Which came first – the corrupt citizen or the corrupt government?


The past few governments have truly had their work cut out for them, after all, swindling the country’s money is hard-work and time-consuming. So much so that they haven’t had the time to pay attention to industries other than oil, or run a general election without it becoming an absolute joke.

With the elections that were meant to take place last Saturday being postponed for a whole week, the world has been reminded of what a corrupt country Nigeria is.  Not only does the whole registration/election process highlight severe corruption, it also highlights the disorganisation that Nigeria seems cursed with in all political and social affairs.

It’s easy to blame the people sitting in power. Of course they are certainly the ones making immoral and moronic decisions that impact negatively on the people they are meant to serve. The government should be responsible for infrastructure, education, nourishing and protecting home industries and making sure international trade is as beneficial as can be.

But Goodluck Jonathan, Namadi Sambo, and those under and around them did not arrive on a spaceship from planet Corruption. They are, after all, former ordinary citizens.

I came across a Nigerian forum awhile ago in which the issue of tax was being debated. One poster claimed that it was probably for the best that Nigeria wasn’t fully developed because perks of evading tax made life, for him, a lot more comfortable. He went on to tell an anecdote about how his brother was taken to court in the United Kingdom over refusing to pay a TV licensing fee, and described how systems such as these were “a nuisance”. I remember watching a news programme years ago asking young Nigerians what they would do if they were in power. One boy, aged around 10yrs, said “chop [steal] money.”

Heritage.org had this to say about Nigeria’s corruption rankings (notice the word I have highlighted in bold):

“Corruption is perceived as pervasive. Nigeria ranks 130th out of 180 countries in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index for 2009, a drop from 2008. Corruption is endemic at all levels of government and society, and the president, vice president, governors, and deputy governors are constitutionally immune from civil and criminal prosecution. Domestic and foreign observers” recognize corruption as a serious obstacle to economic growth and poverty reduction.

In Nigeria, it’s normal to play ‘the game’. From bribing airport staff when one enters the country to paying 20N to policemen at so-called ‘checkpoints’ dotted along the main roads to allow you to get on with your journey.

Travelling to my father’s house in Ibadan from abroad we were stopped by policemen, armed with guns, who demanded a search of our car. In the glove compartment was a sum of money given to my father, by friends, to pass on to their relatives. Of course the policemen demanded a large portion of that money. Money that had entered the country legally and money that was not theirs to take. After much pleading, they finally accepted a smaller proportion of the money and went on their way.

Corruption, like any virus, has spread throughout all sectors of society. From politics, to education, from the top to the bottom. No one seems to be immune. But Nigeria is going to need some sort of cure – some sort of revolutionary change in mindset to change the status-quo. It’s easy to blame ‘them’ but what ‘you’?

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5 responses to “Which came first – the corrupt citizen or the corrupt government?

  1. The Corruption Perceptions Index makes for interesting reading. I live in Australia (ranked 8th) and my other heritage is Indonesia (110th). Indonesia is only just digging itself out of a hole of deeply entrenched corruption.

    Corruption creates a self-perpetuating cycle. Most politicians who rise to power in a corrupt country have inevitably had to play the game on their way to the top. Then once there, they are captive to the vested interests who helped them get there, and the skeletons in their closet are an obstruction to them pushing for greater transparency in general.

    Likewise, corruption is a natural result of a poor society, because people are scrapping to get whatever they can, but it’s also self-perpetuating because a society cannot progress fully when corruption is rife. For example, positions of power go to those who are not the most capable, and so much money is lost to corrupt hands out, which would otherwise go to something constructive.

    I think the very high importance placed on devotion to one’s family in Asia and Africa actually encourages corruption, at least in the form of nepotism. Most Western countries are much more individualistic, which is bad in some ways but at least it creates more of a culture of people getting ahead on their own merit.

  2. ‘Most politicians who rise to power in a corrupt country have inevitably had to play the game on their way to the top. Then once there, they are captive to the vested interests who helped them get there’

    I never thought of it like that but that makes a whole lot of sense. It also makes the prospect of a benevolent leader seem hopeless. I pretty much agree with your whole post except for I’m not sure if it’s true to say that western countries are more individualistic.

    For example, the NHS and other social reforms that took place in the mid 20th century in Britain were born out of a sense of duty and care for fellow-countrymen. I’m not even sure if it’s really devotion to one’s family that can be blamed for nepotism, or just the fact that you’ll need favours from some people to crawl to the top, and family are most convenient.

    I’m not saying that the west are a perfect example that Africa or Asia should follow by the book (we all know that China has been very successful with it’s own model of development), but I think Nigeria should take bits of policy and attitude that have been successful in developed/fast developing countries and implement them.

    Corruption will never full be eradicated, but what bothers me is that ministers in Nigeria can still live very well, while actually doing their job and not stealing such vasts amount of money. It’s pure greed and what some call ‘poverty of the mind’.

  3. Perhaps individualistic is not the right word. What I mean is that most cultures from Africa to Asia and the Pacific consider family to be the most important social unit, by a long measure. This can sometimes extend to a wider definition of family, such as a clan or tribe.
    When you say “the NHS and other social reforms that took place in the mid 20th century in Britain were born out of a sense of duty and care for fellow-countrymen” I think this may actually proves my point. These countries don’t really have anything like an NHS, even if they can afford it, because there is an expectation that your family will care for you if you get sick or can’t find work. Societies like the UK place somewhat less importance on family and clan. The NHS is based on an idea that as an individual, I should still contribute to a system that supports people I’m not related to, because they have equivalent worth to me. A great many more “traditional” societies don’t share the same concept, and place more importance on looking after one’s family, clan, tribe or ethnic group.

  4. I see what you were getting at and you make a good point. I guess you could make the same argument for how, in Asian/Pacific/African culture, parents are expected to live with and be looked after by their children in old age, rather than placed in a nursing home. Also, in Nigerian culture, they say that a child in a village/town is everybody’s child – not just their parents. Which means that the whole community has a responsibility to look out for the kid and strangers can tell a child off when they do something bad because of this community value. I’ve always liked this aspect of the culture. Hopefully with development and modernisation, these values will not be lost.

  5. Pingback: Nigerian Oil Subsidy Removal | The Nigerian Archive

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