Thursday, June 1, 2023

The role of the church in the fight against corruption in Nigeria, by Olusegun Obasanjo

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Jaafar Jaafar
Jaafar Jaafar
Jaafar Jaafar is a graduate of Mass Communication from Bayero University, Kano. He was a reporter at Daily Trust, an assistant editor at Premium Times and now the editor-in-chief of Daily Nigerian.
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Corruption is a form of dishonest or unethical conduct by a person or group of persons, entrusted with a position of authority or an activity which involves financial or any other resources, outside his or her own, often with a view to acquiring personal or group benefits. Corruption is also the misuse of a public office or a position of authority and responsibility for private material or social gain at the expense of other people, individual or corporate. It includes bribery which is the use of reward to pervert the judgement of a person in a position of trust; nepotism, which is bestowal of patronage by reason of prescriptive relationship rather than merit and misappropriation, which is appropriation of public resources for private use. Corruption can be variously grouped into political, financial, ethnic and personal types, although corruption is corruption no matter how leniently or loosely put.

It must be stated that ‘political corruption’ is a persistent phenomenon in Nigeria and there is politics everywhere including the Church, especially if politics is seen as concerned with power, status, and influence within an organisation, rather than with matters of principle.

Corruption has been in existence in all strata of society for ages and it will go away easily but it can be curbed. We all have our fair share in encouraging corruption but unfortunately it is becoming more rampant in the political circle and in governments in various countries, particularly among developing nations including Nigeria. Transparency International is the global civil society organisation leading the fight against corruption.

It must be emphasised that although the Transparency International rated developing countries as more corrupt, they are encouraged largely by some of these developed countries because these regions serve as opportunistic avenues for hiding or domiciling their ill-gotten riches, sometimes for greater returns when compared with being in the home or developing countries.

Coming To Nigeria

According to ICPC Act (Section 2), corruption includes vices like bribery, fraud and other related offences which can include the award of contracts, promotion of staff, dispensation of justice, misuse of public offices, embezzlement of public funds, inclusion in the payroll of non-existent workers known as ghost workers, amongst other numerous offences. Broadly put, the dishonest and illegal behaviour exhibited, especially by people in authority for their personal gain is corruption. The perception index of transparency internationally ranked Nigeria 144th of the 146 countriesin 2015/16, beating Bangladesh and Haiti to the last positions. Unfortunately, the perpetrators do not fear any punishment or consequences because the legislators free them from scrutiny and governors’ claims to be immune.

Historical presentations have shown that corruption has been in place in Nigeria for decades.

During my tenure as democratically-elected president of Nigeria in 1999, a bill was presented to the National Assembly on the prohibition of and punishment for bribery and corruption and other related offences. I took that bold step then. However, how far has this actually helped in the eradication or, better still, in the reduction of corruption in the country? Unfortunately, the act has continued to spread like a wildfire, from the federal to the state, to the local government levels, and to other authorities; even within the educational sector in Nigeria, from the secondary to university levels. A student bribing a lecturer for higher grades is corruption. Lower clerics have been found to be bribing their way through to be promoted, even in the ‘house’ of God! Evidence also abound in which female staff enjoy unqualified rapid promotion in many offices and organisations, particularly among the Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs).

President Muhammadu Buhari defined corruption as the greatest form of human rights violation. Since the creation of modern public administration in the country, there have been cases of the official misuse of funds and resources. The rise of public administration and the discovery of oil and natural gas are two major events seen to have led to the increase in corrupt practices in the country.

The government has tried to contain corruption through the enactment of laws and the enforcement of integrity systems, but success has been slow in coming. Legislations alone are not enough as they are often breached by those who make them and those who should implement them. In 2012, Nigeria was estimated to have lost over $400 billion to corruption since independence.

Corruption is very pervasive and at times not too glaring to the public. It is a systematic problem in our society and thus should be addressed systematically right from the root, stem and branches. To curb it, children, youth and adults must be given the power to distinguish between the rights and the wrongs. Schools should return to the teaching of moral education to empower children with the spirit of stewardship and scholarship, while adults live exemplary lives, reflecting truth, kindness, healthy competition, dignity in labour and integrity. It must be all hands on deck within the society.

The Church

The fight against corruption in Nigeria is the fight for the soul and survival of Nigeria. Like cancer, corruption is gradually killing the country. Now is the time for all of us, as individuals and institutions, to be active participants in the fight. The Church is an important and influential institution in our society. Our main problems are moral, ethical and attitudinal failure and disorientation. The Church is an institution that provides the moral and ethical standards for us as believers.

For the Church to perform its roles properly and adequately, it must firmly strengthen itself through the Scripture. First, God did not create a corrupt world. “God saw all that He had made, and it was very good” (Gen. 1:31). God created a perfect world which man with his depravity corrupted to the disappointment and dissatisfaction of God. “God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways” (Gen. 6:12). It was God’s displeasure with corruption on earth that brought about Noah. “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them” (Gen. 6:13). And then the post-flood world of Noah was not corruption-free for any length of time. But there are examples and role models in both Old and New Testaments to guide the Church and the children of God on how to resist and fight corruption.

In the Old Testament, the word “bribery” is often used to refer to corruption. In the book of Exodus, Moses gives the following instruction: “Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds those who see and twist the words of the righteous” (Exo. 23:8). There can never be true justice when corruption and bribery are involved because the eyes are closed to the truth. Taking a bribe is obviously an offence against God, the weak, the innocent and the community. It is a sin. Solomon puts it more graphically when he says, “a wicked man accepts a bribe in secret to pervert the course of justice” (Pro. 17:23).

Daniel was a paragon of integrity. Here is the testimony, “The administrators and the satraps tried to find grounds for charges against Daniel in his conduct of government affairs, but they were unable to do so. They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent” (Dan. 6:4). Greed is the root cause of corruption but Solomon counters the attitude. “Better a little with righteousness than much with injustice” (Pro. 16:5). Contentment is a good virtue and a good attribute to be cultivated. On a personal level, every believer must guard against temptation, “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted” (Gal. 6: 1). “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall” (1 Cor. 10:12).

In the book of Isaiah, we are told in Chapter 5, Verse 23 that, “they take bribes to let the wicked go free and they punish the innocent”.

These verses and many others (Ezek. 22 v 12, Ps. 15 vs 1–5) show us the negative effects of corruption, perversion of justice, shedding of blood, exploitation, mal-distribution of a nation’s resources, etc. which in totality means the growth and development of the society is arrested or stunted. Jesus condemned, in strong terms, the corruption and malpractices of the Pharisees and the shopkeepers within the Synagogue surroundings. And Jesus was a victim of Judas Iscariot’s corruption.

Based on my knowledge of the negative impact of corruption in our society and the determination to fight it, I had this to say during my Inaugural Speech on May 29, 1999, “Corruption, the greatest single bane of our society will be tackled head-on at all levels. Corruption is incipient in all human societies and in most human activities. But it must not be condoned… No society can achieve anything near its full potential if it allows corruption to become the full blown cancer it has become in Nigeria… There will be no sacred cows. Nobody, no matter who and where, will be allowed to get away with the breach of the law or the perpetration of corruption and evil”.

The fight against corruption was made a top priority by my administration. Laws were enacted, while the appropriate institutions, the ICPC and EFCC, were created. We never lacked the political will in supporting these institutions in the struggle and fight against corruption.

Despite all these efforts, corruption is still thriving in our country. In fact, from the revelations we are hearing, it seems the situation is worse than what I met on ground in 1999. The inference is that fighting corruption is not a one-off or one regime affair; it is an all-time and all-regime affair. If we relent, it bounces back with vengeance.

There is no doubt that all our institutions have been tarnished by the brush of corruption. If the Church, as an institution, does not take bribe or get involved in other obvious corrupt practices, the behaviours of some of our men of God leave much to be desired. They not only celebrate but venerate those whose sources of wealth are questionable. They accept gifts (offering) from just about anybody without asking questions. This gives the impression that anything is acceptable in the house of God. But if Jesus can chase out those buying and selling from the temple with the declaration that, “My house shall be called the house of prayer, but ye have made it a den of thieves” (Mat. 21: 12-13), then it is time to stand up against corruption.

The Church needs to clear its Aegean stable. The temple of God must be very clean to restore the holiness of the church. Our present-day ‘money changers’ and ‘merchants’ must be chased out of the Church and put to shame in the larger society.

The Church must embrace a more inclusive definition of evangelism. Evangelism must not only be limited to winning souls to increase the crowd in the Church but it must also embrace discipleship, which is the cleansing of the soul and heart towards righteous living. The Bible tells us, “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people” (Pro. 14:34).

The pulpit must be used to teach and preach righteous and honest living. While nobody wants the Church to preach poverty, the message of prosperity must be preached with caution and moderation, bearing in mind the mission of Christ, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” (Luk. 4: 18-19). While miracles, signs and wonders are the expectations of true believers, such must be based on righteousness. To preach that one can acquire wealth without labour is not only deceitful; it is a call to corruption. It is false preaching and it is sinful. We must be careful in believing and celebrating every testimony of miraculous blessing, hence we end up being hoodwinked into celebrating corruption. The power of faith must be developed as an instrument of social change.

The Church must use its power to teach the right values. One of our major problems is the breakdown of our values system. The Church, as an agent of socialisation, must be in the forefront of rebuilding our value system and making the individual to imbibe these values and moral principles. As part of its evangelical and spiritual mandate, the Church must boldly speak out against corruption in our society. The Church must take to the high moral ground and speak out against corrupt leadership and poor governance. The Church must embark on moral re-armament for the Church and the nation.

As the saying goes, charity begins at home. The leaders in the Church must live by example. It must be a case of ‘do as I do, not do as I say’. While we shun questionable characters and offerings, the administration of the Church must be open, and transparent. Accountability must be our watchword. The Church is not of this world, simply because it is expected to live by the highest standard as prescribed in the word of God. The Church is the light of the world. In our conduct behaviours, activities and programmes, we must let our light show forth in its full brightness for all and sundry to see and emulate. In actions and deeds, the Church must stand up against corruption.

The Church played an important role in the development of this country. We are now at another important historic juncture requiring the Church to play a leading role. This is a period of moral and ethical rebirth. That role must be played in praying, preaching and teaching. The Roman Catholic in Nigeria has produced a prayer against bribery and corruption which is said by all members, thus:

“Father in Heaven, you always provide for all your creatures so that all may live as you have willed. You have blessed our country Nigeria with rich human and natural resources to be used to your honour and glory and for the well-being of every Nigeria. We are deeply sorry for the wrong use of these your gifts and blessing through act of injustice, bribery and corruption, as a result of which many of our people are hungry, sick ignorant and defenseless. Either, you alone can heal us and our nation of this sickness. We beg you, touch our lives and the lives of our leaders and people so that we may all realise the evil of bribery and corruption and work hard to eliminate it. Raise up for us God fearing people and leaders who care for us and who will lead us in the part of peace, prosperity and progress. We ask these through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

The Church has a very vital role to play in curbing corruption in our society. Morality must be preached at all times in all places and by all people.

Baptist ethicist, Louise Kretzschmar of South Africa, addressed the question of leadership in the Church and corruption on July 10, 2014 in a Joint Session of the Christian Ethics Commission and the Theological Education and Leadership Commission of the Baptist World Alliance, meeting in Izmir, Turkey. In a paper entitled, “Beyond Milk: The Moral Failure and Ongoing Formation of Lay Christian Leaders in the Church and Society,” Kretzschmar noted that corruption among people in power on many levels is rampant. This reflects a need for greater moral formation in society, she said, and especially among leaders who are Christians.

“Spiritual formation is initiated by God’s grace,” Kretzschmar said. It “requires a human response to the regular prompting of the Holy Spirit, and results in mature persons and communities of faith. For Christian leaders, it forms the foundation, motivation and principle means of moral formation, which is the development of moral virtue, character, behaviour and lifestyle.”

How is ethical character to be formed in leaders of business, education, politics, and charitable organisations? Even those who are Christians, she said, may belong to “churches where they receive very little in the way of discipleship, support, intellectual input and spiritual formation. As a result, they may have developed a ‘split’ spirituality that separates their faith from their workplace activities.”

“Christian leaders need to be rooted in the stability of a relationship with God and the simplicity of a life that is straightforward and open,” Kretzschmar said. “This rootedness in a God-centered life of righteousness can enable them to face the confusion and conflicts that arise as a result of morally-wrong motives, relationships and actions and to be peacemakers.”

The presentation above shows that even in the Church, corruption is striving and this makes it difficult for the Church to really play her all-important role of modeling the country in a morally-evidenced manner.

The Church can help on this level by raising people to mentor or coach business and political leaders who are Christians and encourage them to continue to grow in their faith and Christian maturity.

Christian leaders working on the “macro” level should be aware of national and international conflicts, the impact of industry on the environment, massive economic disparities, and other similar socio-economic issues. Consequently, it is very expedient for the Church and particularly the leaders, to speak truth to rulers and politicians. Business values such as maximising short-term profits at the expense of workers or the environment and the society at large are in conflict with a Christian norm of the stewardship of the earth and what is good for society as a whole and the Church should say so stoutly.

Similarly, the Church should long for children of God by saving grace in political leadership and those who are credible in the eyes of the broader electorate because they work to improve the lives of citizens and neither hide their faith nor use it to pander to the interests of particular groups in order to gain votes. If politics is left for bad people, we will have bad politics and bad government. The Church should preach and publicise against cheating the marginalised and neglected, especially children and young people who are vulnerable to violence and exploitation.

Lastly, while we stress the role of the Church, it must be seen that this great very important organisation is a microcosm of the entire society and hence there is the need for the general cleansing of the society. What is equally important is strengthening participatory democracy and transparency in government. This will lead to stronger institutions, which are then better placed to respond to the crisis of insurgencies. This is true for countries across Africa and in other parts of the world. All sectors must be involved in the transformation: the National Assembly, the executive, the judiciary, the private sector, the civil society, communities, all and sundry. The Church, and that includes the Mosque, has a cardinal role to play.

If appropriate steps and strategies are taken and leaders are transparent about the corruption challenges that they face, the trust of the public in the Nigerian government and security forces would be strengthened. These will help their ability to address the very real challenges and risks the country faces.

In conclusion, we have seen that corruption was brought to the world created by God. Man alone, by himself, cannot get rid of corruption from the world, he now needs the assistance of God. Here must come the society and the Church with the spirit of God to work together to undo the harm that man has done and continues to do to the perfect work of God, the earth. There is no substitute for the role of the Church in fighting corruption.

Mr Obasanjo, a former president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, presented this paper at the Convention of Victory Life Bible Church International (VLBC) Victory City, Abeokuta, on Saturday. April 8, 2017

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