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Opinion: Are Nigerians born to be corrupt?

Opinion: Are Nigerians born to be corrupt?

Editor’s note: Nigeria's biggest challenge is corruption. It is clear to every citizen that the level of graft in the country is very high and President Muhammadu Buhari seems working very hard to eradicate the biggest evil.

NAIJ.com Editor-in-Chief, Mr Bayo Olupohunda, in this opinion piece lists the numerous cases of corruption in different spheres of life. The author suggests that the war against graft will not be won if we as a people do not collectively reject this cankerworm.

Opinion: Are Nigerians born to be corrupt?

Is there a mirific

In our country today, if you dare to be different, you will be confronted with your first integrity question. The first poser for your attempt to uphold moral sanity will be a series of rhetorical questions that will put your values to test: “Are you not a Nigerian”, “Oga, everybody does it, why not you?” “Mumu, stand there dey look, everybody dey chop” (apologies to D banj). I call it the integrity dilemma. Yes, everybody is stealing, why not you? Everybody is corrupt, why is your own different? Did you just land from the moon or is it your father’s money? Yeye man, poverty will kill you.

Indeed, it is a difficult time to be morally upright in the midst of the grab-it-all frenzy that has gripped the country. Even when one is trying hard to stand out of the steal-it-all syndrome, the perception that as a Nigerian one cannot resist the ‘yam’ is a stereotype that now defines us all. Even foreigners regard all Nigerians as corrupt. That perception has bred a more dangerous strain-that we are genetically wired to be corrupt. As a Nigerian who is outraged by the endemic corruption that has ravaged our country, as a citizen who feels repugnant at corruption or the thought of being labelled as corrupt, you would have been confronted by the integrity question.

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People expect you to be corrupt; to be ‘smart’ and crooked enough to take what does not belong to you. Every day we receive loads of unsolicited emails and text messages from people who want to steal from us. They devise various means to hack into our bank account. They call you, they send scam mails. In the public sector, civil servants understand how to corrupt the process. Visit any civil service establishment today; you will not get anything done without greasing the palms of the lowly clerk or the top bureaucrats. Every institution of government is corrupt. The corporate organisation is not spared either. Corruption has become the default setting. It is now the rules of engagement.

Last week I visited a public institution in Lagos to see the ‘big oga’ who was to help sign a document. This last visit was my third. The man was never in the office. He resumes any time he wants and closes before the official hour. His expansive office was always a beehive of activities because of visitors who needed his signature.

During my last visit, I waited a whole day to see him. But he was locked up behind his office door. Meanwhile, his assistants were busy making brisk business. During my first visit, one of them approached me to explain what I needed to do to get the files to him. I blatantly refused. Why must I pay to have a signature when it is boldly written we should not pay money to the third party?

The guy went away and spoke in a local language that I was not cooperating. During the visit, I had become the only person in my group that had not collected the document. Others had paid. After the fourth week, I was ushered into the man’s office. I asked if he knew about the activity going on the office. He pointed me to a notice on the wall that warned people not to pay anybody to collect the document. He threatened that anybody caught will be dealt with. I left wondering if the man is truly unaware of the corruption in the establishment he heads. Someone even said the practice is endemic as the top directors are alleged to be getting kickbacks from illegal racketeering. The situation is said to be worse in other establishments.

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For example, several months after I began the process of obtaining a drivers license, I am still stuck at the same spot. Officials of the licensing department will not engage with you if you do not agree to their ‘terms’. You will likely get your license in a day if you pay your way through. But if you want to process it officially and not compromise your values, you will have to visit their office for months with several bureaucratic obstacles placed in your path. Many Nigerian establishments deliberately set up official bottlenecks to fuel corruption. As a result, corruption thrives in government businesses. You will have to tip a lowly clerk to get your files processed.

At our airports, you have to tip immigration officials who blatantly ask for money. Contract papers are not signed until assurances of kickbacks are assured. Corruption is not just about the receiver alone. People even attempt to corrupt you when you are in a position of authority. A few years ago while heading a small procurement committee in a school for an end of the year party; I was approached by one of the vendors who had attempted to bribe me in order to sway the bid in his favour. Of course I rejected and advised him against such behavior in future. The move was enough to drop him. However, he was eventually selected because of the quality of his services. Hopefully he walked away from the episode a changed man.

I have always held the belief that one doesn’t have to be corrupt to be successful. Unfortunately, our definition of success in Nigeria is to have truckload of money delivered to our doorstep every morning without lifting a finger. Yet, Nigerians are hardworking people. But the system has been structured to corrupt the citizens. Look at admission into Unity schools; consider the rot in federal and state scholarship boards where admission and scholarship meant for brilliant indigent students and given to the children of the elites and their friends and cronies.

The result is that generations of Nigerian children are denied access to education not because they are not suitable but because a corrupt system discriminates against them. In Nigeria, a corrupt electoral system has produced a generation of inept leaders who have run the country aground. Look at public education. Today we are confronted by a broken school system ravaged by corruption. In 2015, our country missed the MDGs education for all goal targets. Reason: Billions of naira in basic education fund was funneled to private pockets.

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The corruption in basic education that denied 10.5 millions of out-of-school children education qualifies as crime against humanity. Yet nobody has been prosecuted. No top officials of the Universal Basic Education Commission has been brought to book for the systemic and monumental corruption that took place for the better part of the Fourth Republic. Corruption has eaten deep into all sectors – police, civil service, judiciary, health institutions and all agencies of government. Politicians, top military brass and even the clergy have been indicted. But the war against corruption will not be won if we as a people do not collectively reject this cankerworm. When we celebrate the corrupt, we make the act an acceptable standard. More importantly, government needs to fight corruption in the pension boards that deny senior citizens their due. Corruption thrives in the public sector because civil servants steal for raining day. It is a vicious cycle. But in the end we will all have to pass the integrity test or we are doomed as a nation.

Opinion: Are Nigerians born to be corrupt?

Bayo Olupohunda, NAIJ.com's Editor-in-Chief

Twitter: @bayoolupohunda

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial policy of NAIJ.com.

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