Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Ugoh Wilson Emenike was awarded a first prize (essays catagory) in a youth photography and writing competition, launched by the Thomson Reuters Foundation in partnership with Transparency International (TI) to mark the 20th anniversary of TI, one of one of the world’s leading anti-corruption organisations. We asked young people between the ages of 18 and 30 to depict corruption and how to combat it. The competition was judged by Thomson Reuters Foundation, Transparency International and professional journalists and photographers.
(The following is a fictionalised account based upon real events)
As a young boy growing up with my parents in the overly populated city of Lagos, I thought nothing of it each time we embarked on a journey and my father continued his old habit of giving out money to the police on duty at checkpoints.
But as I grew older I began to understand the system in my society. My teachers in secondary school did a lot of work in that regard; I got to know that what my father does each time he gives money to the police is bribery.
Mr. Akubor, our economics teacher, was my role model. His lessons were always filled with passionate talks about changes in attitude. He talked about corruption going on in government circles, the civil service and every sector of the economy. He affirmed how much better our society would be without corruption. He cited instances of how contracts are awarded, how the authorities habitually divert contract funds to their own private pockets. He ingrained in me his assertion that the future of our country is in jeopardy if the younger generation maintains the status quo. They hold the key to stopping the numerous evils besieging our nation, he maintained.
I took him as a standard. I resolved to be the agent of change he often talks about, to fight and possibly defeat corruption.
However, something happened that exposed the person of Mr. Akubor. One day he and I were sent to procure sporting equipment for my school. He connived with the supplier and inflated the cost by five times the actual price. When I questioned him, he told me, “Oh! That is what everybody is doing. The people in high places are busy looting public funds in the billions, I just made the most of an opportunity to get my own share of the national cake.”
Mr. Akubor – of all people – indulging in corruption. Where are those values he had laboured to impart to us? That is hypocrisy.
If people like him, who pose as corruption fighters, can commit an atrocity and term it an opportunity, then we shouldn’t expect any different from our leaders. The discovery about the real Mr. Akubor made me really fear for my country. My esteem for him was an illusion; nevertheless it strengthened my resolve to make a difference.
I shared my beliefs with my parents and made them understand my stance regarding our value system. My father dismissed my views as a mere youngster’s zeal that will die out once I was initiated into the system of things.
To prove his point he set me a test. When I finished my secondary school, I sat an entrance examination to a higher institution for two years without success. My dad suggested meeting an official from the school I applied to to process my admission through the back door. I vehemently refused. Then in the third year, his patience reached breaking point.
Acting against my wish he contacted the school official who agreed to do his bidding. I was offered a place I didn’t merit, so I rejected it.
My dad thought I wasn’t serious, but when I maintained my stance despite the pleadings of relatives, he became visibly worried, arguing that I allowed an impractical moral belief to affect my thinking. But I ignored the statement.
This is what young people should do to stop corruption. They should reject it; they should reject any appearance of corruption. Most importantly, they should keep true to their words, acting upon what they profess; and one can imagine what the world would become.
Ugoh Wilson Emenike, a youth activist in Nigeria, is the first-place winner of the Transparency International 20th Anniversary Youth Writing Competition on how to stop corruption.
The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of Thomson Reuters Foundation or Transparency International.