Religious and traditional leaders are believed to be the custodian of people’s morality in the society, which invariably, is expected to reduce the spread of social vices that breeds corruption. However, there is an observable fact that traditional and religious leaders in Nigeria have a little understanding of how their position as respectable members in the society, can positively influence the anticorruption fight. Though not as the sole players in fighting the monster, but their role is critical for its treatment.
Commonness of corruption today is an indication that some traditional and religious leaders are failing and losing their influence to correct the vices in the society. Religion and tradition have been bastardized and commercialized to the extent that it is losing its appeal as a promoter of right values and spiritual standing, as a result of factors such as quest for prosperity/materialism by adherents and religious leaders, quest for power, victory over perceived enemies; selfish interests, sycophancy and the like, all at the expense of the virtues and moral standards.
Peering Advocacy and Advancement Centre in Africa (PAACA), shifted the paradigm with the support of Action Aid Nigeria, by directly engaging traditional and religious leaders in four states (Enugu, Akwa-ibom, Lagos, Kano), to create a network of traditional and religious leaders, who will integrate the values of uprightness in their teachings and actions. They are to first recognize that they do not lead a multitude of angels, but real congregations who are prone to corruption as they daily engage in the affairs of the society. Similarly, take seriously the moral responsibility of advocating for integrity among their heterogeneous followers by not overlooking or condoning corruption.
Engaging with these traditional and religious institutions, exposed outstanding peculiarities in the perception of the roles of traditional and religious leaders in achieving a successful anticorruption fight in the country. The disposition of these leaders to use their revered positions in service to their communities as opposed to personal gains largely influenced their acceptance of the message of anticorruption.
In Kano, for instance, probably for the fear of losing an existing or intended relationship with the government, a traditional leader, chose to play down on the need to track budgetary allocation, promote accountability and reduce the rate of abandoned projects in their communities. Interestingly, another traditional leader in the same state embraced the anticorruption message and saw the need for a step down to enable his community members benefit and be actively involved in the fight against corruption.
In a state like Enugu where a certain religious leader clearly spoke against corruption, but was not cheered by colleagues who are apparently disciples of injustice; guilty of unfair elections, embezzlement and leadership selection in their churches. When the religious constituency suffer corruption of the same nature as the public administration, and members of the congregation who serve on Church boards and committees are witnesses of corruption in the Church, it undermines its witness in the public square.
There was an obvious display of enthusiasm among Akwaibom State leaders to actively engage their followers on anticorruption issues and give the anticorruption fight the desired push, by collectively getting involved in budget implementation process with their followers and desist from celebrating ill-gotten wealth. A paramount ruler in Etim Local government advocated for inclusion of anti-corruption studies in the school curriculum and identified the need to collaborate with academic institutions to produce morally upright youths in the society.
A common opinion within these states is the alleged neglect of traditional rulers/institutions by government as being responsible for corruption in Nigeria; their welfare and lack of programs that could stamp out corruption from rural communities before extending it to the national level.
For religious and traditional leaders to be effective in tackling corruption in the public space, they must eradicate injustice and lack of accountability in their places of worship and communities. The church/mosque is made up of majority of the members in the society and It is imperative for religious and traditional leaders to sanctify themselves and be free from the faces of corruption described above, in order to display an exemplary leadership worthy of emulation by the followers.