In the first instalment in this three-part series, we interrogated two popular governance myths in the country, namely that the trouble with Nigeria is (a) squarely the failure of leadership (b) the absence of strong institutions. We argued that these two assumptions are simplistic and therefore inadequate in explaining the multifarious challenges facing the country.
Today we will continue from our last week’s instalment and examine two other myths: (c) that the trouble with Nigeria is corruption and (d) that the country’s main problem is pervasive insecurity in the land.
Myth 3: Corruption is the main problem in this country
Nigeria is one funny country where virtually everyone is engaged in the fight against corruption. At every corner and every joint where the Nigerian condition is being discussed, it is common to find the discussants taking a common premise that corruption is the problem in the country and angrily inveighing against the cankerworm. The fight against corruption is therefore often a point of convergence between the politician who became a billionaire overnight; the car mechanic who quickly exchanges the good battery in your car with one that does not work simply because you were not there or your attention was distracted; the student leader who pockets students’ union funds entrusted under his care and covers his mouth with radical rhetoric and the market trader who sees it as evidence of smartness that she beat you in the haggling game and sold her item at four times its value because of the way you dress or the car you drive.
But is corruption really the problem?
Many Nigerians believe that the abuse of public office by officials or what the Kurdish blogger Nabaz Shwany elegantly described as “a phenomenon that public good uses for private gains” is the main problem in this country and that once the cankerworm is tackled head on every other issue would fall in place. For instance Yusuf Alli, a frontline legal practitioner declared recently that “80 per cent of the socio-economic and political problems of the country are caused by corruption among leaders” (Tribune, February 11, 2013).
Following from the above, some people believe that what is required is a total ‘declaration of war’ against the social malaise. Such manner of thinking has led to fascination with contraptions such as the EFCC which, at least under its pioneer Chairman Nuhu Ribadu, appeared to believe that the agency was in a war mode with those it regarded as being corrupt.
Given the perception that justice is easily commoditised or compromised in the country, the EFCC’s form of media trial of suspects under Nuhu Ribadu was seen by many Nigerians as a form of trial in the court of public opinion. The underlying assumption was that the name- and- shame inherent in Ribadu’s media trial was a compensation for the unreliable wheel of justice of the judiciary. This form of perception of fighting corruption has led to a certain mistaken belief that the more the media trial or a few top-shots are named and shamed, the more robust the fight against corruption. I humbly beg to disagree. My personal opinion is that the EFCC, ICPC and others before them such as Obasanjo’s Jaji Declaration during his First Coming, Shagari’s Ethical Revolution and Abacha’s Failed Banks Tribunal tend to treat corruption as a simple question of moral lapse on the part of those accused of corruption when in actual fact the diagnosis of the problem should be far more sophisticated than that.
My personal opinion is that corruption is the symptom of a more fundamental societal problem, not the problem itself, and that the issue of moral lapse is only a small part of the equation. Flowing from this therefore any ‘fight against corruption’, which is premised on the belief that it is due to lack of moral integrity on the part of corrupt individuals, will miss the point.
In his novel No Longer At Ease (1960) which was discussed in the first instalment last week, Chinua Achebe vividly used the Obi Okonkwo character to illustrate that corruption is not a moral issue but something that is largely systemic and larger than the corrupt individual. In the novel, Obi Okonkwo, an upright man who was not afraid to stand alone and deeply resented the pervasive bribery and corruption of the time, was forced by survival imperatives and system dynamics to take his own bribe – and was caught! The moral here is that the systemic causes of corruption far outweigh the question of moral lapse on the part of the corrupt individual.
Another indication that bribery is merely one of the symptoms of a more fundamental problem is that despite the fact that virtually every regime in the country has made fighting corruption one of the cornerstones of its policy, the cankerworm persists and appears to be getting worse. My personal opinion is that we cannot judge the success of financial crime busters like EFCC and ICPC only by the number of top public officials they accused of corruption or even by the amount of money they seized from corrupt individuals. For these organizations to be seen as succeeding, an impact analysis of their activities or ‘wars’ (before they came into being and after they came into being) must show a decline in corrupt practices in the country. Can we really say that the activities of organisations like EFCC and ICPC have led to a decline in corrupt practices and tendencies among Nigerians? I honestly don’t think so. In essence corruption persists because we have been waging our ‘war’ against the symptom of a more fundamental societal malaise, not the problem itself. It is akin to a man who is suffering from malaria treating only one of the illness’s symptoms such as headache or loss of appetite rather than getting to the root of those symptoms.
Myth 4: Insecurity is the major problem in the country
With the wave of kidnappings in the country, especially in the South East, the Boko Haram insurgency in the North and violent armed robberies across the country, several analysts have argued that insecurity is indeed ‘the trouble with Nigeria’. For people who argue within this framework, insecurity inhibits foreign direct investments and scares away Diaspora Nigerians from returning home to invest in the country.
We will argue that while insecurity is a problem, it is not the fundamental trouble with Nigeria. In fact some of the purveyors of the security challenges in the country such as the Boko Haram are often responses to other perceived problems. Without trying to trivialize the current security challenges, I also believe that it is an overstatement to say that insecurity inhibits foreign direct investment. The truth is that capital smells opportunity and often moves into areas where it can reproduce itself – often regardless of the security situation there. Sometimes it moves into highly volatile areas like Iraq with its own security arrangements.
Interestingly, a list of the 30 most dangerous cities in the world published on February 19 2013 by Terra USA showed that only one African country, South Africa, whose Cape Town was ranked at number 28, made the list of infamy. In contrast, USA has two of its cities in that list – New Orleans ranked at number 18 and Detroit ranked at number 22. Similarly, Brazil, regarded largely as a successful country with the fifth largest population and largest economy in the world, has several cities in that list which is dominated by South American countries.
Curiously most of the countries whose cities are in that list, have impressive inflow of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and good ranking in the United Nations Human Development Index (HDI). The conclusion from this is that it could be difficult to establish a causal relationship between insecurity and a country’s performance either in the inflow of FDI or in its performance in the United Nations HDI. In essence, as deplorable as the current insecurity in the country could be, we cannot regard it as THE ‘trouble with Nigeria’. Which of course raises the question of what then is ‘THE TROUBLE WITH NIGERIA?’ (To be concluded next week).