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Let me start by commending the founders of this online newspaper for their vision, sagacity and determination to give Nigerians alternative means of airing their views through this medium. The founders have, at the earliest possible time, realised the need to tap into the advantage offered by the internet, thereby keying into a global trend that many experts say is the future of media itself. So I welcome QED and its proponents into the market. I have no doubt in my mind that they are on a worthy mission whose impact will be felt positively in our country.
The media has become such an integral part of our lives that the society cannot function well without it. Our values and way of life in this information era are strongly influenced by the mass media like newspapers, TV, radio and the internet. Mass media’s influence on people’s lives is even greater and deeper than many kinds of state indoctrination or religious sermons from the pulpit in our churches and mosques.
This column is joining other respected writers in the line-up here to give our little contributions in the quest to build an egalitarian nation. Nigeria, despite its huge potentials and unlimited reservoir of knowledge from its teeming populace, is facing crises of leadership and followership. We have been blessed by God but it seems we are too busy trying to destroy such blessings by visiting tide of woes unto ourselves.
But I am of the firm opinion that lamentations alone cannot solve our problems. Events of the last few weeks, as clearly highlighted by the protests led by the #bringbackourgirls activists, have given some of us renewed hope that the docility associated with our people may be a thing of the past. Thanks to the renewed voice given to the people by social media platforms, Nigerians are now easily mobilised to march to the streets to lend their voices anytime there is the need to do so. I am sure this new power will make our leaders more accountable and will ultimately expand the democratic space by making it more participatory at all levels.
Nigeria is faced with many challenges. Some of our lecturers (Polytechnic to be precise), have been on strike now for eight months. Boko Haram has been on rampage; debasing our humanity and killing our people with impunity. As at the time of writing this, not much has been heard of the whereabouts of the Chibok Angels. And corruption, it appears, is defying every solution put in place to check it.
Corruption! Ah, that monster that has been termed in some quarters as the 37th state of Nigeria. What has become apparent in the last few days is that policy makers, from top to bottom, don’t appear to understand what corruption is at all at all! So you can imagine our consternation when President Goodluck Jonathan said during his last media chat that we are wrongly equating corruption to ‘mere stealing’.
Few days after that, a person who should be at the vanguard of the fight against corruption more or less corroborated what the President said. ICPC chairman, Mr Ekpo Nta, in a stunning revelation, said “stealing is not the same as corruption.” Dear, Oh dear! Well, before their views begin to enjoy massive support of other Nigerians, especially policy makers, let me offer my take on this vexatious issue.
Simply speaking, corruption means “abuse or misuse of power for personal gain.” So, you are corrupt only if you have the power to abuse/misuse. It may sound a bit extreme, but I have this belief that the best way to avoid corruption is to avoid power!
A cashier, a storekeeper, a cleaner or house help, or the security man, could misuse the little power under his/her care by stealing, extorting and deceiving others in order to gain something for personal use. I site the above example to show that those at the lower level of the social ladder could be corrupt. For those at the middle and upper level, their misuse/abuse of power for personal gains is everyday occurrence and attracting daily discourse in the media. So, the cashier who steals money through larceny or skimming scheme or the storekeeper who steals inventory under his/her storage, are fraudulent or corrupt, just like the government functionary who steals billions of dollars entrusted in his/her care, abusing the power he/she enjoys!
So, I now begin to wonder how our President, and his corruption fighter-in chief, could seek to differentiate between stealing and corruption!
But then, both Mr President and Chief Nta are only exhibiting traits of the Nigerian political class. As we have seen over the years, they can be pretty colourful. To many of them, politics is never about the people, whatever inanity they may mouth.
From the foregoing, it appears that the definition of corruption has now been narrowed first by the President and then by one of the anti-graft agencies with jurisdiction of fighting it. A public office holder can steal as much as he wants and will claim damages if you tag him/her as corrupt. This, to me, is the most interesting aspect of the debate!