Thursday, September 20, 2012

Corruption as a Nigerian character

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Corruption |kəˈrəpSHən|:
- dishonesty, unscrupulousness, double-dealing, fraud, fraudulence, misconduct, crime, criminality, wrongdoing; bribery, venality, extortion, profiteering, payola; informal graft, grift, crookedness, sleaze.
fall into corruption: immorality, depravity, vice, degeneracy, perversion, debauchery, dissoluteness, decadence, wickedness, evil, sin, sinfulness, ungodliness. (dictionary definition)

      It appears that corruption has become a Nigerian character and culture. About a month ago, my sister’s kindle was stolen from a padlocked bag at the Lagos airport. The thief left the case and plug of the kindle in the  though. Funnier thing is, in that bag were 2 sealed letters. The thief opened the letters and seeing it was just letters with no money squeezed and tossed them back in the box. Last Sunday, Simon Kolawole wrote this article on the level of corruption in Nigeria and I could not agree more.
We are quick to rile against the government, elite and bureaucrats who are corrupt yet, we fail to recognize that the rice seller who uses false weights is corrupt, the driver who cheats his boss is corrupt, the mechanic who charges for parts not bought is corrupt. Also, the banker who is involved in sharp practices is corrupt, the steward who inflate the prices of food items for her madam is corrupt, the parents who buy answers for their kids to pass WASSCE is corrupt. Not forgetting, 419, yahoo yahoo and quack doctors.  Collectively, we blame the government and elite for being corrupt and also name them as the cause of the corruption in our everyday lives. I wonder if it is President Jonathan that inspired the Kindle thief. We forget that those who are in government- bureaucracy and political- are a reflection of values and attitudes are a society. The airport staff that stole the Kindle would definitely steal if he/she holds a government position someday and he/she would be worse than the current thief in government. Thus, it is not the “government position” that turns one into a thief overnight. We also blame “the system” for the decadence in our society as if “the system” is comprised of spirits.
Corruption is not just the failure of the leadership but also the loss of our values and ethics as a people. Until we begin to address dishonesty and immorality in our personal lives, there would be no change at the governmental or societal level.
Corruption pays in Nigeria and has sadly taken ethnic and religious dimensions. Case in point- The “church donation to President Jonathan’s town. That was one instance I was sure that everyone would agree was wrong- I was proved wrong.  Now, my townsman and church member is being witch-hunted if he is accused of corruption.  
Apart from the economic costs of corruption for example the $6.8 billion lost in fuel subsidy scam, there are other costs such as relationships that are destroyed, images that are battered and lives that are lost, and the loss of our value system.
I imagine that our ethos and values was not always like this and this raises some questions
1)         I thought that our culture and values promoted honesty and contentment. If it did when did what changed? Is it poverty or just greed? I refuse to believe that poverty and Nigeria’s economic situation is the significant cause of a general change in values
2)         If our culture and values promotes materialism, hence the get-rich-syndrome, how do we address that? How do we reboot and rework our value system? The desire for wealth and comfortable living is not bad in itself, however, there is a problem if the means of achieving our desires does occurs to the detriment of others.
Signing off, this semblance of the loss of our values and ethics is worrisome. I am interested in sharing ideas on how we can reverse this trend because this current trend is not sustainable.