Photograph — Leadership

“What does corruption mean to you?” Mr. Kunle Adetayo, an offshore engineer, asked his friend, Gozie Madu, a political science student at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, as they drank fresh palmwine at a bush bar in Lagos. “Isn’t it when public officials in government cart away public funds that are meant for the development of infrastructure and amenities?” Gozie answered with his shoulders puffed up like he was about to win an award for his answer. “That’s only a part of it, what about the corrupt acts you and I perpetrate on a daily, if not hourly, basis? We allow ‘little’ biases based on ethnic, friendly and religious grounds telling ourselves it means absolutely nothing and cannot harm us,” said Adetayo to the surprise of his drinking buddy.

But that is just it, in Nigeria, many people view corruption based on what the media reports. For instance, how a politician or public servant was caught with funds s/he didn’t earn legally, often forgetting that corruption goes beyond monetary theft perpetrated by a government official. When you let go of due process as a citizen, you are corrupt. When you favour people based on the fact that you share the same ethnic group or religion or you decide to pay your way through a situation to ‘avoid trouble’ you are a partaker of corruption. Like Teju Cole wrote in his book, Everyday is for the thief; “For many Nigerians, the giving and receiving of bribes, tips, extortion money or alms is not thought of in moral terms. It is seen either as a mild irritant or as an opportunity, a way of getting things done.”

However, as regards the lingering fuel scarcity, corruption is to be blamed but the rot has eaten deep into the system. You may be curious as to how. Recently, the independent marketers admitted they are the reason why Nigerians can never seem to get over fuel crisis every year, in fact, several times within a year we struggle with the same problem. According to Thisday Newspaper, the Interim Management Secretary of the Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria (IPMAN), Mr. Lawson Ngoa, has said the existing rivalry between factions within IPMAN have crippled the importation and distribution of petroleum products in Nigeria especially by independent marketers who control about 80 percent of the fuel distribution network.

The factions are fighting over who will lead the association, if due process were to be followed within IPMAN, we would not be having this fuel scarcity effect of their inability to control what goes on within their group. Apparently, this manifestation of political rot within IPMAN has been ongoing even before the emergence of the Buhari administration. As a group that has been existing since the military era of Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo in 1978, it is expected that 38 years later, the members of IPMAN would have their ducks in a row and not be fighting over leadership positions and allow in-house politics affect a country as large and as diverse as Nigeria.

The existing rivalry within IPMAN is sustained as a result of arguments surrounding who will occupy leadership positions within the association. Now, think about this for a minute. If IPMAN members decide to follow due process and choose their leaders the right way (assuming there is a constitution), would there be any crisis? But as long as ethnic, religious and pecuniary factors come into play, the association’s members will continue to go to war over positions, while they forget about the Nigerian masses who have to fight to get fuel, kerosene and diesel to run their businesses, cook their meals and power their generators (as the Power Holding Company of Nigeria has decided to deny everyone who pay their bills, the right to access electricity).

While the IPMAN is warring within itself, Nigerian citizens are suffering the brunt of it all and even at that, corrupt acts still take place where law enforcement agents are seen around fuel stations intimidating civilians with their uniform or badge, as the case may be, to obtain access to buy fuel or other petroleum products. Forget about the fact that everyone needs these products, on two occasions, I have witnessed a few Lagosians retire to their homes and offices after spending hours under the blazing sun, trying to purchase fuel or diesel only to be displaced by men in uniform, who act like commanding officers barking orders at their subordinates at the barracks. There is nothing like the first come, first serve basis for buying petroleum products these days, everyone is tired and angry, so they have no time for due process, why should they?

The lingering fuel crisis is affecting everything, the cost of food, transportation, work flow in the corporate world, etc. as people spend more time at fuel stations or in traffic jams, due to the insane queues at fuel stations. Young unemployed people take advantage of the opportunity to make quick money through the black market and hike the prices as high as they want to because they can feel the desperation of motorists who call on them as they hold their prized fuel in jerry cans along the road. Everything in society is going haywire and yet some people still do not see the correlation of corruption with situations like these.

We are all cut from the same cloth. From the IPMAN members who allow dirty politics to hinder the free flow of petroleum products in the country due to power tussles, to the average Nigerian youth who manoeuvres the fuel crisis to his advantage, the trader who also manoeuvres the crisis to his advantage as well.  The public officials who sit in their ivory tower and refuse to do anything about the crisis because they have friends in high places who provide fuel for them as well as you and I, who vote these public servants into positions of authority based on sentiments bordering on tribe, gender, religious grounds and even ignorance but not what they can offer. We are all guilty of corruption and we are all cut from the same cloth.

The only solution is not to sit on our hands and wait for a saviour to come to our rescue, it is to push for policy change where corruption is criminalized. After all, when citizens, both highly and lowly placed, begin to suffer major punishment for corrupt acts (I am not talking about six months to a year in prison), it will serve as a deterrent to others and our beloved country can be spared from all these unnecessary and stressful situations.

As fed up as Nigerians are of the current economic standstill, it is not enough that we keep pointing fingers at public officials and accusing them of corruption, these public officials are only a product of their environment. The change we need has to come from us, the people at the grassroots. So, the next time you are confronted with committing those small acts of corruption like paying a fuel station attendant to get fuel for your car, will you do it?

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