The Federal Government’s recent offensive against allegedly corrupt persons has generated a lot of attention and commentary. It has produced screaming headlines that many of us look up to every week. We have seen a few people go in and out of jail. And we have heard about the recovery of a fraction of what they have stolen. Beyond the immediate excitement generated among the supporters of the current administration, I am not sure that it will do much in fighting the scourge of corruption as expected – at least sustainably. This is because the style currently being employed might be simply treating the symptoms of the disease without scratching the underlying causes.
Many Nigerians believe that the problem of corruption in our country is deep rooted and systemic. A friend of mine calls it a national pathological condition. Others refer to the culture of corruption.
Despite several efforts made to fight it, it is obvious that the Nigerian corruption malady is here to stay like a virus whose strain is a fastidious type. Through the revelations so far made from confessional statements, one can begin to imagine the extent of the spread of graft. To fight it successfully means that a comprehensive review of past efforts need to be conducted before cautiously venturing into any new effort. It is not something to dabble into for mere international accolades or as a public relations stunt to remain in the good books of the West.
Former President Obasanjo tried to fight corruption, got all the international applause but could not achieve so much in successfully degrading the much dreaded the virus. Now President Muhammadu Buhari is at it again – same old style! Was it not Albert Einstein, the famous physicist who warned about the folly of doing the same thing over again and expecting a different result?
In this article, I wish to suggest that we try a different approach. It is by trying and fighting corruption without saying so. We can do so indirectly by focusing on something else, such as regenerating trust among ourselves and in our government. It will save us the panic, the uncertainty and the fear hanging in the air. It will free government time to reflect on the pulse of the street and attend to other urgent matter of the economy.
For me, one of the most fundamental problems that we have in this country today is the lack of trust in one another and in our government to do the right thing. It is at the root of every conflict that we have had in this country – whether ethnic, political or religious. When you hear people edify their ethnic nationalities above their nation, it is as a result of a fundamental lack of social capital. We can hardly function freely beyond that enclave. When one religion claims supremacy over another or the adherents become intolerant in a country with a secular constitution, then you must notice that it is the product of the same problem.
Nigeria is one country, but what you see are many nationalities in one. I have travelled across the country and often wonder how perspectives over the same subject differ radically as you move from one region to another. Somebody from the North has an attitude towards Nigeria. It is completely different from the attitude of those from the South-East and of course, those from the South-South. Why? There is a prevailing mentality that one section will always dominate and another section will always be suppressed and marginalised. Sometimes it is true, but many times it is simply an imaginary fallacy.
So the lack of inter-ethnic and inter-religious trust triggers the fear that there is an interest out there to be protected. Indeed, every group is in pursuit of one interest or another in an unending and often bitter struggle. At the slightest opportunity, the space for national interest will be usurped by one group or another under one scheme to advance an interest that has nothing to do with nation building. So the interpretation of nation building keeps changing depending on who is in charge. The person who is in charge defines it to suit his or her personal and group interests and uses the apparatus of the state to impose it on others. If that leader exits one way or another, then we will have another definition entirely. The result is that nation building in Nigeria, right from the immediate post-independence days, has been a nebulous entity and hazy concept under the continuous manipulation of the military and political elite to suit their whims and caprices.
So rather than fight corruption unsuccessfully, let us build social capital nationally. Social capital refers to our collective value for social networks and the inclinations that arise from these networks to do things for one another. It is marked by reciprocity, trust and cooperation. It is also something that should be readily abundant in Nigeria, based on our robust associational living.
We like to connect socially quite a lot in Nigeria and it is a huge resource that has not been adequately tapped into. We belong to several groups, clubs, ethnic associations, even secret societies. Famous Harvard University scholar Robert Putnam described this vividly and made a distinction between the bonding social capital and the bridging social capital. While bonding social capital connects like-minded people and homogenous groups, bridging social capital refers to connections in between different groups. Clearly what has happened over the years in Nigeria is that bonding social capital has been on the rapid increase. That is part of the explanation why corruption has been on the increase and investment in anti-corruption reforms have not yielded commensurate results.
In countries like Norway, Finland, Sweden and Denmark, the incidence of corruption is low because the government took time to grow positive social capital. There is a documented relationship between high social capital and low corruption. It is an effort worth studying.
To generate social capital successfully across the nation, the political signal must come from the very top. President Buhari himself must get involved. It is he who will lead the national consensus and chart the direction for the citizens to follow. Every political leader must pass a social capital test. Every action and utterance of the President and other leaders must be consistent with what can identifiably grow social capital, not erode it further. All political parties must voluntarily sign unto it. All regional and religious leaders must come on board. At end of the day, we may reach our destination of abundant social capital and look back to discover that the huge mess called corruption has disappeared. Our President would have gone down in history as someone who fought corruption without saying so.
By Uche Igwe