That unpalatable submission of President Mugabe rankled those in Nigeria's corridors of power so much it consequently caused diplomatic unease between the two countries. Mugabe had made the remarks on the occasion of his 90th birthday luncheon. He has been in office for 34 years.
Nigeria protested to the Zimbabwean Chancery in Abuja, saying the remarks were denigrating of the country and its citizens and unbecoming of a friendly African country. The government then went ahead to reel off all the help it had rendered to Zimbabwe through its Afrocentric foreign policy thrust. Today, on the anniversary of Nigeria's return to democracy, the how-dare-you posture of the Nigerian authorities should give way to critical soul-searching and a change.
No doubt, Nigeria supported liberation struggle in the entire southern Africa and adopted a policy that included the nationalisation of British Petroleum and the Barclays Bank to drive home the point of its seriousness with the freedom of African states under colonial domination. Indeed, Nigeria was a frontline state and Southern Rhodesia, now known as Zimbabwe gained independence with that unalloyed support of Nigeria.
Nonetheless, inherent in Mugabe's unwise tirade is a serious message to Nigeria and its citizens. While Mugabe who continues to cling to power now, virtually as a life President, with destructive effects on his country, lacks the credentials to criticize anyone for corruption, yet there is a ring of truth in his retort. He is not the first public dignitary and head of government to tell Nigerians their ways are wrong in the open. The former Malaysian Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamad once said that corruption was driven in our land by the absence of a sense of shame. Also, the former President of the United States, Bill Clinton criticised the widespread corruption in the country and said it constituted a clog on the wheel of development.
Even Nigerians, on grounds of facts and perception, believe that their governments have been corrupt. The news media regale the public with cases of stolen billions of naira every day. Apart from the allegedly missing Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) $20 billion funds yet to be unraveled, a former state governor who was shielded by the Nigerian laws is serving prison terms in Britain where equity is largely unfettered. Another one who was jailed for corrupt practices was recently pardoned by the government.
From the onset of the fourth republic, corruption has been on the ascendancy. Several times, Transparency International has rated the country high on its corruption perception index. Between 1999 and to date, the country has been ranked among the most corrupt countries in the world. Last year, Transparency International 2013 Report ranked Nigeria 144th most corrupt country among 177 countries globally assessed. Similarly, the United States Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labour, an arm of the State Department painted a picture of the corruption among public officials in the country. The report titled, "Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2012" noted explicitly that despite official provisions against corrupt practices in the country, public officials were ensnarled in generous prebendal practices with extraordinary impunity at all tiers of government, including the security forces. The Nigerian judiciary was also indicted in that report which claimed that justice was for sale in the country. Today, as a result of the war against terror in the North-East quadrant of the country, the rot in the security forces is also in the limelight. Therefore, a country chooses its name by its overall governance output. So, the activities and behaviour of Nigerian officials qualify them as corrupt. And in the process, they taint the entire country.
It is unfortunate, of course, that despite the establishment of institutions to combat corruption, namely, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), the scourge has not abated considerably. As the bane of development in the country, corruption needs to be tackled with the required political will and commitment if the country is to prosper. Lamentation over insults from even less important countries and tyrants with dubious credentials like Mugabe, will not solve the problem; what will do, is decisive action against corruption. It is only self-purging and the power of personal example on the part of Nigeria's leaders that can regain the moral high ground and earn a corresponding respect for the country.
Let that be the resolve as the nation marks Democracy Day today.