The cure for extreme poverty and corruption in Nigeria (II)

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Text of Pastor Tunde Bakare’s lecture at the 70th birthday of former Foursquare Gospel Church in Nigeria General Overseer Dr. Wilson Badejo.

Now, to another all-too-familiar word, a word I suspect may be the most uttered word in Nigeria – corruption.

Defining corruption

Corruption is one of those terms that, instinctively, everyone has an idea what it means but, somehow, no one agrees on what it really means. The most universally accepted definition of corruption is derived from a body that has, over the years, shaped the global narrative on corruption.

According to Transparency International, “corruption is the abuse of entrusted power for private gain. It can be classified as grand, petty and political, depending on the amounts of money lost and the sector where it occurs.”

The international organisation further elaborates on these differentiations as follows:

Grand corruption consists of acts committed at a high level of government that distort policies or the central functioning of the state, enabling leaders to benefit at the expense of the public good. Petty corruption refers to everyday abuse of entrusted power by low- and mid- level public officials in their interactions with ordinary citizens, who often are trying to access basic goods or services in places like hospitals, schools, police departments and other agencies.

Political corruption is a manipulation of policies, institutions and rules of procedure in the allocation of resources and financing by political decision makers, who abuse their position to sustain their power, status and wealth.

These definitions, however apt, narrow the concept of corruption to resource allocation and tend to reduce it to a monetary value. However, I believe that a broader understanding of the nature of corruption warrants an interrogation of the origin of the concept as captured in the Bible. It is not enough to identify the features and forms of corruption; it is necessary to uncover what lurks beneath the surface of the aforementioned definitions.

Corruption is introduced to us in the Bible in the sixth chapter of Genesis, verses 1-12 1: 1 “Now it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born to them, that the sons of God saw the daughters of men, that they were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves of all whom they chose.

“And the LORD said, My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, for he is indeed flesh; yet his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.” There were giants on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown.

“Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart.

“So, the Lord said, “I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth, man and beast, creeping thing and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.” But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.

“This is the genealogy of Noah. Noah was a just man, perfect in his generations. Noah walked with God. 10 And Noah begot three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth. The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence. So, God looked upon the earth, and indeed it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth. (Emphasis added).”

It is often believed in Christian circles that the sons of God referred to in the foregoing biblical reference were angels who supposedly comingled sexually with humans. I find this position highly questionable as it violates the principle of Genesis 1:11, which shows that creation produces according to its kind. We see also from Matthew 22:30 that “angels neither marry nor are given in marriage”, and from Hebrews 1:5 that God has not conferred the status of “son” on the angels: ‘For to which of the angels did He ever say: “You are my son, today, I have begotten you…”

The sons of God referred to in Genesis six were men and women who had reconnected with God after the birth of Seth’s son, Enosh. In Genesis 4:26, we read: “And as for Seth, to him also a son was born; and he named him Enosh. Then men began to call on the name of the Lord.

To place this in context, we will have to go back to Genesis 3:15, where God identified two opposing spiritual genetic lines: “…And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.”

From that moment onwards, the destiny of creation hung on this battle of the seeds. The enmity was typified in the Cain and Abel relationship in which Cain became a repository of the seed of the serpent and killed his brother, Abel, the carrier of the righteous seed. Afterwards, we see a preponderance of the line of Cain, which, in essence, meant the proliferation of the line of humans who were without God. However, God appointed for Eve another son, named Seth, who became the repository of the seed of righteousness. Seth’s fathering of Enosh propelled an outbreak of multiplication revival as men began to call on the name of the Lord. This means that men began to return to God from the opposing spiritual genetic line.

However, by Genesis six, these sons of God, swayed by the daughters of the opposing spiritual genetic line, violated a principle which was later highlighted in II Corinthians 6:14: “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness?”

This commingling of seeds was the origin of corruption as revealed in Genesis 6:11. To corrupt an entity suggests the preexistence of a pure form of that entity. The dictionary definition of corruption is “a departure from the original or from what is pure or correct.” This implies the introduction of a contaminating factor into the otherwise pure form of an entity; hence, mixture is at the very heart of corruption. Permit me, therefore, to define corruption as man’s willful violation of divinely instituted foundational standards of human interactions through the introduction of iniquitous compromises.

Furthermore, corruption is a global phenomenon as revealed in Genesis 6:11: “The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence. So, God looked upon the earth, and indeed it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth.”

This explains a 2013 survey of 95 countries that revealed at least one in four people in all countries surveyed had paid a bribe that year. It explains findings by Transparency International that over six billion people, which are almost the entire human population, live in countries with serious corruption problems. Corruption may have different accents but it speaks essentially the same language in both Otuoke and Osaka and in both Abeokuta and Aberdeen.

As we conclude our diagnostic foundation, having defined both poverty and corruption, permit me to ask, before I propose an appropriate cure: what, then, is the relationship between poverty and corruption? Should we tackle poverty first, or corruption?

Poverty and Corruption: Chicken or Egg?

A chicken or egg situation is one in which it is difficult to determine which of two related entities occurred first. Consider a police Constable earning a monthly salary of just a little over N50, 000 with a family of four to fend for. This Constable is approached by a gang of unemployed poverty-stricken youths promising ten per cent of the proceeds if he agrees to facilitate access to guns to carry out a robbery operation at a local Bureau de Change. This promise of sudden wealth in a foreign currency is too strong a lure for this poorly-paid policeman, and he succumbs. The successful robbery, which results in loss of lives, portrays Nigeria to the world as a fertile ground for insecurity and an environment that is unfriendly to business. This scares away foreign investors, thus perpetuating and worsening the unemployment condition that fuels poverty, and the cycle continues. The founder of Transparency International, Peter Eigen, captures the relationship thus: “Corruption is a major cause of poverty as well as a barrier to overcoming it. The two scourges feed off each other, locking their populations in a cycle of misery. Corruption must be vigorously addressed if aid is to make a real difference in freeing people from poverty.

That useful insight notwithstanding, to clearly understand the relationship between corruption and poverty, it is important to think in Scriptures. In the Genesis creation story, we find that, prior to the creation of man, God made provision for every need of man, but man lost his place by seeking to meet a need he never had. He was created in the image and likeness of God, yet, he succumbed to temptation supposedly with a view to becoming like God. He, in effect, stole from himself. At that point, lack or shortage was introduced into the equation. We see, therefore, that corruption preceded poverty. The conclusion of our diagnostic process is that greed, not need, is the root of corruption.

How else does one explain the mysterious billions of naira, millions of dollars and thousands of pounds being unearthed in the most bizarre locations including a soak- away pit, an empty apartment and a cemetery? I understand, from budget analysts, that the monies traced to the former head of a parastatal could fund major hydro and solar power projects, construct major roads in northern Nigeria, and still purchase hundreds of units of 11kV transformers. That these funds were found ‘idle’ in their hideouts indicates that they were diverted, not to meet the need of the diverters, but to serve their greed. I am, at this juncture, reminded of Gandhi’s admonition, that “the world has enough for everyone’s needs, but not everyone’s greed.”

To further buttress the fact that corruption is caused by greed, rather than by need, consider those rare breeds who, even in the midst of the most excruciating poverty, have chosen to win by righteousness and to go without rather than cheat. It is why, for instance, a security guard who reportedly earns a N30, 000 monthly salary would return a misplaced $10,000 rather than play a game of finders keepers. In essence, our diagnosis of these two conditions, poverty and corruption, shows a case of co-morbidity with corruption as the primary condition caused by greed.

Just as greed leads to corruption, corruption in turn causes or perpetuates poverty. Aside the fact that corruption denies citizens access to resources and opportunities, it also encourages laziness. The prevalence of filthy lucre discourages a culture of diligence and professionalism and, instead, encourages quick fixes, which, in the long run, deflate productivity and further breed poverty.

To further understand the interplay of corruption and poverty and their multivariate consequences, consider the following facts:

Seven of the top 10 countries by standard of human development in 2015, including Norway, Switzerland, Singapore, Netherlands and Canada, were also among the ten least corrupt countries in the world for that year. Please note that the Human Development Index (HDI) comprises indicators for life expectancy, education and per capita income.

Four of the top 10 most peaceful countries in 2016, including Denmark, New Zealand, Switzerland and Canada, were also among the least corrupt countries that year.

On the flip side, three of the world’s poorest countries in 2016, including South Sudan and Afghanistan, were also on the list of top ten most corrupt countries for that year.

Seven of the top ten most violent countries in the world in 2016, including Syria, South Sudan, Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen, Sudan and Libya, were also among the top 10 most corrupt countries that year.

The implication of these is that corruption is closely associated with poverty, failing educational institutions, low standard of living, failing public health systems and, most of all, violence. The cause and effect relationship between corruption and violence is alluded to in the biblical introduction of the term in Genesis 6:11: “The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence. So, God looked upon the earth, and indeed it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth.”

It is logical reasoning that a people impoverished by corruption will lash out violently against one another and against the establishment. Also noteworthy is the fact that Switzerland is positively and highly placed on all the indicators earlier listed. We will make appropriate deductions from this fact towards the end of this lecture.

In Search of a therapeutic approach to poverty and corruption

We have established the co-morbid relationship between corruption and poverty with corruption as the primary condition that fosters an enabling environment for poverty to thrive. The best therapeutic approach would necessitate a focus on the foundation, which is corruption, and then seeking means to build upon an accurate foundation to combat poverty. This appears to have been the approach of the current administration at its onset. It was, however, met with criticisms by those who perceived it, rightly or wrongly, as a neglect of development and an excessive focus on anti-corruption. We will, as I begin to conclude, identify the major gap in its application.

Human attempts at combating corruption have often ignored the fact that man is three dimensional, being a spirit, possessing a soul and living in a body. Anti- corruption strategies have often been restricted to the physiological, which deals with the physical, and the psychological, which deals with the soul.

The physiological remedies to combating corruption have been hinged on the philosophy that physical needs such as food, clothing and shelter are the triggers of corruption. The argument is, if these needs are met, even by a dictatorial government, then corruption is mitigated. On the other hand, if access to these needs is withdrawn as a punishment for corruption, through capital punishment that eliminates the physical life, for instance, then corruption is deterred. This is the philosophy guiding the anti-corruption strategy of China and Asian Tigers like Singapore. Despite its successes, the limitations of these strategies emerge over time as citizens begin to demand greater freedoms.

The psychological approach targets such needs of the soul as liberty and a sense of personal identity, which in turn fuel the republican inclination to self-government. The guiding philosophy in this case is that, through democracy and good governance, these needs can be guaranteed in addition to physiological needs, thereby creating stakeholders who see corruption as an attack on their freedoms and are therefore averse to it. Psychological level anti-corruption strategies further include re- orientation and advocacy programmes that seek to shift paradigms. An example of this is the “Change Begins With Me” campaign. As punishment for deviant behaviour, access to psychological needs can be withdrawn by means of isolation and ostracism. Media propagated public trials, restriction of freedoms through imprisonment, prohibition from public office – these are some of the tactics of this approach. This, to a large extent, guides anti-corruption strategies in the West. While this has its advantages, cases of repeat offence clearly show its limitations.

There is, however, a foundational level anti-corruption philosophy that can significantly curtail the spread of corruption in the society. It is the spiritual approach, which seeks the rebirth of the individual. To understand how this operates and how it dovetails into the quest for poverty eradication, we will need to revisit the journey of man from creation.

As has been stated, when God created man, He provided everything man would need in the garden, but the fall of man brought an end to this era of effortless access to abundance and introduced the era of toiling. God said to Adam in Genesis 3:17b-19: “Cursed is the ground for your sake; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, and you shall eat the herb of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for dust you are, and to dust you shall return.”

The introduction of sin into the cosmos brought about shortage, as all sinned and fell “short of the glory of God”. Following the judgment of the flood, the era of toiling gave way to that of “seed, time and harvest” in which access became tied to effort. As Genesis 8:22 states: “While the earth remains, Seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, and day and night shall not cease.”

Here, diligence in sowing and nurturing became the ground rule and poverty became the result of failure to apply diligent effort. Proverbs 10:4 states: “He who has a slack hand becomes poor, but the hand of the diligent makes rich.”

This era spanned the period of Noah to the time of Christ who became sin and took upon Himself the curse of sin. Whereas in the time of Noah, one man found grace with God and was immune from the corruption that was in the world, with the resurrection of Christ and the release of His Spirit came an era of multiplication as grace “appeared to all men”.

This grace that was released, dealt with corruption at the root and released riches in excess of need. Whereas this grace that has been released does not abolish the need for diligent effort did unseal for man divinely facilitated access to the package that accompanies salvation, which includes riches. It did this by restoring to man the nature of sons of God through the incorruptible seed of the word of God.

Policy implications and recommendations

By this therapeutic approach, which points in the direction of the manifestation of sons of God, extreme poverty and corruption are chiefly human resource problems and require human resource solutions. The creed is, fix the man and you fix his world. The manifestation of sons of God implies the identification, selection or election, and appointment of accurate human resource in strategic positions on the seven molders of influence in any given society. These molders of influence or mountains of culture include education, government, economy, family, religion, media, and arts and entertainment.

One accurate person occupying a commanding position in each sector within these mountains of culture, supported by like-minded lieutenants, is all we need to combat corruption and extreme poverty. As typified by King David, accuracy entails integrity of the heart and skillfulness of the hands. Therefore, the major challenge to the dispensation of good and incorruptible governance by any administration, including the current Nigerian government, is a human resource challenge. Have we elected or appointed men and women of integrity and skill, square pegs in square holes, to administer good governance at all levels and in every sector? Our response to this question will determine the fate of our anti-corruption drive and the success of our economic recovery and growth plan. Magu or no Magu, this principle should inform the resolution of questions surrounding the appointment of the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

At this juncture, in view of current foreboding occurrences in our nation, the time has come for us to ask certain hard questions. Who is afraid of the anti-corruption war? Who is afraid of an effective anti-corruption czar? Who are those so afraid of the anti- corruption antecedents of a healthy and vibrant Muhammadu Buhari that they wish the president dead? Who are those so afraid of a corruption-free Nigeria that they seek the destabilisation of the polity and the scuttling of our democracy even to the extent of creating innuendos of military takeover? As Femi Adesina, the Special Adviser on Media & Publicity to the President, brought to our remembrance in a recent piece, we know these enemies of the Nigerian State. From insights offered by Maj Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu (deceased), the young revolutionary who explained the rationale behind the first military coup in Nigeria, we know: “Our enemies are the political profiteers, the swindlers, the men in high and low places that seek bribes and demand 10 per cent, those that seek to keep the country divided permanently so that they can remain in office as ministers or VIPs at least, the tribalists, the nepotists, those that make the country look big for nothing before international circles, those that have corrupted our society and put the Nigerian political calendar back by their words and deeds.”

Those words, first spoken 51 years ago in 1966, and still true today, attest to the consuming power of corruption. If nothing fundamentally changes, these words may yet ring true 50 years from today. This brings me back to the church. In the quest for accurate human resources, the church ought to be the go-to institution. However, until recently, the church, denying its mandate, has been hesitant to engage the society. Even more painful is the plethora of corruption scandals associated with men and women who have emerged from the church to engage society in various sectors including banking and governance. Perhaps, this failure was the result of unpreparedness.

Like the first Adam who did not go through the process, that initial crop of societal leaders from the church may have been inadequately processed. In the order of the last Adam, who spent 30 years being prepared for a three-and-a-half-year commission, the church must now deliberately create iterative platforms for the identification, selection, accurate discipleship and deployment of the right human resource to these mountains of influence. This is what I call the second coming of the church.

This is not to claim that the church has a monopoly of righteousness as we have seen men and women outside the church demonstrate levels of integrity unmatched even by some of our clerical leaders. This should not intrigue us because the grace that produces this result has appeared to all men. Such was the case of Cyrus who was called and graced by God, even though he did not know God. However, God desires that such men be discipled and taught the dynamics of that grace. In that vein, God raised a Joseph and made him father to Pharaoh, with a mandate to manage the economy, combat poverty, facilitate the wealth redistribution imperative and teach the senators of Egypt wisdom. This is the responsibility of the church. If we do not do this speedily in our clime, A je kun iya ni o je may become the theme song of our Senate, where, presently, masquerades adorn themselves with ceremonial academic gowns, and where perverts, pretending to be patriots, write against corruption with their left hands while shaking corruption with their right.

Conclusion

It is noteworthy, as earlier mentioned, that Switzerland is highly placed on several lists of positive development indicators, and also has a strong anti-corruption stance. The foundation of the current progress of that country was laid by the efforts of men of God like John Calvin who shaped Geneva, contributed to codifying its laws, and influenced a great deal of Europe, including the puritan migrants who eventually founded America. Also, America’s industrial greatness was preceded by the revivalism of men like Charles Finney.

In addition, Western civilisation, as it is known today, was spurred by the reformation of Martin Luther. Let me therefore conclude by using this occasion of the celebration of a great man of God, Dr. Wilson Badejo, to challenge the leaders of the church in Nigeria and, indeed, Africa, to accept the awesome responsibility of shepherding society; a responsibility that is inextricably linked to the call to shepherd God’s people.

Our mandate is to lead by example, raising nation builders, men and women, boys and girls, sons of God, who will deal corruption a death blow and rebuild the old ruins, thereby transitioning the state of the nations from poverty to abundance. The United Nations (UN) cannot do this. It is our responsibility as the Holy Nation, and our prayer focus for this hour is aptly captured by David, the sweet psalmist of Israel, in Psalm 144:11-15 (KJV): “Rid me, and deliver me from the hand of strange children, whose mouth speaketh vanity, and their right hand is a right hand of falsehood. That our sons may be as plants grown up in their youth; that our daughters may be as corner stones, polished after the similitude of a palace.

“That our garners may be full, affording all manner of store: that our sheep may bring forth thousands and ten thousands in our streets. That our oxen may be strong to labour; that there be no breaking in, nor going out; that there be no complaining in our streets. Happy is that people, that is in such a case: yea, happy is that people, whose God is the Lord.”

Dr. Tunde Bakare is the Senior Pastor at Latter Rain Assembly, Lagos.

Concluded

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