Remarks by Vice President Prof. Yemi Osinbajo at the national conference on the role of the legislature in the fight against corruption on Tuesday 18 October 2016
The National Assembly, the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption and the UNODC deserve to be commended for this far-sighted initiative.
Despite the widespread cynicism about the capacity of the political class to fight corruption and graft, we have found the will to open up a public discourse on this all important subject.
Let me also thank Prof. P.L.O Lumumba,(keynote speaker from Kenya) for what, for me, was the most insightful and most eloquent extemporaneous speech I have ever heard on the subject.
I have been involved in anti-corruption advocacy and research, and action since1990. In all of that, I have never heard anyone say with any seriousness that they support corruption. Indeed everyone agrees that corruption is ultimately a fatal scourge.
Let me even argue that it is a crime against humanity, given the fact that in many countries including ours, it is largely responsible for the abject poverty of the majority and the massive fatalities of the most vulnerable in our society.
For the majority of our citizens, the greed and mindless selfishness that portends corruption is bewildering. How do you explain how anyone can embezzle funds meant to equip soldiers for a war that could consume thousands and eventually all of us?
Or how in the midst of so much want, how can some seize the treasury for themselves, their families and friends? And how can anyone argue after all of that, that all that is required and all that we need to pay attention to is the technicality of how such people are possibly arrested?
As the Senate President just pointed out, a few subsidy scams consumed almost N5 Trillion. When you consider that the budget is N6 Trillion, the size, the scale of the damage is clear. So I am sure that we all agree that there is no point bringing together this most distinguished, erudite and knowledgeable group for an intellectual exigencies on the consequences of corruption.
Indeed, a conference on corruption in which the arms of government are invited can, in my view, have one objective, and one objective alone, which is: what is the way out of this existential evil?
So, a gathering like this presents a unique opportunity to explore a consensus on how to free our nation and its most crucial institutions from the ravages of corruption or as the President said famously, how to kill it before it kills us.
Indeed we have a chance to develop a uniquely Nigerian approach to deal with this problem. I think it is important for us to be humble and clear headed enough to understand that the coalition that should emerge from such a consensus is not a coalition of saints, neither can it be a conclave of only righteous men and women bound by holier-than-thou creed and a crusading view. No, that will fail.
So the reason why the elite in different countries of the world decide to fight corruption is quite straightforward, it is not necessarily altruistic, it is not necessarily a moral issue. But that first, it protects even the elites itself from being consumed from the chaos and the conflict that the corruption may cause. And more importantly if public officials and private sector persons generally observe a code of integrity, the society itself is saved from a breakdown of law and order. –Osinbajo
What we need is a coalition of reasonable men and women of the Nigerian bureaucratic, political, business and religious elite. Men and women who believe that the proposition that corruption does not pay is not merely a moral injunction, that it is an admission of a grave reality in commerce, in governance or whatever other field of human endeavor.
That a corrupt executive, for example, will destroy all plans of development, that a corrupt legislature will use its legislative and oversight functions to enrich itself and compromise its roles of checks and balances, and the corrupt judiciary will sell its powers over life and death to the highest bidder and will turn society to the anarchical notion that self-help is best. That corruption in the capital market or banking system means that we cannot be sure that our investments will ever be safe. We may wake up one day to find that the banks or stocks that we put our resources in have failed because of the dishonest acts of a few. It means that the corrupt law enforcement officer will settle personal scores with its exclusive rights to use the force of state power. So, the proposition that corruption does not pay is simply one that captures the self-destructive nature of corruption.
The reason why we elect men and women as leaders in the executive, judiciary and legislature, and why we appoint men and women in the judiciary is that we desire an orderly society where we entrust the power to make decisions about how to spend our collective resources for the common good to a few. This is because reasonable men and women discovered long ago that if we allow everyone to take care of themselves, we will remain in the state of nature fighting like savages for our own portion of the meat.
We give power to adjudicate on our lives and livelihood to the fairest and most honest amongst us who is called a judge, otherwise law and justice will serve only the strongest and the richest. So the reason why the elite in different countries of the world decide to fight corruption is quite straightforward, it is not necessarily altruistic, it is not necessarily a moral issue. But that first, it protects even the elites itself from being consumed from the chaos and the conflict that the corruption may cause. And more importantly if public officials and private sector persons generally observe a code of integrity, the society itself is saved from a breakdown of law and order.
Your excellency, the Senate President, Honorable Speaker, we have an opportunity today to begin an important national project and I wish to emphasize that this should not be a finger-pointing exercise. What is required is a consensus of reasonable men and women who realize that the current path will destroy us all, that such a consensus will produce a coalition of the like-minded from the executive, the legislature and the judiciary, united by a common cause and proposition namely; that this Republic will fall and consume us all if we do not put in place a practical plan to clean up our crucial public and private institutions.