Corruption is endemic in our society and that is a fact. It has become a part of our daily lives. From encounters with policemen who collect tips from road users to news headlines of yet another government official accused of embezzling public funds. These and many more are part of the daily occurrences that underlines how entrenched corruption is. To me, they represent a direct consequence of the moral decay in our society today.
But why is this so? We are people with a rich cultural heritage and high religiosity. Why have we failed so woefully in moral terms?
Well, some answers to these questions may lie at the heart of our cultural practices themselves. Let’s take a deeper look.
The Nigerian society is one in which norms, beliefs, and values are central to social behavior. Therefore, culture plays a significant role in the lives of people. This is clear in simple features like the mode of greeting, dressing and even the food we consume. And also in more complex aspects such as the moral principles that guide our conducts.
Our cultures are notable for their strong emphasis on a high moral value. This encourages good behavior and character. For example, the need to respect and love one’s family, relatives, and community. And also, the need to adhere to virtues like honesty, integrity, kindness, and discipline.
However, despite the fact that our cultures promote morality, it is sad that we are in this situation. A situation where some good cultural practices of the people are distorted, to foster corruption. Something that has made it difficult at times, to distinguish between the right and the wrong.
Take, for example, the issue of nepotism. This unfair practice of using one’s position to favor friends and relatives is a major problem. It can be traced to the customary practice of kinship bond between relatives or members of a community. This then encourages a person to prioritize the interest of his or her relatives or community over that of others. Also coupled with it, is the traditional responsibility of promoting one’s family, community and ethnic name.
When these factors are taken into consideration, the outcome is apparent. A top official is inclined to employ a relative, even if less qualified, instead of an ‘outsider’. After all, there is a popular saying in our society that: charity begins at home.
Another prevalent aspect of corruption we witness every day is bribery. Although our traditions do not condone outright bribery. They have principles which dictate that a person shows appreciation for favours done to him or her. This requires a person to give out gifts after a favour is done, so as not to be seen as an ingrate.
However, there is a very thin line between a bribe and a gift. This provides an avenue for corrupt officials to hide under the cover of gift giving to extort money. In the end, one is always expected to give something in order to get a favour. A case of good intention (culturally) resulting in a bad outcome (morally), I should say.
Furthermore, the diversion of public funds for selfish personal gains is another major problem we face. Embezzlement is something that usually involves a few in the position of authority or influence. And has a far-reaching impact on the wider population.
Here, the extended family system, which is a prominent tradition in African culture plays an important role. Relatives view themselves as having the responsibility to advise and guide a family member. As such, individuals in positions of authority are often compelled to yield to the corrupt influence of kith and kin.
This mostly stems from the belief that occupying a position of authority is a blessing from God to such a person, his or her relatives and community. Therefore, the person is advised to take full advantage of such a chance as “opportunity comes but once”. In essence, this is just an outright call on the person to embezzle as much as he or she can. Unsurprisingly, the prebendalism prevalent in our political system is a product of this kind of mindset.
Also, people are influenced by the excessive burden of having to cater for relatives in the extended family system. The whole family looks to a relative viewed as being better off financially, to solve all their financial problems. The need to meet these responsibilities force people to look for extra means to cover costs and satisfy needs. This eventually leads many into corruption.
Now, having examined some of these factors, one might want to ask: Okay then, what is the way forward?
To me, the way forward will involve a multi-pronged solution.
First, I believe the battle against corruption must start with the family. We should bring children up with the best moral principles, such as honesty, fairness, and discipline. And then continue to uphold these moral principles while discouraging any deviation.
In addition, there has to be a massive reorientation of the country’s citizens. We must center it on the promotion of national values rather than individual tribal, ethnic and religious values. Sectionalism has been a major driver of nepotism in Nigeria. The promotion of national identity will go a long way in ridding the society of sectionalism.
In addition, we should teach people, especially from a young age the basic tenets of our constitution. Particularly as it relates to their rights and responsibilities to each other and to the nation. This will help guide their actions and ensure strict adherence to the rule of law even when under pressure.
Also, all levels of government must strive to achieve and maintain strong state institutions. For instance, those that ensure strict adherence to the federal character. This will compel officials in positions of authority to exercise equity and equality in the provision of benefits and opportunities.
Finally, there must be swift prosecution of corrupt officials regardless of position. This is very important, as it will serve as a deterrence against people who might want to harbour corrupt intentions. While of course ensuring that those found guilty of corruption are prosecuted.
So, I believe we can now see how our cultural practices are being depraved to foster corruption. A deeper understanding of the situation will further help in taking the necessary steps that will curb this problem. Therefore, to those who are saddled with the responsibility of fighting corruption; I think it is time to look inward at our culture.