Even While There Is Corruption!

Image Credit: Daily Express

There is practically no scarcity of reference to the notion that the quality of governance influences development. Many experts hold that it is the main reason for explaining variations in socio-economic development efforts and performance around the world. Kofi Annan, former U.N Secretary General, asserts that good governance is perhaps the single most important factor in eradicating poverty and promoting development. More plainly, The Economist had at one time noted that of all the ills that kill people, none is as lethal as bad governance. Similar concerns are reflected in the views volunteered by people in both developed and developing countries as shown in many large scale surveys sponsored by various multilateral organizations. This current of thought may not be disturbed in a long while to come especially considering the situation of our country where bad governance is seen to have cramped development for decades.

While a few, with perhaps a cursory conception of governance, contest the significance of governance measures, there is much less agreement about how the concept should be used and what it really means. So far, it remains a much more rhetorical notion than one that can really be used to truly asses and measure variations in governance. Yet this does not remove the fact that there is a reasonable consensus about both its existence and impact.

Putting aside the issue of achieving a possible definitional consensus of corruption or bad governance; whether it is about its’ actual conception as a subject- matter per se, or its’ actual practice and reality within the socio-political cultures. Its’ impact is devastating and overwhelming. From the “high-brow” inflation of contract sums, to the negative influence on legislative contents and regulatory practice to the “unsophisticated” exchange of cash in public places as incentives to get work done; we obviously don’t need another “international conference” to tell us the enormity of what we have at hand.

Perhaps what is important is that we have been obsessed by the manifestations of corruption that we have overstated its’ actual impact. We have failed to ask salient questions like: Is Nigeria the only corrupt nation in the world? Is corruption the single most important distinguishing factor between developed and under developed nations of the world? Have many nations, especially in Asia, not grown and developed even while ranking among the lowest in many high-minded measures or calibrations of good governance? There are certainly more fundamental issues of essence that the fray of corruption has concealed from people for years. These issues are yet to get appropriate attention.

Have we asked how much we will be able to achieve if (or when) corruption is completely eliminated while we are yet to have a clear and workable Strategic National Vision to guide our development as a country? This might explain why it has become almost impossible for governments (including federal, state and local governments) of Nigeria to initiate a program, project or policy, especially with a medium to long-term perspective, and successfully execute it to finish. Immediately, a hasty commentary on these issues may likely suggest corruption as the reason for these.

However, besides much of the presumption that eliminating (or at least reducing corruption) will be sufficient in realizing a better Nigeria, is a quietly growing and insidious national culture of unpredictability and inconsistency. This emerging culture greets the very notion of every government expression; from governments’ mere statement of intentions to the actual carrying out of any government activity. Government programs can at best be expected to commence but not completed regardless of how well thought-out they are. It has become very easy for citizens and even stakeholders in any government program or project to expect that even when a government program is started it may not move on as planned. This conclusion is reached almost unconsciously. It doesn’t matter the issue under consideration, health, education, etc, or who the stakeholders are, all that matters is that it has to do with the Nigerian government. The impact of this growing phenomenon definitely outweighs that of corruption and merits some closer look.               

When it seems that everything or nearly everything about Nigeria’s underdevelopment has been attributed to corruption, it is worthwhile to embellish a vital aspect of the above described phenomenon, which is important for the development and functioning of society. The lack of predictability in our nation’s system is a serious source of worry. Predictability is at the very heart of great institutions, and its’ absence represents both a cause and consequence of weak capacity of institutions. This weakness runs through every stage of the functioning of institutions; from mere expressions of intention to enforcement.

As institutions continue in this style of inconsistency, peoples’ minds and pattern of interaction with institutions are shaped accordingly. Efforts are geared towards getting as much individual gains as possible from the system as the system continues in a flux. There is no shared obligation towards confronting any challenge save in rare instances where this also translates into the much desired private gains. More importantly, these issues exist irrespective of type of government or administration. Undoubtedly, there appears to be an unwritten code of behavior that drives people’s interests and actions.

 Few concepts are as frequently invoked in contemporary political discussions in Nigeria as corruption. There is something deeply attractive in the idea that eliminating corruption automatically translates to a greater Nigeria. I am not trying to shift attention from this assertion or as it were discuss this attraction. The moral and political appeal of the fight against corruption has been used for a variety of purposes; from winning cheap political points to holding political opponents to ridicule, among other purposes. Eliminating corruption obviously remains far-fetched for our country for many clear reasons. A very important reason is the daunting influence of “initial conditions” on our system. These initial conditions connote the entire gamut of both practices, norms and real situations on ground especially those with negative impacts that have become endemic and inimical to the progress of the country. For Nigeria, the culture of corruption and impunity stands tall among these initial conditions.  However, attention to initial conditions complicates the challenge of reforms by requiring the reformer to contend or wrestle with specific realities on ground rather than simply impose lessons from other climes, or introduce fresh approaches. Yet, this doesn’t mean that efforts towards fighting these negative initial conditions are irrelevant or should be discontinued.

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