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What are Nigerians afraid of losing?

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Economy

Last week it was reported that $500 million Abacha Loot returned to Nigeria had not only been re-looted, but had actually been sent back abroad. It was as if the country, that is so desperate for funding, simply spat the money back out.

The same week, it was reported that N100 billion released by the CBN to various states for the establishment of cattle ranches had disappeared without a single cow being ranched. Then of course in 2016, $8 million meant for the welfare of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) disappeared into private pockets. 

There is no type of money that cannot be stolen in Nigeria today. There is no upper limit or boundary to stealing – as long as it is money, it can be stolen. There is corruption and then there’s the edifice that has been constructed in Nigeria.

There is something deeply sobering about the same money being stolen twice. It ought to trigger a bout of national soul-searching, if only Nigeria was the kind of country that even had a soul to begin with. You cannot fix this level of corruption with laws – it’s too late.

Neither can you fix it by recruiting more policemen (they too will invariably turn out corrupt) or even sending soldiers out on the streets. More laws might work in countries that already show some restraint but when funds for IDPs are being looted, there is no bottom. 

So what is left to do? It is a problem worth solving because corruption blocks the pipeline that transmits between the government and the people. In a country where there is a stealing frenzy, people become extremely cynical making it practically impossible for any kind of policy to be successfully implemented. If this cycle is not somehow broken, Nigeria can be this way for centuries to come. 

The way I think about this question is to ask – what is it that Nigerians don’t want to lose? What is that thing that the threat of taking it away can cause a change in behaviour in Nigerians? The obvious one is life but we are not about to start killing people who steal N5m of public funds whatever anger anyone might feel about it.

If you can’t take someone’s life away for stealing public funds, what is the next best option? The answer to that is clearly their freedom. But Nigeria has not built any new prison in about 40 years or so and the current ones are severely overcrowded. And, anyway, we have seen that the same corruption problem has already infested the courts. 

Over in China, the government has been experimenting with a ‘social credit’ system that has alarmed a lot of critics in the western world.

In essence, everyone gets some kind of credit rating which then goes up or down depending on a wide range of behaviour. Urinating in public or throwing litter on a train will affect your trustworthiness and ability to obtain bank loans for instance.

Given that China is an authoritarian regime, this kind of information and power in the hands of government is a scary prospect – what if an error is made and a person is locked out of society? Mistakes do happen. 

In the Chinese case, we can see that what can be taken away from you is your reputation. And it builds on the Guanxi system that has been in place in China for centuries. This is a system of personal networks that allows people relate with each other in a high trust environment. The key to the system is that you can be excluded from the network if your reputation plummets. You will no longer be able to do business as a member of that network and the longer you stay in it, 

Maybe this offers a possible solution for Nigeria – small networks of people deciding to establish a corruption free zone for themselves. It doesn’t sound as exciting as EFCC chasing people all over the place and announcing that they have seized several trillions of naira. But we have to accept that we are dealing with a monster that has eaten so deep into the fabric of the country that we cannot remove it without some pain. 

Nigerians elected Buhari to come and fight corruption. It is painfully clear that the job is now beyond one man no matter how well intentioned such a person might be. And yet the thing remains there like an albatross around the country’s neck. Not much by way of development is going to happen under these circumstances. 

What are Nigerians afraid of losing? As of now, maybe nothing. But a thing worth losing can be created. Creating small circles of reputation where people can be kicked out of can help to start the fight against corruption from the ground up where it’s needed. 

I honestly cannot think of anything else.


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