By Nwachukwu Egbunike
Femke van Zeijl’s article #Aluu4 and the Danger of Fending for Yourself provide a point of departure for the crux of this narration. It triggered a process that got me thinking about the apparent demise of the foundation of the African World view which is celebrated in the philosophical expression called Ubuntu. This South African word – ubuntu – is a synonym of the Igbo expression Igwebuike – in unity lays our strength. The pertinent question remains if this saying could be valid in kicking out corruption in Nigeria.
“I am because you are and you are because I am” aptly defines communalism which studies have shown is the underlining principle of African communalism. Is this a sentimental rendition of a forlorn past or can it still be applicable to present day realities? Nigeria – in my opinion – currently has three major areas yet to be conquered: corruption, Niger Delta, electoral reforms and electric power. These were the thrust of my appeal to Goodluck Jonathan upon mounting the saddle as the acting president in 2010. Although significant improvements have been seen in the last three, however, we have remained stagnant on the first – corruption.
Femke went beyond the unfortunate and gory bloodletting that quenched out the lives of the #Aluu4 to the reveal the selfish individualism that is gradually eating up the soul of this country. Due to the passivity and ineffable incompetent bent of governance in Nigeria, the citizens have reacted with an equally dangerous posture. Since the establishment cannot provide the basics that make life in society bearable the governed have become their own ‘individual’ sovereign.
A typical Nigerian household is a municipal council. They provide water (through boreholes or wells); electricity is supplied by a private generator (the nosier the better), their refuse is disposed privately into the drains. And their security is maintained by private firms. Naturally when their privacy is violated by unsolicited guests and these guests are apprehended, justice is administered in the most barbaric and cruel fashion. This is certainly not progress but regression because rather than demand for their rights – together as a unit – Nigerians have sunk deep into individualism.
According to the “Corruption Perceptions Index” of Transparency International, Nigeria currently ranks 143 out of 183, with a score of 2.4 out of 10. It is pertinent to explain that this index ranks “countries/territories based on how corrupt a country’s public sector is perceived to be. It is a composite index, drawing on corruption-related data from expert and business surveys carried out by a variety of independent and reputable institutions. Scores range from 0 (highly corrupt) to 10 (very clean).” Obviously this is not a particularly clean bill of health but rather justifies Professor Niyi Osundare’s submission that “corruption is fastest growing industry in Nigeria”.
What then is the solution? How do we wipe off the slimy filth that seems to define us as a people? I propose working back from the individual to the society. In order words, an approach that is anchored one but has a repercussion on all.
The individual reform may be particularly painful since there seems to be a huge gulf between ‘pubic’ and ‘private’ morality in our public square. It is ‘claimed’ that a typical Nigerian may find it difficult to dip his hand into the purse of his community association but have no inertia in doing so when he occupies public office. I do not entirely subscribe to this view since events have shown that a thief cares little about his victims – be it his clan or his country. However, it is obvious that if a person has no pretensions about imposing mediocrity on others, it is simply because he suffers from personal mediocrity. As such there is no cohesion between what he claims to profess and the reality of his actions.
This may be the reason why some discredited politicians who having wallowed in the putrid pool of public office soon seeking rebranding as soon as they are kicked out of office. If you have any doubts dig a bit into the history of some of the now vocal digital activists. Same goes for officials who have received clannish butt for having not benefited their people during their reign. The other flip side is that people only think about their immediate families – appropriating funds meant for all for private use. Thus, their children attend the best of schools while they care less about the general rot around them.
Nonetheless, no society can be built upon the assumption that her citizens would always act in accord to reason. That’s why we cannot wish away the institutional reforms of the anti-corruption agencies in Nigeria. The only difference between Nigeria and other countries that have a favourable free corruption environment is that the justice systems are functional in those climes. No matter whom you are or the office you occupy, if you steal and you are caught, you go to jail, period! In our own case, we have evolved a culture of impunity and only the poor get caught. Even when the mighty get docked, they walk free due to the odious plea bargain.
Therein lays the paradox that it takes an individual reform to propel a similar institutional change. Until we jump from the primordial attitude of fending only for self to embrace the power of we, then not much will be achieved. The dominant feature of our public space is to heap all the odium on the government while the governed absolve themselves of blame. However, the truth remains that it is a collective effort. Together let’s kill corruption in Nigeria!