Corruption has been like a metastatic disease eating away at the economic, social and political fabric of many Third World countries. Whether it is at various levels of government, civil service or business community, the effect on the middle and lower class of the population remains catastrophic. Corruption affects provisions of infrastructure, healthcare, education, and power supply in the society; it also affects the morale and patriotism of the people towards their country.
Coming from a country like Nigeria ranked among the top five corrupt nations in the world, I know firsthand what the effects of corruption have been – and continue to be – on the society. For example, roads that are annually budgeted for are never constructed; they get from bad to worse, causing private and public transport vehicles to break down frequently and resulting in frequent repairs. In a society where close to 80% of the working population depend on public transportation for their daily activities, these repair costs are shifted to the consumers. This increase in transportation cost takes away resources from other areas a consumer could possibly invest in. Also, a usually 30-minutes trip now takes an hour and half – resulting in lost labor and productivity hours, and the stresses on most pregnant women plying these roads eventually lead to miscarriages.
The story is not different in healthcare sector either. Many of the hospitals and clinic, where they exist, are without the basic tools and equipments needed to dress a simple wound. The roofs leak from various spots, the walls are cracked or partially broken down. Most of the equipments date back to pre-colonial days; basic labs are non-existent, the mortuaries are overgrown with weed; the skeletal staff are so poorly trained that their only solution to every ailment is to administer drip made of salt and water solution on the patient. Medicines are either always not available, in short supply, or cheap fake powdered substances concocted in someone’s backyard. Today, people still die from simple illnesses that can easily be treated with over-the-counter medicines. This condition exists in almost all the government-run hospitals and clinics, yet hundreds of millions of Naira are budgeted annually for healthcare; money that finds its ways into the private pockets of ministry officials and the cohorts.
In both the rural and urban areas, the problem of portable water supply is endemic. Every now and then, one would see notices posted about one Construction Company or another coming to commence work on a water project, following announcements on radio and television by one government official or another. Excitement builds with anticipation by the community; then, the excitement turns to anxiety, and to despair when one realizes, after years have passed, that it was just another government fluke. Lack of portable drinking water has left many communities dependent on dirty and contaminated streams of water, resulting in many water-borne diseases which they cannot cure because the hospitals are either non-existent or without the proper treatment for such ailments. People are forced to drink from the same stream that they and the animals bathe in and wash their laundry; government community health offices are staffed with people who have no training in running required tests to detect contamination, because they are the relatives of some government official in the capital cities.
The sorry state of our education system has produced many graduates who cannot competently compete in any field with the rest of the world. Most of the educational infrastructures date back to the colonial era and have fallen into disrepair; university libraries are either empty or devoid of books written in the 20th century, laboratories are without necessary equipments to conduct a simple temperature test. Teachers are owed months, sometimes years, of salary arrears, forcing them to resort to various tactics to sustain themselves. Unfortunately, these tactics end up affecting both the students’ finances and education standards. The elementary schools are even in worse shape that the tertiary institutions; most of the classes are conducted under trees, and the basic school supplies like chalks, slates, and dusters are supplied by the parents. This is in the face of an ever-increasing national education budget, a special education agency funded with proceeds from excess crude, and a constitutionally-mandated free basic education system. Ironically, private universities, high schools and elementary schools have been on the increase in the past twenty years, almost all of them owned by former officials in the education ministry and its many agencies. Of course, these private schools have the best equipments and school supplies money can buy. In the end, the poor and middle class are short-changed by the corrupt practices of few people in government, supported by their relatives.
Many Third world countries today cannot boast of a mere six hours of steady power supply not because they do not have the resources to generate enough power for their nations, but because most officials of the government-owned power companies and agencies work in cohorts with private businesses to ensure shortage of power supply so they can continue to import, and sell, generators from industrialized nations for profit. This is the same case with some of the refineries in the oil-producing countries of the Third world; officials collude with oil importers to delay repairs on refineries, or build new ones. So, with existing ones producing below capacity, imported fuel is needed to make up the difference at very high cost to the consumer, and very high profit to the importer. Without steady power supply, the struggling poor entrepreneur cannot sustain the cost of running a business; and those who do, increase their product prices, thereby shifting the cost to the consumer who cannot afford it.
To conduct a simple business in any government office or agency is an exercise in frustration. At every step of obtaining a simple document like birth certificate, one must bribe someone; the security man to allow you through the gate; the receptionist to acknowledge your presence, and the secretary to pull your file. The next move is to the typist to prepare the document, after you have paid for the required sheets of paper; the messenger to carry the typed document to the boss, who may or may not be at lunch. Finally, the amount of bribe to the boss depends on his or her success so far prior to your presence. If it has been a dry day, then your cost is high; if the day has been bountiful, you get to pay a lower rate. This practice is repeated at every department of every ministry in every state, city or town, leaving one very frustrated and disillusioned about the system.
Government officials, for some reason, fail to connect the dots on the effect corrupt practices have on the daily lives and businesses of the people; the increasing cost of transportation, healthcare, education, goods and services which leaves people with less to nothing to spend on good nutritious food, high death rates, miscarriages, emigration, and low morale that results in lack of patriotism for one’s country.
The unfortunate thing is that the people are more to blame than government officials. While the officials preside over the nation’s treasuries, banks, other financial institutions, relatives and friends help them move the stolen money overseas. Their kinsmen defend and protect them when the law comes calling for their heads; organize lavish receptions paid for with public funds, only to go home with a bottle or two of soda and a plate of bland rice; judges who preside over the few corruption cases which made it to court, sell their integrity and betray their office for either financial rewards, or to protect one of their own. Like the biblical Lazarus, these kinsmen wait at the tables and the gates of the corrupt official for the crumbs that fall off the feast table. That is all they get, nothing more.
Ironically, while the rich and corrupt ply the death traps we call roads in their off-road SUVs, their defending and protecting relatives struggle to make it from one village to another in motorcycles, rickety buses, and their bare feet. When sick, they end up in the same hospital their thieving kinsman had deprived of funds for adequate medical supplies; when thirsty, they draw water from the same stream they share with both domestic and wild animals, because their politician brother (or sister, yes) had misappropriated they fund allocated for provision of pipe-borne water for the community. The schools they send their children remain roofless and without necessary supplies, because – again – the big “oga” who lives in the big mansion down the road, has siphoned the allocation for the schools and used it to send his own children to Europe and America. The little people not only spend their meager resources on candles, torch lights and lamps, they still have to endure the noise and sooth emanating from their kinsman’s multi-million dollar generator bought with funds allocated for rural electrification.
We see and know all of the above, yet we protect and support the perpetrators because they are one of our own. That is why it is difficult to get convictions for corrupt practices in Nigeria and other Third World countries. Yes, out of earshot, we complain and bemoan our terrible situation and the condition of things around us; we complain about how things should have been, how our countries could have been equal to, or better than, some of the countries we emigrate to. Yet, when “oga” comes down to the village and distributes cups of rice and a tin of sardine to the widows and the youths he helped kept jobless, all is forgotten and forgiven; his name is praised to the high heavens, and libations poured out to the gods for his long life and good health.
Yes, we are the reason corruption is still thriving in Nigeria and other Third World countries. We, the ordinary citizen, encourage, support, and promote it in defense and protection of our friends, relatives, siblings and political associates to the detriment of our compounds, villages, communities, cities, states, and nations. Unless, we change our attitude towards these our kinsmen who deny us the basic necessities of democracy, we can never rid our society of corruption.
The citizens are. We worship wealth and adore riches and since those who have it are given so much respect and regard in the society, people go all out to get wealth either by hook or crook. Anyday, we stop paying unnecessary attention to the wealthy in our society, corruption in high places will be reduced to the barest minimum.