Nigeria: Public Trust As Family Tustfund

Anywhere there is evidence of tokenism, cronism (cronyism), favouratism, clientelism or nepotism, public good suffers. The phenomenon of abuse of office by public holders in Africa has taken its toll on the continent. The viciousness with which public Institutions are skewed in favour of family members and cronies defames public leadership and leaves it without a name. Once voted into office, they forget the social contract they entered into with the people.

There are various examples of governments in Africa where public treasury is slaughtered on the altar of family ties.  In Libya for instance, it is alleged that Moammar Qaddafi and his family set up accounts in banks around the world with billions of dollars hidden that are in the names of members of Libyan tribes which were loyal to his government. This is in addition to lavish lifestyles adopted by relatives like owning posh homes, Hollywood film investments and private parties with American pop stars.

Back in Nigeria, General Sani Abacha and his family was tenth in a list of most self-enriching leaders that was released in 2004. They were said to have embezzled $1 billion – $5 billion. Although this is a case of breach of public trust, it is pertinent to ask whether  “Nigeria’s best-advertised kleptocrat” as he is described by some sections of the media saved, spent or stole the said sums of money?

Instead of harvesting dividends of democracy or better put democratic scorecard, corruption in Nigerian Public Sector has taken various forms since 1999. Top on the list are nepotism and favouratism. Studies have also indicated a high level of bias in the distribution of the nation’s resources. Although the public often concentrates on other forms of political corruption, this is also high-level corruption.

According to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, “Corruption in Nigeria appears to be ubiquitous and takes many forms: from massive contract fraud to petty bribery; from straight-up embezzlement to complicated money laundering schemes; from pocketing the salaries of nonexistent workers to steering plum jobs to relatives and friends. Some officials enjoy perquisites so excessive that they are widely seen as a form of legalized corruption.”

There are situations where public officers ignore the merit principle by awarding contracts or jobs to their relatives, family members or friends. The same thing happens when it comes to promotion or appointments. This adminstration has scored an all time low index as regards quality and ensuring the Federal Character Principle. As a result,  the quality of public service in the country is down.

A survey carried out in 2019 showed that about half of applicants who secured a position in the Nigerian public sector used nepotism, bribery or both. Some 20 percent of male respondents and 24 percent of female respondents confessed to have paid a bribe to secure a position in the public sector. Also, about 16 percent of male and female respondents got their jobs as public officials with the assistance of friends or relatives.

As far back as 1983, writing about “Corruption in Developing Countries: Tribalism might as well remain the greatest obstacle to tackling official corruption in Nigeria” Wraith and Simpkins disclosed that friends and kinsmen who sought favor from officials could impose strains on the ethical disposition of the official as these kinsmen see government officials as holding opportunities for their personal survival and gain.

This is where the powerfully delivered homily of the cerebral Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese who doubles as the Chief Executive Officer of The Kukah Centre and Converner of The National Peace Committee, Most Rev. Dr. Matthew Hassan Kukah on 13th April 2021 during the Silver Jubilee celebration of the Catholic Bishop of Yola Diocese, Most Rev. Stephen DamiMamza comes alive.

Kukah maintained that the friction which often arises between clerics and politicians when the later do not do what they promised to do during their campaigns particularly “when they turn public trust into a family trustfund …[and] watch the faces of their people scarred by poverty and squalor and look the other way.”

Until and unless the citizenry is able to hold public office holders who loot the treasury dry and put the nation in a sorry state accountable, public service will continue to be a mere “Family Tustfund” for greedy officials. Worse still, the phenomenon which Kukah also describes elsewhere as “Myownised mentality” is often about me, myself and my family with little or nothing about the Nigerian state.

When civil service and public institutions become citadels for a corrupt few who bypass qualification and moral principle by passing on to the illegitimate barton of leadership to their kith and kin-based on clientelism, the nation would continue to suffer convulsions of monumental proportions. The credentials for wining public trust are integrity, transparency and moral rectitude. These can only come about if those at the helm of affairs keep to the tenets of their faith while upholding the nation’s “honour and glory.” God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria!

Fr. Dyikuk is a Lecturer of Mass Communication, University of Jos, Editor – Caritas Newspaper and Convener, Media Team Network Initiative (MTNI), Nigeria.




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