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The philosophy of Transforming Nigeria into a Corruption-free Society:
Are the probes the Solution?

 Wednesday, October 6, 1999

 Victor Dike

"We are discussing no small matter, but how we ought to live" and why.
SOCRATES, as reported by PLATO in the REPUBLIC (ca. 390 BC);
as cited in
(James Rachels 1986, p.1).


Many panels have been set up by the present civilian administration to investigate the activities of the past military administrations. This article asks the question: will the mere probing of few individuals that looted the nation achieve the laudable objective of transforming Nigeria into a corruption-free society? This author argues that in a society such as Nigeria where the citizens have been dehumanized (oppressed, exploited, and victimized) by their leaders for decades; in a country where the people have equally defrauded the state for so long. In a community where an average individual has the erroneous impression that one could get rich by cutting corners. The probing of a couple of the rouges among the legion that looted our national treasury, imprisoned and killed innocent citizens for selfish reasons, would not achieve the objective. For the probes to have the desired impact on the society, they should be complemented with general reeducation of the entire population. The exercise should focus on the essence of good moral character, respect for the laws of the land, and human responsibilities.


It is difficult to flip through a Nigerian newspaper or magazine these days without stumbling upon news about crimes and corruption in Nigeria. No public outcry arises without causes. Our leaders are selfish, greedy, and corrupt without restraint. For instance, the recent exposure of top military and non-military officials (the 'Osborne 39') in the landed property scandal in Ikoyi, Lagos, and the missing N4 - N5 billion of the Educational Tax Fund which nobody could give account of, are just samples of how corrupt our "so called leaders" are. Even our newly elected governors from cash-strapped states are now engaged in wasteful foreign trips, without first taking care of the basic problems facing the people. Sadly, workers from the states are still owed many months of arrears of salaries.

It is not my intention in this essay to trivialize or devalue the good intention behind the probe panels set up by the present administration. My main aim is to suggest a more comprehensive approach to sanitize and re-humanize the society that has long been de-humanized. The present campaign to transform Nigeria into a corruption-free society, in my opinion, would not be achieved merely by probing our past military administrations. The exercise should encompass a grand moral and ethical reeducation of the entire population, with democratic good governance, honest, and transparent leadership at the local, state, and federal levels.
Many political analysts have for long blamed the sociopolitical and economic woes of Africa, and indeed that of Nigeria, on colonial exploitation. No doubt, Nigeria and the rest of Africa were colonized and plundered for decades, by their colonial masters. But as the probes have begun to reveal the extensive stealing of public funds at federal and state levels by past military govern-ments, we should blame no other person but ourselves for our woes. There is now a clear evidence of prolonged inefficiency, financial mismanagement, waste, and mal-practices in government and in businesses across the land. Are we really sincere with ourselves?

Reflection on Corruption

Since the incursion of the military into politics in January 1966 corruption which they pledged to eradicate blossomed. In as much as I wouldn't like to bore you by reciting tales of corruption in Nigeria, a trip back on the memory lane of the history of military activities in Nigeria will give us a glimpse of it. Evidence shows that the military was as corrupt, if not more corrupt, than their civilian counter-part. Social control at all institutional levels has been, for all intents and purposes, non-existent. In fact, one could see corruption without a binocular in the society. The scare the military left on the society will take years to heal, if at all.

None of our past leaders (military and civilian), in my opinion, ruled the nation with sincerity of purpose. They transformed Nigeria from prosperity to penury. With thousands of our youth unemployed and pauperized. With about half of the population suffering from hunger and malnutrition. With the absence of basic medical care; with the decays in our educational institutions, and with our infrastructures in dilapidating conditions, the military held on to power passing the baton of ruler-ship from one self-promoted General to another. Moreover, they shared our resources among themselves (public funds and landed properties). Now our educational facilities must be revamped and refocused for them to provide the needed manpower at various levels. And according to convention, any government (military or civilian) that is "unable to supply low-cost food [to its citizens] is seen as dangerously incompetent and as failing to protect the interests of key elements of social order" (Bates 1987, as cited in Ergas 1987,ed., p.251).

The military continued to manipulate the population - hunted, tortured, maimed, slaughtered, and imprisoned many individuals who resented the military. Nigerians were dehumanized; they were denied the right to life and the right to personal integrity; they were denied liberty and security, the right to participate in government, the right to live in their own country and the right to reason. In fact, the military had the strength but not reason; the years of the military were periods of tyranny. A tyrant, by definition, is a king who governs with violence, and without regard for justice and law. In addition, the tyrant is one who sets 'himself' up against the law in order to govern according to law (Rousseau 1999, p.120).

The violent rule of the military, in my opinion, started during the time of General Buhari and moved on to the evil years of General Babangida. The siege on the nation ended with the death of the "mad man" - General Abacha, as power was transferred to Gen. Abubakar, our "benevolent dictator." All military rulers are tyrants, but not all are despots. The despot is one who usurps the sovereign power; it is one who puts himself even above the law. A "despot reduces its subjects to poverty in order to govern them, instead of governing them in the aim of making them happy" A tyrant, therefore, need not be a despot, but the despot is always a tyrant (Rousseau 1999, pp.112-120).

When Nigeria began its "transition" to civilian rule (we are too far away from becoming a democracy), appeals were made by some individuals (the friends of our tyrants and despots) that the people should forget the past. But if the people would forget the past it is because they have common sense and memory, which are some of the rights the military tried to deny the people. It is unassailably important to acknowledge the past in order to get the clues needed to understand the present, and to plan for the future. It is equally important to work on the past parallel to the present. However, if the people should forget the past, the conflicts created by the military would remain unresolved; if the people should forget the past, the bruised minds and hearts would continue to bleed. If the people should forget the past the atrocities of the military would go unpunished. Moreover, if the people should forget the past we would be denied the opportunity to learn from our sordid past.

Thus, the present condition of things in Nigeria is the consequence of our past activities. Without any doubt our "transition" to civilian rule was built upon concealment of the truth, and apparent promise by those who ran for political offices, to protect the interests of the ex-military dictators who committed various unpardonable human rights abuses, in order to get their financial supports. For instance, it is believed in the society that General Babangida was instrumental to Obasanjo's successful bid to the presidency. It is apparent that the "evil genius" is now disappointed in Obasanjo, as the probes are gradually closing up on him. But if the current leadership would steal the monies recovered from the brigands, why the headache?

Has Nigeria seen the last of military dictatorship? I should think so! Any other attempt by the military to take-over power by force in Nigeria will not succeed. The people, while they have life, would fight against any coup to the last man, because they have learned the evils of military dictatorship. They have also learned that the only government they should obey is nothing but a legitimate one. So, whoever plans to stage a coup should take that into account, that he would do it over thousands, if not millions of corpses of the people, as they - on their own - would go out to defend their interests, which have been trampled upon for a long while. Having gotten a clue of the magnitude of the crimes committed against the people, let's now turn to the issue of the probes and why I am suggesting that they should be complemented with moral and ethical reeducation of the entire population.

Transforming Nigeria into a corruption-free society

It is not my intention in this essay to trivialize or devalue the good intention behind the probe panels set up by the present administration. My main aim is to suggest a more comprehensive approach to sanitize and re-humanize the society that has long been de-humanized. The present campaign to transform Nigeria into a corruption-free society, in my opinion, would not be achieved merely by probing our past military administrations. The exercise should encompass a grand moral and ethical reeducation of the entire population, with democratic good governance, honest, and transparent leadership at the local, state, and federal levels. Our leaders, as a matter of urgency, should endeavor to meet the people's basic needs. More importantly, to transform Nigeria into a corruption-free society the must be well motivated, paid living wages, and when due.

President Olusegun Obasanjo made an interesting point during his broadcast to the nation on October 1, 1999, that Nigeria needs a "new moral order" that will enable her to "fully understand" and solve her problems (see Obasanjo, October 1, 1999). Obviously, the 'trouble with Nigeria is that the society has lost its "moral voice." Without adjusting the attitude of the people, and without changing our "enormous moral deficit" our "moral and social disorder" would not be mended (Etzioni, September 1994, p.9).

Sadly, our society has lost her capability for self-regulation. The corrupt ex-military officers who transformed themselves into civilian politicians, and those who are on the sideline watching with keen interest (such as Babangida), are working behind the scene to stall any investigation that would expose their previous misdeeds. Many of them, as we can recall, bribed and rigged their ways into elective offices. President Olusegun Obasanjo who is now preaching morality is not even a saint. For this, these probes though could expose some improper activities, would not dig too far into the damages done by corruption in the society. I don't mean to sound pessimistic here, but that is the necked truth (the truth does not always lead to success).

The 'trouble with Nigeria' is that her leaders, with their insatiable greed, have a very wrong conception of the duties and responsibilities of a leader. Their lack of social consciousness is troubling, to say the least. This provides inappropriate model for emulation; and it has ultimately destroyed the moral fabric of our society. For our leaders, to be a leader means sure access to the nation's central bank. For them to be a leader means to build and acquire million- dollar mansions at choice areas. For them to be a leader means to own fleets of cars, or personal jet. For them to be leader means destroying the society, and pauperizing the entire population. Nigeria will be good only if the managers of our public purse are people of virtue. By definition, "Virtuous" persons are those of "high ethical standard who [pursue or] have pursued the good for the benefit of society as well as for themselves" (Liebig 1990, pp.1-2). The irony of our problems is that "all our woes are due only to those whom we pay to protect us from them" (Rousseau 1994, pp.15-24). For this, we should preach and practice virtue.

Now the question remains, are the barrage of probes enough to transform Nigeria into a corruption-free society? Are they the solutions to our numerous socioeconomic and political problems? Will the probes teach our corrupt minds the differences between vices and virtues? I disagree with the conception that mere probing of past military administrations would change the attitude of Nigerians hardened by years of various types of abuses. At this juncture it is proper at to emphasize the point that for the probes to have the desired impact on the society they should be complemented with serious public reeducation of Nigerians. This is because an average Nigerian have gotten the erroneous impression that one could get rich without working hard for it (our "Toronto" Speaker did just that).

The primary objective of our "furniture" lawmakers (in preparation for the war on corruption) should have been to erect structures by way of enforceable legislation to strengthen our nascent democracy and constitution, with stiff penalties for corrupt practices both in governments and in businesses. But Nigeria lacks "good statesmen" - those that are versed in the art of crafting and implementing good policies; and those people who are good at making other people good by running good societies (Aristotle 1996, p.xiii).

As a matter of necessity, we should re-introduce the teaching of civics and character education in our schools. We need to teach our youth the essence of good moral character, honesty, respect for the laws of the land, and the love of their country. But the love of country will not subsist without virtue. This is because "whenever the people love their country, respect the laws, and live simply, there is little that remains to do in order to make them happy.." However, we have to recognize that the making of good citizens, according to Jean-Jacques Rousseau, "is not the work of a single day." For this, "in order to have [good] citizens when they are men it is necessary to educate them when they are children" (Rousseau 1994. pp.22-23). Nigeria needs a people of probity to undertake this important task.

I am not ignorant of the fact that some people would argue that no amount of "moral exhortations," or 'sermons on the mount' would bring the message home to the hardened criminals in our midst (Daily Graphic Accra, June 15, 1980, pp.4-5). But it is better to act (and quickly too) than to fold our hands in disgust. A stitch in time saves nine! If every man would do his duties; if the people would be obedient to the law, if the leaders would be moderate and just; if the officers would be loyal and incorruptible, Nigeria would be one of the best countries on earth, given her vast resources.


Transforming Nigeria into a corruption-free society and tackling her huge sociopolitical and economic problems is a difficult undertaken. But the reeducation of the entire population is appropriate. Simply setting up one million probe panels would not suffice. The welfare of the people should be addressed. However, I hope that the probes (which should not go on ad infinitum) would contribute to the process of building roads to the future where the rights of all Nigerians would be respected and protected. The present ruin of Nigeria is due to the fact that her finances have for many years been entrusted to criminals. Obviously, "if your captain [is] not an able [and virtuous] man the chances are you will be ruined" (Machiavelli 1999, p. 31). And the state, on its part, should show appreciation for the peoples' sacrifice and contribution to the development of the society. In other words, the workers should be re-humanized.


Aristotle, (with Harris Rackham and Stephen Watt, 1996); The Nicomachean Ethics, Wordsworth Classics, 1996.

Bates, Robert H. (1987);"The Politics of Agricultural Pricing in Sub-Saharan Africa;" In Zaki Ergs (1987 edited), African State in Transition, St. Martin's Press, New York, p.251.

Daily Graphic Accra, June 15, 1980, pp.4-5.

Etzioni, Amatai (September 1994); "On Restoring The Moral Voice: Virtue and Community Pressure," Current, September 1994.

Liebig, James E. (1990); Business Ethics: Profiles in Civic Virtue, Falcrum Pub., Golden , Colorado, 1990.

Machiavelli, Niccolo (1992); The Prince, Dover Thrift Edition, 1992.

Obasanjo, Olusegun (October 1, 1999); "Moral Foundations for our polity" (being national broadcast to the nation on the 39th anniversary of Nigerian Independence, October 1, 1999, as reported in the Guardian, October 1, 1999.

Rachels, James (1986); The Elements of Moral Philosophy, Temple University Press, Philadelphia, 1986.

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques (with translation by Christopher Betts 1994); The Social Contract, Oxford University Press, Oxford, New York, 1994.

Socrates, as reported by Plato in the Republic (ca. 390 BC).

Note: Victor Dike is the author of a recently published book:

Leadership, Democracy, and the Nigerian Economy: Lessons from The Past and Directions for the Future, The Lightning Press, Sacramento, 1999.
The book is marked for $20.00, and could be obtained by calling: (916) 688-9439; (916) 497-3418 (voice mail);
Mail to:
Box 232207, Sacramento, CA 95823

Victor Dike