Corruption is a universal indicator of social malady. In 1997 the World Bank described corruption as the misuse of public office for private gain. Based on this definition, Transparency International has ranked Nigeria as a perennially corrupt nation. In fact, Nigeria is ranked as one of the most corrupt nations in the world. So, it is not news that Nigeria is a thoroughly corrupt tree; however, what is news is that the discussion about how to deal with corruption is gradually changing.
It used to be a common viewpoint that for Nigeria to be on the right track for growth and infrastructural development, it is imperative to rid the country of corruption. But now it seems that many Nigerians are at the upward stage of accepting the existential reality of life in Nigeria, which is that corruption has come to stay. In the cycle of dealing with difficult situations, the upward stage is when people begin to adjust to situations that cannot be changed. If we have adjusted and accepted corruption as part of who we are, then the argument that we need a new way of dealing with the realities of corruption makes absolute sense. After all, it was Victor Frankl who once said that “when we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change how we deal with it.”
Based on Victor Frankl’s philosophy, should corruption be institutionalized in Nigeria as a means of combating its effect on Nigeria’s image abroad?
Many Nigerians are now arguing that institutionalizing corruption is a good way to achieve that goal. By institutionalizing bribery, pilferage, theft, nepotism, kickbacks, and other illicit activities that have eaten deep into the fabric of Nigeria, these things will no longer be referred to as corruption. Instead, these social ills will be seen as “the way Nigerians do things.”
The major premise for this argument is that the stigma that comes with Nigeria’s label as one of the most corrupt nations in the world will be negated.
The argument continues thus: negating this stigma will encourage multinational companies to bring their business to Nigeria. The implication is that multinational companies wishing to do business in Nigeria would be required to earmark two types of capital– “the way Nigerians do business capital,” which would have otherwise been known as corruption capital, and investment capital.
Anybody who wants to support the argument can give the example that companies doing business in the United States make provision for lobbying, which in Nigerian parlance would be called bribery. You must also believe that the problem with Nigeria is corporate-level corruption. Institutionalizing corruption can only work if Nigerians will confine corrupt practices to the part of the money earmarked for lobbying or earmarked for “the way business is done in Nigeria.” But because Nigerians have an inherent nature that makes them want that part of the largesse that will not be accounted for, institutionalizing corruption is not a solution.
But is it true that corporate-level corruption is the problem with Nigeria?
If the primary reason to rid Nigeria of corruption is to give multinational companies an incentive to do business in Nigeria, or for Nigeria to be favorably rated by Transparency International, the argument for institutionalizing corruption does not consider the impact of corruption on the Nigerian masses. But the primary reason to rid Nigeria of corruption is that it threatens the survival of common Nigerians who have nothing to do with multinational corporations or Transparency International. When hard-working Nigerians are owed for months of unpaid labor because funds meant for salaries have been used for corrupt activities by public officials, corruption ceases to exist at the corporate level only.
For me, Nigeria is more crushed by the extent of street-level corruption than it is by corporate-level corruption. If institutionalizing corruption is the solution to what ails Nigeria, it must also be true that much can be achieved in infrastructural development even when public officials are corrupt. But what fuels corruption in Nigeria is greed and the insensitivity of leaders to the problems of the Nigerian masses. This insensitivity has been on the increase. This is why past administrations seem to have done better than the current ones in infrastructural development.
Anybody who has carefully observed the trend of corruption in Nigeria can easily argue that the problem with Nigeria is indeed the motivation behind corruption. As a people, Nigerians have no sense of collective welfare. There is lack of determination for common well-being, but any effort to combat the ills of corruption in Nigeria must start with just that —determination for collective well-being.
Institutionalizing corruption in Nigeria is not an option. It is a bandage approach to the country’s ills that does not go to the root of the problem.