Launch Of EFCC’s Integrity And Zero Tolerance Manual For School Clubs In Model Secondary School Maitama, Abuja

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Sometime last year, the EFCC Chairman, Abdulrasheed Bawa, while sharing one of his many ideas on anti-corruption strategies with me, told me about the plan for integrity clubs in schools across the nation. I told him about my journey in the advocacy for integrity in Nigeria, how in 1995, I co-founded an organization called Integrity and it has now morphed into an organization called Convention for Business Integrity and it’s here in Abuja. I co-founded it with Mr. Soji Apampa, and one of the programmes of that organization was the establishment of Integrity Clubs in schools. That was in 1995, but we never quite achieved it.


This is why I feel such a deep commitment and attachment to this project and I’m particularly pleased that I can witness the launch of the Operations Manual for Integrity and Zero Tolerance Clubs in our schools.


I am happy that with the dynamism of the EFCC Chairman and his team, they can realize a dream that some of us had so many years ago but somehow were not able to achieve. I think it is a vital step in finally achieving the milestone in building a future against the disaster of corruption, and I want you to take note of those words, “the disaster of corruption.”


The conceptualization of the manual deserves commendation and the establishment of the clubs in schools is also timely. Because the truth is that perhaps the greatest challenge we face today as a nation and as a people, is how to safeguard our young people and the coming generations from the ethical crisis and confusion that is confronting our nation.


The false notion and I describe it as an ethical crisis and confusion because there is already confusion about what exactly corruption means and how it plays out in the lives of people and a nation. There is a false notion that we can get away or get ahead by cheating, or stealing, whether in public or private life, and I want you to take note that I did say a false notion – the error of thinking that there will be no consequence for defrauding others, whether it is your employers, the government, or cheating in an examination.


It is an error to think there will be no consequence. The reason why many people believe these false notions is that there seem to be many in our society whose wealth cannot be explained, and many even among the young who live by defrauding others. We hear of the “Yahoo Yahoo” explosion, several have been convicted by the EFCC on several occasions, several of these individuals.


Many people say that young people today rarely find role models among professionals or even among those public servants who are able to explain how they made their wealth. These are all symptoms of the crisis that we are experiencing.


Let me say why it is an error to think that corruption pays. It is a mistake because many societies in the world were like us where we are today. There is nothing peculiar about Nigeria or peculiar about Nigeria’s corruption. We like to sound as if there is something about us but there is nothing peculiar. Many societies have been where we were; they were extremely corrupt, cheating in examinations, and public servants stealing resources and extorting from people. If you want to get a passport, you have to hire a consultant, you want to get a driver’s license you must pay a bribe, all manners of things. A shop assistant working in a shop must steal the inventory of the shop owner. All of these things are not new, they are all features of a society that begins by believing that it is possible for individuals to enrich themselves by deceit and then everything will be alright.


But very soon, societies suddenly discover that it is not possible, that eventually, the society will collapse. Eventually, even those who have stolen the resources of society would have to be accountable for them. What these societies did was to take an all-of-society’s approach to fight corruption and fight dishonesty. This is why this particular exercise, these integrity clubs, are very important.


The other fact is that many who thought they could get away with corruption are often surprised that the long arm of the law, sometimes very slow, will eventually catch up with the criminal. There is no time bar or statute of limitation against the commission of a crime. A man who steals this year can be arrested in 10 years’ time for his crimes. When you steal, you cannot sleep with both eyes closed, every knock on the door will get you worried.


I remember a young lady at a University in Southwest Nigeria, who was in year 5 of a medical degree programme when it was discovered that she had used a false certificate for entering the University. The University had done an audit and discovered so many. But this particular lady was so pathetic because she had passed her examinations all the way to year 5 when it was discovered she had used a false certificate.


The decision that had to be taken of course was that she had to begin afresh despite the 5 years she had spent, it could not stand. If even she had received a degree, fundamentally the basis for that degree was wrong, and that was the end of it. And one day it will be discovered,


This is why I think it is important for us to realize that integrity pays and we must let young people understand that. The recognition that integrity, honesty, and trustworthiness, are crucial individual and collective attributes for successful people and communities is fundamental. Every corrupt act is not just a crime, it is a crime against society, it is not just something that helps an individual, it is a crime against society. Every one of us must realize that every time we permit somebody around us to commit a crime and get away with it, eventually it catches up with all of us as a society.


I’ll tell you a very quick story. I was a student in England in 1981, I’d left Nigeria and at that time, I was doing post-graduate work in the United Kingdom. At that time, it was difficult to send money abroad for your school fees, you had to go through a long process with the Central Bank.


In the University where I was, I couldn’t pay my fees in a particular term because my fees had not come from Nigeria, and it was taking a long time.  I went to a Counselor at the University and asked what help I could get because I would have to defer the fees. The Counselor said why don’t I just go to the bank? I said, “bank, how can I go to the bank? ‘He said “yes, I should go to the bank and ask for a loan”. I said, “but I don’t have any money, how can I go to the bank, I don’t have any collateral, how do I go to a bank?” He said, “I should go up there and ask.”


So I went to the bank, the Natwest Bank then in England, and as I went to this bank, I saw a lady across the counter and I explained my situation to her that I was expecting my cheque. This was the bank where I had an account and I explained to her that I was expecting my cheque, I didn’t know when, it could be up to six weeks or seven weeks, but I wasn’t sure.


She looked at my ledger, saw that I had a little money, maybe about a hundred pounds or something and she said, “okay how much do you need?” I said, “six hundred pounds.” And she went away while I was still standing at the counter. She brought the six hundred pounds with a note paper which I signed to say that when my cheque came, it will come to the bank.


So, I took away six hundred pounds across the counter, I did not sit down anywhere, I did not beg, I just simply explained, and that was 1981. Of course, when my cheque came, I paid it back. By 1984, it was impossible for a Nigerian to open a bank account in most banks in England. I’m not saying borrow money, I’m saying open a bank account.


As soon as they see your green passport, they say “no, you can’t open a bank account here”. Why? Because many students and many others had used credit cards in the banks where they had their accounts, and when they were going home, they would buy cars, buy fridges, buy all sorts of things with their credit cards and disappear and they would never pay back.


It was a Nigerian thing, many people knew that it was going on. Of course, nobody said anything, nobody checked, so it was impossible. Years after, it was still very difficult for Nigerians to open accounts. Other countries’ nationals opened accounts easily, and the banks didn’t mind. But when they saw your green passport, they said “no, we won’t open it”.


At a point, it was possible for you to borrow money across the counter. In another few years, you can’t even open an account. So whatever act of corruption a person does, whatever act of dishonesty, it always has an impact on the future for others, even in the present for other people. It’s not just about yourself.


Today when you hear of “yahoo yahoo”, people say, “ah!” There are people who even justify it. Some people will say, “oh yes, it’s because they don’t have money.” “It’s because they are poor, that’s why they are “Yahoo Yahoo.” No that’s not true, there are many young people all over the world in different countries, the difference is the consequence.


If you know that you will be caught and dealt with, you will not do it and you must also recognize that it destroys the reputation of your country and that reputation is important because you want to go abroad to study, you want to do business abroad, you want to do business with people. If the only thing people have ever heard is that “these people are 419, they do 419, they do Yahoo” and that’s the only reputation that there is, then you are in trouble.


I want to say to the young people here in particular that you represent the army that must fight corruption, not because somebody had preached to you or it seems like a nice thing to do, no, but because your future depends on it.


The reputation of your country is all that you will have in the next few years if you want to do business or if you want to go abroad, it is that reputation. Those destroying the reputation of your country are not doing you any good, they are doing you great evil and you must ensure that you join the army to fight corruption, to fight dishonesty because it simply is dangerous not just for you, but for the entire society and for the future.


Every public officer who steals robs the Nigerian society of funds for education, healthcare, etc. Every time a public officer steals money, whether the man is from your tribe or from your village or not because people excuse those who steal when it comes from their own part of the world, “oh it is okay, after all, he is my brother, she is my sister.” But never forget, that every public officer who steals resources makes it more difficult for you to access good education, to access good healthcare, good roads and all of that because public money is not for private pockets, it is meant for the public good, it is meant for public infrastructure.


Everybody who is pocketing public resources does harm to our country and does harm to the future and to all of the young people in our country.


Our integrity clubs must become policemen against corruption and wrongdoing. Whether it is a member of the government or a shop assistant who is your friend or in your own class, you must fight against cheating because it destroys not just individuals, it destroys societies, and ultimately, it will affect you, whether you realize it now or not.


Let me once again commend the visionary Chairman of the EFCC, Mr. Abdulrasheed Bawa, for this great initiative and also for realizing that we must develop an anti-corruption army. That army is waiting in our schools and we must teach them that corruption is the worst destroyer of destinies and people and that they must fight it as one fights a mortal enemy in a war.


I want to thank you all and I want you to ensure that individually and collectively, we all support this effort. I am so happy that we have chosen a school, not the ICC and I join others in commending the EFCC Chairman for choosing a school, not ICC or Transcorp Hilton, because this is truly where the war must begin.


Thank you all very much.