Anytime I’m asked about corruption in Nigeria, I always recall a scene in Game of Thrones. Peter Dinklage, the world’s most famous midget, was asked to explain something complicated. After strutting about for a while in deep thought, he started by saying, ‘Where to begin?’
That is always the hole I find myself anytime I’m queried about how to combat corruption in Nigeria. Corruption is so endemic in the country people have resignedly admitted it has become a way of life. Corruption in Nigeria is the single most unscalable gorge standing between Nigeria and greatness.
Most Nigerians on this side of the corruption divide can actually see the greatness across the gulf. They know how we can get there. Even most of the people charged with leading the country know it too; forget their fuckery. But that gorge has proved unbridgeable.
Nigerias corruption story
Where to begin? Nigerians are fully aware of the ingrained corruption of the politicians. Their acts of corruption are read all over the world on Nigeria News daily. How about the corruption in other segments of the society? To put it mildly, these are just as bad.
Take this incidence of grand corruption in the academia for instance. A senior lecturer at the University of Nigeria, Nsuka (UNN), had cause to expose a professor for plagiarism. He had discovered she blatantly passed off the academic research of others as her scholarly efforts; without the appropriate citations.
Apparently, it was on the basis of these plagiarized papers published in several journals that got her elevated to a professor.
The University Senate was reluctant to do anything about it until the petition was exposed in the media. So the University was forced to constitute a committee to investigate the allegation.
The layers of corruption in a single incident
Now, the first corruption was committed by a respected member of the University community. In the academic world, plagiarism is the pits. It is the worse crime that can be committed by an intellectual. The consequences include immediate loss of the privileges conferred by the fake papers. In ideal cases, the culprit is persecuted for perjury and for trying to mislead the authorities for personal gains.
At this point, different facets of corruption were added to the mix. These are covering up a crime, attempted blackmail and the intimidation of the whistle-blowing senior lecturer.
The panel, instead of indicting the female professor, embarked on a well-orchestrated witch hunt against the senior lecturer. Among other things, the panel wanted to know where he got the audacity to try and impugn the character of a professor. Didn’t he have any iota of respect for someone who was miles ahead of him in the academic world? And so on.
He wasn’t given the opportunity to tell his own side of things though. At the time the panel was sitting, he was on sabbatical abroad. It didn’t matter; he was found guilty and suspended.
When the news leaked out to the public, Nigerians were rightly outraged. How do you explain respected members of the panel, which included other professors, sinking so low?
That brings us nicely to another facet of corruption: cronyism.
Cronyism: a common face of corruption
In the UNN case, the accused professor, members of the panel (made up of other professors), and senior university administration officials are all very good friends. They have been together in the system; and by hook or by crook, have risen through the ranks to their current positions. They have consistently covered for each other and done favors for each other all through the years.
In cronyism, how far you rise in the system depends on who you know and the strength of the relationships you have cultivated over time. When you grant a colleague a favor, whether legal or illegal, it is done on the assumption there would be reciprocation when you need a favor in return.
Because of cronyism, barely qualified people are elevated to important and sensitive posts. Why won’t corruption thrive in a system where everybody seemed happy? Even though the output or work done is less than mediocre, the people who benefit don’t care as long as it doesn’t affect their bank balance negatively.
One could talk about corruption among medical doctors in hospitals, in the civil service, in banks and other financial institutions, and even in churches. They are all different faces of the same problem.
The former president, Goodluck Jonathan, got it spectacularly wrong when he said stealing is not corruption. No, strike that. He got it right. Perhaps what he was trying to explain was that stealing is just one aspect of corruption.
To put it another way, if corruption were a monster with many tentacles, stealing is just one of those tentacles. Albeit, a very important tentacle.
The other tentacles include nepotism, tribalism, quota system, kickbacks, contract inflation, etc.
Combating corruption: begin with the kids?
You have a monster with hundreds of deadly tentacles, and your job is to kill it; it’s a sure guess your first question would be ‘Where to begin?’
When Nuhu Ribadu, the former EFCC chairman was hounding corrupt politicians all over the country, the system worked to sabotage him. Lawyers, judges, police, and politicians all ganged up against him. They found a way to hound him out of the Police. He finally went into exile with some reports saying going abroad probably saved his life.
The most radical and practical strategy to combating corruption in Nigeria, barring killing all corrupt people, is to take what I’d call the ‘one-small-step-at-a-time‘ route. Using this method, it would take about three decades before country to begin to see results.
It involves a radical change in the way we educate kids today. There must be an emphasis on educating them on the harm corruption is inflicting on the country. While this is going on, policies like admission into federal unity schools based on quota system must be abolished.
This new generation of kids must be insulated from practices that stunted the growth of Nigeria. Progress in school must be based on merit.
But then again, Nigerian needs a leader who is ready to step on powerful toes for a policy like that to succeed. The good thing about this strategy is that the mindset of the kids, the future leaders of Nigeria, are being programmed in the right direction. The extreme difficulty of pursuing this approach underlines the need for a revolutionary leader.
Barring that, a complete cleanup of the Aegean stables known as ‘Corruption in Nigeria’ would work just fine. The only problem is where to get the right Nigerian hero to begin the process.
The concluding part would suggest a way of Combating corruption in Nigeria that can work in the current environment. Read it here.