This Day (Lagos)

9 September 2012

Nigeria: Olympic Gold for Corruption?

analysis

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.

Even-surprise! surprise!!-government itself is fighting corruption! We have the Code of Conduct Bureau, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) and the Nigeria Police Force all fighting corruption. NGOs are campaigning against corruption. Youths are fighting corruption. Lawyers, journalists, doctors, engineers, bankers, pastors, imams, taxi drivers, truck pushers, all are fighting corruption. Fellow Nigerians, if we all are fighting corruption, who then are the people "doing" the corruption? Are they spirits?

Following our failure to win any medal at the 2012 Olympics, some Nigerians launched the humorous campaign that corruption should become an Olympic sport. Nigeria would sweep all the medals at stake, they joked. There is a belief that no country can beat us in the game of corruption. An author wrote: "Corruption is rare in Botswana, common in Ghana and endemic in Nigeria." There is a feeling that corruption is in our DNA. It is believed that we are genetically corrupt. If you send a five-year-old boy to buy you a piece of cake, chances are he would inflate the price and seek to make away with your change. It is that bad.

So maybe we are wrong to focus our attention on the corruption in government alone. In recent times, the organised private sector has proved to be as corrupt as the public sector. The massive rot in the banking industry provided all the proofs we needed to understand this. But I am not about to write on the destruction of the financial sector through greed and mindless manipulation by the bankers and their accomplices. The stealing of billions of naira by government officials is not my focus either. No, I am not about to write about the multi-billion naira pensions scam. The fuel subsidy tryst, which brought the private and public sectors together in unholy matrimony, is not of interest to me today. We have written on these usual suspects a million times.

What I seek to do today is drag our attention to the unusual suspects whom we perhaps ignore from day to day as we talk about corruption-the so-called lower classes of the society. Listen to the radio, spend a few minutes at the vendors' stand, or tarry awhile at the village square. Everybody is discussing corruption and how "our leaders" are looting us blind. It is usually a case of "we the ordinary people" against "they the government". Somehow, it keeps escaping the attention of these "ordinary people" that they (we) are part of the system that is destroying the country and making our lives worse from day to day.

I will cite five instances to illustrate my point. One, at a construction site, a man came to market cement. He said a bag was N1750, including transport to site. But the builder said he was getting his supply cheaper, at N1700. After a brief argument, the cement seller gave out a secret of the trade which he called "repacking". Cement sellers, he said, have a way of opening the bag, taking out a few kilos of cement and then re-sealing the bag. The kilos so stolen are re-bagged. That gives an additional income to the cement seller. From 10 or so bags, he can get an additional one bag. Is that not worth an Olympic gold for corruption? Yet, this same set of people will gather at the village square to discuss how "our leaders" are looting the treasury!

Two, rice sellers. This is a well-known secret. They have a long rod they insert into a bag to steal a few "mudus". They then re-pack into an additional bag. That's additional income. Three, the bread sellers. They remove a few slices from several loaves to make an additional loaf! Four, the petrol station attendant. He sells N200 fuel to a motorcyclist without "rubbing off" the meter. When a car comes along, he continues from where he stopped and pockets the additional N200. Another trick is to sell fuel of N109 to a motorist and then sigh that there is power failure. He tells you to look at the meter very well, that he had already sold N1009 (not N109) worth of petrol to you. If you don't pay attention, he will fleece you of N900. Five, the woman selling garri to you has already tampered with the measurement by battering the can. Yet, all of them (all of us) will call the radio station to complain about "our leaders" and corruption.

My father-in-law, a doctor, once told me a heart-breaking story. In the 1990s when he was working at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), an eight-year-old boy died. As he took the body to the mortuary, the attendant told him: "Doctor, you have to find us something o!" That means he had to give him a tip. A morbid tip! If you bury the dead at some cemeteries in Lagos, you need to "find something" for the cemetery workers. If not, as soon as you turn your back, they will unearth the casket, steal any valuables they can find, dump the corpse in the grave and sell the casket for peanuts. Yet, all of them (all of us) will gather at the vendors' stand the following morning to complain about how corruption is killing Nigeria! Doesn't this also deserve an Olympic gold medal?

Let's look at it this way. If the person who steals and re-bags a few kilos of cement gets into government, is he not likely to steal pensioners' money? If the market woman becomes a bank MD, would depositors' money be safe in her care? We seem to think that people suddenly become corrupt when they join government. No. We are groomed for corruption. For a plumber, for instance, it is part of his training that if he needs 20 pipes, he should quote for 40. He will buy 20 and pocket the balance. Cheating and short-changing customers are part and parcel of the training of artisans here. They are actually trained to tell lies without batting an eyelid.

Since this sleazy system produces our leaders, maybe we deserve the leadership we always get then...

And Four Other Things...

ATTACK ON TOWERS

Recently, I lamented the destruction of the economy of Northern Nigeria by Boko Haram insurgents. This is setting the region back by decades. It seems there is no let-up. The militants keep doing their best to drag the region back, launching unprecedented attacks on towers belonging to the telecoms operators as "punishment" for the security trail of their communications. This will more than hurt the economy of the region. Transactions are hampered and small-scale call centre operators could be driven out of business. It may, ironically, also hurt the insurgents themselves as they inadvertently cut off communication within their own ranks.

DANA'S RETURN FLIGHT

There has been disquiet in some quarters over the decision to unban Dana Air, three months after it crashed and killed at least 158 persons. People argue that investigation is still ongoing and families of the victims are yet to be compensated. Most bodies are yet to be released for burial. The Federal Government gave reasons for lifting the suspension, but not everybody is convinced. Of course, Dana's licence cannot be suspended forever, but government has obviously not acted in a way that will make people trust that they have taken the best decision. Something is still not clicking somewhere.

TURBULENCE IN AVIATION

The ban on Dana Air and the suspension of operations by Air Nigeria, Chachangi Airlines and First Nation have all combined to make flying a difficult experience for Nigerians in recent times. Only IRS, Aerocontractors and Arik Air operate big flights. We've witnessed sharp increases in air fares, in addition to sharp practices by airline staff as passengers get desperate to get on board. I won't be surprised if the decision to lift the ban on Dana Air was meant to ease this strain. Nevertheless, the health of the aviation industry-technical and financial-needs proper examination. We need some deeper and wider action from the government.

THE GLOBAL VILLAGER

Poet, writer and journalist, Eddie Aderinokun, is set to present the biography of PDP National Chairman, Alhaji Bamanga Tukur, to the public this week. The 362-page literary biography, entitled "The Global Villager", had been in the works for years. It was to be launched last year but the business colossus entered the political fray once again and became the chairman of the ruling party, meaning the biography had to be put on hold and updated. Mr. Aderinokun, a former National Vice-President of the Association of Nigerian Authors, never ceases to amaze me with his energy and resourcefulness at the age of 71. This is a challenge to younger ones like us...

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