Friday, August 12, 2005

Understanding corruption

Its amazing how much people talk about corruption in Nigeria and yet no one really gets to the bottom of analysing how and why it reproduces itself. People seek absolution in their God on a Friday, a Saturday or a Sunday, without reflecting on what brought them to put their hands in the till the previous Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday.

Until an analysis of the cultural and social horizon at work in Nigeria is done, it is difficult to see any change. Part of the problem is that the kinds of people who could provide insight here are not, as they say 'on ground': sociologists, anthropologists, ethnographers and the like (the sociologists they have here for the most part rely on textbooks from the 1970s, if they have textbooks). Here are some pointers:

1. Nigeria has a master-slave economy.
a)Employers often have the attitude that workers should be grateful to have a job. Withholding wages (to spend elsewhere, to accumulate interest, or to stave off cash-flow problems) is not seen as unethical
b)Child-labour is not seen as unethical by many of the god-fearing elite. Having 10 year old girls serving you food is not an issue for comment
c)In the East, descendants of those sent away into slavery (ie the brother or sister's descendants) are STILL treated as outcasts. They have to live in separate areas, cannot get political office or marry out. The wound of the slave trade still festers in Nigeria, although no one ever talks about it. As I understand, although Ghana gets all the weeping-African-American tourist trail glory, many more slaves were sent from Nigerian ports.

The origins of this master-slave economy is another story, and this is a blog and I'm at work so I dont have time to go into this.

2. Wages are too low. For example, a Director General in the Civil Service earns around £400-£600 per month. From an economics point of view, this is of course not a bad thing, especially with the unofficial inflation figure being around 20%. But low wages + a strong normative pressure to reproduce leads to large families with not enough funds to support them. People seek unofficial ways of feeding mouths and paying school fees. Civil servants with rank go to conference and better still, foreign 'training' trips, to bring in lucrative per diem.

3. Among the Yoruba, seniority is a highly significant power dynamic. If you are older, you have power over others. But this power carries expectations along with it. Heads of families, eldest siblings etc etc have to support the younger ones within the compound.

4. Anyone with a respectable-sounding job (doctor, teacher, engineer etc) is seen as having both prestige and money. Poor relatives flock to the door with outstretched hands.

One could go on and on - but the above and other socio-cultural factors are the key dynamics which drive the reproduction of corruption in Nigeria. At present, everyone talks about stopping corruption. Without an adequate analysis of the factors that motivate it, how can anything change?


Shola 4:09 pm  

Corruption is not a Nigerian issue, it is more an African issue.

As you said in your post, I'm at work too so can't go into details, but surfice it to say, that selfishness is something that we need to get rid of if we are ever going to get rid of corruption.

The recent Live8 and current Niger appeals meet with a lot of mixed re-actions with many saying a lot of the relief never gets to where it is sent, I wonder why?

diakim Online 4:43 pm  

The problem of corruption in Nigeria, and Africa at large couldn't be well analysed. The question is 'where do we go from here?' We still have a long way to go. Only God can help us.

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