A New Introduction to Corruption


Anthony Kila laments the unfortunate visibility of Nigeria on the global corruption index

Dear Readers

Just as expected, one of the six major items or keywords that dominated discussions in past few days of ceremonies, analysis, lamentations, accusations, justifications platitudes and promises about Nigeria is corruption. The other five keywords are poverty, insecurity, development, patriotism, and in a very Nigerian way, hope. Two things are worthy of note in this list: One is that the negative elements are government related, whilst the positive one is individual. The other thing to note is that all the other elements have been linked to corruption: There is a general belief that things are bad in the country largely due to corruption.

This belief is not new, it appears those in government agree with the idea too. Successive governments have all in their own way promised to tackle corruption and they all have in their own different way done some tackling. It goes without saying that sincerity of purpose varies from administration to administration. Regardless of efforts or intention, results all attempts show that they have all failed. The proof of such failure lies in the fact that we are still feeling the pangs of corruption and that we are talking about corruption today.

There is no use for us to go the route of arguing that “my party or government did this or that”, there is no gain in saying “what about this or that government or administration”. The objective points here are that, sadly, global comparative analysis places Nigeria high on the corruption index and that in our day to day lives, corruption is still very vivid and flourishing.

Given the way things stands it is perhaps time that we step away from our legitimate and natural moral stance on corruption to take a simpler but more rational approach to the issue of corruption. A new approach to understanding and tackling corruption is needed. It appears that for over five decades we have generally moved towards corruption like something to fight without ever stopping to deliberate and understand the nature and causes of this corruption amongst people.

In taking a new introduction to corruption, one of the first things that we shall discover is that corruption is a very human and very social phenomenon. To that extent, like most social occurrence, everyone can be corrupt but luckily everyone can also live without corruption: It all depends on circumstances.

If in our public discourse and deliberations, we take time to ask ourselves what are the causes of corruption before going into the solutions. We might find new solutions or at least take new approaches to dealing with it.

I have posited elsewhere that the major causes of corruption are scarcity, uncertainty, impunity and chaos. These elements are interrelated and feed on each other towards a vicious cycle for both the victims and beneficiaries of corruption.

The genesis of all corruption stems from a system that is incapable of providing for all its users and stakeholders. Put the best people in the world in any community of equals and you will soon see that once they don’t have enough of some basic items of survival, cliques will be formed and dependency will be created.

The greater the disparities in a system the more likely are people to defer, deceive, cajole and discriminate. Ordinarily, the need to survive tends to trump dignity and integrity in the needy and it tends to reduce the sense of fairness and empathy in the privileged. It takes extraordinary traits such as heroism, nobleness and maybe even stoicism to remain pure when burdened with need or to remain fair when robed in privilege.

The way out of scarcity induced corruption is to put more emphasis on production rather than on distribution. We also need to reassess what we consider the minimum standard of living and strive for the good of all to make it available for the most.

One thing worse than scarcity is uncertainty. In Lagos, when a commercial bus break downs the instinct of most passengers is to block the conductor from running away. They do so not because they are mean but because they do not know what might happen next. There are tales of people who get into public office and their first move is to identify and pocket what they can find. They do so because they know court might nullify the election that got them into power. As a teacher, I personally see how hard it is for my graduands to truly believe that a good qualification and ability to solve problems will get them a good career. Sadly at a very early, too early, stage in life they all too conscious of the wretched dictum, “it is not what you know but who you know”.

Where instead of order and clarity, chaos reigns, choices of people, projects and policies are made based on temperaments and chance. Accountability and merit suffers and rather than work for excellence the trend is to please and appease.

There are scenes of fathers of families who take pride in calling themselves children or godchildren of other adults. They lie to and for their benefactors to stay afloat. In meetings, many specialise in finding out what their leaders wants and then convince the leader of the leader’s view. These people do so because there is no clear and dignified path to survival.

One thing worse than chaos is impunity.

Where should people do what is good when those that lie, cheat and steal get away with it? If we really want to fight this evil called corruption that is holding us back as a people we need to change approach by spending more time in understanding the simple but devastating causes of corruption.

Prof. Anthony Kila can be reached at @anthonykila