On the way to Ibadan from Lagos, just after crossing the first of the concrete bridges on that most horrible and dangerous of roads called Lagos/Ibadan Expressway (more like expressway to hell) on the Lagos/Ogun States border, on the right you will see the business empire of one Otunba Ghadaffi (SAN), and the sign saying “SHIT BUSINESS IS GOOD BUSINESS”, referring to the commendable fact that he has departed from being a lawyer and made a fortune in dealing with what most of us are repugnant of – waste and environmental management. The man supplies mobile toilets to venues, clears drains and soak-away. In short, his business is clearing, removing and disposing s***, mostly human faeces, and he’s doing very fine, thank you.
Anytime I see Otunba Gaddafi’s (he must be a big guy, because in Nigeria, we always refer to big and imposing guys and women as “Ghadaffi – God rest Moammar el-Ghadaffi’s soul) signage, I always have a wry grin on my face and relate it to the issue of corruption in Nigeria. Please, I am not in any way impugning that corruption was responsible for Otunba Ghadaffi’s success. In fact, with his line of business, we are certain he made his money from dirt and turned it into riches through dint of hard work, and he deserves accolades, respect and awards.
Corruption is good business to the participants and those who profit from it. I am not talking about official government corruption, but also private and public sector, and even the petty corruption we encounter in our everyday life, which to me, has ensured that corruption will never be eradicated or even managed to acceptable levels in Nigeria.
It has permeated into our social, religious and cultural fabric. It is everywhere, and some people, who think they are clever than the rest of us, are doing fine by it.
Corruption — is a good thing when it’s “official”
With several government officials and politicians trying to convince us at every opportunity that official corruption, while still growing, is no longer a hindrance, the rest of us should apparently understand that according to our government line, corruption is now good for the economy. Furthermore, the government - civil servants and their political masters – are trying to convince us that it is corruption that is keeping the country economically; and that if not for corruption, this country would have collapsed.
A report just released by Transparency International claimed that Nigerian Federal civil servants took N450 billion in bribes, kickbacks, gratifications, etc in 2011 so far. Good business to some; and bad business to the people they are supposed to serve, isn’t it?
Risible and ludicrous as this may sound, there seems to be an element of realism in these assertions. Of course, corruption by any name is an evil. Small or big, petty or massive; it is evil, even its origin and definitions; religious, sociology, psychology, philosophy, etc.
What these ruling elite are admitting to, is that while corruption is good for their illegal business, they are privately wishing it could be managed to an acceptable level. In reality, the competition amongst the thieving elite in trying to outdo each other is beginning to be terrifying and very alarming even for them, so they are getting spooked. I have proffered this Corruption Management solution some time ago, because really, there is no society that is not corrupt; the “good” societies, e.g. Western countries, only manage their corruption well, and do not allow it to debar or interfere with their human progress and development.
When ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo promised a reduction in the growth and practice of official corruption, and then established the ICPC and the EFCC, he was subtly admitting that the Nigerian Police, who should be the ones dealing with corruption in public sector, cannot do it. He failed (This is another story to be told one day, but we all know why he failed – he himself could not resist being corrupt). In fairness to Obasanjo, corruption bourgeoned into Nigeria’s major “growth industry” under Babangida’s administration, and continued on to his successors – Abacha, Abdulsalam, Obasanjo, Umaru Yar ‘Adua and now Goodluck Jonathan. There is no end in sight. In fact, it is now of such enormous proportion such States Chief Executives (or Execu-thieves) stole money in double digit billions. Soon, it will be triple digit billion (a former Governor of Rivers State was rumoured to have stolen in this figure, yet he obtained an injunction that he cannot be investigated or prosecuted. That was 4 years ago, and nobody has challenged this curious court order)
Taking the reins just over five months ago, President Goodluck Jonathan, with ministers and state government executives vowing steadfast support, promised that fighting government corruption would be a top priority. Mr Jonathan is failing, too. And we are not even talking about corruption in the private sector.
So what are we to think about corruption in Nigeria? Everybody knows that it was a cancer, a killer of the Nigerian private and business sector, but nobody seems to be able to do anything about it. In fairness to some people charged to fight corruption, like ICPC and EFCC, they are trying their best against apparently insurmountable odds – believe me, in Nigeria, fighting corruption is no easy task, especially if you are not supported 100% by the government itself, or there are elements in government and politics who are bent on being corrupt, or even the members of the public who are frustrating the efforts of the sincere corruption-fighters. Corruption fights back using hundred times more power and resources than you have. And then some of those charged to fight it (including staff of the agencies mandated to fight it) have neither the commitment, the nerve, the resources nor the desire to do so. Or maybe they were there in the first place as decorations just to give the impression that the government is doing something. That has been like that even since the days preceding democracy in Nigeria.
Corruption is responsible for our country‘s current state, including our terrible image. We don‘t have electricity power and security simply because of corruption. Our entire infrastructures are moribund because of corruption. When you fight corruption, it fights back. Our government now seems to openly love corruption. It may well be that the official government line is that corruption is good for Nigeria and is helping fuel the Nigerian economy! I think it is from the evidence I have personally witnessed.
Don’t get me wrong, bribery and corruption at all levels is up, and as payoffs and kickbacks are a cash economy not reported as taxable income, one would expect the government to be concerned about the growth of corruption. But are the various governments – federal, state and local – concerned? No, because that is where the money is.
Once upon a time in America, a man named Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed banks. He replied: “`Cos that’s where the money is”. It was an uncomplicated philosophy which served him well until he was caught and marched off to prison. Today, Mr Sutton would not have risked incarceration. Today, were Mr Sutton to be a Nigerian, he would have had the choice of being a Nigerian politician, a Nigerian civil servant or a Nigerian banker or contractor. Better still, he could have been a Nigerian Policeman, although he would have been severely limited as to making loads of money, but at least he could be in official authorised uniform and waylay people on the highway and collect money from them without facing any charges of armed robbery.
Of course, as one who operated outside the law, Mr Sutton might have experienced problems in working with this brotherhood of political and civil uprightness and patriotism. But the vast mountains of easy Naira and foreign currency on offer would surely have stifled his reservations.
This is the exact philosophy of our leaders: politicians, legislators, civil servants and everybody who wants to be in government – federal, state, local - in Nigeria. “The GOVERNMENT IS WHERE THE MONEY IS. It is where there is easy, unaccountable, easily-stolen money is. So I better get myself in there to steal mine”. It is free for all.
Don’t worry — be happy. It’s all good; at least that seems to be the stance from the politicians. This is big business and the only big business allowed in Nigeria is big business related to the government, so that means corruption. Bureaucracy breeds corruption, this is not unique to Nigeria; it happens all over the world; but an inefficient, unwieldy and uncontrollable bureaucracy that exists in Nigeria makes our case even worse.
There is almost nothing you can engage the civil service and the government for that you will not pay a kickback. Like one retired senior civil servant told me, all palms must be greased before they pay you your contract money, or before you even get the contract. An average bribe of almost a million Naira is a lot of money for someone. In US dollars that is $6250.00 or £4000.00. As non-taxable income you can be assured that none of that money makes its way into the treasury. So much for funding social responsibilities like pensions for the elderly and medical care for the young, or building roads and funding schools and universities.
Today there is no drumbeat of calls to rid the country of official corruption, at least not from the government. It seems that corruption and bribes are a good thing. So the next time you hear someone complaining about it, tell those individuals to sit down and shut up.
Mr Good luck Jonathan and EFCC’s Mrs Waziri are doing okay it would seem. Isn’t that enough?
"Corruption is the enemy of good business and of sustainable development"
Speech by Cynthia Carroll, CEO of Anglo American, at Transparency International (UK) Annual General Meeting (20 November 2007)
"As a long-term investor, we have a strong interest in defeating corruption. It increases political instability and makes the process of doing business less predictable. Moreover, corruption erodes trust and, in our business, having a government that people trust to protect their interests is of crucial importance on issues such as permitting, tax and the enforcement of environmental standards", said Cynthia Carroll, CEO of Anglo American, in her address at Transparency International UK's Annual General Meeting.
So is Corruption Good for Business?
In sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and other regions with widespread corruption and difficult business climates, the entrepreneurial spirit is often stifled, and when it is not, entrepreneurial energy is channelled into informal sectors outside formal legal and financial systems. Unregistered firms may thrive: in some countries the informal sector makes up around 40 percent or more of economies. But such businesses don’t contribute much to the public welfare as they don’t pay taxes and sometimes pose a danger to the public. Informal businesses themselves rarely if ever are capable of reaching their growth potential because of impediments of an informal economy: “higher capital and transportation costs, more storage problems, greater difficulty hiring quality staff and less ability to enforce contracts”.
Countries that want to tap entrepreneurial energy start with relaxing their regulatory regimes. This reduces the potential for corruption. For example, according to the World Bank’s Doing Business 2011 report, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Hungary have made significant progress in deregulating their economies, thereby improving conditions for starting a business. This promotes much stronger economic growth than the opposite strategy – increasing regulation and counting on entrepreneurs to make the system work by greasing the wheel.
So is corruption good for business, and is just a nasty taste but necessary evil? You tell me. What I know is corruption is killing Nigerians by the thousands, if not millions
Is some corruption not so bad? Why do some countries grow even with corrupt governments? Is a strong corrupt ruler not as bad a weak corrupt ruler?
Lord have mercy on us!