Ending corruption with education in Nigeria
Once again, the chronic issue of corruption has come to the fore; corruption is everywhere in Nigeria and it is the major cause of poverty. It is associated with lower levels of economic development, slower economic growth, poverty and conflicts.
From political circles to business boardrooms, educational institutions, the health and judicial sectors, and even the “holiest” places, our religious institutions-the list is endless. This vice is literally dismembering our country. It has become a deep-rooted norm in every sector. Occurring in different forms; giving the so called Egunje a local parlance for bribes; being favoured at the expense of a more qualified and experienced colleague; nepotism or giving favours in exchange for gratifications; and in some schools, a student cannot pass examinations without bribing the teachers. How about parents buying examination papers for their wards in advance? Perhaps the most obvious institution where we see the manifestation of corruption in full glare in our everyday life is in government institutions particularly the Police Force, the Customs and the civil service.
It is a sad indictment that a country so richly blessed in natural and human resources still has more than 70 per cent of its populace surviving on less than a dollar a day. Nigeria is a classic case of what corruption can do to a country. I do not see us making any meaningful progress unless we begin to turn the tide by making deliberate attempts at self-evaluation and diagnosis- looking inwards to the root causes of this issue and taking decisive steps to begin to nip it in the bud.
There have been many debates about why corruption has bitten so deeply into the very fabric of our society. Perhaps the most frequently cited is that poverty is the main root cause of corruption in Nigeria and that many are forced to subsidise their income through corruption because they are poorly paid.
Having established that corruption in Nigeria is far much deeper than River Niger itself, nobody is coming nearer to diagnosing or prescribing the remedy. The question here is what can we do about it? I refuse to agree with the argument that because people are poor or receive poor wages, then they should be corrupt and that if you need to stop corruption, you must end poverty first. Poverty no doubt is a great contributor to corruption, but how about the numerous cases of political office holders who are being tried for corrupt practices, are they poor too?
My attempt to add my two cents to the discussions on corruption in Nigeria is the impetus for writing this thought-provoking argument as I take a closer look at how the educational system is intricately linked in a cyclical fashion to corruption in Nigeria, by breeding corrupt citizens and by consequence, corrupt Leadership. This is a theory that could be accepted or challenged, nevertheless, it is one that I believe must be shared.
The sage, Nelson Mandela, once mentioned that, “Education is the most powerful weapon that can be used to change the world.” The role of education in a nation’s development is well understood and is the reason why many developed countries make it compulsory for all to be in full-time education up to the age of 16. Studies have shown that a good education attainment is strongly correlated with fast economic growth and the development of a nation.
On an individual level, education has been shown to be helpful in reducing illegal behaviour, increasing civic responsibility and improving social cohesion. One could relate this to corruption, as more educated people may value the long-term societal good and a less corrupt state, over immediate personal gratification, which could be gained through bribe paying. On a societal level, education impacts social cohesion, which is the acceptance of and support of social norms and behaviours. By promoting social cohesion, education fosters adherence to a social contract.
Social contract can include components such as a willingness to pay taxes and fulfil other public obligation, the willingness to participate in public affairs, maintain cleanliness of one’s property, act responsibly, or be a good citizen. If good citizenship is associated with non-corrupt behaviour, then education could reduce corrupt practices at the societal level through improved social cohesion. All of these outcomes suggest that education attainment should lead to less corrupt individuals and nations.
This outcome is not assured, however, and the effect that education has on corruption and other social vices would largely depend on the content of the curriculum and the prevailing environment in which education is being given.
With great despair, I write that this seemingly fundamental fact that attainment of education should be directly proportional to a less corrupt society is one that cannot be assumed or taken for granted as being true for Nigeria. This is because our educational system is largely flawed and deeply ingrained with corruption. Children learn societal norms and behaviours through their schooling. We often hear of students paying bribes (in all its different forms) for good grades or to purchase questions in advance of structured examinations.
This brings to fore the importance of the concept of institutional culture. The more years students spend in a system with a whopped culture, the more they may come to accept such a culture such as corruption, as a social norm, an acceptable behaviour, hence the more likely they may become conformed to this as of a second nature.
This in essence means that education provides more opportunities to get involved in bribery and corruption. Therefore, more highly educated individuals are more likely to pay bribes. For example, an individual with a university degree may be more likely to own a business, be involved in public affairs, or be involved in other activities that would bring them in contact with government officials. Additionally, the more educated an individual is, the more likely he is to have a well-paying job and a higher value of time could lead individuals to place a higher value on quick service delivery, making bribe paying more worthwhile and more likely.
Our corrupt leaders are merely products of our whopped society who have emerged from our broken system. We, through our deranged mindset, voted them in despite their not-so-impressive track records. They themselves have been nurtured by a society where bribery means saying “thank you.” These leaders widen the inequality gap and increase the levels of poverty by spending extortionate amounts of money selfishly, putting individual interest before public good.
These are the kind of ‘educated’ leaders we have who we have entrusted with the task of providing good quality education through the public sector for the majority of the population. Little wonder then that our educational system has been unable to actually bear good fruits in the majority. A few months ago, we read about some male public secondary school students who tried to rape their colleagues in the full glare of adults working in their offices.
The great scientist Albert Einstein noted that, “Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.” These children had just completed six years of secondary education and all they could think about was rape! This means that they had not been educated at all. These are the kind of citizens our educational system is breeding and from which we continue to vote for our leaders.
Growing up in Nigeria, I came to accept corruption as a normal part of everyday life. People just accept its inevitability and decide to live with it. Nearly everyone would have been guilty of bribe-taking or giving at one point in time. Corruption has gone from a mere act of accepting bribes to a complete state of mind and way of life. It has progressed from the poor attempting to “make ends meet” to a sense of entitlement from anyone in a position of authority.
However, in the United Kingdom where I live, this is a rarity. I have never seen or heard of such brazen display of illegal behaviour such as government officials or law enforcement agents demanding or accepting bribes. Change must happen from the top and the bottom. I believe we need a mind surgery to remove the blindness from the eyes of our minds. We as a people need to see and understand how we make goods and services more expensive and impose hardship on our society by our individualism, whether as politicians, civil servants, law enforcement agents or whosoever we are. Our failure to appreciate and seek collective societal good, as is practiced in many successful nations, is the reason why we are unable to build a collective strength to fight.
The idea of naming and shaming corrupt officials for example, has worked in other climes, but without our determination and resolve, it would be impossible to implement in Nigeria. A specific, well-tailored, targeted and continuous education of the entire nation is necessary. I suggest that the government should liaise with civil society organisations to find innovative and creative ways of implementing programs about corruption and society to people in homogenous groups so as to educate all on the negative externalities corruption imposes on the society and how we harm ourselves only by encouraging it.
It is obvious that we need a paradigm change in our thinking and this is best tackled from the early years through proper, well- rounded education. Children learn much more than reading, writing and arithmetic in school. We need to focus on the younger generations because prevention is better and cheaper than cure. Fighting corruption in educational systems means ensuring that the social norms being taught are in line with the collective good of the society in general, legal behaviour and civic responsibility.
Institutional quality must improve to fight the corruption coming from corrupt educational systems. If children are learning how to be corrupt instead of learning good citizenship and social cohesion, then it is no surprise that they grow up to become corrupt adults. The value and wisdom in volunteering, giving and social responsibility should be inculcated and enshrined in the curriculum of the schools.
The right culture in our educational system will help the coming generation to identify and to stop electing or applauding any unscrupulous and desperate politicians. It is only by instituting the right values in our educational system that the coming generations can begin to develop the political and collective will to formulate and implement policies and programs against corruption.
We should seek to eradicate illiteracy and educate people on their rights under their government. As long as the masses are still ignorant of their rights, corrupt and opportunistic politicians will continue to emerge, the educational system will continue to be poor and Nigeria will remain as it is today.
Durojaiye wrote in from Lagos