2013 Youth Writing Competition Winners

What can young people do to stop corruption?
Ugoh Wilson Emenike

"I resolved to be the agent of change he often talks about, to fight and possibly defeat corruption"

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(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.

Emenike, 23, is a youth activist, writer and teacher from Ebonyi State, Nigeria. Though from an economically disadvantaged background, Emenike says he believes that there is no limit to what one can achieve with determination. He works with Scripture Union, a Christian organisation, on developing the potential of young people to create a better world. He wants to continue pursuing creative writing and to study engineering as a way to address the need for renewable energy resources and a cleaner environment. Emenike says his interest in corruption developed from his realisation that it can be the root cause of many challenges that youth face globally, including unemployment.

"I use writing as a weapon – drawing the attention of people to the threat that corruption constitutes."

Trinidad and Tobago
Keisha Baisden

"Musicians have a responsibility like all other artists to make people uncomfortable"

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I am a music therapist. I use music to help people achieve their potential, to see the good in themselves and others, and to accomplish things they never thought were possible. I have seen lives changed, connections formed, and spirits renewed, all through music-making. This is why I believe that we can use music to address social ills such as corruption.

Corruption comes not just in action, but as a result of polluted hearts, minds and spirits. When people have lost empathy and consciousness, greed and lust for power take over. To stop corruption in all spheres, we need a spiritual revolution. We need to expose people in authority as no different from others. We need to inspire communities into togetherness. This is why every country has a national anthem, for example, to encourage a united spirit, to support equality, and to inspire community. Research has shown the benefits of communal music making. This simple act encourages understanding and promotes empathy. When we sing together, the rich man is no better than the poor man.

I also believe that one of the main causes of corrupt behaviour is a lack of empathy and understanding. If one cannot see the damaging ripple effects of one’s behaviour, one feels no guilt. This is another way in which music can be a great equaliser. We can use music to tell the stories of those who have lost their voice in a hierarchal society. Musicians, apart from being entertaining, have a responsibility, like all other artists, to make people uncomfortable. We have an obligation to cause thought. Telling the stories that people would rather not hear is our duty.

The music of a generation is its stamp on history. As young people, we use music to define ourselves, to express our deepest longings and darkest secrets, and we depend on it to comfort ourselves. We must therefore use it to rally ourselves. Many revolutions have started on the guitar strings of bare-backed, peaceful rebels. The revolution against a world of corruption, dishonesty, and greed can use voices of hope.

Every businessman worth his salt knows that the support of youthful consumers can make or break a business. We have a great deal of buying power and influence. We have the most energy, the most time, and the impatience needed to make changes to our own societies. We often forget this, however, and that’s where musicians come in. Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, etc., all have their places in history because of the way they were able to unite generations and inspire through their music. We need young musicians to fill their shoes and to rally us together to make the change.

Most cultures have used music throughout history to teach ideas and concepts. From learning the alphabet through song, to learning patriotism, to understanding religious concepts, music plays a huge part in learning. Why not use it to teach moral and ethical principles? It is effective because one can use music to present ideas in a simple, repetitive manner. Young musicians should be creating music with positive messages to help address the moral degradation that causes corrupt behaviour.

Corruption has become so pervasive that we cannot address it simply through legislation or lectures, though these things will always be important. A new approach requires innovation and passion. Young people wishing to join the fight must use the tools already in their arsenal to do so. Music has always been a part of that arsenal. We must explore the true capabilities of our voices.

Baisden, 24, is a board certified music therapist from the twin-island Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. She is a graduate of the University of Miami, and a member of the Sigma Lambda Gamma National Sorority. She owns her own business, Music Inspiring Change, which provides music therapy services to youth and adults from at-risk communities, and for patients in end-of-life care. She is an adjunct lecturer at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, and at the University of the Southern Caribbean. She also enjoys her role as the musical director at her church.

"Corruption is one of the most pressing social ills plaguing my beloved islands of Trinidad and Tobago, and I have seen the far-reaching effects, such as criminal activity, poverty, and distrust, among my music therapy clients."

Subecha Dahal

"That is the power of setting an example"

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It was 2011. It was one of those days, hot and humid – a typical Indian summer. I was still a student at the time, living in the Indian city of Pune. During many such hazy student-life afternoons, Facebook was a place of respite where I aimlessly scrolled, thinking and ruminating about my repeated procrastination over essays and deadlines looming. Most of the updates were about friends who had got engaged, who had married and who was expecting. It was not very amusing but it had become a habit. And it was then that I stumbled across something that the Internet community would call Facebook Gold.

One of the friends had posted a video he took of an Indian policeman soliciting a bribe. Apparently my friend was driving a motorbike and because the bike had no mud guard, the traffic policeman stopped him and asked him to pay a 100 rupee fine. My friend complied and asked for a Challan (receipt). The policeman said that he wouldn’t be giving any. It was then that my friend realised that this was a bribe. Any other person trying to get out of a sticky situation would have just left after paying the money. But my friend didn’t. Rather he insisted that he get a receipt since it was his right. The policeman said that there would be no receipt and then moved on to seize his license and threatened that if he created a scene, he would charge him with more traffic violations. It was then that my friend took out his camera phone and told the policeman that he would be taping the whole incident. The policeman, probably used to bullying, didn’t even budge and kept on. Unbeknownst to the corrupt policeman, he gave my friend a weapon that would eventually get back to him. He had thought the camera phone could do him no harm.

He was wrong. A social-media enthusiast like most of us young people, my young friend then proceeded to post the event with a detailed description on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and wherever else he had an account! His driver’s license was seized. But instead of giving in, it was exemplary that a young individual had the courage to respond – and in India, where corruption is such a widely accepted part of everyday life. In my native country of Nepal, the problem of corruption is equally widespread, and his action showed that we can challenge the cultural norms.

Later, I read another update that the same policeman was asked to answer for the incident, and the incident was even covered by the Pune newspaper. Though a small incident, it was an example of what a determined young individual can do. He didn’t need much in the way of resources, he only had a phone like most young people have. But he used it to his best advantage. I saw and understood the impact of social media and of young people raising their voices and rising to the occasion.

It is more than two years now since I last saw that Facebook update. Many might no longer remember it. I don’t speak with that friend much as I live in a different country now. We have lost touch. But even now when I sit down to write about what young individuals can do to fight corruption in their countries, it is this inspiring incident that comes to my mind.

That is the power of setting an example.

Dahal, 27, is an editor for health news in Nepal. She has completed a masters degree in sociology in India, and her first love is writing. Previously, she has worked on youth empowerment projects and development activities in Nepal.

"I have seen how the worst forms of corruption restrict the ability of the youth to be the very best they can be and do."

Over 900 essays submitted were judged on the following criteria:

  • The idea
  • How inspirational it is
  • Originality
  • Clarity of concept
  • Language and style

The views expressed in the photographs and the essays for this Transparency International competition are those of the contestants and do not necessarily represent the views of Thomson Reuters Foundation and Transparency International.