But How Did We Get Here?

Posted: September 16, 2012 in Uncategorized

By Simon Kolawole

Exactly what is corruption? If you are a typical Nigerian, you would define it as government officials looting our treasury. In our view, everything starts and ends in government offices. Should we then be surprised that almost everybody is campaigning against corruption in Nigeria?

We are all waging a war against corruption. We are all appalled. We are all agreed that corruption is dragging the nation backward. The main reason Nigeria is not making progress, we say authoritatively, is that those in government are just stealing public money.

Corruption in Nigeria, I did say last week, is not the exclusive preserve of the politicians, civil servants and captains of industry. Among the “common people”, there is an instinctive honing of stealing skills.

We should stop thinking people suddenly become corrupt when they join government. In fact, having been tutored and mentored on petty stealing from probably the age of five, Nigerians naturally explode when they occupy positions of authority at any level either in private or public sector.

There is just something about our mentality which breeds greed. We don’t think we should do things the right and proper way. Actively or passively, we aid and abet corruption in our society.

I had barely shut down my laptop when I experienced corruption in another dimension.

Last Thursday, I wanted to send about 410 cartons of printed materials to Abuja. Because it had become urgent, I decided to use air cargo rather than road transport.

I went to IRS Airlines, paid nearly N300, 000 (I was issued with a receipt) and detailed a friend to follow the cargo to Abuja by the same flight. But someone had hinted me that the cargo would be sent to Abuja by road that night, and that IRS would contrive lies to explain it away.

I spoke personally to the officers in charge, who swore that the cargo would leave by the 2pm flight. I sought and got assurances. I was at the airport for three hours sorting things out. I saw the cartons being tape-wrapped and taken to the tarmac.

By the time the aircraft landed in Abuja, only five cartons were on board! The rest were sent by road. We had to collect the mobile number of the driver. We monitored his movement all night until he finally arrived IRS office at Abuja airport Friday morning. “That is what IRS does,” an insider informed me.

I made every effort to reach the owner of the airline to inform him on these sharp practices. He failed to pick my calls or return several SMS. I despaired. It would have cost me maybe N100, 000 to send the same cargo by bus.

I cannot say for certain if this is official fraud or something that was perpetrated by the low-level staff or even if there was connivance at different levels. One thing for sure, though, is that there is no limit to our fraudulent instincts in Nigeria.

While we continue to batter “our leaders” on the corruption pandemic in Nigeria, we also need to start looking inward, looking at ourselves.

There is corruption in every sector and every segment of Nigeria. Pastors and imams are prayer consultants to looters and murderers.

Lawyers collect hefty fees, part of which is to bribe judges. We in the media are not only accomplices but are active participants in the graft chain. Government-employed doctors divert patients and materials to their private clinics.

Yet, we are all complaining about corruption and how it is hampering our progress as a nation.

But how did we get here? In my view, there are two primary motives for corruption. The first is greed. The second is need.

Among “our leaders” and the middleclass, greed is usually the principal thing. They earn enough legitimate resources, but are never content. So they keep looting. Among “we the people”, need is the principal thing.

The ordinary people are poor or just getting by on lean resources. But for the proceeds of petty corruption, they would hardly be able to feed or pay their children’s school fees. (Meanwhile, I am not trying to justify anything. I am actually trying to explain my understanding of what is going on).

I received interesting, mixed responses to my article of last week, “Olympic Gold for Corruption?” One respondent, whose opinion I always respect, said the devaluation of the naira and removal of subsidies over the years have destroyed the standard of living of ordinary Nigerians and impoverished them, thereby making them vulnerable to petty corruption.

Nobody would watch himself or his family starve to death. Survival is a basic human instinct. People would do whatever it takes to survive. He said some 40 years ago, when the economy was decent, Nigerians were not as fraudulent as this.

I believe there is a link between cost of living, standard of living and the propensity to play by the rules. But this can only explain part of the problem.

The bigger problem, in my opinion, is that our values have been devalued. It is not just about poverty and survival. Something has happened to us. Cheap money is everywhere. Integrity, honesty, contentment and modesty are values that are fast disappearing in our society. We have seen how the rich get richer at our expense; they can afford everything they want while the rest of Nigerians struggle to get by. Living within our means has become a mere ideal.

Some readers blamed leadership for the rut. A good leadership will produce good followership, they argued. I agree with this line and I have advanced it several times, but that is if we understand the concept and nature of leadership as “my little corner”.  

If, as the leader of cleaners in your office, you are sweeping dirt under the carpet, you would sweep corruption under the carpet if you get to Aso Rock! If you are “repackaging” bags of rice as the leader of your shop, is it when you become governor that you would suddenly stop “repackaging” pensioners’ money? That’s some food for thought.

How then can we get out of this corruption mess? That should be a good topic for a seminar…

And Four Other Things…

A GRAND COMMANDER
Globacom Chairman and one of Africa’s biggest entrepreneurs, Dr. Mike Adenuga Jnr, will be conferred with the second highest national honour, Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger (GCON), by President Goodluck Jonathan tomorrow. This honour used to be reserved for politicians, mostly vice-presidents, but Jonathan has bucked the trend and given recognition to entrepreneurs, starting with Alhaji Aliko Dangote last year. To be honest, I always find the names of questionable characters on the honours list, but the Federal Government gets it right once in a while. Adenuga has more than paid his dues. He definitely deserves this honour.

CALLOUS COPS
Do the police train their officers on how to treat bereaved victims? Do they understand the meaning of trauma? My younger sister got a call early Wednesday morning from a police officer who said she was calling from somewhere in Edo State. “Your husband is dead,” she said, and asked my sister to come and claim the corpse. Is that how to treat someone who had just become a widow? I thought that was madness. After the remains were retrieved, the officer started asking my sister to “send something” to her and the DPO “to show appreciation” for the way they handled the matter. Madness. Sheer madness.

AIRPORT BLACK MARKET
With the suspension of operations by Air Nigeria, Chachangi and Dana Air—as well as some stringent regulations on commercial aircraft—there is a booming graft industry in the aviation sector as only two-and-a-half airlines are operating. Tickets are bought, hoarded and resold, with a new ID card provided within two minutes to give you a new identity to pass security checks. This is to say nothing about airlines closing check-in counters quite early—with some person approaching you and assuring you that if you could part with N10, 000, you would still get on board. It always works, I was told.

HURRAY, MURRAY!
If any British tennis player was going to break the jinx and bring home a grand slam title, it was always going to be Andy Murray. He has shown again and again what a good player he is, but carrying the hopes of the whole nation had weighed too heavily on his shoulders. At the 2012 US Open, Murray became the first British man since 1936 to win a Grand Slam singles tournament, beating Novak Djokovic in five sets. I’m happy for Murray, but we now have to live with the nuisance of the British press, which will now blow up Murray as the greatest tennis player the world has ever seen

simon.kolawole@thisdaylive.com

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