibly in partnership with social organizations, should also focus on educating the younger generation on the evils of corruption as well as acceptable and non-acceptable standards of public behaviour.

To prevent corruption, bureaucracies/civil service should do everything possible to recruit individuals of high moral character and do everything possible to ensure that the honest employees that are hired remain honest throughout their careers, and this could be achieved by commensurate reward. The same conditions should be applied to political candidates for all elective positions. Since prior conduct is the best predictor of future behaviour, a comprehensive background investigation process would help ensure that new employees or potential political candidates are of good moral character. Establishing and enforcing agency codes of conduct and instituting integrity-related training programs, including enhancing critical thinking and situational planning, are also necessary to prevent corruption.

In addition, government systems and processes should be modernized and streamlined to minimize rent seeking opportunities. Although the fear of punishment is seldom sufficient to deter habitual bad behaviour, the various governments should establish and consistently apply penalties that reflect the consequences of violating the agency's code of conduct.

Supervisors and managers within the bureaucracy should also be held responsible and accountable for any misconduct by their employees. There is no reason, for example, why all the states and local governments in the country should not have their own independent anti-corruption agencies which will work very closely with the national agencies like the EFCC, ICPC and the Code of Conduct Tribunals.

In all sincerity, Nigeria, since the new democratic dispensation began in 1999, has made noticeable progress in its ongoing anticorruption campaign, although many Nigerians believe the anti-corruption campaign under President Yar ‘Adua has floundered, what with the on-going political somersaulting, double-speaks, subterfuges and face-volte in the country, it does not look like the Yar ‘Adua administration would be anything different than that of Obasanjo or even previous military governments. In fact, it seems to be getting worse, and this seems to be buttressed by the fact that many indicted, accused former Governors, Ministers and party officials are still walking around free today, their loot intact, and several of them are alleged to be the real power behind this Administration of the so-called “servant-leader.” Some of them have even found their way back into the government openly and against public opinion. Several of them, including serving Governors are known to be controlling the Federal ministries by installing their appointees in choice ministerial or civil service positions.

At the same time, let us realise and accept that we are all complicit in this corruption issue. It is not only the leaders, but also the “led”. We, the “led”, are as complicit, because we allow the leaders to be corrupt in so many ways. We are as complicit because we tend to turn a blind eye such that the leaders now take it for granted to be corrupt, and we also expect them to be too. We even sing their praises, adore them, and confer dubious honours on them in the traditional society, the churches, the mosques, at parades, at parties, events, seminars, conferences, offices, etc. No, our leaders are not the only corrupt ones; after all they are a product of the society that spawns them. The larger Nigerian society cannot absolve itself of this blame.

The government should consider how best to maintain and refine the country's corruption detection activities while also developing and implementing corruption prevention strategies essential to effectively managing corruption throughout Nigeria. This is the only alternative. If the government keeps on saying it wants to eradicate corruption in Nigerian society, it is not being sincere with us. Corruption can never be eradicated in any society, it can only be managed, and managed effectively and efficiently to derive any success.

The key word here is “management”. It is how the government manages corruption that will determine its effectiveness. In this century, emphasis is being placed on management – change, financial, people, information, self, stress, time, absence, capacity, etc – and this is how we should view corruption: Corruption Management.

Unruh, 2008 concluded that taking a corruption management approach requires fusing the insights of corporate ethics with the tactics used to fight systemic corruption. When successful, it creates something simple and elegant: integrity. I will add that, in the case of governance of a country, it also creates development, justice, peace and progress. And these are all we need and ask for from our various governments.


References:

In writing this article, I had to borrow heavily on ideas, proposals and sources which coincidentally fitted with my own ideas on this issue:

Dike, Victor E. 2003. “Managing the Challenges of Corruption In Nigeria” Centre for Social Justice and Human Development, Sacramento, California.

Lipset, S M and G S Lenz,. 2000 “Corruption, Culture, and Markets”, in “Culture Matters”, Lawrence E. Harrison, and Samuel P. Huntington, eds., New York: Basic Books, 2000.

Unruh, G., 2008. “Should you be managing ethics or corruption?” Thunderbird International Business Review, Vol. 50, No. 5, Sept/Oct 2008.