Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Corruption 'The Nigerian excuse for failure'

Give any so called Nigerian thinker a few minutes they will complain to you about corruption in their country as if they have a monopoly over this human condition. At the same time they will locate this problem in others almost ignoring the fact that sometime in the past few days they have got an advantage over others through relationship, gifts or sheer bribery. As I watch the Governor of Illinois being arrested for amongst other conducts trying to sell the US Senate seat vacated by President elect Obama I am amazed even further. What are Nigerians try to get away with? This arrest is not unusual in the politics of the United States, Rep Jefferson of money in the freezer, Senator Stevens of Alaska amongst many others in the past year. In fact all the above are neither repentant nor did they go quietly out of public life. My point is that these things happen in a society that plainly delivers to its citizens and produces economic as well as social excellence in which many institutions work for the greater good. Across the world there are examples of how deep corruption operates as symbiotic within the national fabric of most countries. In Japan pretty much across the board, in Great Britain watch what happened with Al Yammamah, in South Africa well the whole Zuma saga is yet to play itself out, in India, Thailand you can name it this is a human condition. This is not a carte blanche for corruption but neither should it be an excuse for failure. It is a symptom that has to be managed, parasite that lives in the body politic that can only destroy the host if it is not managed because it can only survive if its host survives as well.

In Nigeria, yes there is a matter of scale but that has a lot to do with a failure of having any organising principle that truly balance the host / parasite basis for the symbiosis that seems to lead to a more productive results in other jurisdictions. For example the perpetual probe and hysteria that has paralysed the House f Representatives in Abuja from doing any of the peoples business. It will be certainly interesting to know how many laws are on the statute book in this current session of the House. I venture that there are no serious policy or statutory improvement on the other hand we have had one speaker after the other under microscope and the absolute obsession with acts of the Obasanjo regime. The same is true of the Executive branch caught in its own paralysis by constant policy reversal of its predecessor without any real strategic progress. All the excuses to destroy Nuhu Ribadu another anti-corruption fundamentalist who even though got the host / parasite balance thing out of kilter still worked in a Government with momentum and purpose that at least gave context to his role.

We must stop this Nigerian exceptionalism and stop finding excuses for failure especially when we blame all others than ourselves. Corruption will not go away what we need is a process that can deliver the dynamic equilibrium necessary for the growth and evolution of our society. In my own view we can achieve this by taking the following steps:

- Establish the key indicators for excellence for Nigerian society call it 2020 vision or anything else so long that it captures the imagination of the multitudes of Nigerians rather than the 'jones' of a few eggheads.
- Evolve operating principles and standards that are based on context as well as understanding of the different cultures that make up Nigeria into the foundation of how we will organise our society into the future. Once again this cannot be top down process.
- Start a national campaign of productivity and meritocracy to put equality of opportunity at the core of the Nigerian experience.
- Prioritise transparency with banks and other institutions rather than just criminal punishment especially using the tax code as the mechanism for reward and sanction.
- Criminalise unexplained and unproductive wealth.

There are of course many other ways in which this can be done however we cannot continue to celebrate consumption especially extravagance and yet wonder why the obsession with personal amassing of wealth at any cost or means. We have put wealthiness as the greatest aspiration in our society, promoted in Churches and Mosques every day and relegated service, innovation as well as productive excellence out of sight. Enough excuses I am sure there is corruption in Calabar but it is a clean city and it is Nigerian so how come my beloved Ibadan is so filthy? In Calabar the Okada's wear helmet for themselves and passengers. Come on guys no more excuses.


Fifty Sense said...

Wale as always you have provide some new insights to old problems and challenges confronting Nigeria. I agree with you about our negative sense of "exceptionalism," as the misbegotten excuse for socially acceptable grand larceny. But I disagree with your comparisons. One key reason why these stories made the news is because respectively, the perpetrators were being forced to conform to the collective norms and sanctions, in a word they were being hauled kicking and screaming before the law. And oh.. in all the cases THERE WAS A PRICE TO PAY. To paraphrase Jared Diamond in Collapse, One reasons why societies collapse is because they fail to hold their elite accountable for their misdeeds. In Nigeria we are all culpable in various degrees, less than two degrees of separation I suspect, and even when we do not know anyone who has, well, "chopped," our aspirational sense of "making it" means that we are open to the amoral possibilities of corruption. Wale I disagree with your blithe reference to the scale of corruption. Over the last fifty years, Nigeria has earned an estimated $1.3 trillion (that is trillion with a T) in oil related revenue. I can think of no other place in the world that has had this kind of financial resources with so little to show for it. Yes we are no different from other countries. What is different is our collective lack of will do do anything really substantial and effective about corruption.

Onibudo said...

As usual my Oga Trillion or not even if we had the money we would still be as disorganised and poorly functional as we are. Pray Oga how much does it take to get the toilet in MMA properly flushing and clean? I can do it for less than N70,000 per month and you will be able to sleep in it even if you want. For another N100k per month I will have organised automatic flusher et al. Trillion or no trillion why does the newspapers print so poorly and are so badly written? Trillion or no Trillion why do the MTNs, Celtels , Glo et al function so poorly and charge so more. These are not in the public domain and are paid for the services. Why do the banks not retail widely what has this got to do with oil money? Bro the old oil money stuff is tired and trite. Yes corruption is a problem but lack of organisation is a deeper father of all our failures corruption included. I don't have trillion but what do I do with the little I have ?

Fifty Sense said...

Oga Wale, I am a tad confused about what seems at least in my mind to be a non sequitur. True, "a Trillion" in Nigeria is not sufficient to guarantee clean toilets at the airport, but surely there is some casual linkage between the Trillion and the "lack of organization" In one breath you criticize our self-referenced sense of "exceptionalism" and in the other, you hold it up as to the real reason why we have burnt through over a Trillion dollars and with very little concrete things to show for it. I cannot divorce our "lack of organization" from the malevolent intent that fosters it, thereby creating huge gaps in the value and productive chain that are designed to create rent seeking opportunities. And while I agree with you that we do have a tendency to pick the low hanging fruit in our analysis about our condition, I suspect that the higher hanging fruits of deep socio-anthropological inquests will taste much the same as the fruits many branches below. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. I think that Occam's razor should be applied here. The "old oil money stuff" might be tired and trite, but symptoms or disease, Cause and Effect, there is a direct cost to Nigeria that cannot be reasoned away under the guise of complexity

Onibudo said...

What we see says more about ourselves than what we are looking at Oga ! This is especialy true when we refuse to see that there are many ways of seeing the same thing that are plausible. Anyways everything has some contradiction and nothing is pure. Go figure.

Fifty Sense said...

True that!